In a shift from Orange Is The New Black’s first two seasons, we will be covering the show on a daily basis this year, with regular reviews posting at 7 p.m. Eastern on weekdays, and 1 p.m. on weekends. These reviews will be written without foreknowledge of what takes place in future episodes, and thus will feature no spoilers for later episodes. In the meantime, please be respectful of those moving at a slower pace and avoid spoiling or heavily alluding to future developments in the comments.
One of the advantages of the binge-viewing release method is that when there are episodes where no major plot developments take place, it doesn’t necessarily carry the same burden as it would on a weekly show. While the reality of episodic reviews means that I’m segmenting out “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More,” for many viewers it will be watched with at least one other episode, or watched a day after or before the next instead of a week later.
I hope this helps break down the stigma of having an episode of a show where “not enough happens,” but there’s something about the more languid pace of an episode like this one that brings out some of the show’s best shades. Marisol’s flashback is not in and of itself all that compelling—“Flaca” works for her seamstress mother, sells fake designer drugs, and then gets held responsible when one of her clients jumps off the roof of her high school. She was selling a false high, giving the depressed Jason the sense of escape drugs offer, which was enough to lead him to take his life. The ideas at play are surface-level, even more so given that they’re drawn out of a random personality test issued by corporate for the “new job” being introduced to the prison.
But as surface-level as it might be, Marisol’s story is a great example of the show playing with the tension between the individual and the collective in the prison environment. Earlier this season, in a connection that would have been tougher to make if watching at a slower pace, we saw the Latina women talking about how their family would extend to the outside, and Ruiz offering a reality check in regards to their future connection. Theirs is a prison family, and it’s one Marisol breaks up in order to go for the new job. She makes this call because she’s always wanted to make something of her life, and corporate’s promise of a dollar an hour is enough to convince her that she has something to prove.
As a story engine, the corporate prison overlords are proving effective. The show is resisting a broader satire by keeping Birbiglia’s Pearson at the mouthpiece, who is clueless as to how a prison should actually be run, but is a rational corporate talking head at the end of the day. As Caputo and the guards we’ve come to know lose control and hours, respectively, we start to see decisions like the new job that treat the inmates as a social experiment. The fact the test was a bullshit personality test designed to give the inmates a system to trust even when there isn’t a system is itself indicative of the corporate mindset, but it’s also an efficient way to reinforce the limits of dreams in prison. It’s all about relative self-worth, defined either against your fellow inmate—as in the case of Black Cindy and Janae rubbing their selection over Suzanne and Taystee—or self-worth based on your self-image, as in Marisol believing her intelligence shone through her severe text anxiety. And yet there’s a different version where Suzanne was given positive affirmation for choosing to be herself, or where Piper’s high opinion of her own intelligence was knocked down a peg instead of her sense of privilege being reinforced (with Black Cindy noting that “of course fucking Chapman got it”).
And so while what we learn about Marisol’s past is far from profound to us, it helps us understand why the new job being making women’s underwear is profound for Marisol. Much like Poussey finding that Calvin and Hobbes comic in the piñata, Marisol walking through those doors to find sewing machines is—to her—fulfilling a destiny, in which the trade her mother taught her has given her value. She doesn’t know a completely random selection process brought her there—she believes this was brought on by a higher power, who selected her based on the aptitude that has been inside her all along. That placebo effect runs throughout the episode, like Norma’s spiritual reputation making just sitting there staring intently a source of comfort for a spiraling Soso. The episode may be fairly sparse in terms of plot, but it shows the way nothing can mean something when there’s nothing else to be found (like Poussey’s new pastime of making up synopses for books in the catalog of the still mostly empty library).
The rest of the episode is a scattered collection of subplots, seemingly caught in the malaise of an episode with a central plot that some people have no investment in. The most significant would be Daya and Mama Pornstache, which is easily the most rational Daya has been since the beginning of the series. Jaded sits well with her, as she gets confirmation of Bennett’s hasty exit—he left behind his grenade mug!—from Cesar and learns her mother’s domestic partner has no interest in caring for their baby. Her conversation with Delia is a great example of someone with a prison mindset interacting with someone who doesn’t, similar to Soso and Meadow’s conversation in the previous episode. But it’s treated very rationally: Delia understands Daya is in a dark place, tries to see if she can’t help her, and realizes that the easy road is going to be difficult when it comes to this baby’s future. As much as I disliked the Bennett plot, the aftermath seems like it could deal with some interesting issues, and I’m hopeful we see more of Steenburgen as the season wears on.
