Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Morality bubbles back to the surface as the Litchfield riot continues

Illustration for article titled Morality bubbles back to the surface as the Litchfield riot continues

Welcome to The A.V. Club’s coverage of Orange Is The New Black season five. These reviews and their comment sections are intended for those who have seen up to this episode—please refrain from revealing or discussing events from future episodes in the comments.

Perspective is important to Orange Is The New Black. The flashback structure is not the central engine of storytelling for the show, but it reinforces the importance of thinking about the way each woman’s past experience frames their experience in Litchfield. These insights are not necessarily revelatory: in “Fuck, Marry, Frieda,” for example, we really just fill in some blanks in what we know about the leader of the Golden Girls. Learning about her close relationship with her survivalist father puts her resourcefulness in Litchfield into context, and demonstrates why she—unlike some of her fellow inmates—is perfectly prepared for the chaos of the riot. Despite being locked in the pantry, she calmly prepares some darts, convinces the guards they’re poisonous, and then absconds to her secret bunker with her jar of peanut butter. But these revelations don’t completely upend our understanding of the character: we understand her better, but I don’t really perceive her any differently based on this backstory.

Although “Fuck, Marry, Frieda” doesn’t really center its storytelling on its eponymous character, though, the act of digging deeper into any character’s past creates a more reflective episode, and thus improves on the chaos of the premiere. Whereas “Riot FOMO” oscillated wildly between spaces where the riot was hilarious and others where the riot was a political statement, here those worlds converge more readily as the Latina inmates try to make for a more “inclusive” riot. The authorities gathering outside the prison aren’t convinced that the women in Litchfield are able to organize, but we are starting to see them begin to negotiate, and how the lack of order will force each character to make hard choices about their role in the days to come. While the stakes of the riot fell in and out in the premiere, they feel more present here as we see a wider range of perspectives on what’s unfolding in the wake of the shooting.

Most specifically, we started to see a more concrete expression of concern regarding the Latina inmates’ plan, as their theatrical humiliation—“Rumsfeld Dinner Theatre,” Alex calls it—of the guards starts to draw concern from even some of their own (in this case “Flaritza”). Alex becomes the prison’s conscience, and the audience surrogate, as watching the treatment of this group of guards I didn’t feel they deserved this level of dehumanizing torture to the same degree that Humps did. Indeed, the writers have been very careful to frame the group of hostages into a mostly harmless collection of incompetents, rather than guards who we might relish seeing tortured—Humphrey spends most of the episode in medical until Maureen blows air into his I.V. and creates a stroke, while Coates remains at large. Instead, it’s pitiful figures like Luschek and his fear erection, or douchebags like Stratman who we don’t empathize with but still don’t necessarily want to see sexually assaulted. The reveal that Blake is a Mormon doesn’t justify his behavior, but it’s an easy way to sketch in the humanity that the inmates are seeking to strip away through their actions.

This episode is not told from the guards’ perspective, but we get more of their point-of-view as the episode wears on. One of the most crucial scenes is Caputo and Josh from PR being paraded through the halls, and getting the lay of the land. There are some jokes—Chang welcoming him to “flavor country”—but its mainly there to frame the riot as a clear dystopia, despite the fact not all characters would realistically see it that way. With dusk falling on the prison, the lack of power means dim lighting, and creates the sensation Caputo is walking into an entirely different world: we briefly drop in on characters who were not even really part of the episode, as Caputo sees spaces—the pharmacy, the commissary—now under new ownership. It’s like Link entering the Temple of Time as a child to emerge as an adult to a ruined Castle Town, or some other post-apocalyptic simile that people who don’t play video games would use.

In general, “Fuck, Marry, Frieda” resists the path of the premiere. Whereas there it was suggested that the video from within Litchfield moved quickly enough to get to Piscatella and MCC, the virality they hoped for never materializes, leading Taystee to break down as the only people paying attention to the video are making memes out of Black Cindy. Danielle Brooks did some tremendous work in the wake of Poussey’s death last season, and her role here is incredibly crucial. She eventually agrees to team up with the Latina inmates because she realizes it represents the best opportunity to create real and meaningful change, which is one of the few character arcs so far this season where we see a clear sense of her motivations. Whereas Daya grabbing the gun or Ruiz taking control of the riot remain somewhat opaque, actions without a clear sense of what is driving them, Taystee’s choices have been clearly motivated, and debated among the inmates in ways that creates more significant connection between plot and character.


“Fuck, Marry, Frieda” still has moments of humor, to be clear: the game that the white supremacists play with Stratman and Blake which gives the episode its title provides some levity, and Red’s use of Piscatella’s tablescaping to diminish his authority is fun (and just imagine if they’d also seen him drive up in a P.T. Cruiser). But this hour represents the point at which it becomes difficult to “laugh” at the riot in the same way some of the inmates are: while this is the “best day ever” for some, it’s far from that for others, like Brook watching as Poussey’s beloved library is ransacked. The moral fabric of Litchfield has always been complicated, but this episode reinforces that we’ve reached a whole new level in the wake of the riot, which helps the show rebalance itself after a tonally messy premiere and set a foundation for the drama to come.

Stray observations

  • “Don’t fucking say cheese”—the photo is a great way to end the episode, and I thought that even before it taught the audience an importance lesson about Landscape vs. Portrait. (Always landscape unless it’s in a portrait-focused application).
  • Dixon is among the guards positioned as a bumbling fool, but I still find myself thinking about the throwaway suggestion last season that he raped women while deployed which we talked about a bit in the comments—the show has never returned to it, so I imagine many have forgotten, but he’s in no way the innocent he sometimes seems thanks to the way his character stumbles through the situations at hand.
  • Chekhov’s Literal Gun: In what I expect will be an extended mystery, we don’t learn who knocked out Daya and stole the gun. Coates seems like a potential suspect, given he’s missing in action, but it could also be another inmate who is holding onto it for the right time.
  • “I don’t think I like prison”—Linda from Purchasing is a dim bulb, but this is a nice distillation of the situation at hand.
  • I have a lot of questions about Sophia turning into a nurse and the show building some type of medical show with the Indian nurse—I still have no idea how the nurse is being so calm, or how this feels so disconnected from the riot. Just not working for me right now.
  • Before he loses his ability to communicate, Humps goes deep in his knowledge of historical torture rituals, which reminds us how much he—relative to any of the other guards—sort of deserves this.
  • “Bangers don’t nap” is the most convincing argument for avoiding a life of crime that I can imagine, to be honest.
  • In their competition to see who could appear to be the bigger idiot, I think Stratman’s “Is there even cum in these veins” wins out over Blake’s “SHUT UP I HAVE CUM,” because it’s both pathetic AND a fundamental misunderstanding of how the human body works.
  • Okay, look, I know this is a fictional television show, but the #BlackLattesMatter meme is way too dumb. I get that the show wants to show that their attempt at meaningful change is undone by the internet’s love of dumb memes and its struggle to create meaningful political change, but the actual memes really did make no sense, and there was no way a video watched by that few people would generate them so quickly. C’mon, show.
  • Red obviously caught something on Piscatella’s wrist, but it’s a little unclear what it is, and my screener was too dark for me to make it out.
  • I’ll be interested in how many characters end up unaccounted for over the course of the season. Judy King clearly abandoned her post guarding the library while Brook checked out the meeting, but will we find out where she went in the next episode? Or will she disappear to one corner or another, to be brought back later?