Sunday, August 4, 2019

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Tragedy Invades the Prison and Taystee's Life Once More in 'The Big House'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 7.12 "The Big House"

Taystee meets with a lawyer. As the GED exam looms, Suzanne gives Pennsatucky a pep talk. Gloria faces a dilemma. Alex confronts Piper.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black.

"The Big House" was written by Brian Chamberlayne and directed by Phil Abraham

When Nicky goes to Red for advice on how to be a great prison mother, Red's response is essentially the thesis statement of the show. Life is fundamentally about seeing how much each individual person can take. We may hit walls but those serve as powerful reminders of what to avoid in the future. It's all just an experiment to see how much we can take. In prison, that is only amplified further because it's a system that doesn't care to embrace the humanity of the inmates. Instead, it just wants to break as many as possible so that they have no hope of a meaningful future outside of these walls. That's absolutely demoralizing. The show has always been good at allowing the characters to feel hope while being painful aware that their humanity will ultimately cost them so much more. Gloria snuck a phone into the ICE detention center because she felt the need to help the vulnerable who were taken away from their children. And now, she receives the threat of five more years to her sentence. She is nine days away from getting out. That goes completely out the window now because she saw the humanity in her fellow women who were being abused by a heinous and vicious system. She accepts the burden herself when it would be so easy to blame it on Ruiz. She has sentenced her with more time in the past. But Maria shows off her humanity as well. She too is a changed person trying to do better. She wants the time to be there for part of her daughter's childhood. That's so meaningful. That's all that is driving Maria forward at this point. It's what defines Gloria's life as well. These are the bonds that are special. They have to do whatever it takes to survive in prison. But at the end of the day, they are working to get back to the families that are still there for them and love them in the outside world. That journey may not be easy. But it's what bonds them together. It is a sense of self-preservation as Red notes here. She is never going to get out of prison. And yet, she passes along these lessons to those willing to listen. She has done so much to care for people in their times of need. And now, Nicky also has to accept the fact that Lorna will inevitably be sent to Florida. She can't avoid that forever. She is seeing just how broken Lorna has always been. She may have been functional for a long time. But her delusions have completely taken over her personality to the point where she can no longer process what's really happening in front of her. That's absolutely devastating. It shows that love isn't always enough to conquer the challenges of the world. Alex and Piper understand that their marriage can't function like it has been for the next three years. They can't continually be worried about what the other is doing and if they are being faithful to their vows. Piper has developed feelings for Zelda. She sees a bright future for herself once more. Meanwhile, Alex is caught as the victim of the system once more because McCullough exerts her power to transfer her out-of-state. That may completely destroy any sense of love and intimacy that Alex and Piper may still have. That could ensure that everything is changing just as the show is coming to its end.

The most tragic quality of this penultimate hour though is Taystee's continued descent into depression and suicidal thoughts. She has had to endure more pain than any of the other main characters. She may be the heart of the show but she has simply had to deal with too much. Her lawyer doesn't come with good news. Suzanne's book isn't enough to change the verdict in her case. It might make it clear that she is innocent but no one is willing to take on that fight for her. Taystee got her hopes up once more only to again be rewarded with more pain and suffering. That's the way this system works. She has tried to look out for other women trapped within this system. She tried to get justice for Poussey's tragic death. She wants to create a program that helps inmates fresh out of prison get back on their feet. She formed connections as a GED tutor. And yet, those were just things to occupy her mind to mask the pain of all this tragedy. She has always had the strength to keep living. But now, she has faced the reality that it may be pointless. The world doesn't care about her. She is defeated. That is amplified by her meeting with the lawyer. That extends through everything that happens later on. She doesn't feel like celebrating during Ward's party to mark the end of the first semester of programs. That party atmosphere really takes the show back to what life was like at Litchfield for so many seasons. The rules were looser and the inmates had the opportunity to really form lasting and meaningful connections. Taystee only looks at it as the opportunity to get a satisfying last meal from Storky's. She accepts that people want to help her. They just don't always know how or even have the ability to make a difference. She sees the hard work that Ward and Caputo are doing. They believe in the value of rehabilitation and redemption. And yet, it's hard to avoid the clear signs that some addictions and patterns may be constant no matter what. That fuels this defeatist mentality that extends far beyond Taystee. It was the system that let her down and created the situation where she couldn't get back again. The same was true of Tiffany's entire life. It was a massive relief when she was finally given a dyslexia diagnosis. She finally had the understanding that she was smart. Her brain just worked differently. That's perfectly alright too. Because of Luschek though, she doesn't get extra time on her GED test. That's so destructive. It makes Tiffany feel as if she has lost before it even begins. She lashes out at the world once more. She too no longer feels the need to keep trying. It won't mask the fact that they are all still in prison. She has such a close friendship with Suzanne. She has a tutor in Taystee who supported her in this endeavor. And yet, she was still left in a place where she thought drugs were the only salvation for her. She had to succumb to that vice once more because it felt like the only comfort she deserved. That's tragic and disappointing. She deserves so much more from this world. But instead, Taystee finds Tiffany on the floor after an overdose. In that moment, Taystee was deciding whether or not to take her own life. Poussey's words can only keep her hanging on for so long. Those may be all that she has though. Tiffany's potential death could only disrupt this world even further. It could undo all the hard work that several people were trying to do. It could ensure that this series ends just as tragically as it has always been capable of being. That would be bleak but also fitting given the realities of the current prison system.