Review: 'Orange Is the New Black' Season 3, 'Where My Dreidel At'

Piper and Stella
Alex Vause gets left in the dust as Piper starts a new relationship with Ruby Rose's Stella in 'Orange Is the New Black' Season 3. 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 Nine: “Where My Dreidel At”

It feels like it takes approximately three years to play out, but Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time” really is the perfect theme song for Orange Is the New Black. Spektor penned the song specifically for the theme sequence, and her lyrics succinctly emphasize the show’s overall attitude of patient observation. She croons, “Remember all their faces / remember all their voices”, a perfect mission statement for the show. Showrunner Jenji Kohan’s camera sits, watches, and listens, taking it all in. It’s willing to give characters a few story beats to explain themselves, and to reveal that things aren’t always as they seem. When it comes to people, those loosely-bound bundles of contradictions for which Kohan holds infinite love, there’s always more than meets the eye.

The moment in which a doped-up Leanne (played with ferocity and insecurity by Emma Myles in a season-standout performance) stashes her gear in a backpack and gets changed into what appears to be a bathrobe before it’s revealed to be traditional Amish garb is precisely the kind of twist that Kohan does extremely well. She’s pulled this same move multiple times over the course of the season, adding an element at the end of a scene that recontextualizes everything that’s come before. Leanne’s a crank-addicted redneck, but she’s also a woman who holds deep spiritual conviction. It looked like flashback-era Norma had finally found a man who genuinely loved her, until she stepped to the side during her own wedding ceremony and he moved onto the next female cult-member. Danny’s a cog in MCC’s corporate machine chiefly intended to act as a buffer between Caputo and the people who don’t want to talk to him, but we learned last episode that he’s also a middling son trying very hard to earn his father’s approval. Kohan’s got a knack for dismantling assumptions, playing into preconceived notions in the first half of a scene before exposing the unanticipated depths of her characters.

Leanne’s stool-pigeon turn dovetails nicely with the guiding theme of the episode, the difficult compromises that organized religion demands of its followers. Kohan approaches the theme on three levels: Leanne abandons the accoutrements of the Amish after her fall from grace in rumspringa, but holds fast to the faith’s core tenets. The cult (or is it a true-blue religion?) that’s sprung up around Norma encounters challenges from Catholics and guards alike, and begins to hash out a value system to remain solvent. On the more comedic end of the dramedy spectrum, Cindy and her dozens of fellow Jew impersonators meet with the “Corporate Inquiry Rabbi” to determine the validity of their claims to kosher meals. While Kohan begins this plot line with the hilarious comic set piece of cross-cut interviews in which the Goyest of the Goys out themselves as such, she takes it to a slightly more meaningful place through Cindy’s exploration. The inmate’s pretty crafty, having done her research and concluded that the plots of Yentl and Annie Hall would be sufficient to prove her allegiance to the Jewish faith. The rabbi sees through her, da-doy, but her fraud sets her on a genuine investigation to the specifics of Judaism. She succeeds in tracking down one of the few actual Jewish inmates present at Litchfield and grills her on the experience of being Jewish. The scene ends with a rather unsavory joke founded on old stereotypes—of course the Jewish inmate’s in on a money-laundering rap—but still opens up a more compelling avenue for Cindy in future episodes.

Though Kohan hasn’t integrated all of her strands of story into one cohesive thread just yet, the various bits of side business function well enough on their own. The simmering beef (mmm, simmering beef) between Sophia and Gloria has been locked onto a course of destruction with Sophia’s counterintuitive refusal to acknowledge that her son might not be a cherub. Piper as entrepreneur proves to be a far more tolerable pose than Piper as romance participant, though her dalliance with Ruby Rose’s fan-favorite Stella doesn’t seem to be covering radically new territory. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Piper likes ’em stylish and mean.

Word on the Street

Around these parts, it has been long since revealed that next episode features a harrowing assault (from Officer Coates, made gruesomely obvious by his bizarre, uncalled-for display of aggression by the lake), but various spoilers revealed that the tenth installment of this season brings several plotlines to a head. The Alex-Lolly and Sophia-Gloria conflicts also explode into action with the next episode, but I was only made aware of this due to the disproportionately high number of online posts referring to that hour in specific. Ultimately, it’s sorta revealing about the craft of episodic writing in and of itself. Kohan’s stingy with plot points, doling them out judiciously while establishing character arcs throughout the season, until the time is right. By the time she wants to reap her dramatic payoffs, there are several hammers waiting to be dropped. Lopsided plotting was always the obstacle that hobbled Weeds; perhaps Orange Is the New Black has been such a smash because Kohan’s assembled a writing staff capable of getting her over that hurdle.