Review: 'Orange Is the New Black' Season 3, 'Fake It Till You Fake It Some More'

Orange is the New Black
An exciting new job opportunity in which the inmates must test in reveals itself to be yet another degrading way to squander potential. Which might be the point of prison in the first place on 'Orange is the New Black' Season 3, episode 5. Netflix

Since the advent of DVR sent appointment viewing the way of the pager and eight-track player, the mole-people critiquing TV have been scrambling to find a new model for reviews. Netflix’s strategy of dumping entire seasons of original programming onto the Net all at once has only complicated matters further. Do we try to pump out as many reviews as quickly as possible once a show’s online, or ignore the change in the breeze and continue to mosey along at the once-a-week pace? What of spoilers, the pop-cultural scourge? What use does episodic criticism have when the viewer (or, for that matter, the writer) already knows what’s going to happen?

Newsweek’s reviews of Orange Is the New Black’s third season will run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next month. More importantly, each piece will include a Word on the Street section after the review, specifically working through various spoilers as they circulate and how they affect our reading of the show. There are two sorts of people left in the world, and our coverage will cater to both of them. The binge-watchers get the bird’s-eye view they want, and those viewers attempting to savor the season can take it at their own pace. Power to the people.

Episode Five, “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More”

Last week’s “Finger In The Dyke” certainly qualifies, but “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More” is the season’s first true-blue middle-episode. It’s during these stretches of open time in the heart of a season that showrunner Jenji Kohan gets her best opportunities to shine. The massive ensemble cast places a lot of legwork on season premieres, and just as in her former series Weeds, Kohan has trouble sticking a landing. (Last season tied a ribbon on itself far too quickly and abruptly with a Rosa ex machina.) But when she’s got ample space to toy around with short story-style, character-driven concepts and humor that doesn’t need to be woven into a larger plotline, she’s in a league all her own. Since Season One, Kohan’s always worked better as a process-driven storyteller than a results-driven one. With the exception of the major reveal at the episode’s conclusion, “Fake It” doesn’t go much of anywhere. Still, somehow, Kohan finds a lot of value in the path to get there.

With less emotional heft than Big Boo’s episode and lower stakes than Nicky’s, the central plotline concerning Marisol “Flaca” Gonzalez ran the risk of playing out too slightly. And to be fair, it does. Flaca’s relatively simple arc comes pre-packaged with transparent parallels within it, and the leaden title of this episode doesn’t do Kohan or actress Jackie Cruz any favors in terms of subtlety. In its simplest terms, the story sounds like a blackly nihilistic joke: Flaca knows in her heart of hearts that she was cut out to do something more meaningful than stitching knockoff dresses for her mother, so she starts pushing phony acid to save up for… something. Flaca’s uncertainty as to what she actually wants to do, aside from invest in more emotional clothing, tells the audience all they need to know about where this young woman is going. She’s an astute girl; after all, she successfully convinced a hefty number of classmates that a bit of blotter paper and water opened their minds to the fifth dimension. But she’s lacking in direction, and in the socioeconomic climates that produce girls like Flaca, the directionless ones fall prey to crime and punishment.

And so, like a big fat punch line, she ends up sitting at the same sewing machine she swore off years ago. Placing Flaca in the sweatshop might seem like a mean gag on Kohan’s part, or like an overly convenient twist of fate in the vein of Poussey’s Calvin & Hobbes comic, if things like this didn’t happen all the time. It’s a fully plausible step for Litchfield to take, especially after laying the groundwork for corporatization in previous episodes. Prison is where potential comes to die, and the privatized labor just swallowed up whatever ambition Flaca might’ve had left.

With the Shirelles' “Mamma Said” taunting her on the soundtrack, Flaca’s self-contained story resolves itself perfectly: no happy ending, only an unhappy middle.

Even prior to the corporate takeover, Litchfield squandered its inmates’ talents and intelligence. In no coincidental way, this is the gross, intended point of prison. You’re not supposed to achieve your dreams there. It puts a damper on a woman’s very soul. In “Fake It,” the everyday drudgeries of prison life drive Poussey to drink, and while she laughs it off with the effective “it’s always five o’clock in prison,” Taystee’s clearly concerned. In Soso, prison has instilled the sweeping, cosmic sort of depression that begets suicide in the overly-educated. In her perfect silence, Norma (Annie Golden) makes for Soso’s ideal therapist, leading to a scene that works both as a moving Shakespearean soliloquy as well as an illustration of Soso’s bone-deep self-absorption. Even on the other side of the glass, the guards are beginning to feel the sting of demeaning prison life. C.O. Scott O’Neill (Joel Marsh Garland) makes a simple, beautiful comment about how he enjoys the slightly longer scenic route to work because the houses give him hope for the world. He speaks in the language of a sweet innocent child, and if you’ve made it this far, you know what Litchfield does to sweetness and innocence.

Word On The Street 

All of the spoilers accrued this time around worked in vague, nonspecific thematic terms. I’ve happened upon a lot of analytical language parsing out the show’s engagement with the nasty politics of prison reform and privatization, but precious little of it actually divulges details of plot. And yet, this feels more spoilery than anything else. The main cause for all the hand-wringing over spoilers is that knowing what happens in advance dilutes the viewing experience. Of course, this approach fails to account for things like the formal makeup of a show, dialogue, etc. But still, learning about the thematic ambitions of a show dulls its luster far more effectively than knowing plot twists. To return to the Titanic analogy, handy in discussions of spoilers, let’s think of it like this: Everyone knows the ship sinks. What matters is why it must sink in the grander fabric of the film.