Wednesday, June 14, 2017

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Personal Responsibilities Affect Several Characters in 'Breaking the Fiberboard Ceiling'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 5.11 "Breaking the Fiberboard Ceiling"

Red and the others weigh their options. Gloria wrestles with her conscience as she moves forward with a plan. Lorna takes over the pharmacy.

The last episode was such a massive misfire that I was worried about the end game the show had planned for this season. It's been keeping a couple of stories in the same place for a little bit now. It's been waiting its time for things to truly combust at the end of the season. I wasn't too worried because this creative team has earned my trust in finding a way to connect all of these different stories and themes together by the finale. But the ongoing story with Piscatella could be a subplot that drowns everything else happening on the show. That's what happened in the previous episode. He was a one-dimensional monster and that's it. The inmates' reaction to what he did to them could have come across that well as well. The group in the secret bunker are very isolated from the rest of the prison. No one else knows that they are down there and have Piscatella as a hostage. The show could really go for the brutality by punishing him the same way he tortured them. Fortunately, that's not the case. Instead, the show turns things back on the characters themselves and how these thoughts they are having about what they want to do to Piscatella are informed by their pasts as well as the dramatic circumstances of the riot. That gives them a nice perspective that seems in line with what the rest of the narrative is doing as well. So, the show has successfully course corrected - even though Piscatella could still be a major problem in the future.

Personal responsibility is a key theme throughout the series but especially in "Breaking the Fiberboard Ceiling." Red feels a duty to protect her girls. That's what she was trying to do with this whole adventure with Piscatella. She witnessed the abuse last season and wanted to do something about it. It was a mission corrupted by drugs and lack of food and sleep. The motivation is clear. Red does what she does out of love. She cares for this group of inmates. But she's a little crazy right now and a danger to herself. She wants to torture a confession out of Piscatella. She's still on that warpath. Fortunately, the show has the awareness not to have Red go through with that or have the other characters be okay with that as well. It instead turns into a screaming match over who is more personally responsible for their current situation. And yes, all of these characters did play a role in the events that led to this moment - whether it was in escalating the riot or luring Piscatella into the prison. They all have done things this season that could be seen as the problem behind all of this. Red notes that there isn't one action or one person to blame in this situation. That's a nice nuanced take on the story. Plus, there is the overly convenient ending of Gina having videotaped Piscatella as he was hurting his hostages. That means they have proof that he's a monster. That's a victory even though it's a plot device largely created to maintain their humanity.

Red's story proves the power that comes from having a group of friends in prison. They count on each other and support each other during the most difficult of times. That stands in stark contrast to the decisions that Gloria and Maria make. Gloria is deeply conflicted right now. She knows that she would be ruining everything for everyone else by releasing the hostages. And yet, she would be doing it to see her son in the hospital. Even though she's not in his daily life, she still feels a personal responsibility to protect him. Her family needs her right now. She can't escape because of the system. She's trying to but it could come at a great cost. It's Maria who encourages her to go through with the plan. She has no loyalty to anyone else in the prison. Right now, she's completely focused on staying out of trouble in order to see her baby as soon as possible. Her family is waiting for her on the outside. Her baby daddy is staying loyal to her. That's significant. She's fighting to see them again in the outside world. Not in the corruption that is the prison system. It's such a stirring and complicated moment when Maria reveals how far she is willing to go for her child. It's even more devastating when she steals Gloria's plan for herself. Maria is able to escape to be with her family while Gloria is trapped inside. Maria has no loyalty and doesn't feel bad about what she does. It's all in service of her personal desires. That's key while still screwing over everyone else in the process. Plus, there's no certainty that MCC will uphold the deal for furlough with her instead of Gloria.

