Friday 13 June 2014

Orange is the New Black - None of this is how it’s supposed to go.

Orange is the New Black: 1x13 Can't Fix Crazy.

One of the questions that Orange is the New Black asks is what the women that are of the centre of its story need to survive, what they need to be able to hold on to in order to get through the everyday humiliations and deprivations of prison life. It’s both the small things – the little bits of luxury smuggled in from the outside, the make-up and the comfort food – and the big things, like Diaz falling in love with Bennett, Piper falling in love with Alex, Taystee and Poussey forming the kind of friendship that looks like it will be forever. And we’ve followed Piper from her first day in Litchfield to this point in the story, from being lost and without orientation, clinging to book knowledge and a vague idea of maybe learning a craft inside, making the time count, to acquiring the skills that she needs to stay alive. She proved and still proves to be surprisingly resourceful in the face of it all, getting through SHU, learning the ins and outs of prison life so she can figure out how to make it work for her, rather than against her, all the little ways in which the inmates try to gain back some agency from a system that tries to take everything from them. In this episode, she knows how to play the assistant warden to get a marriage request form that she needs, because Larry gave her an ultimatum (because the best way to fix relationships is with “do this or we’re done” ultimatums). She is shocked when Boo provides her with the screwdriver she accidentally took with her in the beginning of her stay in prison, but quick-witted enough to hide it in time for the warden, and bring it with her in case Pennsatucky goes through with her escalating threats. 
These two are just on a path of destruction, because everything that Piper represents is a thorn in Pennsatucky’s side – the privilege, the liberalism, the fact that Piper is so desperate to hold on to her beliefs even though it would make her life so much easier to just give into Pennsatucky’s demands, which are just as much about truly believing as they are about proving her power, both to herself and her followers. They both need something to not lose hope, but the two things are mutually exclusive. Pennsatucky needs Piper’s defeat, and Piper needs to prove that she can deal with the situation in a way that is still in tune with her own ideals. 

Larry’s father is the one who brings up “opportunity costs” when Larry tells him that they are getting married, and in a way, that’s still what Piper is doing: weighing not having someone to rely on and find comfort in for the remaining months inside against having a certain future outside once she leaves, the impossibility of dealing with prison life on her own, without Alex, against the impossibility of surviving without having a certain support network in place once her time is over. Piper is an opportunist, a pragmatist, but that doesn’t mean that her feelings for both Alex and Larry are genuine and strong. She decides that she chooses Larry, because she doesn’t “have the balls to freefall through life” with Alex, but Alex explains to her exactly what that decision means: “You may not come running to me again, not with your problems, not with your love, not with your need, or sadness, or anger, or even your laundry when it’s not specifically your laundry day. You may never come to me again. Ever.” 
Larry asks to talk to Alex, to make her realize that he is a human being that she is hurting, but only walks away from it realizing that he can’t frame her to be at fault for any of this, because it was Piper’s choice. 
Piper: I can’t believe you didn’t trust me to handle this on my own.
Larry: No, I didn’t. I didn’t, and doesn’t that say so much? I can’t be on your right anymore, Piper, I don’t think we share the same values. Why was I in such a hurry? Because I was afraid. You shouldn’t be with someone out of fear
Piper: No. No. No. No. No.
Larry: I’m sorry. I… bye, Piper.
Piper: No. Larry.
Piper was calculating whom she could afford to lose, which one of them was more important, less impossible to leave behind, but now she’s lost both of them. Larry can walk out for good and not come back, but Alex is trapped in there with her. 
It’s a slow escalation, Piper’s situation this episode: Pennsatucky gets increasingly more terrifying, first leaving a rat and a threat, then attacking her in the bathroom. It’s fitting that it happens after the nativity play, in which Pennsatucky is the angel; she found meaning in religion, because it was the first time that someone took care of her and looked up to her (so she fashions a cross into a weapon, just like she looked for quotes to justify her revenge in the bible – “I want you to feel the same pain in your body as you made me feel in my heart.”). Piper has lost everything that she was clinging to, but the thing that tips her over the edge – after fearing for her life and seeing Healy, the person who is meant to protect her from these situations, walk away (to take revenge on her for claiming back some power, because he’s a man who hates women but works in a women’s prison, and he hates women who have any kind of power even more) – is what Pennsatucky says to her. 
Pennsatucky: I see things. Hmm, she-devil, that’s what you are, you’re the devil. And I’m the angel of god. I mean, look at my dress, have you seen it? How is that for poetry. Cause god loves me, he ain’t love you, you ain’t worthy of his love, you ain’t worthy of nobody’s love.  So I think it’s time… that you die.
Piper wants to stay alive, and part of staying alive is holding on to the idea that she does deserve love. So she starts hitting Pennsatucky, because the same way that Piper is a symbol for everything that Pennsatucky loathes, Pennsatucky is for Piper. There’s nobody there to stop her. 

Random notes: 

I’ve started to watch the second season, and “I’m really starting to like Leanne” holds up well. 

Because it will be relevant: in the background throughout the season, we saw little bits and pieces of the kind of corruption and questionable strategies employed by prison management, where seeming is more important than being. Here, Figueroa subtly threatens Bennett, who revealed Red’s smuggling route and Pornstache’s drugs, and blackmails him into keeping quiet about it. It’s one of the many things that Caputo finds disgusting about how the prison is run (especially the fact that Pornstache only gets a suspension for what he did to Daya), and it sets them up to be antagonists in the coming season. 

I quite like the way that Nicky and Alex cling to each other in this episode, because they are both dysfunctional, but not in a way that makes them as poisonous and awful for each other as Alex and Piper are (for their specific sets of horriblenesses). They’ve both had their heart broken, they both need a distraction, and Nicky has been into Alex since the beginning, even if she seemed to be rooting for her and Piper too (in that way that rumours become the soap opera distractions in prison, even for the guards). 

It’s so cowardly of Larry to do this over the phone, knowing how awful it is for Piper to be so disconnected from the outer world. 

Red tries to regain her position in the kitchen by manipulating Gloria’s operation, but in the course accidentally severely hurts Murphy, one of her girls, which costs her their allegiance and friendship. 

Suzanne freezes at the nativity play, unable to sing a single verse. 

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