Monday, June 12, 2017

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - The Inmates Receive Some Gifts in 'Flaming Hot Cheetos, Literally'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 5.06 "Flaming Hot Cheetos, Literally"

Boo defends Doggett, Janae consoles Soso, and Lorna comes on to Nicky. While Alex lays low in the yard, Piper decides to take a stand.

The narrative stakes of the prison riot are starting to be more disparate and problematic in "Flaming Hot Cheetos, Literally." All of that is conveyed in an interesting way in the main plot of the episode. A negotiator for the Governor arrives at Litchfield. She's now the one in charge. She's giving in to the demands that are easy to make happen. She delivers Cheetos, Takis and tampons. They are gifts of comfort. It can be seen as a victory for the inmates. They are finally being taken seriously. Their demands are being met. So, this riot is working. And yet, that's not what's actually happening. These were the easy demands to make happen. They are items of comfort. The consequences of accepting them unconditionally can be quite devastating as well. If the inmates welcome these gifts, it means they have to give away some of their power. That includes the hostages. For the inmates who aren't really engaged with the riot overall, they are fine with just enjoying this food and relaxing. But for those who do take it seriously, it's actually a slap in the face and makes it seem like their fight is not being taken seriously. It's a precarious line that the show has to walk this season. Not all of the characters will take the riot seriously even though it affects all of them. They have unified before in the riot. But they aren't right now. Too much is happening and some are starting to lose their way because it's not a cause they think is worth fighting for.

This episode gets its power from Taystee's story. She has essentially become the lead character this season. That's very good as well because her personal stakes are so abundantly clear in this story. She needs to do whatever it takes in order to get justice for Poussey. She's fighting so hard to make Litchfield a better place because the prison is her home. It's the environment where she has thrived and come alive. Because of her increased importance this season, one would expect her flashback episode to deliver a knockout emotional punch. It doesn't and that is a little disappointing. The flashbacks are a little formulaic and conventional here. Taystee is aging out of the foster care system and has the opportunity to meet her birth mother for the first time. It is a moving reunion. But it's not surprising that Taystee doesn't eventually move in with her. It's not anything new for the character. The audience already knew that she had a terrible experience in foster care, took comfort from Vee and couldn't make it in the outside world after being released from Litchfield. The only thing that lit a spark in her was meeting Poussey for the first time. That's such a surprising moment. It's emotional to see Samira Wiley back on the show given what happened to her and how powerful her memory is in the current story. It's rewarding because it reinforces that core friendship between her and Taystee. It wasn't a necessary reminder but it's still great to see one more interaction between the friends.

Plus, that final moment with Taystee lighting the gifts on fire is such a badass and dramatic moment to end on. She's passionate and takes the riot seriously. She won't be bought off. Giving in to these demands is not the appropriate response. The inmates need to stand tall and united because that's when change will come. Right now, it's largely just a small collection of people leading the charge. That includes Taystee, Black Cindy, Janae, Alison and Piper. It's fascinating to see Piper becoming an ally in this fight. It was really annoying her that she had to sit idly by even though she agrees that the inmates need to fight in order to improve the living conditions at Litchfield. Alex was the one holding her back because of her fears about the riot and the attention it's bringing. But it's also great that the show plays into the fact that Piper is an unlikable character. It leans into that quality with her. It's how she is able to help Taystee with this big demonstration. She collects all of the food because she doesn't care if she hurts people's feelings in the process. They had their comfort. But now, it's time to give it back because there is still so much more to fight for. This isn't fundamentally Piper's story to tell. The show isn't treating it as such either. But she is choosing to be more active in the story which should have interesting complications later on. Right now though, she's the camera person to make sure Taystee's message is heard.

