Orange is the New Black: Finding a Balm for Your Pain

Orange is the New Black season 4 puts viewers through the wringer. Abuse, murder, death, mental illness, surviving rape, corporate greed. It’s dark and horrifying. There are moments of hope, of light. There are ways of dealing. I thought it would good to end my series of posts on the latest season of Orange is the New Black with something brighter. There are spoilers ahead.  Continue reading “Orange is the New Black: Finding a Balm for Your Pain”

Orange is the New Black’s Damning Portrait of For-Profit Prisons

There are a lot of things wrong with the United States of America. The broken justice (injustice) system is one of the worst. In season 4 of Orange is the New Black, the for-profit aspect of that brokenness is explored in damning detail. Litchfield, a minimum security women’s prison, is turned into a battlefield with corporate greed directing the battle. There are spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen all of season 4. Continue reading “Orange is the New Black’s Damning Portrait of For-Profit Prisons”

Orange is the New Black: Musings and Observations

Season 4 of Orange is the New Black is on everyone’s mind now. I’ve barely had time to watch it all. This post collects some random observations and stray musings on season 4. It is not meant to be a review of the season, but there are some spoilers.  Continue reading “Orange is the New Black: Musings and Observations”

Orange is the New Black: Pennsatucky and Big Boo

Toward the end of season 2 of Orange is the New Black, we saw the beginnings of a friendship between Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Doggett, AKA Pennsatucky, (Taryn Manning). In season 3 it becomes an important relationship for both characters.

Spoilers ahead.

Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria in the "Mother's Day" episode of Orange is the New Black
Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria in the “Mother’s Day” episode of Orange is the New Black

It starts immediately in episode 1 of season 3. Pennsatucky mourns all her pregnancies on Mother’s Day as the rest of the prison’s women celebrate with their visiting children. Big Boo comes to sit beside her.

Doggett says she feels terrible about all her abortions. Big Boo launches into a discussion of the book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. In this book there is a discussion about how the passage of Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion, lead to a reduction in the crime rate 20 years later. The hidden side of that story – and Big Boo’s point – is that unwanted and neglected children often end up committing crimes and being incarcerated.

This discussion was handled very tactfully and gave some comfort to Doggett, who knew she was a meth head and would have been a terrible mother.

So many back stories in Orange is the New Black are about women who weren’t loved and wanted as children. We see several such flashbacks in season 3.

The “Mother’s Day” episode started Season 3 on a series of character studies about how women in prison deal with motherhood. It shows the social costs of the war on drugs and the devastating effects on families when mothers are locked up because of minor drug charges. This practice only perpetuates a cycle of neglect and is one of the greatest failures of the idea of mandatory sentencing for drug crimes.

According to this article,

. . . six in 10 women in real federal prison are there for nonviolent drug crimes. For every woman who has committed murder there are 99 drug offenders. Almost none of the 99 are international drug smugglers like Alex Vause; most of the women incarcerated for crack cocaine or methamphetamine were caught with less than 100 grams, the weight of an average bar of soap.

Big Boo, Doggett, and Sofia in Sofia's work room
Lea DeLaria as Big Boo, Taryn Manning as Doggett, and Laverne Cox as Sofia in Sofia’s work room

Big Boo and Doggett become each other’s besties. Doggett, in particular, leans on Boo’s strength and wisdom.

Two factors lead to the next part of the story.

  1. Morello lost her job as van driver after Miss Rosa ran off with the van. Doggett is the new van driver.
  2. The prison is purchased by a for-profit company. They reduce the hours of the experienced correctional officers so they can take away their benefits. They hire new and untrained COs to fill the hours.

An inexperienced CO named Coates (James McMenamin) gets the job of guarding Doggett on van drives. He’s a complete moron. Pennsatucky has to tell him how to do his job. He gets her donuts from the other place where he works. They feed day old donuts to ducks and goof off when they should be returning to camp.

We see in a flashback that Doggett really has no idea what love is or how it’s expressed. Nor does she know how loving sexual contact works. She traded sex for goods – including six packs of Mountain Dew – as a teen. She’s confused because Coates gives her treats and tells her he likes her.

Tucky's not home
Tucky’s not home during the rape.

