OITNB - Season 3 Episode 1

Orange is the New Black 3.1: Not Your Mother’s Prison

Season Three of the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black was released Friday June 12th, and whether you binge watch until your eyes are bleary, or take it in one episode at a time, there’s plenty to be savoured. Join me in the coming weeks with recaps, ruminations, and remarks on the latest installment of the series.

“A good mother does what’s best for her children.” Carrie “Big Boo” Black  

Moms. We all got one. Some of us are one. Lots of folks got issues with them. And the inmates and staff at Litchfield Penitentiary are no exception.

Mother’s Day is the first episode of the third season of Orange is the New Black, and whether it’s through a contextualizing flashback, philosophical conversation with a clown, or metaphorical piñata, this episode begs the question: What is the best thing a mother can do for her child?

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Caputo boasts excitedly to new counselor Bertie Rogers about the upcoming Mother’s Day Fair with expanded visitation so inmates can “foster the connection to the outside world”. At Season Two’s end Caputo exposes his predecessor Fig for her embezzling scheme and even though he’s working both his new position as executive assistant to the warden and his old administrative duties, he’s trying to make things work. Caputo gives Bennett the cold shoulder reminding us that Caputo kept the fact that Bennett is the one who got Daya pregnant, and not the framed Pornstache secret as to avoid controversy — something very similar to what the disgraced Fig might do.

One of Red’s “golden girls” Frieda remarks on the improvements at the prison such as wiccans getting walks on the full moon, repairs actually being done, and people getting out early. It’s a “kindler, gentler Litchfield” she says. Caputo seems to be having some effect and his intentions seem to be pure, but how does that saying go about what the road to hell is paved with?

Bearing a new crescent scar on her cheekbone serving as a memento of the attack she suffered at the hands of Vee, Red looks at the two years she has left to serve and decides to stay out of trouble. She paves over the tunnel previously used to smuggle in contraband etching “RIP V” into the wet cement. The highly cathartic ending to Season Two featured the terminally ill Rosa stealing the prison van so she didn’t have to wither away in jail, and finding the freshly escaped Vee at the side of the road just in time to mow her down. Red’s writing solidifies that Vee is gone for good.  Red sits with her sons and husband excited about the prospect of getting back to her beloved store. A store — gleaned from the expressions on her family’s faces, and what we know from Piper’s furlough — that is no longer there.

OITNB - Season 3 Episode 1

Got it From Her Mama

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Nicky hangs around the laundry room pretending to fix a broken light, but her real motivation is to visit the heroin she and Boo stole from Vee. She stares yearningly into the vent containing the stashed drugs, the scene morphs into one of a young Nicky peering into an oven containing a Mother’s Day surprise. Her mother brushes her off, claiming that she just wants to go to brunch and then to the spa. It’s apparent we shouldn’t expect her to come visit her daughter in prison. Boo wants to sell the drugs as soon as possible but we see Nicky’s not so sure, a former addict she just likes to “look at it.”

It’s not just Vee’s heroin that’s left behind, but also the indelible effect she had on Suzanne (aka Crazy Eyes).  At the end of Season Two we see her weeping over the Uno cards gifted to her by Vee, the mother figure she was viciously loyal to. She’s in serious denial over her death,  “Vee is fine!” she shouts.  Suzanne is not allowed to join the children because of a previous incident with a Chinese jumping rope, and stands alone with a homemade kite.

Black Cindy and Taystee say they are done with mothers, and stand-ins for mothers “Maybe when mine dies, I’ll like her better” says Cindy which is overheard by Poussey whose mother died while she was serving time. There’s a flashback to her younger self, reading a Calvin and Hobbes strip with her loving mom. Poussey grieves for her, even asking the now magical Norma if she has any “juju” that can help her out with her pain.

Pennsatucky also has fond memories of her mama. At the wheel of the new prison van (Rosa drove the old one into a quarry) she recites the lessons she learned from her, “She taught me all kinds of things”. A flashback depicts her as a child being barked at by her mother to chug an enormous bottle of Mountain Dew just before a meeting at the Social Security Office. Hyped up on sugar and caffeine, child Tucky bounces around like a maniac.  “She aint never been right” says her mother, angling for a $314 a month benefits cheque.

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Are The Kids Alright?

Pennsatucky reflects on her would-be motherhood in a heartbreaking and darkly hilarious scene where she sits in front of a popsicle stick graveyard she constructs for the children she (mostly) aborted, “I would have had five, six if you count the one that fell out after the night in the caves.”

