Sat
Jul 12 2014 12:00pm

Orange Is the New Black 2.11: “Take a Break from Your Values”

Man, I do love me some radical left-wing nuns. I wasn’t raised Catholic, so I don’t have any of the strict, knuckle-rapping associations that have become the stuff of legend when it comes to women of the holy orders. I did teach at an all-girls Catholic school for a while, though, and I met some nuns there who were women with a serious bent toward social justice. And I do love me some radical left-wing nuns.

There’s something brilliant about including a nun among the inmates at Litchfield. When we first met Sister Jane (Beth Fowler), we were told that she was inside for protesting at a nuclear testing site. Now, in Episode 11, we learn her back story. We see her as a young woman (played by Aubrey Sinn), already committed to her life as Bride of Christ but also already straining against the confines of the church. She wants to get out in the world and make a difference, to serve, to turn faith into action. But this is, after all, Orange Is the New Black and in this world there is no such thing as a saint. (I don’t think there’s a saint to be found anywhere in the work of the show’s creator, Jenji Kohan.) As is so often the case, a character’s weakness grows out of her strength. Sister Jane is filled with righteous indignation, but it is so bound up in her own narcissism that it’s difficult to tell the difference. In the present day, we see her become a part of Soso’s hunger strike, but, before long, the whole affair becomes all about Sister Jane.  It’s difficult to have a leaderless movement when one member of your party is bound and determined to see herself as a martyr.

The character of Sister Jane gives the show a little breathing room from the usual focus on matters of love and sex. Here is a woman who has devoted her life to causes, yet those causes have, in the end, led her to Litchfield. There’s a deep cynicism at play here, an underlying belief that everything good eventually goes bad. What saves the show from being a downer, though, is the connected belief that everything bad has some kind of upside. This show is, after all, a prison comedy. As dark as it gets, there’s a sense of the absurd which is never far away.

These themes are developed further in the funniest development of the episode, Healy’s lumbering attempts to start Safe Place, a support group for the inmates. That he chooses Pennsatucky as his right hand woman is perfect. I mean, who wouldn’t want to share their innermost fears and insecurities with these two rageoholics? In a way, we can see Healy’s Safe Place experiment as a kind of funhouse mirror image of Sister Jane’s narcissistic self-righteousness. On this show, altruism is always revealed to have an undercurrent of selfishness. Healy doesn’t want the women to share and connect as much as he wants to bestow these things upon them. This desire might also help to account for his ongoing deep-seated fear of lesbianism—which is a form of love and life that leaves him out completely.

 

Moving on: in the last episode, we saw the Diaz-Bennett-Pornstache story reach its breaking point. Having set up Pornstache to take the fall for Diaz’s pregnancy, Bennett succeeded in getting the vile scumbag fired from work and carted off to jail. In this episode, however, we see the plan backfire. Pornstache, it turned out, actually loved Diaz and was willing to tell the world about it. This turn of events has now given Diaz reason to doubt her relationship with Bennett. I sometimes think Diaz is too hard on Bennett (or, at the very least, her constant disappointment in him is becoming a little too redundant), but this scene really works. Bennett, nice guy that he is, isn’t willing to take responsibility for his actions and he is willing to let the world think that Pornstache is the father of his child. Not good, Bennett. Not good.

Piper finally reconnects with Alex. We find out why Alex sold her out, and damn if it doesn’t seem like a plausible explanation. We also find out that the big time drug lord Kubra got a mistrial and is after Alex, who is hiding in Queens. I think I see a future here in which Alex gets thrown back in jail.

Last and least, we also get a scene with Larry, Polly, and Pete because sometimes life involves hanging out with people you don’t like.


Jake Hinkson, The Night Editor, is the author of The Posthumous Man and Saint Homicide.

Read all posts by Jake Hinkson for Criminal Element.

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