Sunday, June 11, 2017

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Taystee Makes a Passionate Plea for Justice in 'Sing It, White Effie'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 5.05 "Sing It, White Effie"

When the inmates' antics make the morning news, Flaca and Maritza soak up the spotlight. Brandy and her crew auction off Judy to the highest bidder.

"Sing It, White Effie" is the most effective episode of the season so far for Orange Is the New Black. It works because of the strong thematic parallels between the story of the present and the story of the past. No, the flashbacks don't really provide the audience with any new insight into Janae. It's a story that could have been told about any of the African American characters. And yet, that doesn't lessen its overall power. The core message is still strong and absolutely devastating. The characters on this show are constantly fighting back against the identities that society see them as. The world has their mind made up long before they even get to know the individual people. It's a lesson that Janae learns when she goes to this prestigious academy for a tour. It's a school in her same community but this school has so much more privilege and opportunities than her. Janae stands out in her classes. She has the potential to go far in life. But this field trip is a wake up call to her. The world will always see her as less than simply for being a black woman. It makes her question whether or not it's worth the effort to put in all the work if the rest of the world will refuse to see her as deserving of these opportunities. All of her cultural identity can be stolen. The moment when she sees the white girls doing the big showcase numbers from Dreamgirls is absolutely heart-wrenching. It's appropriation of black culture where white people don't realize how offensive they're being. They're doing this because it's fun not because it means something personal to them. And that's a quality that will always be present in life for Janae and people who look like her.

That applies to the riot happening at Litchfield as well. Taystee and Janae are disagreeing over the best way to deliver their message. Right now, the media only cares about Judy. She's the story. A celebrity is the apparent victim of terrorism. That's the hook that the news outlets are spinning at the moment. No one is even interested in the actual riot or the list of demands that the inmates have posted. It's all about Judy King being a hostage. As such, the debate becomes whether or not Judy should become the official voice for the riot. Her words carry more weight than the average inmate at Litchfield. If she makes some noise about what's happening in the prison, some change will more than likely come. And yet, she wasn't personally affected by the abuse of the system. Yes, she was in Litchfield but she wasn't like the rest of the inmates. She was given special treatment because she was a celebrity. That means she still isn't able to empathize with the experience the other inmates endeared. As Taystee and James from PR prepare her for her big press conference, she has to lie to make it seem like her prison experience was much worse than it was. It's something that she's comfortable doing. Taystee believes it's for the best because it will change the narrative of the story back to Poussey and the various prison injustices. But it doesn't feel real or genuine. This isn't Judy's story to tell.

That's what makes it so moving when Taystee essentially hijacks the press conference to speak from the heart. She's the vocal leader of the riot. She's seeking justice for her friend. She can speak passionately because she believes everything she is saying with such conviction. She doesn't need to write it down or talk things over with a PR expert. The value of her words may ultimately fall on deaf ears. The outside world has seemingly already made up their minds about the prisoners inside Litchfield. They are a bunch of savages who don't deserve to be taken seriously and respectfully as human beings. That's not true at all but it's the perception all of the inmates are fighting against. Some of them do encourage the stereotypes. They are using it for their personal gain. But for Taystee and her group of friends, it's about so much more than that. They are fighting to let the truth be known to the entire world. They are fighting for basic human dignity in a system that has stripped almost everything away from them. It's such a powerful final moment. Taystee takes a stand and she throws Judy into the crowd. They no longer need her. For most of the episode, it's all about Taystee getting Judy from the white supremacists for this exact purpose. But when the big moment comes, Judy is freed from the horrors of prison simply because she's not like the rest of the inmates and can never understand what they all have gone through.