The hostages escaping Litchfield is a major development as well. How will the negotiations change now that Taystee has lost some of her leverage? The power struggle has always shifted against her once Fig is informed of some new information about what's going on in the prison. These hostages were abused by the inmates. They are now free to tell whatever story they desire to the officers outside. That could complicate things for Taystee. It could be a blindside for her as well because she's focused on the negotiations and nothing else. She's choosing to fight for improving the system over her responsibilities for her friends. Of course, the hostages may not have any damning new piece of information. They don't know that Humphrey has actually died. They just know that he's not doing well at all. They can speak to the horrors they endured. But they will be able to recover from it. Plus, the inmates still have hostages. Caputo could still technically be one if Taystee needs a last ditch effort to get her agenda through. Plus, there's Piscatella who could be a useful bargaining chip if the characters in the bunker ever share their story with the rest of the inmates. Plus, Linda's true identity has been discovered by Boo and there's still the nurse walking around somewhere I think. The loss of the hostages is huge. But the situation isn't over just because they've escaped because of Maria.

But again, the show is also asking the characters how far they are willing to go in this riot? Taystee and Fig have pulled an all-nighter with the negotiations and they still haven't made a ton of progress. Fig being tired does help Taystee because she does get the inmates good health care. That's a solution that everyone is able to agree on in this episode. It feels like a major victory for Taystee. She's feeling super important right now. She's choosing to fight this battle as passionately as she can. She started all of this to find justice for Poussey. But now, she's trying to get real change for all of the inmates. She wants to change all of their lives. It's a huge responsibility. But she feels she can do that with a few more hours of intense talks. She is choosing to stay here instead of caring for Suzanne. That's a key decision that could come back to hurt her. Suzanne is in a bad place right now. She's off her meds and spiraling out of control. Black Cindy, Janae and Alison can barely contain her. And yet, they have to step up to deal with this situation. Taystee has always kept Suzanne under control after Vee was killed. But now, she can't do that. She feels it's more important to be in the negotiation room. That decision leads to Black Cindy prescribing lithium to Suzanne. She doesn't know if that's the medication Suzanne actually takes. She just needs to do something. She does seem maternal in that moment. She is in a way that she has never been before. She wasn't able to be a mother to her daughter. She would rather pretend she was her sister. The audience is reminded of that fact with a brief glimpse of her daughter actually being worried about her. She's still being lied to. Black Cindy may not be a good influence. But she's made her choice. It may calm Suzanne or it could set her on a completely new and tragic path that will make the riot even worse.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Breaking the Fiberboard Ceiling" was written by Lauren Morelli and directed by Wendey Stanzler.
  • I like how instead of using flashbacks this episode cuts to the family members of the inmates in the present to show how they are dealing with all of this. Some inmates have been in contact with their loved ones. But it's nice to see how their continued absence and being in this dangerous situation affects the people who love them and see their humanity when the system doesn't.
  • Plus, it's revealed that Ouija has a son out there. The audience gets a glimpse of him watching one of Flaca and Maritza's videos and seeing his mother brutalize the hostages. It's a horrifying sight. And she isn't willing to let her love for him get in the way of making things better in the prison. She's committed even though it's a moment of destruction and chaos for Gloria.
  • Boo is the only character held hostage by Piscatella who leaves the secret bunker to return to a life of relative normalcy elsewhere in the prison. That happens largely so she can learn about Linda not being an inmate at all. It plays as a deep personal betrayal to her. She thinks Linda is there to spy on the inmates and report back to MCC. That's not true but it's what she thinks nevertheless.
  • The montage where Gloria collects all of the hostages up and puts them in the porta potties outside is a little weird. It's tonally different than the rest of the episode. It's not as bad as some of the sillier stories of the season as it has a deeply personal intent behind it. But it's still strange especially given the importance of the actions.
  • Lorna finally takes a pregnancy test. She refused to do so because that would be giving in to a normal and rational society. But she gets a reality check from Black Cindy who yells at her for thinking she knows best in regards to Suzanne. Moreover, the test reveals that she actually is pregnant. That could be an interesting complication.
  • The story deliberately forces all of the inmates camping outside to come back in because of a rainstorm. So, whatever is going to happen next will happen to the entire inmate population. All of them will ultimately be complicit - whether it's good or bad. No one can actually sit things out.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.