Review: 'Orange Is the New Black' Season 3, 'A Tittin' and a Hairin'

OITNB
Sophia grapples with the reality that her song Michael may not be the angel she always thought he was. 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 10: “A Tittin’ and a Hairin’”

During a recent interview conducted by Entertainment Weekly, Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller talked about his program’s sacred vow to never depict rape or acts of sexual assault. He explained, “It’s one of the things on the show that we really wanted to avoid. They’re ubiquitous on television, and there’s an entire series [NBC’s Law & Order: SVU] that’s about rape.... In crafting the story arc of the Red Dragon, it became a challenge on how to keep true to the novel but deemphasize the exploitive qualities of women being raped.... We didn’t wanna glorify it—well, not ‘glorify,’ because I don’t think any of the crime procedural shows are actually ‘glorifying’ rape. But it is certainly explored so frequently that it rarely feels genuine.”

When the dude running the show where a cannibalistic serial murderer wraps human corpses into horrifying new shapes like origami claims that the TV industry needs to dial it back a little, there’s something real and pressing going on.

Though “A Tittin’ and a Hairin’” most likely will not go down as Orange Is The New Black’s “rape episode,” that harrowing final scene between Coates and Pennsatucky still defines the hour. The theme of female sexuality has run strong throughout the season, from Piper’s confidence-boosting frilly underwear to Boo’s self-assured, unapologetic time in the spotlight, strap-on and all. In this episode, Kohan illustrates how susceptible a budding libido can be to perversions and poor advice. The episode sketches a clear parallel between the flashback in which a young Maureen’s mother likens sex with men to powering through a bee sting, and Morello’s awkward, backward birds-and-bees chat with Suzanne. ’Tucky’s mom and Morello both invoke deeply ingrained, internalized misogyny with their explanations, unwittingly contributing to the mass of rape culture by promoting the idea that sex is a thing that men take from women.2

To circle back, Fuller’s comment denounces the glut of rape depictions on television that emphasize the “exploitive qualities” of the act. It’s not uncommon for the likes of Game Of Thrones or The Following to throw a rape in the mix as a sensationalist storytelling ploy, or worse, as a hollow scriptwriting gesture to motivate the (not infrequently male) hero to go do heroic things. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk, and Kohan navigates it expertly in the profoundly disturbing rape scene. Nothing about the framing even remotely titillates; there’s no glimpse of nudity, no violent struggle. Pennsatucky accepts what’s about the happen to her, just like she was taught. Except that she’s begun to learn that that’s not even remotely close to the natural order of things, illustrated gracefully by the tear that silently creeps down her face as she acquiesces to her assault. The scene communicates the intensely personal terror of rape, leaving no room to misinterpret its intentions. 

Pennsatucky’s brutal A-plot makes everything else look minor by comparison, but “A Tittin’ and a Hairin’” does bring several played-out storylines to a head. Due respect to Kohan and her writing staff for coordinating a mass firebomb of plot resolution with three episodes still on the clock, but few of these land with the impact they should, or could. The tender, savory beef between Sophia and Gloria breaks out in violence, though the scene doesn’t play with as much intensity as actresses Laverne Cox and Selenis Levya try to put into it. Morello’s long game has come into focus, as she manipulates her all-too-eager pen pal to presumably murder her ex-lover. The turn doesn’t contribute much to the larger dialogue of the show, apart from “Morello is still veil-in-the-bathtub bananas.” Alex’s mounting suspicion culminates in a bathroom attack on Lolly, who’s merely paranoid schizophrenic, and not an assassin sent to claim Alex’s life. This strand of plot also appears to possess limited functionality in the grand scheme of things, apart from driving Piper away from Alex and into the arms (and other body parts) of Stella, the thunder from down under. Frankly, this show’s operating on a much higher level than befits the soap-operatic hogwash that follows Piper from plotline to plotline like a cartoon stink cloud. Piper’s abandonment of Alex seems like just that: a callous refusal to aid a loved one in her hour of need. It’s not a flattering move for her, and there’s a faint whiff of Walter White in the air when Piper expounds on her plans to bolster her underwear-smuggling operation. Even the protracted background saga of celebrity chef Judy King (a clear doppelgänger for tax evader Martha Stewart) ties itself up with a bait-and-switch reveal that she’s not coming to Litchfield. Which then begs the question as to why Kohan bothered to include her in the first place; there are only three episodes left, and she just kinda wasted our precious time. To varying degrees, we might extend that same criticism to a lot of the subplots featured in this hour. The plot’s clearly picking up, and the time in the season has now come to keep it up.

Word on the Street 

As we reach the final stretch of episodes, there will be a proportionally smaller amount of remaining material to be spoiled. Even with the countdown nearing zero, there’s still room for a few more spoilers. Despite repeated protestations, an acquaintance informed me that an effort from the prison staff to unionize against MCC forms a major plot thrust in the final episodes. This also counts as one of those spoilers vague enough to leave the coming episodes generally unaffected, in which the specifics of the circumstances hold the most importance. When this project began, neither I nor Newsweek knew what it would end up being. (Thanks for the vote of confidence on that one by the way, Newsweek!) But the overarching discovery with this grand experiment has been surprising, welcome and warmly reassuring: Spoilers aren’t the bugaboo we once feared. Netflix has not murdered serialized television. We may all sleep well.