“Orange is the New Black” Recap & Review: Season 3, Episodes 10, 11, & 12

A bit of a change of pace this week as I’ll be looking at the three episodes leading up to the third season finale of “Orange is the New Black” in order to leave the 90-minute, final episode to be discussed on its own. These were interesting episodes to watch together. All three take on controversial topics and several scenes were hard to watch. Sexual violence has been a topic explored to varying degrees of success this year on television (with “Game of Thrones” on one end and “Outlander” on the other of the success spectrum). “Orange is the New Black” feels uniquely positioned to confront the topic head on without flinching but still not come across as exploitative.

Starting with “A Tittin’ and a Hairin’” all three episodes belong to Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) to varying degrees. Her journey this season has added more of an understanding her character than any transformative shift in her personality or characterization. And therein lies the biggest strength of “Orange is the New Black”, a mastery of character if nothing else.

After all, “A Tittin’ and a Hairin’” is the same episode in which Morello (Yael Stone) sends her prison pen-pal boyfriend to beat up the man who jilted her, Christopher (Stephen O’Reilly), a plot development that comes out of left field. Was that her plan the entire time she was visiting with the pen-pals? If so, I would buy it from a character perspective, but I would also buy it if she was just being opportunistic. We may never know, but that isn’t the point.

The point is that Pennsatucky has been stuck in the same pattern of behavior with men for so long, she doesn’t know any other way to be. It’s incredibly sad, depressing, and hard to watch her as she navigates her life in flashback and her budding relationship with Coates (James McMenamin).

The flashbacks have generally been successful in providing context to whatever events might be happening in the prison, but this is the first time I can remember the flashbacks serving as basically visual internal monolog. By the end of the episode, Pennsatucky’s rape is reprehensible because the act in and of itself is despicable, but we can also tell this isn’t the first time she’s gone through a similar experience.

The psychological fallout is backgrounded in the next episode “We Can Be Heroes” and comes back to the fore with “Don’t Make Me Come Back There“. There’s a deft touch to the way Pennsatucky is performed in these moments by Taryn Manning, a touch that gives her a depth that has been lacking in a mostly one-note comedic character. During Boo’s (Lea DeLaria) revenge plan in “Don’t Make Me Come Back There”, the most graceful and insightful version of Pennsatucky appears.

It comes while holding a broom while a pantless man is bent over the table but that is what we should expect from “Orange is the New Black”. She doesn’t want to go through with the over-the-top revenge plan, but she doesn’t want Coates to get away with what he did either. The Pennsatucky that Piper (Taylor Schilling) beat up at the end of season one wouldn’t even recognize the one standing in the laundry room with Big Boo.

Not content to only confront the issue of rape, “Don’t Make Me Come Back There” also depicts and deals with a hate crime. Sophia (Laverne Cox) being transgender has been a topic brought up repeatedly while she’s been on the show. That’s yet another strength of “Orange is the New Black”, telling stories about people who normally aren’t put on screen. Her contentious relationship with Gloria (Selenis Leyva) has caused a significant portion of the inmate population to turn on her and once the tide turns, there’s no stopping it.

The beating is difficult enough to watch but the way in which Litchfield handles the situation, at the behest of MCC, is just as bad. The politics of the prison may only be interesting to a small portion of the audience, but I think it’s been one of the strongest aspects of the season. Instead of reprimanding those responsible for the beating, the idea is to put Sophia in the SHU. Solitary could be considered cruel and unusual at the best of times, but for someone who is a victim and not a perpetrator, there really is little doubt. She does go in bravely after reconnecting with Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) and discovering she still has a friend.

It isn’t insignificant for Sophia and Sister Ingalls to discuss faith right before Sophia is hauled off to the SHU. In a season built upon examining belief in its different forms, faith will be the thing that pulls Pennsatucky and Sophia through harrowing experiences and is the thing that keeps Litchfield running when sheer administrative will isn’t enough.

Episode 11 of the season, “We Can Be Heroes” shows some of the faith put in the new staff may be misplaced. Without training or time to get to know the inmates, Angie (Julie Lake) is accidentally released by inexperienced COs. An escaped convict might seem like a strange topic to call “light” but compared to the focuses of episodes 10 and 12, this one is nearly a romp. Watching Caputo (Nick Sandow) make the noble or right decision time after time throughout his life only to have each decision backfire spectacularly is emblematic of why he and MCC can’t coexist.

In the current system, Caputo has to serve two masters, what is right or what is good for his corporate overlords. He knows there’s a protocol to follow to get Angie back, he knows something has to be done to protect Sophia other than stick her in the SHU, he knows quality employees are hard to find and should be taken care of, and deep down he knows he has absolutely no power whatsoever. He does his best in all of the situations but he ends up compromising or completely kowtowing to what he is told. He goes after Angie himself, Sophia ends up in the SHU anyway, and he somehow gets mixed up with the unionizing and becomes the leader if only to exert a bit of control.

Caputo’s entire life has been about convincing himself the “right” thing is what he wants to do. Most dramatically that means quitting a tour with his band to stay home and marry a girl who is pregnant with a child that isn’t even his. His apparent faith in universal karma would indicate he expects some sort of eternal reward for his noble actions but time after time he gets a punch in the face rather than a pat on the head. He’s looking for anything to believe in now that Litchfield has been fundamentally changed by MCC. His decision to lead the union effort might be the right thing to do in the face of his circumstances but if history is any indication, the universe is making a fist and getting ready to throw a haymaker.

What did you think of the reveal that Lolly was a red herring and was just crazy? How will Stella being set for release so soon impact Piper? Will Piper’s business fall apart as fast as it formed? Will Daya see any screen time now that she’s had the baby?

Also, congratulations to the show on its Emmy nomination for Outstanding Dramatic Series as well as Uzo Aduba for Outstanding Supporting Actress and Pablo Schreiber for Outstanding Guest Actor!


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