All of this is incredibly powerful stuff. And yet, it's weirdly paired with the silliest plot yet this season. Pennsatucky needed to face some kind of punishment for handing the gun over to Coates and allowing him to escape. She did it because of her personal feelings for him. It screwed everyone else over. And yet, the guards on the outside haven't stormed the building yet. So now, the inmates have the time to debate what Pennsatucky did and what her punishment should be. It's an interesting concept that gets lost too much in the execution. It doesn't really examine things in a serious and dramatic way. It doesn't explore how Pennsatucky and Coates' complicated relationship could ruin so much for the inmates. It instead features Boo riffing on Saved By the Bell for a couple of minutes. Granted, that is pretty amusing to watch. But it does take the audience out of the severity of the situation overall and for the individual character. The resolution is great because the inmates choose to show Pennsatucky compassion when the system so rarely gives it to them. They sentence her to community service because they want to be better people who believe in rehabilitation. That shows they are aspiring to more now and have the willingness to stand by their fellow inmates despite the awful things they have done. But the message is muddled because of what happens during the actual trial. It's a type of story that works less given the severity of the stakes overall this season.

And finally, there are the people whose lives are defined by avoiding the riot completely. Frieda welcomes more people into her secret bunker. Those granted with the map to the hideout include Gloria, Yoga Jones, DeMarco, Gina and Norma. It could seem like a collection of recurring characters who need an explanation for why they aren't appearing in more of the season. They are simply hiding in this place far removed from the prison life. Except Gloria still has narrative importance. She's wanted to look out for the people she cares about and ensure the riot doesn't corrupt them forever. But now, it seems like she's accepting not having to do everything for everyone else. Of course, the reveal that the secret bunker is actually bigger than it seemed likely suggests it will be more important in the future too. Elsewhere, Nicky and Lorna are on again with their relationship once more. However, it's more toxic than it has ever been before. They keep repeating the same pattern of having sex only for Lorna to be filled with regrets afterwards. She's the one who has to decide they are back together. Nicky is always game for it but Lorna feels the pull to her husband. And now, there is the added complication of her potentially being pregnant. That could be a lot of fun. But it also comes with a huge reality check for these characters. They can't simply be following the same pattern over and over again. They have to have the strength to break the cycle. Yes, Nicky's words may be harsh. But they may also be exactly what Lorna needs to hear at the moment.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Flaming Hot Cheetos, Literally" was written by Lauren Morelli and directed by Andrew McCarthy.
  • Bayley is still trying to punish himself in the outside world. It's an interesting story. It's necessary to see his perspective. And yet, he can't receive too much sympathy either. So, he's growing more and more frustrated at the people who say it will all be fine for him. But it's also intriguing to see him see the world from the inmates' perspectives for the first time as well.
  • It's nice to see Bell and O'Neil again even though it's in the context of Bayley's story. They serve as reminders of a simpler time at Litchfield where the guards knew what they were doing. And now, Bell and O'Neil seem happy. Bell is even extremely pregnant. So, life is seemingly good for them.
  • It's not surprising at all that Aleida's interview on the local news goes awry. She listens to the advice of her cousin instead of actually talking about life inside Litchfield. Plus, she is constantly swearing which cuts the interview short. It's fun but it's also not quite clear how this story is going to be important in the grand scheme of things.
  • Janae shares a touching story to Soso about how she misses a weird tick that Poussey used to do before falling asleep each night. And then, she teaches Soso how to run in order to get out all of her anger and aggression. It may work or it may not. Only time will tell.
  • The Red and Blanca story is just dragging so much. It's the same joke for literally a couple of episodes now. They are running around the prison high on something. It's making them crazy in their pursuit of answers and trying to take Piscatella down. It really limits them as characters. It's clear the show is just bidding time until this information can be just later in the season.
  • Speaking of Piscatella, it continues to be so fun to see the newcomers in charge at the scene push him and his ideas aside immediately. He wants to storm the place because the inmates are acting like animals while everyone else wants a peaceful resolution. It's fun now but could turn dangerous if Piscatella ever returns to being in charge.

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.