Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer TV Rewind: Orange is the New Black 1.05: "The Chickening"

“You are not an agent of God, okay? God can do so much better than you. You must know that, right?”

There was a lot going on in the fifth episode of “Orange is the New Black,” and I’m struggling to find something that ties it all together. Piper goes off the deep end and starts embracing Litchfield as her “real” life, there’s a bit of a religious squabble (led by Pennsatucky, of course), and we get some Daya flashbacks. Oh, and poor Sophia is still trying to get her hormones. One common line that runs through much of the episode is people making poor decisions, although that isn’t exactly a surprise in a show about prison. Most people in prison are there as a result of a string of poor decisionmaking, after all. It was interesting to get a bit of a look into the history between Daya and her mother, and it was interesting to see Piper start to prioritize Litchfield drama over her former life “outside.”

The episode opens with as idyllic a Sunday morning as Piper can experience in prison. Armed with a granola bar, a cup of coffee, and a mediocre book, Piper heads out into the yard and sits under a tree, ready to enjoy the most hipster-style indulgence she can find while in prison. Just as Piper is about to really dive into her book, though, she is interrupted by a nearby chicken. A chicken is a rather unusual thing to find in a prison yard, and Piper mentions it to some of the other ladies when she goes back inside. She is told to tell Red about the chicken immediately, and it is quickly apparent why. Red has been all Captain Ahab about this chicken for a very long time. Mostly because she thinks it’s smart and wants to absorb its power. And she wants to make a nice Chicken Kiev with fresh chicken for once.

Meanwhile, since it’s a Sunday, there is also some religious drama at Litchfield. It feels like a side plot in this episode, but on further reflection, it does a nice job seeding the conflict that will eventually bloom between Piper and Pennsatucky. And yes, “Pennsatucky” is a real term we Pennsylvanians use. As in Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Kentucky in between. Both of us here at MTVP went to college in “Pennsatucky” country, so we know it all too well. Anyway, the chapel space at Litchfield is kind of a revolving door, providing worship space to women from a wide range of religions. Because of this, the prison administration tries to limit decoration in the chapel. Pennsatucky, however, has created a massive wooden cross that she wants to hang up.

Sophia is involved tangentially in the religious subplot because she’s still trying to find a way to get hormones again. Sister Jane is pretty much the only inmate at Litchfield who has gotten approval for a medication that includes estrogen. Sophia is hoping that Sister Jane will share the wealth, so she starts hanging around with the religious crowd and trying to ingratiate herself to Sister Jane. This leads to a clash with Pennsatucky, who is full-on fundamentalist and therefore not especially fond of transgender people. There’s an incident where Pennsatucky tries to hang up the massive cross she built and brings down the whole chapel ceiling. When a group of inmates is convened to start the repair work, Pennsatucky asks that Sophia leave, basically because she doesn’t think God approves of her. Sophia and Sister Jane have some interesting spiritual conversations throughout the episode, but the upshot is that Sister Jane knows Sophia is after her hormones, and she’s not sharing.

Through flashbacks in this episode, we get a sense of just how much Daya’s home life sucked. Daya’s mom has many children, and it is pretty much Daya’s job to take care of all of them. Daya’s mom spends most of her time trying to find the next man to keep them financially afloat for a while. It would be one thing if Daya’s mom seemed to be just doing what she had to do to survive, but she’s pretty shameless about loving all the attention she gets from the men in her life. Her children seem to be an inconvenience. Add to that the fact that her latest paramour is a drug dealer, and the situation is pretty bleak. The dealer has women (including Daya’s mom) making drugs in the family kitchen, and it’s clear that he’d rather be sleeping with Daya than her mother. Daya’s mom lands in prison because of her boyfriend’s shady dealings, and after a particularly contentious visitation (Daya’s mom wants to know more about her boyfriend than her kids), Daya decides to truly get back at her mom by having sex with the drug dealer boyfriend.

Piper tells Red about the chicken, and the situation escalates way beyond what Piper could have imagined. Red offers a reward for catching the chicken, and it seems like every inmate at Litchfield wants a chance at it. The end result is mayhem in the yard, and the Litchfield administration starts broadcasting messages that the chicken doesn’t exist. Everyone starts thinking that Piper made up the story just to get in good with Red. Piper herself even starts doubting if she saw what she thought she saw. Meanwhile, some problems have cropped up with Piper and Polly’s artisanal bath product business, and the two cook up a plan to have Piper talk to a business associate who is having doubts without revealing that Piper is in prison. The call is about to go through when Piper catches a glimpse of the chicken through the window. She forsakes the phone call for another attempt at the chicken, and in that moment, she has embraced Litchfield life over her former life. It’s all in vain, though, as the elusive chicken somehow manages to get back on the “outside” side of the Litchfield fence.

In the present day, Daya and Officer Bennett’s relationship is blossoming. They both keep passing notes to each other. There’s once incident in particular where Daya is trying to trade corn for her mom and Bennett catches her. In an effort to look like everything is normal, Bennett is a little too aggressive in reprimanding Daya for trying to barter. Daya’s mom notices this, of course, and the gears start turning in her head about how she can use this knowledge to make Daya miserable. Most of the other notes are passed through one of the checkpoint stations on the Litchfield fence. It’s all very sweet and innocent if you don’t think about the troubling power imbalance between Daya and Bennett. Daya’s mom wants revenge, and she sends a note to Bennett which leads to an encounter between the two of them in a storage closet. It is not yet apparent whether or not Daya’s mom will truly have her revenge.

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