Coates rapes her. Doggett isn’t really sure what happened. She knows she didn’t like it, but Coates brings her a cheap bracelet and she thinks he’s just showing her his love.

When Big Boo figures out what has happened, she delivers some great dialog about consent and force that makes Doggett understand that she was raped. It’s a brilliant scene. Boo brings in a pile of goodies from the commissary, dumps them on Tucky’s bed. When Pennsatucky asks what they are for, Boo says, “I want you to eat me out.” Pennsatucky says, “No, that’s gross.” And Boo defines consent in a completely compelling way that finally makes Tucky get it.

They agree it’s pointless to report Coates. It will be a he said, she said story and they know how those turn out. They decide to drug Coates and take revenge on him by sticking a broom up his ass. When they’ve got him passed out over a table in the laundry with his bare butt exposed, Doggett can’t do it. It may be her first moral decision ever.

Doggett finds a way to escape her duties as van driver, only to see Maritza (Diane Guerrero) given the job. Doggett and Big Boo look at each other in dismay when they see Maritza report to Coates. It will be season 4 before we see what happens with Maritza.

That these two unlikely souls connect is one of the most beautiful aspects of season 3. Doggett is less of a crazy religious zealot after her past experiences, and she’s less homophobic because she sees Big Boo as a person now. Boo is good for Doggett. Their friendship allows for conversations that mean much in terms of what season 3 is about. Lea DeLaria, in particular, gets to deliver some of the best lines of the season during her interactions with Pennsatucky.

Big Boo’s back story is explored in detail in season 3, which gives Lea DeLaria situations where she defends who she is to her parents and to a homophobic world with even more excellent dialog.

Both Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria deserve recognition for their outstanding performances this season.

Orange is the New Black Rewatch Binge

June 12 and the release of season 3 of Orange is the New Black is just far enough away to let me rewatch the first two seasons in a cozy binge.

This is what fascinates me: the series starts out with the main story being about Piper, the privileged white woman who ends up in prison. The regular cast members listed are Taylor Schilling, Michael Harney, Kate Mulgrew, Laura Prepon, Michelle Hurst and Jason Biggs. By the second & third episode some of the actors like Danielle Brooks, Uzo Aduba, Natasha Lyonne, and Laverne Cox begin to show up as guest stars.

Actors we’ve grown to love from the show such as Dascha Polanco, Selenis Levya and Samira Wiley were listed in the ending credits. They didn’t even show up as guest stars early in the series.

I’m struck by how much of the story of what’s happening in Litchfield Prison has moved away from the white characters and how the minor actors in the beginning like Samira Wiley have moved up to become regulars.

As viewers, we have become attached to characters that we might never have had a chance to like and respond to anywhere else but in Orange is the New Black. It’s brilliant how Jinji Kohan and the other writers let Crazy Eyes and Big Boo and Gloria and Nicky and Morello sneak their way into our hearts by bringing each to the front slowly. Not to mention Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) and Maritza (Diane Guerrero), Watson (Vicky Jeudy) and many others.

A scene from OITNB

After two years, the most popular characters on OITNB are played by Samira Wiley, Danielle Brooks, Lea DeLaria and Laverne Cox. We no longer have to be lead into Litchfield stories by holding hands with someone white. Because of great writing, great acting talent, great personal presence, the most “other” members of the cast have become the default stars on Orange is the New Black. The story and the characters took off like a runaway train with a momentum that has carried us far from the original story in the book by Piper Kerman on which the series was based.

There are still white people in the story. Piper and Alex are still there, Red is still around, Nicky and Morello are still there, all the correctional officers and prison bosses are still there. But Piper is no longer the chief focus. In season 2, when Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) was around, much of the focus was on her and her effect on everyone at Litchfield. We’ll see where things go in season 3, but I’m 100% behind the diversity. I’d love to see one of the Hispanic characters become more known and important.

We’ve accepted the rainbow of characters who inhabit the prison, we care about them all. It’s a act of writing and planning by Jinji Kohan that I admire and respect. Diversity on our TV screens has an effect on the culture. I can’t wait to see how OITNB brings more of it in season 3.

What I’m waiting to see is the day when a black woman or a Hispanic woman or an Asian woman can be the lead character to lead us into a drama like this one.