Better Things didn’t exist as far as I knew. I seldom watch FX so I hadn’t seen teasers for it. I kept hearing this name Pamela Adlon in connection with other things. I thought who the heck is Pamela Adlon? Then I read an ecstatic review of the first two episodes of season 2 of Better Things. Continue reading “Review: Better Things, Season 1”
Equity is written, produced, and directed by women. It stars women in powerhouse leading roles. Way to go, Equity. You have my attention.
Billed as the first female-driven Wall Street movie, the film deals with women in a male-dominated profession. Lately there have been a spate of films about how greedy men caused the housing market mayhem. This one is a little different. Continue reading “Watch This: Trailer for Equity”
Orange is the New Black mixes a lot of serious themes in with all the stories about individual lives and the comedy that the show uses to make its points. The Orange is the New Black theme I want to explore today is power and how it corrupts.
Let’s explore this theme by looking at individual personalities.
Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) is the most blatantly corrupt user of power. She’s willing to destroy lives without a second thought to maintain her income and her grip on her followers. She recruits people for their weaknesses deliberately, knowing that she’ll want to use that weakness at a later time. Her goal is greed, profit, and purely personal. Her grip on power is not accidental. She works for it.
Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) used her power to steal from the prison system. She didn’t feel she was actually hurting anyone with her misuse of funds. So the prison didn’t have a gym or a classroom – not really a problem, right? She used the money to buy expensive things for herself, but she also used it to promote her husband’s political career and to buy his love. She covered up wrongdoing with lies and rationalizations, but not violence.
Caputo (Nick Sandow) thought he was better than Figueroa. He thought if he could just get her job he would fix all the problems Figueroa created with her embezzlement. Yet his second day on the job he told John Bennett to be quiet about being the father of Daya’s baby and left Mendez in jail thinking the baby was his. He perpetrated this injustice to protect his grip on power. Power corrupts instantly. One day he’s a good guy. The next day he’s part of the problem.
Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) power, when she had it, was almost benign by comparison with the others. Yeah, she starved out Piper for a while, but she didn’t bring in drugs and she didn’t try to cheat anyone. She simply wanted to make life in the prison easier for herself. When she lost power she did something stupid that hurt Gina (Abigail Savage), but it was more of an accident than a disregard for Gina’s welfare. When she thought she could use the greenhouse to regain power she still wasn’t doing anything that hurt anybody. Later, she tried to put an end to Vee but couldn’t go through with it. Red’s saving grace is her weakness.
Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) is a sad case. She gets violent quickly if she feels disrespected. She wants power because it makes her feel respected and loved. When being the poster girl for the anti-abortion movement went bad for her, she latched on to the idea that she could somehow become powerful as a lesbian because of the the lesbian agenda. She’s dangerous, but not very smart.
The thread that connects every story – prisoners and prison officials – is that the quest for power carries with it corruption, lies, manipulation, and frequent disregard for the good of others. The Ghandis, the Mother Teresas, the characters like Poussey (Samira Wiley) who resist corruption – they are an anomaly. Most human beings, when given power, succumb to the need to keep it no matter the consequences to others.
Whatever message Piper Kerman, the original author of the book Orange is the New Black, or Jinji Kohan, the writer of the TV series, had in mind as they wrote, this is one message I get: prison doesn’t work. The current American prison system doesn’t work. One reason why? Power corrupts.
I didn’t even get into Mendez. How about it? Are there other characters you think make interesting points about power Orange is the New Black?
This is my overall impression of season 2 of Orange is the New Black. I will talk about performances and high level story lines, without revealing big spoilers. More detailed discussions of particular episodes or events will come later after people have had plenty of time to watch all 13 episodes.
I watched all 13 episodes in two days, and my eyes felt like I’d just finished one of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books when I finally looked up. But the eye strain was worth it.*
The Cast and Credits
The first thing I noticed was who is listed in the main credits. Those people are Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Michael Harney, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgrew, and Jason Biggs. These are the names that show up every week. The cast has been shuffled around a bit, some people have moved up into major roles. Other actors, although very important to season 2, are listed in guest roles or are listed after the main titles roll. Samira Wiley as Poussey is a key actor in season 2, and her name should have been up front, in my opinion.
Fan favorite Laura Prepon shows up in only 3 episodes, but the way the season ends it looks like Alex Vause will be back in full force in season 3. Other favorites who are there, but not necessarily for every episode include Laverne Cox, Lea DeLaria, Yael Stone, Selenis Leyva and many others. All the same officers and prison people are still running the place badly, except Pornstache who only shows up in a couple of episodes.
Lorraine Toussaint, who comes in as a character named Vee, is in 8 episodes. In those 8 episodes she manages to throw the whole prison into quite a state.
