Saturday, June 10, 2017

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Frieda's Survival Skills Help Her Deal with the Riot in 'F*ck, Marry, Frieda'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 5.02 "F*ck, Marry, Frieda"

Maria convenes a special assembly in the chapel as the inmates plot their next move. Frieda makes use of the survival skills she learned as a kid.

At the end of my review of the season premiere, I wondered if Orange Is the New Black still needed to employ its flashback narrative device. The premiere worked perfectly fine without it. It's not a hard-and-fast rule that every episode of this show needs to have flashbacks for one of the characters. There have been plenty of episodes without them. But they are still a consistent part of the show. They have frequently been used to bring out the humanity in the characters. The humanity that has frequently been stripped away from them because they are in prison. They provide insight for the audience. It gives us a greater understanding of how this particular character is able to handle the current situation they find themselves in at Litchfield. It's not revelatory. It's standard with shows that incorporate flashbacks in their narratives. And like most of those shows, the device gets stale and tired after several seasons. Plus, the action at Litchfield is so intense right now. Does the show really need flashbacks this year? It's still dealing with all of the new characters it introduced last season. It has the cast to continue to pluck people from relative obscurity and give them importance in the story. That's always surprising and exciting. But right now, "F*ck, Marry, Frieda" takes some comfort in showing that despite some changes in the narrative this season the show is still fundamentally the same.

So, the flashbacks do return in this episode. Their focus is on Frieda. They provide more details about her past and the skills she has acquired over the years. It doesn't change one's perception of the character. She's still a badass leader who people keep underestimating because she's old. And yet, she's one of the few people who knows how to survive. She can remain calm in a crisis and find a way out of it. The flashbacks reveal a close relationship with her father who was preparing for the apocalypse during the Cold War. It's an effective story that confirms that Frieda has always been the odd girl out. It's all about her upbringing. Her story in the present is one of the funnier stories of the hour as well. It's just great that she's able to make darts in the pantry, shoot Blake and Stratman with them and convince them that they were filled with poison. That's a ton of fun. All of the stuff going on with the white supremacists was funny too - even though I still don't know their names. I know one is Brandy but that's only because of Asia Kate Dillion's increased profile this year. Furthermore, the reveal that Frieda has a secret bunker in Litchfield could seem absolutely ridiculous. How does no one in the administration know that it's there? They want to maximize enough space as possible! But it's a nice way to close her story here while still teasing future importance as an area in the prison that no one else knows about.

Elsewhere, the riot is starting to become more cohesive. The Latinas find themselves in charge. That's largely because Daya was the one who picked up the gun. That has given her and her friends the power. Maria has taken it and ran with it. She makes it so they can have a more inclusive riot. She has the idea to bring everyone together in the chapel for a unified goal. However, she just wants to put on a show where the inmates abuse their new hostages. She wants this to be an epic celebration through the depravity. She's aiming to dehumanize the guards and administrators just like they have been doing for the past few seasons. On some level, these characters do deserve this humiliation. But the ones onstage are largely just incompetent foot soldiers. They aren't the ones who've actually been creating the problems at Litchfield. Humphrey got exactly what he deserved and Coates is missing in action. Those are the two guards whose actions carried a ton of abuse of power. The rest of them just stood by and did nothing. They followed Piscatella's orders and that's it. Again, that's wrong too but probably doesn't merit the violation that Maria encourages in this moment. The inmates can agree that the living conditions haven't been great. But all of this is just for their amusement. The outside world doesn't think they can rally together behind a unified cause. This showcase may prove that right because they don't feel the urgency to form that message to enact change in the system.

