Sunday, June 11, 2017

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - A New Duo Takes Over Control of the Hostages in 'Litchfield's Got Talent'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 5.04 "Litchfield's Got Talent"

Red and Blanca dig for dirt on Piscatella. Suzanne conducts a séance. The guards show off their talents for "Litchfield Idol" judges Leanne and Angie.

The severity of the stakes inside Litchfield this season are very different. There has always been life-or-death stakes in this show. In previous seasons though, it's been an internal character feeling. There would be a handful of characters who would be in fear of their lives while others would be able to live a carefree existence. It's why the tone of the show feels a little out of whack this situation. The life-or-death stakes are widespread throughout this environment. The gun adds a layer of unpredictability. It could go off at any moment and injure anyone. That's scary and leads to a narrative that can turn on an instant. Who is in control of the gun is a powerful story in the main narrative. Daya had it in the premiere but then it disappeared because of an unknown attacker. And now, it's revealed it was Gloria who hurt Daya as an act of compassion to pull her out of this dangerous situation. However, the gun turning up again means it's up for grabs. Gloria wasn't going to use it. As such, she loses it early on to the meth-heads, Angie and Leanne. That's dangerous because those characters are so erratic. They'll do whatever is amusing to them. They don't really care about anything else that is going on.

However, this is one of the more comedically successful episodes of the new season so far. The central sequence is the talent show that Angie and Leanne force the hostages to put on. It's easy to get lost in the comedy of it too as the guards sing, do stand-up and other talents. The pressure is there for them to perform because of the gun. They literally don't have a choice. They need to do this or they'll risk getting shot by an unpredictable inmate. Of course, it's all building to the moment where Stratman dusts off his old stripper skills. It's an uproariously funny moment. He's putting all of his energy into this performance. He's doing it because he's great at it and wins over the crowd. The action is primarily centered on him as he removes more and more of his clothes. But it's also fascinating to see the various reactions from the people around him. The other hostages are horrified by how much conviction he is giving this performance. Leanne is thrilled that she was the one singled out for the lap dance. Meanwhile, Angie is sitting back with the gun looking angry and pissed off. It sets up the fear that she'll shoot Stratman. That's a genuine concern to have. She fires the gun multiple times throughout this episode. It's going to run out of bullets sometime soon, right? But for now, it still holds so much power.

So, it's not all that surprising that Angie gets to decide the winner in this talent show. The inmates put in the effort to produce an effective show. Boo hosted with Angie, Leanne, Linda and Maria serving as the judges. The crowd's reaction to each performance was important as well. But it was still up to the judges to decide on a winner. And even then, Angie held all the power because of the gun. She chooses James largely because he's the most attractive. It has almost nothing to do with the talent show. That's the point as well. All of this is amusing but it's also just a performance covering up the major problems at the heart of Litchfield. James gets to decide who the loser amongst the hostages will be. He chooses Caputo because of what he did at the press conference. He sees that as the spark that started this riot in the first place. So, it's amusing to see Caputo thrown into a porta potty. But it will probably carry some significant consequences as well. The most important of which is that someone is going to have to remember that he's there and that he's a hostage. Angie and Leanne won't despite this all being for their own amusement. All it will take is one inmate letting him out of there which could allow him to get to the police that are waiting outside the prison.

It's fascinating to see what the public response to the situation going on at Litchfield as well. For the inmates and the audience, it's very serious because we understand what's at stake. They are fighting for better living conditions and justice for the death of Poussey. Meanwhile, the outside world is looking at it through the lens of it being a women's prison. The Governor of the state is notified that the situation is happening. And yet, his response is to put it off until the morning. He doesn't think a lot can happening in the six hours until then because it's a women's prison. He doesn't take it seriously despite there being hostages involved. Of course, some of that response is probably because of the Ambien he took. But the situation just outside the prison is like that as well. When Sophia escapes, she does so fearing that there will be a strong police presence. Instead, she has to make her presence known to some bumbling officers just to be noticed. However, Sophia's choice is a little weird. It happens largely because of Laverne Cox's limited availability to be on the show this season. So, she is sent to max and gets an update on Sister Ingalls being given a compassionate release after getting a bad case of pneumonia. Those character details are important. But it's also a little curious how Sophia was able to get out in the first place since Litchfield was seemingly on lockdown with no way in or out.

