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”

Review: Fear The Walking Dead

Fear The Walking Dead is a 9 episode prequel to The Walking Dead and currently showing on AMC prior to the opening of the new season of The Walking Dead. So far, there have been two episodes.

This series is set in Los Angeles at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse we’ve seen so much of in The Walking Dead. In Fear The Walking Dead people are just starting to think something big is happening. Only a few of them realize that the social order that they rely on is about to collapse, but some of them are getting a hint and starting to take measures.

We in the audience are in the know. We know what people should be doing but aren’t. It’s tense and nerve wracking because the audience knows what’s coming the but characters don’t.

Madison and Travis in the church were Nick saw the zombie.
Madison and Travis in the church where Nick thought he killed a girl. But she didn’t die. What?

We are taken into the story with Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), educators on their way to work in a large high school. Madison has a teenaged daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) who goes to her high school. Madison also has a drug-addicted son Nick (Frank Dillane) who is one of the first to see and attempt to kill a zombie when he wakes up in an old church that drug addicts have taken over.

Kim Dickens’ performance in the first episode as the parent of a drug-riddled child was so moving, I wanted to whole series to be about that.

Elizabeth Rodriguez
Liza searches for her son Chris. No, Elizabeth Rodriguez isn’t really behind bars in this show.

Travis has a son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) and an ex Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez). This blended family group takes us through the first two episodes. In the beginning, their world consists of worry over work, Nick, and visitation arguments over Chris.

One of Madison’s students, Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos) gets it. He tries to tell her that she needs to gather food and take action to protect herself because the world is about to change completely. She should have taken him with her and her family, because he is the smartest one around, but she doesn’t.

By episode 2, Travis and Madison are getting the idea that something strange is happening. They want to get out of LA and head into the dessert. Several factors delay them. Nick is going through withdrawal and Madison has to find him some drugs.

Lorenzo James Henrie
Chris filming what he thinks is a confrontation over police brutality

Chris is filming at a huge protest, which the protesters think is about police brutality. Chris thinks all is normal. Travis and Liza go in search of him. The protest turns into chaos and a riot when the police arrive en masse and zombies stagger into the scene.

Rubén Blades and Patricia Reyes Spíndola
Daniel Salazar and Grizelda in his barber shop

Travis, Liza and Chris manage to find refuge in a barber shop, just as the owner Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) is boarding up against the riot outside. His wife Grizelda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) spends her time praying. The Salazars also have a grown daughter played by Mercedes Mason. It was hard to tell much about her yet but she looks like her health might be delicate.

This core group of characters, minus the much needed sage Tobias, will take us through the next episodes.

Fear The Walking Dead is less violent and grisly than what we’ve grown used to with The Walking Dead. It may turn violent, but after two episodes, the characters have the barest glimpse of the chaos that is in store for them. The characters are varied and compelling, each for their own reasons. The acting is excellent.

The large cast of characters promise all sorts of responses to the collapse of world order that is coming. It should make for interesting action in the next 7 episodes as we see them put to the test.

If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, I’m sure you are already watching this. What do you think of it so far?

Images © AMC Film Holdings LLC

3 Themes in Season 3 of Orange is the New Black

Season 3 of Orange is the New Black returns again and again to several themes. My big 3 are the difficulties of maintaining a family while in prison, the need for some sort of spiritual hope, and the need for love.

If you haven’t watched all of season 3 yet, there are spoilers ahead.

Parents in Prison

Elizabeth Rodriguez and Dascha Polanco in Orange is the New Black

Pregnant prisoner Dayanara Diaz (Dascha Polanco) struggled for most of the season with what to do with her baby. Her mother Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is in prison, too. Aleida is a terrible parent – the worst! – but she tries to guide Daya to a good decision.

Daya hopes the baby’s father, Correctional Officer John Bennett (Matt McGorry), will step up and take the baby, but Bennett isn’t up to the challenge.

Daya reported another Correctional Officer, the horrible “Pornstache” (Pablo Schreiber) as the rapist who got her pregnant. Now she’s living with the lie.

Mary Steenberger in Orange is the New Black

Pornstache’s mother Delia (Mary Steenburgen) wants to adopt the child. Alida loves this idea because it means money. Even after Daya tells Delia the truth about whose baby it is, Delia wants it. Daya wobbles back and forth between wanting to give her baby to Delia and wanting to keep it in the family. The decision she finally makes feels right, but ends in disaster.

In other story lines about families, the character Maria (Jessica Pimentel) is dealt a painful parenting blow from her little girl’s father. Gloria (Selenis Leyva) struggles to keep her teen on the straight and narrow. Sophia (Laverne Cox) has some especially hard parenting problems.

The fact is, most women in prison have children, over half of them under the age of 18. Because of changes in sentencing laws during the war on drugs, the number of parents of minor children in prison increased by 79% between 1991 and 2007. Orange is the New Black can’t take us through story lines about the long term effects of so many mothers being locked away, so many broken families, but the series does its best to bring the problem to the front.

Think about Big Boo’s (Lea DeLaria) comments on the book Freakonomics about the number of unwanted children being reduced by Roe vs. Wade resulting in fewer neglected and abused children turning to crime 20 years later. Flip that on its head and ask yourself what the result of harsh drug sentencing laws that sent thousands of mothers to prison for minor drug crimes will be in 20 years.

Faith & Religion

Annie Golden as Norma annoints an inmate played by Danielle Herbert.

Norma (Annie Golden) is at the center of one of the crazy rumor-driven stories in the prison. Some of the prisoners decide she is holy. Since she doesn’t speak, she simply smiles and pats them on the shoulder when they suggest this. They think she’s blessing them, and eventually she starts enjoying the attention and begins to act like the guru she followed as a younger woman. Everyone wants something to hang on to, some spiritual hope, and Norma is it for the moment.

A second plot line around religion involves the discovery that if you ask for a kosher meal, you get better food. Many of the inmates start asking for kosher food. Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) wants to learn enough about being Jewish to pass the test when they ask her why she should be eating kosher.

Cindy starts off on her Jewish experience watching Woody Allen movies but soon turns to an actual study of the faith. By the last episode, she has been accepted as Jewish by other Jews and even experiences a mikveh, or total immersion in water, as a symbol of her new identity as a Jew.

The Need for Love

Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon in a scene from Orange is the New Black

Was it love that made Piper (Taylor Schilling) rat on Alex (Laura Prepon) in season 2, so she would be back in Litchfield Prison in season 3? Whatever the case, they reunite with hate-sex that involves lots of slapping, shoving and biting. Piper eventually asks Alex to be her official girlfriend. Alex says yes. Then the new inmate Stella (Ruby Rose) catches Piper’s eye and official girlfriends don’t seem so important.

Uzo Aduba and Emily Althaus in Orange is the New Black

They had to burn all the books because of bedbugs. Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) fills the gap in reading material when she writes crazy sci-fi porn and passes it around the prison. She gets fans! She has readers! Prisoners are desperate for any kind of love and/or romance they can find, and Suzanne provides them with a semblance of a love story. One fan in particular, Maureen (Emily Althaus), really wants to connect with her idol Crazy Eyes. Suzanne doesn’t know how to act around the idea of having a real girlfriend, not a dandelion. In the last episode, Suzanne and Maureen make tentative but thrilling contact.

Samira Wiley and Kimiko Glenn in a scene from Orange is the New Black

Poussey (Samira Wiley) is so lonely and love-starved that she stays drunk on her homebrew most of season 3. Soso (Kimiko Glenn) is lonely, rejected, friendless, and depressed most of season 3.  Something happens that brings these two closer and may be the much needed relationship they both lack.

The loyalties, the friendships, the “families” that form inside prison help people retain their sanity. Maria points out in the first episode, “Mother’s Day,” once people get released, they forget their prison friends. Yet, while inside, the need to feel connected, to be seen and understood by at least one other human being, does not go away. Crazy Eyes even says it out loud, “People need love.”

In addition to this big 3 list, season 3 of Orange is the New Black also deals with the idea of for-profit prisons and the lack of mental health care for inmates. It does all this while still managing to be funny, character driven drama of the highest order. It’s changing American culture, one story at a time.

Note: This post was syndicated at BlogHer.com.