And yet, Taystee realizes that she has to work with her fellow rioting inmates in order to have more strength in the hopes of finding justice for Poussey. The video she created in the premiere didn't go as viral as it seemed. Piscatella and the CEO of MCC saw it but that's about it. It's a story that critiques the power and silliness of the internet in a really amusing and insightful way. It provides an outlet for stories like this to be heard. The underprivileged have a way to get their message out there. But the internet is also stupidly preoccupied with other silly things. It's absolutely devastating to watch as Taystee fails to get the truth out there. She wanted this so badly and it hasn't gone viral. Instead, everyone is making fun of Black Cindy and her love of lattes. It's crushing. It seems like every attempt to honor Poussey's memory is being destroyed. Soso wants to protect the books in the library but finds herself manipulated by Judy who only cares about herself. She loses yet another connection to Poussey in the process. It's harrowing to watch and makes their character stakes abundantly clear in this story. They have a reason to riot. And now, their message is going to join with the rest of the inmates.

One of the most effective scenes of this episode comes when Taystee leads Caputo and James from PR out into the halls of Litchfield for the first time. It's an environment that Caputo has been in before. But now, it has completely changed. The atmosphere is totally different. It's absolutely a dystopia. The inmates have taken over. The power is out. Nighttime is slowly falling. Everything looks familiar but it's not like it once was. The inmates are walking around with newfound confidence. This is the day where things finally change for them. For some, it's simply the best day in their prison sentence. A day where the rules no longer apply to them and they get to do whatever they want. They can mock the guards without fear of retaliation or punishment. But it's all deeply rooted in something greater as well. Taystee and her friends march for justice. To give a voice to their friend who didn't have one in the final moments of her life. Showing the world that they have taken hostages is the first step to potentially bringing change to the system. It's the first step towards unification amongst the inmates. It's the common goal they can agree on. Making their demands will probably be quite challenging. But if it's important enough, they'll have to be willing to fight for it. Taystee has proven that she's willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the truth gets out there.

Some more thoughts:
  • "F*ck, Marry, Frieda" was written by Jordan Harrison and directed by Constantine Makris.
  • It's a little weird how Sophia has essentially just become a nurse in these opening two episodes. She's off playing doctor over in the infirmary. It's a story far removed from everything else. Yes, it has importance and several new characters come to that environment. And yet, the stakes of it seem relatively calm and sane compared to everything else happening. It's a straight up medical procedure instead of a riot thriller.
  • Humphrey being able to recite many of the ways people used to kill each other was just further prove that he's a creep who got exactly what he deserved. He is still alive. But now, he's suffered a stroke because Maureen blew bubbles into his IV line. So, he will no longer be the abusive man he once was - unless the nurse got him the drugs in a timely fashion and he somehow makes a quick recovery.
  • It's clearly going to be a mystery of who has the gun. It was stolen from Daya at the end of the premiere. No answer is given in this episode. It's instead all about Daya freaking out because she has to act like she has power when she has nothing. Some very keen characters are able to realize that she has lost the gun as well. So, the power of the riot may be up for grabs once more.
  • Should anything be read into the fact that Daya is incredibly tired in these first two episodes? She keeps mentioning that she wants to go take a nap instead of being the center of attention within the riot. Is something more going on with her? Or is it simply a coping mechanism for her and her desire to return things to normal?
  • Piscatella arrives at Litchfield and immediately wants to know why the police officers outside haven't stormed the building yet. Of course, he realizes that it will be more difficult than it looks. However, the photos Red has of him aren't as embarrassing as she previously thought. But she recognizes something on his wrist that could present itself as a new form of leverage in the future.
  • So, what happened to Judy? It would be easy to assume that she left the library as soon as more inmates started to come in. She bailed immediately because her personal safety is more important than honoring Poussey's memory. But is there something more going on? Her friends on the outside are wondering why she hasn't been released yet too.
  • Linda from purchasing is still hanging around Piper and Alex. She's clinging onto them because they seem like the nice ones amidst all this chaos. It's amusing to see just how dim she is about everything about this environment. She likens it to pledge week at a sorority but much worse. Again, it will only get worse for her once the inmates discover who she is.
  • Where is Coates? He's the one guard who was established as being inside Litchfield when the riot began. He got Twizzlers from the commissary. But he hasn't been seen since. He hasn't been taken hostage like the rest of the guards. But he's not trying to break up the riot either. So what's happening with him?

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.