In Praise of Brilliant Performances
There are so many brilliant performances in season 2. This is so much of what Orange is the New Black is: a showcase for brilliant talent that we don’t see anywhere else. While that isn’t true of the well-known Lorraine Toussaint, I want to call her out for her performance. She simply stunned in every way.
The cast who’ve been there all along were marvelous again this season. Taylor Schilling, Uzo Adubo, Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley gave noteworthy performances. Really, everyone in this cast gives a noteworthy performance.
The backstory on each character is what makes us care so much about the women in Litchfield. This season we got more backstory on Piper (Taylor Schilling), Morello (Yael Stone), Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Poussey, Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat), Gloria (Selenis Leyva), Suzanne (Uzo Adubo), Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) and Vee.
The Current Story
When the season begins, Piper is pulled from the SHU and taken to Chicago to the trial of the drug kingpin who was Alex’s boss. The trip from one prison to another provides an opportunity for a guest star, something that doesn’t happen often on this show. The guest was Lori Petty. Jodie Foster came back to direct again this season and she directed the Chicago trip episode.
At Litchfield, important plot points in this season are the dangerous conflict between Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Vee, the tension between the pregnant Daya (Dascha Polanco) and the C.O. John (Matt McGorry), the tension between Caputo (Nick Sandow) and Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), and the problems between Healey (Michael Harney) and just about everyone.
There’s a contest between Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) that leads to lots of funny lesbianing, but hang in there to the end of the season for the best Pensatucky lesbianing laugh of the year. Nicky has serious challenges to face as the season progresses, too.
Piper gets involved in tracing down corruption and finding proof of embezzled funds while dealing with Larry (Jason Biggs), Alex, a death in the family and more than one huge betrayal.
One of my favorite episodes revolved around Valentine’s Day. It revealed so many deep, meaningful insights. Another favorite was an episode where a good bit of the plot dealt with the fact that most of the women were unaware of their female anatomy and the construction of their lady parts in particular. The few who knew enlightened the others in some pretty funny ways.
I’m a ukelele player. I was highly amused by the C.O. (Joel Garland) who played a banjo ukelele while making up songs about nuns and bad mothers. Ukes forever!
The finale was written by Jenji Kohan. It wrapped up some problems, it opened up new problems for next season, and was a terrific way to end the season. It left us wanting more, it satisfied with poetic justice, and it left me convinced that season 3 can’t come soon enough.
*In one scene, Tastee recommends Outlander to Poussey.
I just can’t shut up about this series. There’s a lot in it to think about. Social justice, for example.
Orange is the New Black begins each episode with a changing array of mouths and eyes. These are presumably real female prisoners. Here’s what you notice after a while.
Very few of those eyes are blue. Jenji Kohan is showing us this as a fact: very few blue-eyed people end up in prison.
The opening credits aren’t the only place where we must think about racial justice. When blonde and white Piper Chapman, played by Taylor Schilling, arrives at the prison to surrender herself, a guard assumes she’s a visitor, not a future inmate.
When we look at a white person, we don’t see a future jailbird. Put a little color in a person’s skin and suddenly they are a criminal. Have you seen this video?
Jenji Kohan isn’t quite that obvious in Orange is the New Black, but the evidence is there.
In the prison society in Orange is the New Black, the inmates have divided themselves into “tribes.” These tribes are based on race. Yes, there is a tribe of white people. But the women of color far outnumber them.
The prison officials encourage this system of tribes and allow one person from each tribe to be elected to a council of women who are promised some input into how things are run.
Race isn’t the only issue in the hierarchy of inmates. There are class-based hierarchies within the tribes.
There’s a scene between a white guard played by Lauren Lapkus and the main character, Piper. The guard says that she could be where Piper is – she just never got caught for her bad decisions.
When Piper’s mom visits her in prison, she laments the fact that Piper took a plea bargain and didn’t go to trial. Why? Because people who look like Piper are never convicted in a trial.
On Piper’s first day in prison, she meets the prison counselor Jim Healy, wonderfully portrayed by Michael Harney. He suggests to her that there is no logic in how long sentences are. Someone who committed a minor crime might get 4 years, while someone who committed a more serious crime might get 9 months. He doesn’t say this is based on race, but studies that compare sentences based on race point to statistics like this.
Corruption within the prison system itself is portrayed by Pablo Schreiber as Mendez, the guard, and Alysia Reiner as Figueroa. These people are as crooked as the inmates.
Orange is the New Black tells a great story with characters we love. Still, there’s a lot going on under the surface that bears thinking about and talking about. America’s system of justice is under the microscope in this series.
Have you thought about the justice or injustice of what we see about women in prison as you watch this series? Please share your thoughts.