Thursday 16 April 2015

Orange is the New Black - I’m just telling you how to survive.

Orange is the New Black: 2x09 40 OZ of Furlough.

Piper’s dad: I’m sorry honey, I just can’t see you like that.
Piper: Like what?
Piper’s dad: You’re my little girl. That woman in there, that’s not who you are.
Piper: That’s exactly who I am. 
What a wonderful kid you WERE. Always ACHIEVING. We just want you to know, dear, we still see you as that person. We’re sure you’re anxious to return to THAT person.
Piper: I’m not, actually.
What effect does being in Litchfield have on the inmates? What do they turn into, how far are they willing to go to survive, what happens to friendship and love? Piper gets to leave prison behind for 48 hours to attend her grandmother’s wake and funeral, but she can’t leave the person that she has become behind. Poussey, attempting to be pragmatic for once and selling cigarettes for Vee, discovers that she is up to much more terrible things than just smuggling tobacco into prison, and that Taystee – her life partner, her friend, her anchor – is deeply involved in all of it, an unwilling to give it up. We see how Red and Vee ended up on opposite sides, struggling for their power, and how ruthless Vee is, how willing she is to exploit any kind of emotional weakness. We see what happens when someone doesn’t feel taken seriously, not appreciated enough – when Red holds a feast to apologize to her friends (and perhaps, consolidate her power), she doesn’t realize how much Big Boo is asking for, and what the consequences of Boo knowing about her pathway into prison and being aware how much that knowledge would be worth to Vee could be. What can you count on when everyone spends every day looking over their own shoulder or counting their profits? 
Piper seems to come to the conclusion that she cannot deny being the person who did all the things that landed her in prison, because embracing this fact is the only way she will survive the fall-out. Being denied that identity by her whole family, who remembers only parts of her, and whatever story her parents want to tell about her, is constricting, it makes having to go back and face more time inside impossible. She has to embrace her identity rather than pretend that being with Alex was a slip-up, something that didn’t fit in with who she was. It would mean denying her resilience and ability to survive and even grow, her strength and resourcefulness. Her old life is packed in boxes. Her fiancé tells her that he has been seeing someone else (for now, he only mentions that she knows that person, the reveal that it’s Polly will be even harder to bear). More than anything, her furlough isn’t a chance to say goodbye to her grandmother (which she does in telling a quite moving story – “life is made in mistakes” – while her brother turns the whole proceedings into a chance to get married with food and drinks provided by someone else), but to finally come to terms with who she has become in Litchfield, or perhaps, who she has always been. She is alienated by the way she is approached by everyone in her family, because this is no longer her reality. Keeping the parts of herself that resemble the person they are describing safely locked up so she can return to her once she leaves Litchfield isn’t going to help her. She demands to be seen as a whole person – problematic, flawed, occasionally terrible, but also, in light of the way that she is stripped of dignity and private pace, strong, fierce, stubborn. 

Elsewhere, back in Litchfield, Healy struggles through an appointment with a counsellor to address his severe anger management issues (“I thought we just established that I’m uncomfortable with everything”), and the fact that he is now disillusioned by his job. She tells him that shifting our perspective a little bit can make all the difference, and that is just what he does when he realizes that Pennsatucky of all people (sent to him after she beats up Leanne) shares his issues. Like he, she sometimes feels overwhelmed by her feelings and incapable of expressing them in any other form but aggression. In a way, they start saving each other in their terrible dysfunctional way. Healy will work through his issues by counselling her. They’re maybe the two loneliest people in Litchfield, and tragic-comic in their abandonment, but at least they’re two characters who are trying very hard this episode. 

Piper’s insights about personal growth are in contrast to what Vee has been up to. She remains remote, mostly characterized by her ruthlessness and readiness to do anything for a profit margin and to increase her power. The episode takes some time to connect the dots and reveal what her ultimate plans are: she’s sitting in on the substance abuse help group, Leanne approaches Poussey (of all people) to trade something considerably more valuable than cigarettes, and in the end – observed by Poussey, who is losing another fight, more tragically than before – Nicky receives a free gift: the drugs she’s been struggling so hard to beat. Vee is bringing in drugs, and Poussey is well aware at what kind of toll that will take, the personal ruin and destruction this will cause. 
In the flashbacks, we see that Vee would never consider any of this. Back in the day, when Red first came into prison, she pretended to be her friend, and helped her establish herself with the very supplier contracts that originally landed her in prison. Vee realizes how important Red is, because Red has a way inside. But once Red is established – and still convinced that Vee is her friend – she takes it all, violently, and leaves bleeding on the floor of her kitchen just to drive home the point that she will not accept opposition, and cares nothing for personal relationships. It’s a lesson that Red has learned, but one that still escapes Taystee. 
Taystee: Who cares what she’s doing? That’s her business. She’s been really good to me and I’m not about to turn away from that. Vee is my family.
Poussey: I thought I was your family.
Taystee: You both are my family.
Poussey: What if we were both drowning in the ocean and you could only save one of us?
Taystee: Why can’t I save both of you?
Poussey: I don’t know, because you can’t, because there’s not enough room in the boat.
Taystee: Listen up, Poussey, I’m done as a burnt burger with this shit, no more talking about Vee, to me or to anyone and P, that woman don’t play around. Don’t get in her way. Or mine. You hear?
Poussey: Yeah.
What hurts most isn’t the threat that Vee might do something terrible to Poussey, it’s that Taystee is willing to extend that threat to herself. Their friendship isn’t essential enough to Taystee to take it more seriously than anything else, but it means everything to Poussey. This means that she isn’t losing everything that is keeping her alive inside – it means she never truly had it in the first place. 

Random notes: 

Pornstache comes back, and Bennett reacts angrily, aggressively, attempting to prove that he can fill that space, but failing (a showcase of how the very rules of Litchfield make a humane treatment of the inmates impossible, especially when hurt male egos are thrown into the mix) – but Daya tells him that she regrets setting him up, and that she considers him to be innocent (and also, again, that Bennett is doing exactly what they accused Pornstache of doing, and the only difference is how they feel about each other, it doesn’t change anything about their inherently skewed power dynamics). She asks Bennett not to take any steps without consulting her, but of course, he doesn’t listen, and ends up telling Caputo that Daya’s baby is Pornstache’s. What could possibly go wrong?

Brook starts a hunger strike “in protest of the reprehensible conditions in this facility”. 
Pennsatucky: Well that’s just super stupid. And dumb. And mean and cruel and stupid. And yeah I said stupid twice, only to emphasize how stupid that is. 
Piper goes to find Red’s store, but it’s closed. 

Gosh, Nicky’s face. Natasha Lyonne and Samira Wiley are doing their best at breaking hearts this season. 

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