Saturday 4 January 2014

Orange is the New Black – There is no chicken.

Orange is the New Black: 1x05 The Chickening. 

Orange is the New Black portrays the different strategies that the inmates device in order to survive – the little bits of freedom they carve out for themselves, the community, the importance attached to small details that would be ridiculous on the outside. The Chickening, directed by Jodie Foster, follows a very peculiar myth amongst the women – one that Piper discovers quite by accident, while seeking a quiet place of solitude to drink her tea and read her book. The Chickening is also, and explicitly, an episode about faith, both in the traditional, religious sense, as Pennsatucky (slowly making her way to the foreground of the season) wages war against the rules of the shared chapel, and in the sense of peculiar places creating their very own religions, to sustain those literally trapped in them. It’s also played for the jokes, of course, but more seriously, it maps Piper’s transformation as she goes from regarding the escalation of the chicken stories from the outside, still connected to Larry’s world, to fully embracing the value that it has for the others, who’ve been inside longer. 
One of the characteristics of myths is that they are, to a certain extent, flexible, according to whatever audience is adapting them – and so the myth of the chicken changes through the different social groups in prison. Red is obsessed with the idea of cooking the chicken “that was smarter than other chickens, to absorb its powers”. Or maybe there’s drugs worth thousands of dollars inside the chicken – it takes whatever shape it needs to take to provide the faith and hope that is lacking, that is its true power. Piper goes from trying to explain to Larry the nature of her days in prison, which includes things like the chicken, and he reacts by basically ridiculing it because he doesn’t understand the importance of small details inside, to needing to prove that the chicken actually exists, both to save her standing with the other inmates, who blame her once they are punished for their attempts to catch it, and to prove to herself that she isn’t losing her mind. This becomes more important than the phone call that could maybe save her business, which her friend is failing to run on the outside, because anything beyond the prison walls isn’t as close anymore. Prison creates its own reality, and Piper finally succumbs to it in this episode, by letting go of something that she wouldn’t have before. It’s significant that this is also the very moment where she finds out – or rather, is lied to, by Larry – that Alex wasn’t the one who provided testimony against her. Larry makes the choice not to be honest with her because his father warns him that this will only create trouble; Piper will focus on an enemy rather than life with Larry after her sentence ends (and it’s just interesting to consider all the different reasons for lies and truths on both their ends, also Piper’s decision not to tell Larry that Alex is inside with her in the first place), but what he doesn’t consider before he tells her that lie is that to Piper, it means that Alex is in the right, and she is the one who wronged her. 
Piper first realizes the importance that the chicken has for the others – she delivers a rousing speech to Red, when the others start to chase her chicken, when Red sees her White Whale threatened by scores of other hunting parties. 
Piper: DOGS DOES NOT A CHICKEN CATCH. Determination, Red, that’s what catches chickens. Who wants that chicken the most? Who will prepare that chicken most expertly. The woman who dreams about it, the woman who was born to eat that chicken. You.
But it still takes a while for her to fall for the myth herself, and it’s almost like a choice after Healy once again creates a fictional “us” that includes himself and her, that seeks to draw a line between her and the other inmates based on reason and education. Piper knows that she is just like the others, because it’s a lesson she’s been taught every single day; if anything, most of the things that she knows are useless inside, and the others have readily, if sometimes violently, taught her lessons to survive. She needs that chicken just as much as everyone else in this “fishbowl”. 
Suzanne: Dandelion ain’t here right now. She’s gone to chase the chicken.  
The focus of the episode is Dayanara Diaz, who significantly does not take part in the chase for the chicken – and she doesn’t mainly because she is distracted by something else that promises to keep her sane inside prison walls, falling in love with Bennett, exchanging secrets notes with him, getting little presents that would be utterly insignificant on the outside, but are all the more important in an environment where everything is almost impossible. Her little piece of freedom in this place that nurtures everything but is to deny that she is doing any of this to profit, that her feelings for him are genuine. It’s not just the prison environment that makes this difficult, but also her own family, and the episode brutally portrays the lack of care and love that she got from her own mother, who left her to raise her brothers and sisters before getting arrested, and continues to treat her terribly in prison, under the guise of making her stronger but really just not caring enough to make an effort. While most of the other characters at least left these horrible family stories beyond the walls, Diaz’ are right here, constantly with her, which is all the more reason for her to seek refuge elsewhere. It’s just a piece of chewing gum, but it’s given out of love, and it’s more than she ever had at home. 

Random notes: 

The two people seemingly completely unaffected by the chicken are Alex and Nicky; which is perfect, since they are both realists, and it’s exactly this shared world-view that seems to occasionally draw them to each other. 

It’s probably mostly played for the laughs but there’s a certain point to Nicky and Morello having sex in the chapel – like religion does for Pennsatucky and some of the others, this is what both of them (Nicky maybe more) cling to in order to survive. It serves a purpose, which is always the point where the concept of authenticity becomes difficult (which will also soon lead straight into what’s happening with Alex and Piper). 

The episode reveals that Alex, after they broke-up, started doing her own drugs, and she is blaming Piper for it (because she was “abandoned”). Nicky is still very, very interested in that whole story. 

Sophia is also too busy to try and find a source for the hormones she so desperately needs, and she quite violently turns down the sister’s attempt to talk to her about the underlying guilt she has for leaving her son and wife behind. 
Red: You’re sure it was a chicken, not a pigeon?
Piper: No.
Wanda: What about a quail, or a pheasant?
Red: Goose, Grouse?
Morello: American Bald Eagle?
Piper: It was a chicken. I know what a chicken looks like. 
Red: And she said, soon, Red, we will be together. Soon I will be yours. 

Larry’s highpoint this episode: explaining to his parents what his article on “rimming” is about exactly. 

Pennsatucky: God has chosen to test our conviction.

Pornstache: That’s a rhetorical question. Do you not understand what the fuck a rhetorical question is?

Good choice to really underline the importance of the chicken moment for Piper by including religious church bells. 

No comments: