Saturday 7 June 2014

Orange is the New Black - When we get out of prison, what’s the plan?

Orange is the New Black: 1x12 Fool Me Once. 

Piper: They sounded a lot worse than they really were, and when I said those things to him, it was before I knew you, before I knew what a nice person you are. And you have to admit that you come on a little strong.
Suzanne: It’s okay, Dandelion, you know why? I used to spend a lot of time thinking how I could make you love me, like, if I had long pretty hair, or if I made a chocolate cake with frosting, or if I had a green bicycle.
Piper: No, you are great the way you are.
Suzanne: No, because the answer is, you’re not a nice person. You’re a mean person. And I used to think you was a yellow dandelion but you’re all dried up with the puff blown off, and it’s not your fault. You are who you are, like I am who I am.
Piper: I’m not mean. I didn’t mean to be mean to you.
Suzanne: You gotta start from the inside out, or else you step on the clean. 
Beyond the fact that she is in prison, the thing that Piper is faced with now goes much deeper: how well does she know herself? How terrifying is the thought that we might not know ourselves well enough to predict our own actions and reactions to events, that in addition to the unknowability of others, we are also ultimately to an extent not knowable to ourselves, because as much as we would like to believe that we are guided by principles, we sometimes resort to instincts not even known to ourselves. Piper insists that she isn’t a mean person (perhaps because she was never mean before, but then we know that she was, so she thinks she isn’t because she isn’t meant to be, not supposed to be), and yet what she did to Suzanne, revealing her to Larry and making fun of her feelings, was completely and utterly mean. Taystee, who carries one of the best scenes in this episode, thought she was ready to be free, break out of the confines of prison, the horrible way in which it infringes on even the most basic need for privacy – and yet, once faced with the outside, she faltered, unprepared to exist in a world that did not care about her. Yoga Jones isn’t a murderer, and yet she shot a boy. Miss Claudette didn’t allow herself to hope, but then she clung to the idea of still having a life waiting for her outside with everything she had, a hope that was then inevitably and terribly crushed. Sometimes we are impossible to predict for others but also difficult to predict for ourselves. 
I don’t know what the answer is. Acceptance perhaps, or attempting to cause as little damage as possible, and never stopping to grow. It’s so easy to fit yourself neatly into one category and stick to it if it comes naturally, but growing means accepting all the things that you didn’t think were part of yourself. Alex proposes taking ecstasy on a beach in Cambodia, a contrast to the Larry option of nesting and redecorating, but if this is all she has to offer, nobody ever grows. Alex’ biggest argument for sticking with her was always the fact that she hasn’t changed, and that she was always open about what being with her entailed – but then, where does growth actually happen? If Piper can only choose between two options, which one of them allow her to be herself entirely, rather than making a choice between two conflicting sides of her, both which are essential and important? It’s an impossible choice to make, between and for three people who have betrayed each other. Piper left Alex when she was most vulnerable, something that she shouldn’t have done to a friend, much less to someone she ever loved (“I’m an emotionally manipulative narcissist who bailed on you when your mother died.”); Alex betrayed Piper by ratting her out to the cops because she was only a faint memory at that point, not even a real person anymore, and it meant time off her sentence (“And I’m a ruthless pragmatist who sold you out and then lied about it”); Piper betrayed Larry, by sleeping with and falling back in love with Alex; and Larry betrayed Piper, by taking all her stories, stories that weren’t his to tell, and sharing them with the world. 
All of these betrayals seem to profound to make any kind of forgiveness possible, which is why Piper’s reaction to finding out about Alex seems so fitting: there is no point anymore in righteous anger, fury, shouting, if everyone has done the worst to each other already, then there’s no place to go to that could be more terrible. They’ve betrayed themselves as much as each other, and there’s no way to redeem that, so she might as well smile at Alex, pretend it doesn’t make any difference that she is the reason that Piper is in prison and that she lied about it even at a point where they were so intimate with each other. It’s also why Alex is so desperate to get a reaction, any kind of reaction out of Piper, because of what that apathy signifies. If there is nothing at stake, it means that nothing means anything anymore. 
Piper: Fuck you. Fuck you Alex. You want me to be angry, well guess what, I’m really fucking angry, because I love you Alex, I love you and I fucking hate you. I have really been trying to keep my shit together, but if you really need to see me hook out over this.
Alex: Larry left you, didn’t he? And that’s why you’re fake fine with me. Right now you’re willing to overlook pretty much anything because ultimately you are just terrified of being alone. Is that what I am to you, a fucking binky to suck on until you feel better? Look at me.
Piper: Why did you do it?
Alex: They were offering less time. A lot less time depending on how much I gave them. I hadn’t seen or heard from you in eight years. You weren’t even real anymore, which made it easier. And I was pretty sure one of the other guys would give you up anyway. And if I’m being really honest, I was still pissed at you, for leaving. For my mom. So yeah, at that moment I probably was just like, Fuck you, you know. I’m not proud of myself.
Alex: You lied to me. When I first got here, you could have given this whole speech right then.
Piper: I wanted you to like me. I still do.
Alex: Maybe you should have thought that all the way through.
