Episode 9: Where My Dreidel At
Written by: Jordan Harrison
Directed by: Andrew McCarthy
“But when you look at Norma, you can take that armor off. Because it’s safe. You’re safe. And you’re crying because it feels so good to take that armor off. ” -Soso.
When we first met Leanne (Emma Myles) in Season 1, she was a follower of Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning)—and a follower in general. Her willingness to subscribe to a belief system and to admire a leader isn’t new. In Episode 9 of Season 3, our exploration of Leanne’s back story delves deeper into the life of a familiar character, one whose behavior related to the dogma surrounding Norma (Annie Golden) might otherwise seem less justifiably bad.
After Pennsatucky’s defeat in Season 1, Leanne and her friend Angie (Julie Lake) seemed to gain a certain level of confidence. Eventually that meant shunning their onetime leader. Now, Leanne is all too willing not only to follow—and create—the Norma-based belief system but to use it to sustain her own sense of self. To feel powerful, she needs an organized faith. When there isn’t one, she’ll organize it herself. And when someone like Soso (Kimiko Glenn) seems to have a looser set of motives (even if that’s because Soso herself wants something less structured than the life she knew before), Leanne will shun that person.
We learn in this episode that this adherence to the stability of belief, even in its absence, is a crucial part of Leanne’s character. After growing up in an Amish community, she ends up with a ragtag group of stoners who also left behind the rigidity of what they saw as a sheltered life. When she feels unfulfilled, she returns to her family and is excited to be accepted back into the fold and to be willingly baptized. That is, until the police come across her discarded backpack, containing both drugs and identification. They make her wear a wire in order to trap her drug-dealing friends. When the friends are sent to prison, the Amish community outwardly condemns her. Eventually, feeling she’s failed her parents and the community, and lacking the stability she’d thought she’d found there, Leanne leaves of her own accord.
In prison, she’s had the chance to connect with others who share similar histories, even if that just means they’ve done drugs. We’ve seen her bossiness on display in the past, and this season’s emphasis on faith, illustrated in part by Norma, has only reinforced the characterization of Leanne as someone who picks and chooses her acquaintances along with her beliefs. Whatever it takes to create a systematic sense of knowing, leadership, and stability, she will do. In the current scenario, she does so at the expense of the main belief that Norma embodies and that Leanne herself has claimed to be central to the new religion: kindness. Her interest in leading the charge has also meant ignoring and contradicting the shared quietness that the group initially relished practicing.
Leanne makes a thematically relevant and engaging focus for this episode. Her back story ties in well with the season’s ongoing exploration of the connections between belief, identity, and relationships. We see these themes dealt with in other ways during this hour as well. When the powers that be crack down on the alleged increase in prisoners keeping kosher, Cindy (Adrienne Moore) makes a concerted effort to prove her familiarity with Judaism. The montage of supposedly kosher inmates meeting the rent-a-rabbi is one of the most genuinely humorous sequences yet this season. The fact that the Catholic Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) ends up on the short list for kosher meals serves as a fun point of irony; she benefits personally from her knowledge of religions, even if she doesn’t believe in the one at stake.
As Alex’s (Laura Prepon) paranoia grows, she notices that new inmate Lolly (Lori Petty) has taken a vested interest in her, going so far as to write down her daily activities. Elsewhere, Piper’s (Taylor Schilling) shaking off the hard moral code she used to try so hard to cling to. Embracing the illegal used panty business she’s started, which has already proven successful, is a big step for Piper, and Alex is clearly uncomfortable with the daring nature of it. Furthermore, in becoming closer to Stella (Ruby Rose), Piper has begun breaking her bond with her own beliefs, and, in doing so, complicating her relationship with Alex even more. In their relationship, Piper always used to be the one with the strong moral compass, on a surface level, and the decision to ignore that compass means a change for Piper herself as well as her for the pair.
The episode also features a discouraged Red (Kate Mulgrew) continually reminding the other inmates that she takes no responsibility for the new, inedible bagged meals. As someone others long tended to see as a mother figure in part due to her cooking, Red is understandably interested in making sure that others don’t lose their belief in her. Don’t believe the food represents her, she insists, because if others believe that, her own sense of self might shatter.
By the end of Episode 9, Season 3 has begun climbing toward a climax. Individual relationships are at stake, and larger questions about belief are starting to cause rifts in the prison. The system is clearly in the midst of a big shakeup, and some are poised to benefit more than others from the aftershocks. Now a fuller character, Leanne seems to think she can benefit, but the repercussions of her Norma-tic manipulation may not be all positive.
Episode 10: A Tittin’ and a Hairin’
Written by: Lauren Morelli
Directed by: Jesse Peretz
“You’re making my ass so happy right now. Those saggy prison panties been depressing my cheeks—like, I think they’ve been drooping from sadness.” -Flaca.
Episode 10 focuses on the roots of Pennsatucky’s views on sex. Early in the episode, we see young Tiffany’s mother sighing as her daughter gets her period, explaining her grin-and-bear-it approach to puberty. Men will take advantage of her, Tiffany’s mom bluntly states, and the safest thing to do is just make it through. In a later flashback from her teenage years, we see just how these sorts of beliefs have affected the rural community in which Tiffany lives. In a huge crowd of teenagers, there’s no shame for the young man who approaches Tiffany and asks her to let him owe her his regular payment for sex (Mountain Dew). She, like the others in the community, has little sense of self worth, and the experiences she goes through seem as mundane to her as they should be sad. Sexual assault isn’t always overtly violent, as we see here; it’s worse: young women are taught their bodies are commodities and they quietly go through the motions of accepting that belief.
