Friday 21 March 2014

Orange is the New Black - Just think of the story that you’ll have.

Orange is the New Black: 1x09 Fucksgiving.

Orange is the New Black has always portrayed all the little ways in which the inmates in Litchfield struggle against the limitations on their freedom, trying to preserve their individuality through make-shift make-up, carving out corners within the system that are their own. Red has her kitchen, Sophia her salon; Taystee, who is about to be released into a world that she’s never really lived in, since she’s been institutionalized in one way or another all her life, her library. Alex has her make-up, Diaz has Bennett, Yoga Jones has yoga – it’s a hard-earned dignity, but it’s theirs entirely. Piper has been long enough in prison now to have gotten used to the routines, and it looks like she’s found her place, with Nicky as a friend, the beginnings of actually being able to fix things, and her participation in some of the rituals (like the improvised good-bye party for Taystee with the little supplements that are available, and some coconut pie) – but beyond that, she doesn’t seem to be certain what the thing to hold on to to get her through her time really is. She’s privileged in the sense that she has a life waiting for her outside – which is important to remember, considering the cold and awful first day that Taystee has outside, once the enthusiasm of having left has worn off and she is confronted with a world that doesn’t care about her. But regardless, and especially in the wake of Larry’s article which got everything so wrong (he is, in this episode, reminded by the show’s version of Ira Glass that the article read like it was about a “long-suffering fiancé” rather than Piper, which he didn’t seem to have realized before), it’s not clear that holding on to that future is going to make the deprivation inside easier to bear. She misses being touched (“The body gets lonely in here”, replies Sophia, doing Piper’s hair for Larry’s Thanksgiving visit), and now that she is tentatively getting along with Alex again, thinking she wasn’t involved in her arrest, the memories they share are surfacing again as something more immediately available than the world she shares with Larry.
Fucksgiving is Alex’ episode as well, and it’s interesting to think of it as a contrast between Larry’s Thanksgiving party in his parents’ beautiful house, with all the friends he shares with Piper, and Alex’ origin story as the child of a groupie, struggling with financial issues and the bullying that comes with never having the right kind of clothes, and a rock-star-father who is completely absent but is constantly evoked as someone who is meant to give her meaning through her childhood. She seeks him out, later in life, and finds a broken ridiculous man, with a band that can’t fill a basement anymore – a disappointment, through and through, especially since she dreamed of something else, based on the stories her mother told her – but she does meet the man who will introduce her to her later line of work there, and knowing her background and her struggle, it’s an explanation of why she embraced that life so full-heartedly (and knew how to recruit rich girls as drug mules). It’s about the money, and about finally being cool, and about all the stories she has now, which is exactly what she shares with Piper (while, significantly, Larry doesn’t share stories with her, he just takes hers and makes them his, for profit). 
Alex can’t really explain to Nicky, when she tells hers what she used to do (and how Nicky would have been a perfect mark), why Piper was different from all the other girls that Alex recruited – it’s an unspoken intimacy between them, and just clear from the way they fall into their old patterns now that the lie that Larry told (not out of kindness) has changed Piper’s perception of Alex. They dance; and Pennsatucky is outraged (and sees an opportunity, it’s always both things with her), and takes it to Healy, who she knows is obsessed with Piper. And Healy, because of his obsession with the version of Piper he’s created in his head, throws her into SHU, the place that everyone is afraid of. 

SHU is awful because it’s so different from the rest of the prison, where one of the biggest burdens is the lack of privacy, the constant presence of other people. It was something that Piper struggled with for a while, but at the same time it’s a blessing because it kept her from having to confront herself, she was constantly distracted from thinking about situation and herself. It’s not made explicit in this episode (she talks about it later on), but what being so completely alone and without human contact does to her is having to wonder if the version of herself that comes out here is her true self, if being stripped of every luxury somehow means that her essence comes to the surface (and she has to confront the person she used to be, who said yes to Alex and yes to smuggling drugs). Here, the thing that she can hold on to, finally, and I think this moment completes her transition from being on the fringes of prison because of her connection to the outside, is her anger over a system that allows someone like Healy to send her there without a proper reason. She no longer feels like she is different from the others for her higher education or the fact that she has a different life than most of them waiting for her outside, because that is the very reason why Healy is so obsessed with her, why he wants to set her apart and make her his own creature in the process. 
Healy: I get you. You’re not like her.
Piper: The only sicko here is you. And “under different circumstances” what, I’d be your girlfriend? Is that it? Did I make you jealous? You put me in this hellhole for no reason.  Wake up, Healy! Girls like me? We don’t fuck ignorant, pretentious old men with weird lesbian obsessions. We go for tall, hot girls and we fucking love it! So that leaves you on the outside, living your sad, sad little life. You don’t get me, ever! So go fuck yourself!
The dignity that remains to her is insisting that he cannot shape her, that just because she is trapped, nobody owns her or her decisions. She regrets it later, when she realizes the absolute power that Healy has (and starts hearing a voice, equally soothing because it makes her less alone but terrifying because it confirms that there is no limit to how long she will be kept here, and the uncertainty is the worst part). In this moment, this is the one way she can make herself strong against a place where she is given inedible food, hears screams all day long, has to take showers cuffed to the wall, with a male guard present. She promises that “I won’t go near her, I won’t even look at her. I can do that. I can.” but in the end, the need to be with someone is stronger, and maybe it’s in part about raging against this institution and the sacrifices it demands of her. Ultimately, it’s impossible to untangle all these feelings. 
I was tangled in the all wires
Tied down and I felt the fire
There was nothing for me to do
I was searching but not for you
I am caught up in your desire
It's flush in the face desire
I wanna trade in the old for new
I was searching but not for you
I've been looking for a new emotion
I've been taken with a new emotion
I've been walking backwards
Does she takes Alex’ hand because of their shared history, or because she needs anyone to touch her? Is it the insurmountable distance between her and Larry because the experience that she is having inside is impossible to share? Is she terrified of the person she is when she isn’t with anyone? Whatever it is: this is her story. 

Random notes: 

Pornstache has successfully smuggled in his first stash of pills through Red’s food delivery, but Red finds them and dumps them in the toilet – the beginning of a struggle against him, in which he does everything (gross!) to demonstrate that there are barely any checks on his power. Healy’s the same, but he gets reprimanded (because Piper being a rich liberal is “well-connected”, a hint at how she is different from everyone else, just like pseudo-Ira-Glass told Larry when he pitched his idea) – and leashes out the only way he can, by calling Larry and telling him exactly why he chose to put Piper in SHU. 

A lot of other characters gets very good smaller moments too: we see Suzanne’s adoptive parents, Sophia struggles with the fact that her wife is falling in love with her pastor, and is told that not allowing her this happiness would be selfish in the face of what she did to find her own happiness (and she is, sort-of, rewarded with her old dosage of oestrogen once she gives her blessing)

Diaz decides to keep Bennett’s baby, but she wants to find a way to protect him from the fall-out. Coincides nicely with Red’s vendetta against Pornstache…

The Thanksgiving dinner scene at the Bloom’s was perfect with Maury there – every single person on that table more interesting than Larry, and Larry being the one person there trying so hard to impress him (Deep-sea welder vs. guy who wrote an article about his girlfriend being in prison). 

Maury: The problem is if we wanted to document prison, we’d probably talk to actual inmates. 

(what a great “this isn’t about you, you are the least important person in this story” moment)

Poussey saying goodbye to Taystee: a perfect moment, because there isn’t a single word that indicates how lost Poussey will be without her best friend, it’s only about being supportive and loving of someone who has a difficult second chance. 

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