“These are complicated ladies in a complicated place.”
Perhaps no other line sums up the Litchfield inmates’ situation better than this one. The thing about jail is that it’s viewed as a monotonous cycle, as day in and day out of orange jumpsuits and sullen faces, as a homogeneous blob of people who are isolated from society. And to be honest, that’s true. However, what this show is conveying is the underlying humanity oftentimes overlooked when we talk about jail, the fact that these inmates are complicated individuals who feel the same emotions we do, who have pasts and lives and futures cut short by the walls of Litchfield. Yes, they committed crimes, but that doesn’t rob them of their stories.
It comes as no surprise that the season three premiere uses a Mother’s Day celebration to reintroduce us to these characters. It’s a nationally recognized day that should be filled with happiness and love and connection, but then again, these are complicated ladies in a complicated place. Not everyone is going to feel those same emotions, and the episode uses a mixed flashback structure to convey that idea. I won’t spend too much time on specific storylines in this review because the episode itself doesn’t really do so; it’s more concerned with overarching themes, with the comparisons between people who have mothers and people who don’t, with people who are mothers and people who aren’t, with people who have fond memories of their mothers and people who don’t. It’s a bit overwhelming, but most of the time, it works beautifully.
Take, for example, the episode’s handling of the Pennsatucky flashback and subsequent present day scenes. They’re tied together through the devastating use of Mountain Dew, and what follows is where the real magic happens. Big Boo sits down next to Pennsatucky and her makeshift popsicle stick graves, and she delivers a brutally honest perspective on Pennsa’s situation. “Maybe what was best for your children was wiping them out before living miserable fucking lives,” she says. Harsh, but true. While motherhood retains many of its same elements even when one part of the pair is in prison, there are also fundamental differences: the lack of control, for one. Daya and Bennett are feeling it, Ruiz feels it at the end when her daughter is taken away from her, and of course, it’s one of the ideas behind Boo’s argument. Simply put, things change when a prison wall springs up between two people.
And so, even when everyone comes together for a Mother’s Day celebration at Litchfield, there’s still a palpable sense of loss, of distance. The last ten minutes of the episode are some of the most heartbreaking of the series thus far–Poussey and that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, holy shit–and the inmates having to get down on the ground once the alarm sounds is a clear reminder of the differences between prison and the outside world. There’s no doubt that being reminded of motherhood–of being reunited with your kids–can bring joy in prison, but there’s also no doubt that these inmates are caught in the system. And once they get out, as Piper says, they’ll have “no money, no job, and no prospects”. They might still have the brightness of motherhood now to bring them hope, but nothing will change the fact that when the prison alarm sounds, the ground is their next stop.
And worst of all, they don’t know what their kids’ next stops will be.
– “It’s empty!” “Oh my god, this is such a metaphor for their lives.”
– “It wasn’t you. It was the system.” Obviously a BS statement from Piper to Alex here. Although I’m not as interested in their storyline as I am in the many others, pieces are already being set up to be knocked down later on in the season. They share an intimate moment in the chapel, but the conflict between them is undoubtedly going to start boiling due to Piper’s major secret, a secret that will inevitably get out. Same goes with Piper and Red.
-Healy’s flashback. Yikes. It’s really hard to watch, to say the least.
-Red cements her smuggling tunnel shut, but another inmate just ends up smuggling drugs into the prison through her baby’s diaper. Shit still happens.
-There’s a new character this season in Counselor Rogers, and she and Caputo have an interesting conversation in this episode. There are conflicting ideas about the Mother’s Day celebration: “fostering the women’s connections to the outside” vs. “maybe they have reasons to forget”. Short scene, but a great way to illustrate the complexity of motherhood in prison.
-It’s going to be interesting seeing Taystee’s and Suzanne’s developments throughout this season. Now that Vee is gone–the mother figure for them last season–things are very different.
-I’m not quite sure whether I have the motivation to review every episode like I did last year, but we’ll see. Maybe.
-The balloon! It’s a metaphor! Don’t you get it?!?
Photo credit: Netflix, Orange Is the New Black