When a young Tiffany becomes friendly with a newcomer to town, who demonstrates more respect for her, she learns to enjoy sex and to feel special him. When he leaves, things go back to normal, as the other men in town see that she no longer has a boyfriend as a safety net. In a horrific scene toward the end of the episode, Tiffany is raped again, and we get the sense that it’s a regular occurrence. Whatever self-love she may have gained as a result of meeting someone who valued her will quickly be overshadowed by what others think about women and how they treat her as one.
In the present day, danger arises from the seemingly innocuous flirtation between Pennsatucky and Officer Coates, a newcomer who also works part-time at a doughnut shop. The inexperienced officer learns a lot from Pennsatucky, an inmate who jokingly demonstrates how much more aware she is of the typical authority-inmate relationship than he is—a directly result of his being hired haphazardly and left untrained. He takes her self-assurance to heart, eventually embracing the power she’s suggested someone in his position usually has.
As they spend more time together, he impulsively kisses her, then apologizes by offering her doughnuts. At first, he seems to show a certain level of respect for women; he knows what he did was morally wrong. However, after being penalized for being late for a work commitment following a van run, Coates accuses Pennsatucky of distracting him from his work. He has quickly turned the tables on his sense of morality, deciding that the prisoner was at fault for his own flirtatious behavior. The woman was leading him on and should leave him alone. When Pennsatucky starts to defend himself, Coates takes advantage of the situation, suggesting what she really wants is sex and then brutally raping her in the van. The scene is depicted without vagueness. It’s clear that she’s being treated just the same as she was as a teenager, and even an authority figure in a seemingly safe place, built on security and a set of legal and moral codes, can end up treating her as if she deserves such abuse.
The episode is a painful reminder of how easily a character like Pennsatucky can be reduced to clichés and assumptions. While she has served as fodder for humor in the past, she seems to have become a more fully realized character this season, both because of how the writing treats her and due to her own reconciliation with her past. If Pennsatucky acts ignorant and doesn’t pick up on certain social cues, we can no longer assume that her behavior is separate from her upbringing. Her attitudes toward sex, identity, and personal value have been ingrained from a young age and are neither a coincidence nor her fault. Yet she’s still paying for them, just because of how others, raised differently, choose to perceive her. Even if she wants to better herself, Pennsatucky remains a victim of the society in which she exists, a society that often turns a blind eye toward the sort of abuse that resulted in her imprisonment. To make things worse, at Litchfield, caught in the middle of a financial and managerial crisis, someone like Pennsatucky can easily fall into the cracks. She’s lonely now that she lacks friends and followers, and she’s become horribly vulnerable to the sorts of people who in her childhood told her what to believe and how to act.
Episode 10 balances the Tucky-specific storyline with various other instances of characters considering the cost of their beliefs. Red, deliberately removed from the food she didn’t make, finds a way to keep (or gain) respect from others by making ratatouille and teaching other prisoners the sanctity of cooking. Soso, ousted from the Norma group, experiences more negative treatment by Leanne. She opens up to Berdie (Marsha Stephanie Blake) about her depression, after Healy brushed it off as being in her head and easy to prescribe away. Berdie helps raise Soso’s spirits slightly by suggesting that it might be true that Soso is different from other prisoners—but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe she has enough sense of self to rise above a silly set of rigid rules and doesn’t need to worry about how Leanne sees her.
In a different storyline, Alex’s own set of beliefs has become visibly frail, leading both to her fear of Kubra and also resulting in more tension between her and Piper. When she finds Piper acting intimate with Stella, Alex essentially turns up her hands at the situation, which reinforces how her faith in her entire situation, including her relationship with Piper, has begun to crumble. Piper’s actions seem only to confirm Alex’s worries.
When Alex’s stress and confusion result in a violent bathroom confrontation with the seemingly scheming Lolly, the truth comes out: Lolly herself is paranoid. Lolly has her own set of beliefs and specifically has decided that Alex is a member of the NSA who is part of a larger system of spies in the prison. As Alex takes a deep breath and realizes how silly her own paranoia has been, the fear demonstrated by Lolly—whose beliefs are clearly even more far fetched—shows just how easily someone can adopt a specific belief system and have it affect the entire way she views the world. Everyone believes in something, and those beliefs inevitably clash in scenarios as ridiculous as this bathroom brawl.
From Pennsatucky to the NSA, Episode 10 doesn’t shy away from creating a streamlined convergence of storylines surrounding ongoing themes. Despite featuring so many different characters, relationships, and occurrences (too many to cover in any one review), OITNB has maintained a huge level of coherence this season. That’s because a story like Pennsatucky’s is universal, and even if someone like Piper seems removed from it, episodes like this one make clear that no one’s immune from the effects of such a reality. Everyone is living in the same messed-up system, inside and outside of Litchfield, and some have chosen to embrace rather than deny it.