Two more of these sidestories focus on some of the show’s central relationships: Alex and Piper, and Taystee and Poussey. The latter ends up being a bit on the rushed side: they rush their way into Poussey being a lazy drunk, which makes the reveal Taystee is destroying her “honey pot” seem a bit sudden. It echoes the lies that got between Alex and Piper earlier in the season, and sets up future conflict without necessarily feeling in the moment. You have to accept that some episodes of the show are going to throw out some seeds, and this is undoubtedly the case here.
It’s also the case with Alex’s growing paranoia that the drug dealer she testified against has sent someone into prison to kill her, which does nothing to suggest Alex is capable of actually integrating into the prison community (which is a problem for her long-term place in the show, and why she wasn’t actually missed last season). However, I have to say that I very much enjoyed this story, because Piper trolling Alex just plain makes me laugh. There’s nothing meaningful about it except a meta justification for introducing new inmates that we’ve never met before if she show would like to, and that doesn’t really go anywhere here, but Taylor Schilling is just a lot of fun to watch when she is purposefully torturing someone. I never want it to stop.
But the one story that feels the most at the heart of the episode’s title is easily Red and Healy, which is one of the finest troll jobs the show has ever produced. After laying out the possibility of romantic seeds between the couple in previous episodes, we begin here with Red wanting a new look to make herself seem less cold, and she then flirts her way into Healy’s heart…only to ask to be put back into the kitchen, which seems highly likely given that Marisol’s job is now open. It’s fortunate in the sense that I was ready to throw something at the screen if they had actually been paired romantically, but unfortunate in the sense that it reinforces Healy’s belief that none of the inmates are capable of being genuine. When the economy of prison is built on lies, it makes you skeptical of every interaction you have, which is why using a nonsense test in order to create false hierarchies is just about the worst thing you can do.
But MMC doesn’t know that, because they’re one step removed from the lived reality of prison, and so everything might as well be fake to them—I am going to go out on a limb and say when the plot does pick up, that’s going to be a central concern.
- “Ideas are better than reality”—I wonder how many overly obvious statements of episode themes they crammed into the fake test at first before they decided they should maybe cut it down a bit? It’s got to be so tempting.
- Given what we know about Marisol’s musical tastes, I was a bit disappointed that all we got was a Depeche Mode poster in her bedroom, and didn’t get any great needle drops during her flashback.
- Nice use of serialization here, with both Marisol and Taystee looking back on their job fair performance back at the start of last season in preparing for the new job, plus the reappearance of Poussey’s pee funnel.
- Vee Truther Watch: I’m taking O’Neill’s description of Ford’s negligence in Rosa’s theft of the van—“You let an inmate steal a van and kill another inmate with it”—as official confirmation Vee is dead. But if anyone is holding out hope, let me know and I’ll host a safe place meeting.
- Healy is a garbage human, but I like the idea of someone being at Woodstock but not knowing what Woodstock is.
- As someone who has weirdly spent a lot of time livetweeting HGTV shows recently, I was glad to see Marisol watching a fake private island real estate show in her flashback, from the sounds of it.
- Cesar’s code when you get a girl pregnant: “You might get some side action, but you don’t split.” Oh, and pull a gun on her other kids. That’s in the code too. It’s a complicated code.
- “Why don’t I have people in my life that care about me?”—Soso’s quest for friendship is sad, and kind of beautiful, so it can obviously only go wrong from here.
- We get it, OITNB: I feel we need to start calling out the lack of subtlety that, while not entirely out of character for the show, has its limits. Given the episode’s title, I’d say Marisol helping her mother fake designer gowns and transitioning into faking designer drugs was maybe a little bit pat.
- O’Neill choosing a slightly longer road to work because the houses give him hope for the world is the kind of observational moment I love the show for including.
- So are they going to be reintroducing Marisol’s drug-dealing boyfriend Ian at some point, given that they went through the effort of casting him and giving him dialogue, or was he really just there to show how she got inspired to enter the drug business?
- Director Nicole Holofcener continues to do the television rounds, with her first outing for the show—although I noticed the name, the direction felt in line with the house style (although in making screencaps, I love the way the framed photo of Katya lives on the side of the shot of Red and Healy). I’m actually interested in how binge-watching—which I’d argue tends to foreground plot given the stronger continuities between episodes—affects our understanding of shifts in visual style. Expect me to break that out if I run out of things to say on this daily adventure of ours.