Continuing our weekly look at “Orange Is the New Black” season 3, two episodes at a time, I have a review of episodes 9 & 10 coming up just as soon as we're panty twinsies…
“Sometimes, the kindest thing is to let people go.” -Leanne
Last week, I suggested that “OITNB” needed to be careful about giving characters multiple flashback episodes, given how flat and repetitive Alex's story in “Fear, and Other Smells” was. “A Tittin' and a Hairin'” provides a good counter-argument (as well as one half of a fantastic pair of titles along with “Where My Dreidel At”), as it revisits Pennsatucky's early life in a way that doesn't feel like a rehash, and effectively shines a light on the terrible things happening to her at Litchfield.
We've already seen that Doggett is the way she is largely through bad influences in her past, and that when she's instead around a friend who's kind but firm like Boo, she can be a very different, and often better, person(*). She's still small-minded in some ways, but open in others, and we see throughout these new flashbacks how well she responds to those few moments where the world suggests greater possibilities for her – and then how crushing it is each time the world turns back into the terrible one in which she grew up.
(*) You can argue that the show did a hard reboot of the character, since they wanted to keep Taryn Manning but the season 1 incarnation wasn't sustainable. I think it flows well enough, but I also haven't gone back to rewatch her early appearances.
Her boyfriend Nathan isn't the noblest human being alive, but he knows enough, and is good enough, to make sure his girlfriend gets as much pleasure out of sex as he does, and to not expect anything from her in return. In other parts of the world, that's a good guy; to Pennsatucky, he's a miracle worker. To have him move away so she can return to being used – and then, worse, raped – by the losers she grew up around is in many ways rougher than if she'd never met Nathan at all, because she gets to see what's possible before being given a brutal reminder of what is instead highly probable for her now and in the future. And that in turn makes Coates' rape of her in the present – with Doggett quietly enduring the thing, a few tears going down her face, because this is simply the life she has been stuck with – feel not like a shock tactic, but like an earned and well thought out character story.
“A Tittin' and a Hairin'” makes a good partner with “Where My Dreidel At” because Leanne was once one of Pennsatucky's followers, and because they grew up in very different cultures within Pennsylvania, even as they wound up in the same place. Leanne's among the more prominent characters to have not gotten a flashback before now. Revealing her to be Amish-born – and someone who ultimately fled the community not because she hated it, but simply to protect her parents from the consequences of her own actions – could feel like the show belaboring the idea that we shouldn't judge these women based on first impressions. But it fits both what we've seen of Leanne in previous seasons – as a follower who much prefers being a leader – and particularly this year as she's fallen under Norma's sway and become the group's very loud, at times selfish, voice. It also makes her a more interesting foil for Soso, because neither is really what the other assumes, even as their respective tics and vulnerabilities seem destined to keep them at arm's length for a while longer.
And to have the Cult of Norma rise at the same time the corporation is shutting down Cindy's kosher meal scam finally explains all the religious imagery in the pre-season marketing. I don't know if it will all tie together in the end, but the show has gotten good comic and dramatic mileage out of exploring the many spiritual possibilities open (or in some cases closed) to the inmates, and seeing Janae styling her hair to resemble a Chasidic man's payot was one of the biggest laughs the show's given me in a while.
Doggett being raped, in past and present both, is a darker turn for a season that, as I've noted, has been more on the lighter side of “Orange” so far, and where it continues to be in other areas.
Piper's illegal panty business being the subject of a “Wire”-style montage of the whole operation was a treat. Piper hooking up with the very interested (and at times very naked) Stella, at a moment when Alex is feeling so vulnerable(**), should theoretically be a bad look for Piper. But Alex is so abrasive in general, and their relationship so toxic, that it's hard to fault either party at this point for hurting each other, and Piper explaining to Stella that she's “done the guilty, whining, tortured cheater thing, and it's annoying” was a nice bit of self-aware commentary for her and the show.
(**) I would ask you guys if Lolly is genuinely crazy or just a good liar, but y'all probably finished the season weeks ago and would give me an answer. So I won't.
These episodes also did a nice job of bringing the future of Daya's baby into sharper relief, with the reappearance of Pornstache – and does he need a new nickname now that he's clean-shaven and even more mulleted? – and Daya's decision to still let his mother raise the baby.
As I wrap up this review and head to the bullet points, I find myself mainly impatient to finish the season. This is my second summer of attempting the two episodes per week format, and I continue to have mixed feelings about it. I like being able to dwell on the episodes more, but it seems more and more like the show isn't built to be watched that way. I'm going to review the final three all together (and it may take me until the week after next to watch and write it all up), and then I'll have a year to think about whether I want to do this again or go back to binging it like a normal Netflix viewer and writing less in the process – which has nothing to do with the quality of the show (which remains high) but simply a feeling that I'm Doing It Wrong.
Some other thoughts:
* Suzanne's virginity, while not completely surprising, makes one of the show's most vulnerable characters seem even more so. I was also amused that her girlfriend (whose name I do not know) reveals herself to be polymorphously perverse, just like the heroine of Cindy's new favorite movie, “Annie Hall.”
* The Sophia vs. Gloria tension continues to be interesting, particularly given how blinded Sophia is for so long about her own role in the problems with her son, which in turn are causing problems for Gloria and her son.
* “Also, I hear Mandy Patinkin can be difficult to work with.” Hey, the guy will be back for a fifth season on “Homeland!” Maybe those issues are far behind him? Or maybe I just want an excuse to link to him singing?
* Wondering if Flaca will lead a union revolt of sorts against Piper's operation now that she knows what a raw deal all the workers are getting?
* Good to see Red get an opportunity, even just with the vegetables from the prison garden, to remind herself and everyone else of her cooking skills. Plus, her dish of choice demands that I link to the scene where Anton Ego eats the same thing.
* Morello, still nutty, still manipulative, still obsessed with poor Christopher, who here gets beaten up by one of her pen pals for a crime he didn't commit.
* Laughed at Pornstache listing great couples who overcame obstacles, including Romeo and Juliet, “Lolita and the old guy,” Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.
Again, my plan is to do what I did last year and review the season's final three episodes all at once. That may unfortunately push the finale review back a week (or maybe a bit less). And in the meantime, here's your last reminder that while many of you likely finished the whole season a long time ago, we are only going to talk about the episodes that have been reviewed so far. Thanks.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com