Thursday, June 15, 2017

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Taystee Makes a Choice that Has Major Repercussions in 'Tattoo You'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 5.12 "Tattoo You"

Boo dabbles in blackmail, Nicky promises to help Lorna, Doggett makes a discovery, and Piper comes to a realization about Alex.

"Tattoo You" makes one big narrative leap and asks the audience just to go along with it. It says that the video of Piscatella breaking Alex's arm is posted online, goes viral (a feat not as easy as it sounds like Taystee found out at the start of the season) and protesters assemble in front of Litchfield all before the hostages are able to make it to the control center on the outside. That's just a lot to take. It all happens in basically a few minutes. It seems impossible but the show just wants to state it as fact and move on. That's perfectly fine too. It allows the dramatic tension of this episode to be very palpable. Things are coming to a close with the riot. All of the characters are feeling the pressure to end this. But it's also clear that things are once more building to a tragedy. All of this started because of the tragedy of Poussey's death. How the characters reacted during this riot will inform just how big the tragedy will be in the finale. Did they make the right choices? Will any of it actually matter? Will reform actually sweep the prison system? Or will things just go back to the way they were because no one wants to think about the humanity of the inmates? It's complicated storytelling that presents no easy answers for any of the characters as the season builds to its conclusion.

The focus has been on Taystee all season long. And now, she makes a huge decision that could have major consequences for the entire inmate population in Litchfield. The video makes it clear that the government is in a losing position the longer they drag this out. As a result, Fig is authorized to give the inmates everything they want. However, they can only give them the things that the state is in control of. What happens to Bayley isn't up to them. It's up to the internal investigation that will need to take place regarding the incident. To Taystee, that's all that truly matters. As the season has gone along, she has focused less on Poussey and more on trying to change the lives of her fellow inmates. She has embraced the power. She's fought passionately on all of these issues. The focus needed to expand to more. She couldn't just fixate on one demand. The need for justice for Poussey couldn't be the only thing she was fighting for. And yet, that may be the thing that completely destroys everything in the end. Taystee isn't willing to stop until Bayley is in jail for murder. That's the justice she is fighting for. She's willing to risk the deal going away in order to get it. She's hopeful that Fig will return to the table with a better offer. But the audience is already aware that Taystee no longer has the power. That's a realization that is slow for her. But she does get hit with it before the hour is over.

There are so many injustices in this system. Poussey's death was the straw that broke the camel's back. It's the issue that means the most to Poussey. It hits her so hard because she knew Poussey on a personal level. But just because the other inmates don't care as much doesn't make them heartless or cruel. Not everyone knew her on a deep level. They can sympathize and want justice to be served. But there are other issues that affect them more. This is their way of life for the foreseeable future. They are fighting to improve the living conditions. They want these changes to be implemented so that things are a little less bleak in prison. It will still be prison but it will be acceptable to live here. They won't be living in fear that any day could turn out to be one of abuse by people in positions of power. They want the standard of living to be better. That's the justice they are fighting for. It's easy to understand that position as well. Taystee is risking a lot with this stunt. The deal she has is a good one for everyone. Her refusing to accept it could increase the tragedy that will happen in the finale. But it's also important to note that one person can't be blamed for everything that is going to happen. Ouija and Pidge couldn't tell Taystee about the hostages escaping in a timely fashion. Black Cindy doesn't know how to help Suzanne. Gloria and Maria didn't think they had any other choices but to free the hostages. And now, they won't be rewarded for their efforts to deescalate the situation. It's rough and complicated for everyone.