She prays for their souls even though she “sucked them out”  because she was “wicked”. She christens the crosses labeled with first names all starting with the letter B, pouring capfuls of Mountain Dew in memoriam. Boo, dressed as a “wacky clown” comes upon this sight and really proves to be a true friend—if not a brutally honest one—as she quotes a chapter from Freakanomics and cause and effectto explain how Roe vs. Wade helped to drop the crime rate. Boo states simply that Tucky was a  “meth head white trash piece of shit” and her kids would have been the same. “A good mother does what’s best for her children” and in her case maybe wiping them out “before they led their miserable lives” was the best thing she could do. Despite her religious convictions, this seems to make Pennsatucky feel better.

Daya talks to her mother and fellow inmate Diaz who says motherhood only causes pain and suffering. Diaz discovers a letter to Daya from Pronstache’s mother (which she later pockets). Daya doesn’t want anything to do with it, but Diaz “smells money.” Diaz’s other children come to visit and Bennett awkwardly approaches them telling a bad joke about a “motherboard”. When one of the children asks where the baby is going to live, it’s apparent Daya hasn’t really thought it through, and it doesn’t seem like Caputo’s going to let Bennett get too close.

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Burset sits with her son, in a slightly tense scene where there is some obvious negotiation about what her role is in her child’s life now that she is, as Morello innocently yet ignorantly calls it, a “lady man.” Her son says that he doesn’t need two moms, and Burset expresses her understanding. She does find some common ground with her estranged son giving advice about the right way to shave, and “from a former man to a current man” how to talk to girls.

The guards try to get the children to be angry enough to hit the discount piñata hard enough to break it (without sticks). O’Neill leans down to one of the children saying,  “Hey, your Mom’s in prison” to insight some fury, and after the young boy gets a sanitary napkin strapped over his eyes, he goes to town. When this doesn’t prove to be enough CO Bell takes her stick and beats the piñata open—but it’s empty, they forgot to fill it with candy. Soso looks upon the scene, “Oh my god, this is such a metaphor for their lives!”

Piper doesn’t care her mom isn’t coming to visit her. She has Alex back after orchestrating to have her parole officer tipped off. Although I will say that the Piper/Alex love story lost my attention last season, now that Alex is back behind bars: let the backstabbing, lying, manipulation, and raw sexual energy ensue! Snuggling in the chapel, Alex cries at the thought of her mother’s disappointment at her life choices if she were still alive. Alex berates herself for being back in prison and there is a moment, literally in a church of sorts, where Piper can confess it’s her fault, but instead she blames “the system” and kisses Alex’s snotty face. Seriously, they’re fucked up.

Diaz realizes that one of her children (“the small one”) is missing. After they can’t find her the alarm is sounded requiring all the inmates to hit the ground and with this, the reality of the situation comes back into focus: despite the inmates attempts to have their hair cut to maintain “object permanence”, or get a good night’s sleep to keep away any dark circles under their eyes so they can “set a good example for their babies”, no number of games of duck-duck-goose, face painting, or impossibly hard mini golf can change the fact that these women are in prison. Whatever they might have considered “normal” on the outside is not available to them for more than a short time.

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This fact, for more than anyone in the episode, is most painfully true for Ruiz. When she returns her daughter to her boyfriend he says that he’s not going to bring her back for visits because he doesn’t want his daughter to grow up thinking it’s “normal” to have a mother in prison. Ruiz reels from this sudden news as he walks away from her, baby in arms.

“Complicated ladies in a complicated place.” Joe “Beer Can” Caputo

Whether it’s something a mother did to impact the lives of their child (for better or for worse), the lives of these women and their relationships with their families doesn’t always offer a clear answer of what it means to be a good mother, but instead this episode does what the thought provoking Orange does best—its gives us the grey areas concerning complicated people in very specific situations.

Out in the Yard

– This is by far my favourite exchange in the episode:

Taylor: “I’ve seen you such a cock for a bag of Ranch Doritos”

Rice: “That was different. That was a cock, and I love Ranch flavour.”

– Homophobic man-child Healy’s flashback to his childhood self trying to give his obviously smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-a-significant-psychotic-break mom a Mother’s Day breakfast was a fascinating insight into his past. Perhaps his mother’s mental illness is why he projects a perfect image onto the women in his life and when they can’t live up to it he turns on them?

– Luschek talking about the most economic way to kill yourself. That you don’t have to pay at a gun range until you leave so you should just walk in and shoot yourself right there. That fucking guy.

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