It's a powerful statement to make but the inmates may be losing their power with the riot as well. Piscatella didn't storm the prison because Judy King was still inside. He didn't want to risk her becoming collateral damage. It would be a PR nightmare for MCC. That's why the inmates have been able to hold strong for so long. And now, that reason is gone. Judy has been freed. The guards no longer have to be concerned about her. Plus, the Governor has sent in a team that actually knows what they're doing. They know how to de-escalate the tension while emasculating Piscatella in the process. He believes he knows best in any given situation. So, it's great to see the new forces barely even recognize him at all and the poor operation he's been running. This means the official response is becoming greater. Moreover, the gun is removed from Litchfield. It's Coates who is able to steal it and make it to the outside world. He's been a nice dangling threat throughout these opening episodes. He's been too busy with his dynamic with Pennsatucky to really care about the riot. And their romance definitely deserves to be talked about. It's so absolutely horrifying. It's Pennsatucky returning to her rapist in the hopes that things will be better with more ground rules. It's easy to side with Boo who criticizes it the moment she learns it's happening again. She saw all the pain he caused her the last time they got close. And now, it may be happening once more. The show doesn't picture them as a couple who can be happy together for a long time. But it's still Pennsatucky who gives Coates the gun in the end. She's the reason why the inmates no longer have a weapon on the inside. So, yet another reason is gone for how long the inmates will be able to hold onto power.

The motivations of the people in charge are shifting as well. Taystee is still holding true with her quest for justice. It's a clear story and motivation that won't change until she gets exactly what she wants. With the other leaders though, things are more murky. Alex has found some peace after her big confession to the other inmates in the field. She finally got to share that she was a murderer. She didn't expect it to inspire so many other people to follow her in sitting the riot out. It's especially difficult for Piper who believes it's inappropriate to encourage this. She may be on the sidelines too but she believes in the cause the other inmates are fighting for. Their domestic fight could change things between them. And then, Red lashes out at Caputo for hiring Piscatella in the first place because of the newly discovered incriminating evidence. He tries to present himself as an ally in this fight. But he's still stuck in the porta potty with Red finding new motivation to expose Piscatella's wrong doings. And finally, Maria has emerged as leader of the Latinas because her prison sentence was extended by Piscatella. She blamed Piper for that and hardened herself as a result. And now, Caputo reveals that the paperwork hasn't been filed for that yet. So, Maria still has an opportunity to get out on her original timeframe. That realization could force her to question everything she is doing. She got more bold with her actions knowing she wouldn't be getting out soon. But now, she may want to be on good behavior so nothing more can threaten her from seeing her daughter as a baby again.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Sing It, White Effie" was written by Molly Smith Metzler and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • It's very nice to see Gloria help Suzanne who still expects a strict schedule in prison despite the riot. Suzanne loves order and the riot brings chaos. She may not be able to process that change. She expects breakfast and can't fathom it being cancelled. Fortunately, Gloria helps her out which is a very nice gesture from someone who always wants to do the right thing but doesn't always help the people around her.
  • Aleida makes her return to the narrative as well. She hasn't found any luck in getting a job so far. But she'll be able to provide the various news outlets with an insider perspective of Litchfield. One that will help reframe the narrative of this story. So, it's actually good that she's outside. Of course, she doesn't know everything that's happening during the riot with Gloria and Daya.
  • How did Flaca and Maritza get 10,000 followers on their new vlog in just a matter of hours? Yes, they are attractive women and the prison story is getting more widespread attention. But it's difficult to believe their videos are getting more views than the one Taystee made earlier with Caputo.
  • It's still so fascinating to see how Linda and James from MCC are adjusting to their new environment. This isn't a place they've ever been in before. But now, it's defining their entire lives. James is still effectively doing his job because what Taystee wants aligns with what MCC wants. Meanwhile, Linda forgot for a brief moment she was even in prison when she first woke up.
  • The game of "Guess the inmate based on their file" was a lot of fun. And yet, it was a little difficult to connect with because I do not know the name of that character. It was clear it was going to have importance in a major story somehow. Instead of them finding some scandalous detail, it's ultimately Maria getting her own file and seeing that Piscatella hasn't changed things.
  • The story of Stratman not being able to go to the bathroom when people are around him was incredibly silly. It comes right after the high of his stripper performance too. It largely just means that there are now two hostages trapped in the porta potties out in the field.

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.