It's only after Taystee learns all of this information that she realizes that the fight is over. The guards are storming the building. She may have lost everything because she stuck to her ideals. It's an intense final moment for the episode. It's a crushing realization for Taystee. She's spinning because she no longer has a strong grip on the situation. She put in all of this work to honor Poussey's legacy. And now, the inmates may be right back to where they all started. It does seem unlikely that MCC will be able to maintain its status as a private prison company because of the public attention this story has received. Change is more than likely coming to Litchfield. One where the living conditions may be better. But right now, things aren't looking better. They look even bleaker than before. The riot was fighting against guards who saw the inmates as criminals who didn't deserve any dignity or respect. And now, new officers are storming the building. They don't know the inmates. They'll see them as criminals who've held hostages for three days now. They don't know what all has happened to them during this time. They don't know that they may act irrationally because they've been deprived of sleep and food. That lack of understanding and compassion incited all of this. It could make it all even uglier too.

All of that is very effective for the main story. But things in this episode aren't completely intense and dramatic either. In fact, the show uses this time to move the Piper-Alex relationship to the forefront once more. Those two have been put in the background this season because they haven't been important to the main story. Yes, Piper does want to be involved with the cause. But she's been away dealing with other things that have nothing to do with the negotiations as well. This hour largely just focuses on the romance between the two instead of any kind of activism. The characters in the bunker are just waiting for the riot to be done. They believe it will be over soon. They don't have the same kind of urgency as well. That leads to an uneven episode. One where it's very intense as Taystee realizes her world is crashing down around her. But also one where the flashbacks reveal the meaning behind the tattoos that Piper, Alex and Larry have. It feels completely random too. It plays as the show doing the same thing as Lost. It tells a story about tattoos in the flashbacks in order to prove to whomever is watching that the flashbacks aren't all that necessary anymore. They are weird and not all that meaningful or insightful. It's all just building to that moment where Piper proposes to Alex and she says yes. It's important because they are a central couple on the show. But their issues have seemed pretty petty for a long time now. The spark isn't as strong as it is with some of the other dynamics on the show. It's still important that it took almost dying for the two of them to admit how much they mean to each other. It could be setting up a tragic ending for them considering the guards storming the building. But that would seem almost too predictable. So if it doesn't ultimately mean more in the finale, then it should be intriguing to see why now was the right time to do all of this.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Tattoo You" was written by Tara Herrmann & Carolina Paiz and directed by Mark A. Burley.
  • Piscatella wakes up and hasn't changed at all. Red is now the one in charge. She's trying to show him that they aren't that different after all. But it's still a very lame story because Piscatella refuses to see himself as a criminal despite the video evidence that could damn him to a life in prison as well. He refuses to be objective about himself and his misogynistic views.
  • Nicky and Lorna's relationship hits a significant moment as well. In fact, they may be an even better relationship to watch because of the twisted problems at the heart of their dynamic. It's moving to watch Nicky call Vinny and tell him the truth about Lorna's pregnancy and how he's just going to have to accept her because this is the life he chose. It's great to watch because Nicky loves Lorna so much and is doing all of this to keep her life together.
  • It's somewhat surprising that Pennsatucky is the only other inmate to escape Litchfield through the new hole in the fence. She just happens to be the only one left out in the field - despite the rain having stopped. She finds herself at the guards' cabins. She cozies up at Coates' place. But she also picks up a gun in the process. That's got to be some major foreshadowing, right?
  • Linda's true identity is finally exposed to the rest of the inmates. They take their anger out on her for the crummy products she has purchased for the prison. It's punishment she deserves because she was so blind to the truth. And yet, she remains an interesting complication now that the guards are storming the building and don't know who she actually is.
  • It's taken me so long to remember their names but I've really enjoyed Ouija and Pidge this season. Their dynamic is amusing while also serious. They connect to the main plot in an important way while also being able to be in some truly absurd situations. That makes them more effective than Flaca and Maritza or Leanne and Angie.
  • Maria believed her sentence would be reduced if she freed the guards. That's the deal from MCC as she understood it. She's willing to do whatever it takes to get to her daughter faster. And yet, MCC had no authority to make such a deal. So now, she's in limbo. Her fate is uncertain. She may get some reward but it probably won't be what she wants.

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.