Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria in “Orange is the New Black”
If season one of “Orange is the New Black” was about exploring who Piper (Taylor Schilling) is, and season two expanded to explore who the other inmates are, then season three is shaping up to be about Litchfield Penitentiary itself. How Litchfield functions and what it means to those who are incarcerated and work there has been in the background of the series since the first episode. In the pilot, Piper (and by extension the audience) quickly learns prison will be nothing like she expects. The misconceptions about prison life, especially in minimum security situations, are widespread and the realities harsh.
In the middle of season three’s fourth episode, “Finger in the Dyke“, there is a single scene involving Soso (Kimiko Glenn) and a visit she gets from her friend Meadow (Andi Matichak). When Meadow all but congratulates her for being in prison, showering her with accolades ranging from “brave” to “cool”, Soso explodes. There is nothing cool about being in jail, certainly nothing brave, and as Soso admonishes her friend and admits it to herself, we are forced to confront just how much of an act many of the inmates put on everyday to fool themselves into feeling comfortable.
It’s apropos that Big Boo, a.k.a Carrie, (Lea DeLaria) would take center stage in this hour. It seems like she has known exactly the person she is for as long as she’s been alive. At a young age, she confidently argues with her parents about being forced to wear a dress, to conform to someone else’s idea of normal. Later, she physically confronts a young punk who hurls slurs at her and her companion in public. Even in prison, she’s loud and proud. But something happens in this episode that demonstrates the confidence and aggression might be hiding something, she sees herself in the mirror.
After hatching a plan to con a hateful church, one that already financially supports Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning), she knows her best way is to pretend to have “prayed the gay away”. Her normal and comfortable butch appearance won’t fool them so she visits Sophia (Laverne Cox) for a makeover. When Boo sees herself in the mirror, she sees her mother looking back. This is the first crack Boo has ever shown in her persona. She’s had to be such an ardent defender of herself and her lifestyle for so long she even gave up the opportunity to say goodbye to her mother as she died.
It is a regret she has carried for a long time but buried under anger at not being accepted. Her outer confidence belies a buried insecurity as she still struggles for acceptance, a balancing act she embraces after proclaiming her identity to the church pastor – confident being true to herself is more important than convincing others.
Convincing others is exactly what the rest of the inmates have to do as Management & Correction Corporation tours the facility to see if they will buy and effectively privatize Litchfield. Caputo (Nick Sandow) brings MCC representatives, including Danny (Mike Birbiglia), around the prison trying to convince them to open their corporate wallet while trying to convince the inmates to be on their best behavior. The expected comedy of errors ensues but Danny calls Caputo at the end of the episode with good news; because the maximum security building up the road, and its unused space are part of the deal, MCC considers it a no-brainer to buy the prison. This is when the focus on the prison snaps into focus.
“Fake It Till You Fake It Some More” shows exactly how MCC plans to impact life within the walls of Litchfield. Rumors quickly circulate about a new job working for the corporate overlords that pays a whopping $1 an hour (compared to the eleven cents they usually make). In order to fairly assign the work, an aptitude test is given to any inmate who wants to apply. A list of the names lucky enough to be selected is posted and even those not chosen accept the results as final.
Danny reveals to Caputo tests were just selected at random and Caputo balks. Random selection isn’t much of a system for selecting workers after all. The system isn’t what’s important in this case. The idea of the system is the most important thing. Those on and off the new job list think they are there for a reason and that brings order to a unruly place. As the first question of the test put it, “Do you think ideas are more important than things?” Belief in the idea of a system can be much more powerful than an actual system.
A commonly believed idea can convince a ragtag group of individuals there is order and purpose to their suffering. The result is a place that will function until it catches a glimpse of itself in the mirror and the first cracks start to appear. I can’t imagine those cracks are too far away.
I really enjoyed the Red/Healy romance fake out, what did you think? How do you think MCC will change life at Litchfield? Will Alex’s paranoia turn out to have some basis in reality?