Sophia's choice is presented as one of the many groups forming inside the prison community. There are those who want to be a part of the riot. In that group, there are many different subsections as well. They are fighting for different things. Or they simply enjoy the chaos and anarchy that comes from the riot. And then, there is the group who has escaped to the yard. That includes Alex and Daya. Alex wants nothing to do with it out of her own selfish feelings. The riot is going to bring attention to Litchfield and she wants none of that to come her way since several people out there believe her to be dead. But she also feels guilty about everything that happened with the dead guard and Lolly. This is the first time Lolly has been mentioned this season. Will we ever see what happened to her after Healy sent her to the psych ward? It's unclear. Right now, it's just important that Alex is full of remorse and just wants to serve her time and nothing more. That's what Daya wants as well. She regrets picking up the gun and creating all of this mess. She just wants to be done with all of it. These characters may not be able to sit idly by though. They are hopeful to avoid any potential consequences of the riot. But that seems unlikely. They will more than likely get swept back up into all of this as well.

That change of perspective is important for these characters as well. Alex and Daya just want to be inmates serving the time for their crimes. It's how they've had to live for awhile now. All of the inmates have had to adjust to life on the inside. But now, they have glimpses of what life is like outside the prison. Having cell phones out in the open provides that for them. They get to see what is happening with the important people in their lives. Social media provides them with those answers. But it also serves as confirmation that things aren't as hopeful as they were led to believe. Sankey went into prison fully believing that her man's sexual needs would be taken care of by another woman and that's it. She may have been fooling herself into believing that but it was her way of coping with the situation. And now, she sees the physical evidence that that's not true at all. As such, her world starts spinning. The same is also true of Alison. It's slightly weird that she is the focus of this episode's flashbacks considering her present-day story is so minor. This hour seems designed to give Angie the focus of the flashbacks. But instead, they are with Alison and how she encouraged a polygamous lifestyle with her husband only to regret it later on when she was seemingly being replaced by his new wife. In the beginning, it seems like a new type of story that hasn't been seen a whole lot but then it just takes a couple of conventional and expected twists. It doesn't really tell us anything new about Alison. All of this information could have been conveyed in a couple lines of dialogue - just like it was done with Sankey.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Litchfield's Got Talent" was written by Josh Koenigsberg, Jenji Kohan & Tara Herrmann and directed by Nick Sandow.
  • Linda no longer feels like she needs the protection from Piper and Alex. So, she's getting a little more bold with her actions because the prison community has seemingly warmed up to her. Piper tries to threaten her to buy her silence about the dead guard. It doesn't seem to work though. So, that should be an interesting conflict in the future.
  • Red and Blanca seemingly find some dirt on Piscatella. They learn that he may have killed an inmate at his previous job. And maybe Caputo knows about it. That could be pretty damning for him - especially once news of Poussey's death spreads. But it also seems like the story is more interested in whatever drugs that the two of them are seemingly taking.
  • The use of music in this episode is pretty great. This isn't a show that employs a song track to make its big moments hit even harder. It takes that element out because the inmates don't have that access to technology. But now, they do. So, it's contemplative with the inmates in the field and uproarious when Stratman is performing his routine.
  • Taystee and Soso are in a grief battle over who misses Poussey more and who knew her better. It all erupts at a séance that Suzanne has in order to connect with their fallen friend. She may have connected with her spirit. But it's much more of a debate over whether to buy into this fantasy or not.
  • Okay, all of the stuff happening with Judy is incredibly silly. It's way over-the-top and it's not working at all. It all has a point to it. She needs to be on that roof and looking like a hostage so that the story is actually picked up and taken seriously by the press and the outside world. But getting into that position is more effort than it's worth.
  • Every single time that Angie fired a bullet into the ceiling I wondered if Coates was still up there and if he would get shot as a result. It seems completely plausible. If so, it hasn't been confirmed by the narrative just yet. He can't hide forever though.

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.