That’s the other side of the episode: meaning, and the search for it, and what happens when we lose it. Pennsatucky feels robbed of the only thing that gave her strength, beat by what Piper did to her, by the meds that were given to her in Psych, her beliefs reduced to a pathology to be treated by a psychiatrist. She can’t believe in a god who let that happen to her, so regardless of what Piper did to get her out of Psych, she also took away the only thing that mattered (because she started nowhere, and went to have her fifth abortion, and decided to take a shotgun back into the clinic for an insult, and became a hero to the anti-choice movement, and they paid for her lawyer and they celebrated her – gave her a twisted, terrible meaning, but the first thing ever she could truly rely on). And what meaning is there in her being in prison if “There ain’t no judge, there ain’t no justice, we just crawl around this earth like ants, and then we die.”? Pennsatucky tries to win back her interpretation of the world, her meaning, by getting Piper on her side; if she manages to win her over, to make her believe the way she believes, she proves that the thing she trusts in exists. 
Piper: But I saved you, I got you out of Psych
Pennsatucky: You saved me from some shit that you got me into. Don’t be surprised if there’s no national holiday declared in your name.
Piper: You got me thrown into SHU.
Pennsatucky: Who’s talking right now? Do you realize you almost ruined my life? I mean, do you? You made the Almighty God into a joke, and a joke ain’t nothing to me, a joke ain’t write me letters in here, and a joke ain’t give me hope so I could do my time and make something out of it. What do you believe in?
Piper: Well. I’ve always thought that agnostic was sort of a cop-out, but if I had to label it, I’d say that I was a secular humanist, which is not to say that I was spiritual.
Pennsatucky: You’re not religious. So just stop. Stop. You believe in Hussein Obama, electric cars, and Shakespeare books, and do you go out to eat to restaurants. I don’t have any of that, kay, all I have is him.
Piper: I’m sorry.
Pennsatucky: Don’t ask for my forgiveness, you should ask for his forgiveness. You should get right with him, and then we’ll see that this was part of his plan. […]
Piper: Dear, Mr Christ? Dear Mr Christ, I know that I’ve done some things recently that have not been up to your standards, and I feel pretty ashamed. It’s really easy to point fingers, and I’ve done some things that I feel pretty lousy about. And I’m wondering if maybe you could make things right between us?
Pennsatucky: Meaning forgiven.
Piper: If I could be forgiven, that would be really.. that would be really comforting. Amen. How was that.
Pennsatucky: I think you took a step on the right road.
It would be so easy to just consider Pennsatucky an over-written, over-the-top villain, someone from a place so different from Piper, and so different from the presumed audience, that it’s just impossible to understand where she is coming from; and yet it’s necessary, because this is a show that uses Piper and the audience’s presumed familiarity with her world as a Trojan horse. It’s a pointless discussion for an atheist (or let’s say, someone without faith) and someone who believes to have, whether god exists, and what the existence of god means for someone, individually. You can discuss the relationship between church and state, or church and education, all of those things are possible, but the profound question of god’s existence is just a pointless discussion to have. If you don’t believe, the person you’re talking to does believe with the same fervour, with the same conviction, and it’s just the kind of thing where you can’t slip into someone else’s skin but just have to take their word for it. Nothing is gained from that discussion, nobody will be convinced. Pennsatucky tries to make a point by “saving” Piper, and Piper allows her that idea, because it’s easier than to get into another fight with her, and how comforting would the thought be that all it would take to be forgiven for what she did to Alex and Larry and Suzanne and herself could be a confession, that she could actually enjoy that same moment of grace that Pennsatucky experienced when she entered the court room and found a crowd of people cheering for her (even though they cheered her for a heinous crime)? It’s tempting, for a moment, to accept the perks of religion without truly believing, it’s like an easy way out for someone who’s spent her entire life never making harsh decisions until she couldn’t help but making them (and everytime, exactly because she could not make them before, or articulate her need to make them before, she ended up hurting someone). It’s a lie that it could be this easy for someone like Piper. She can’t go through with it in the end, the baptism, giving Pennsatucky the feeling that the person looking over her still exists because he could beat Piper into submission. 
Piper: I can’t pretend to believe in something when I don’t, and I don’t.
Pnensatucky: Chapman, we’ve all had our doubts.
Piper: No, see, this isn't doubts. I believe in science. I believe in evolution. I believe in Nate Silver and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Christopher Hitchens, although I do admit, he could be kind of an asshole. I cannot get behind some supreme being who weighs in on the Tony awards while a million people get whacked with machetes. I don't believe a billion Indians are going to hell, I don't think we get cancer to learn life lessons, and I don't believe that people die young because God wants another angel. I think it's just bullshit, and on some level, I think we all know that. I mean don't you?
Leanne: The angel thing does seem kind of desperate.
Pennsatucky: I thought you was a Christian?
Leanne: I am, but I got some questions.
Piper: Look I understand that religion makes it easier to deal with all the random, shitty things that happen to us, and I wish I could get on that ride, I'm sure I would be happier... but I can't. Feelings aren't enough. I need it to be real.
Pennsatucky: I tried to be your friend.
Piper: I hope it makes you very happy.
“Feelings aren’t enough”. Which might apply to Alex, her unwillingness to make any plans beyond “this is who I am, this is who I always was”. It might apply to Larry, and the fact that once again, he steals someone else’s words to make another proposal, to force her to make a choice that she can’t make right now in good conscience, because ultimately, they will never be in this together, because he gets to walk out and she doesn’t. 

