Review: ‘Orange Is the New Black’ – ‘Empathy Is a Boner Killer/Finger in the Dyke’

alan-sepinwall
Senior Television Writer
06.19.15 11 Comments

Netflix

We're continuing this weekly trip through “Orange Is the New Black” season 3, two episodes at a time. Thoughts on episodes 3 & 4 coming up just as soon as I can smell Trey Anastasio's BO…

“But guess what? We all think we're good guys.” -Alex

“Orange” is made with the assumption that most of its audience is going to race through the season in a short period of time, and me reviewing two episodes a week is more of a concession to the realities of my job (and my desire to write more about a show I love) than it's meant to be a reflection of how the show is designed or consumed. But I still appreciate it when I wind up with a pair of episodes that tie together as nicely as “Empathy Is a Boner Killer” and “Finger in the Dyke” do.

It's not just that our two flashback subjects, Nicky and Boo, are longtime friends and partners in Litchfield crime, but that their backstories neatly balance each other. As we watch the events that brought Nicky to Litchfield, we learn just how long a leash she was given by her mother and the other people around her to be exactly who she wanted to be, even though that person was a self-destructive junkie who dragged down everyone around her. And as we follow Boo (née Carrie) from adolescence to adulthood, we see how often she had to fight against people – from her own parents to fellow lesbians – who kept looking down on her for being the big, bold butch she always knew that she was.

Boo's flashback doesn't give us the crime that put her in this place(*), and at one point she sneers at the idea that she there's some “dramatic origin story” that will explain how she turned out this way. But those scenes are so painfully detailed – particularly the transition from the early moment where her father seems to understand who and what she is (even if he convinces her to put on a show for her mom for a day) to the one at the hospital where he essentially forbids her from seeing her dying mother – that you can understand just why she's so angry, and has so many barriers set up around her. Boo's usually a comic character, but Lea DeLaria rose to the more dramatic occasion, both in the hospital scene and the one where Boo can't maintain her born again facade with the hateful Westboro Baptist-style pastor (who resembles her dad a bit). And the friendship she has with the surprisingly astute (at times) Pennsatucky has become one of the show's more surprisingly sweet aspects at this point, which would have been hard to anticipate back in season 1.

(*) We see her acting as a bookie, but my limited understanding of that part of the law suggests that's a state crime, and not something that would put her in a federal penitentiary.

It's Doggett's old friends in the laundry room who wind up getting Nicky busted for trying to work the heroin deal with Luschek, but Nicky's resigned reaction to the whole thing suggests she knew it was only a matter of time before she screwed up. In the past, she blames her mother for not stopping her from screwing up for the umpteenth time, but in the present – as she tells Red why she didn't come to her for help, and insists that Red's not her mom because, “I wouldn't wish that on anyone” – she finally understands that she's as addicted to trouble as she is to the drugs. Being great at the dramatic material's more expected from Natasha Lyonne than DeLaria, but she was nonetheless wonderful in that sequence. I don't know how, or if, the show will contrive a way to get her out of this jam – as opposed to giving Lyonne time off for another project, or using Nicky as our way into the max prison – but I'll miss her for however long she's gone.

Some other thoughts:

* Two other major threads run through these episodes, first with Caputo going all-out to prevent Litchfield from closing, first by blackmailing Fig, then by putting on a show for the corporation looking to privatize Litchfield. Based on this show's philosophy, I expect things at the prison to only get worse under this new regime, but I'm looking forward to seeing more of Mike Birbiglia, whose low-key screen presence fits in very nicely.

* Our other big thread is Piper and Alex continuing to grapple with the fallout of Piper getting Alex's parole violated, which was in turn a response to Alex screwing her over on the plea deal, which was a response to… 27 other terrible things these two have done to each other. It is a twisted damn relationship they have, but the show is acutely aware of it, and smartly never presents them as a couple to root for. Instead, Schilling and Prepon get to have fun playing their increasingly toxic interactions, which comes to a head when Berdie Rogers forces them to do an improv scene together. A good moment for both, but I don't need to read spoilers (nor do I want to) to know that things aren't suddenly going to become healthy and carefree between them.

* I love how the scenes with Piper's family are always this mix of sad (anything involving her parents) and funny (anything involving her brother, now joining the post-modern ice cream movement). As someone who got the majority of the flashbacks and non-Litchfield supporting characters back in season 1, she has a head start on the rest of the inmates in terms of having a fully-realized world that she came from, but the show has put that stuff to good use. (And I don't particularly miss Larry.)

* As I assumed the minute he dumped Daya's crib at the side of the road, Bennett's gone, since Matt McGorry has a new day job over on ABC.

* Poor Healy: even when he makes an effort to be more relatable to the inmates, he screws it up, like his clumsy attempt to talk trash at the start of Rogers' acting class. And if my instincts are right about his feelings for Red in the wake of her passionate defense of him to his wife, this could get either very uncomfortable, or very funny, or both.

* Some excellent speechifying about the awfulness of prison life in these two episodes, with Ruiz's episode 3 monologue about how they're all band-aids, rather than family, and Soso tearing into her friend Meadow for suggesting that being at Litchfield is cool: “Prison is not cool. Being here is not cool. It's not brave, or admirable, or courageous. It's stupid. I feel stupid for being in here. And stupid for thinking it wouldn't ruin my life and that it would be okay. And I'm not surviving. I'm just existing.” As always, the show has a knack for checking in on relatively minor characters and giving them emotional lives as full as the more prominent figures like Piper, Daya or Taystee.

Finally, a reminder that while many of you have likely finished the whole season by now, we are only going to talk about the episodes that have been reviewed so far. I'm deliberately not watching past what I've written about so that my writing won't be influenced by events to come, and for the benefit of both myself and anyone else watching the show at a more traditional pace, I don't want to see any discussion of or spoilers for the later episodes. You know if/when/how Nicky gets out of the max facility? Great! Please keep it to yourself. Thanks.

(It's entirely possible that by the time we get to next week's review, my resolve will have given out. But for now, only through episode 4!)

What did everybody else think?

Around The Web