Maybe the answer to all of this, all these unresolved conflicts, is Poussey and Taystee. As much as they love each other, Poussey was incredibly happy for Taystee when she got to leave, excited about the prospect of her friend having a shot at a life outside. And now that she’s back, she’s furious at the wasted opportunity, but at the same time, she cares about Taystee enough to truly listen when she explains to her what happened: that nobody cared about her outside, that every day was a struggle, that she couldn’t take anything for granted, not food, not a roof over head, not anyone’s friendship. It’s probably my favourite scene of the show – the anger, in the beginning, that Taystee is back inside - 
Poussey: I’ve been here two years. And I got four more. Eight months ago, when I was waxing fuckin floors in the cafeteria, my mom’s passed, and I wasn’t there to say the shit you’re supposed to say to your mom before she’s gone. So I know you ain’t telling me in my face right now that you walked back in this place because freedom was inconvenient for you.
And then comprehending what it meant for her best friend to be outside without her. They missed each other, and they love each other, so they’ll support each other no matter what. 

Random notes: 

This is important, but I couldn’t really fit it in with the review: the whole deal with Diaz and Bennett and Pornstache, and Red on the fringes of it, is about power, and who has it. This is the one kind of agency that this place affords Diaz, and she clings to it, not just for her own sake, but also for that of Bennett, whom she loves, and her baby’s – but Bennett doesn’t even come close to understanding, because he isn’t privy to the discussion that Caputo and the prison administrator have. Caputo argues that any kind of sexual activity between prison staff and inmates constitutes rape, because the inmates are in no position to consent to sex, considering the power difference, and the prison administrator argues that they, for the sake of PR, will not follow the book on this one, and only give Pornstache unpaid leave. This is how the power is distributed. Bennett sees it through the lens of someone in a committed, monogamous relationship, which doesn’t quite apply in the specific situation that Diaz is in – it’s romantic in all their tiny gestures of mutual affection, but at the same time, daily life is a struggle for her, and she has limited resources. It’s a luxury that he gets to ask her “who are you?”, because her choices are so limited. 

Pornstache gets Bennett to set up Red for his drug dealings. 

Fisher represents humanity, someone who doesn’t just empathize with the prisoners because she has a personal relationship with one of them, but someone who has empathy because she relates to their struggles – and she is the one that gets the “get tougher” speech, to strip all those small moments of humanity so the prisoners respect her more, except that behaviour triggers Miss Claudette’s downfall. It’s badly timed and awful, especially because it’s Fisher who triggers it, but it also shows how this entire system is set up in a way that just fails the inmates, again and again. They aren’t “people”, according to Caputo, they are “They are sheep. We feed them, we herd them from one room to the next. They’re not like you. You’re a woman. And I’m a man.”

Suzanne: Sometimes the feelings inside me get messy like dirt, and I like to clean things, pretend the dirt is the feelings, and this floor is my mind. That is called coping. And the COs don’t care, cause they like things clean, and that is called symbiosis.

Equal feelings of dislike and like for Piper’s brother (Calvin): on the one hand, there’s “it doesn’t matter cause Alex is a girl”, on the other, there’s “I’m just gonna go ahead that the problem here is your need to say that a person is exactly anything.” His girlfriend is pretty dope though, mostly because she’s wacky in a really eloquent non-hipster way.

Neri: Without me, all you’re doing is smoking pot in the forest, in a flannel shirt and a hipster bear, like a fat Bon Iver, the fucking Jack Johnson of Wisconsin.  

I’m also not certain about if it works that way, as a contrast to the way that Piper and Larry, not unlike Piper’s parents, never really have fights or articulate what bothers them about each other, while Calvin and Neri have massive fights about everything (and still are close enough for a proposal to work through the phone, with no beach-ring-romantics necessary because they care about each other so much). 

Absolutely loved the conversation between Janae and Yoga Watson about what landed her in prison and why she reacted so violently when Janae threatened to take away her only respite. They respect each other enough, and trust each other enough, for that kind of conversation. 

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