New episodic recaps of Orange Is the New Black Season 3 post on Mondays and Thursdays. You can read all previous entries here.
It looks like we’ve hit the mid-season lull. Episodes 3, 4 and 5 rocked powerful flashbacks paired with curious present day conundrums. Episodes 6 and 7, however, feel like they’re showing off flashbacks just because it’s expected and neither have well structured present day storylines either.
“Ching Chong Chang” focuses on Chang (Lori Tan Chinn). Back when she was young, her brother Fu (Xingkai Wu) attempted to sell her to man looking to buy a wife so that he could make a quick buck, but the man doesn’t find Chang pretty enough. Fu is furious that he has to continue taking care of her, but when an increased police presence threatens to shut down his illicit business, Chang steps up to help him out. Turns out, her unremarkable looks and personality make her the perfect person to transport the goods unnoticed.
One night Chang takes it a major step further by saving Fu’s life. When she discovers that a distributor is selling them ping pong balls instead of turtle eggs, the distributor pulls a gun on Fu. However, before the distributor can kill him, Chang nails him in the head with a pipe. In return for saving his life, Fu tracks down the man who didn’t want to take Chang as his wife, beats him up and, on her command, cuts out his gall bladder.
The problem with Chang’s backstory compared to other flashbacks for minor characters is that it feels incomplete and also doesn’t really line up with the Chang we know today. People say especially nasty, hurtful things to her, but they don’t justify her turning into a murderous gangster. Up until this point, Orange is the New Black has been playfully selling Chang as a character with a habit of keeping to herself and dishing out snarky retorts. Perhaps the idea of revealing a super dark, violent past sounded interesting, but there’s no arc in her flashback to support it.
Norma suffers from the same problem in “Tongue-Tied,” too. It’s revealed that Norma keeps quiet because she’s got a stuttering problem. Back when she was young, she attended a “Transformation Workshop” and that’s where she meets Guru Mack (David Newsom) who’s seemingly the first person to accept and embrace her speech impediment, so she gives him her undying devotion and marries him. Years later, Guru Mack becomes a washed up hack, but Norma stands by him – that is until he outright insults her and she opts to push him off a mountain.
Similar to Chang, it’s nice to know what Norma experienced back in the day, but it doesn’t really add much to the show as a whole. It’s abundantly clear that the writers are trying to make the connection between what Norma goes through with Guru Mack and what she’s busy doing with her “magic” in prison, but there’s a severe disconnect and it makes Norma feel like one big hypocrite. Yes, Norma is making inmates feel better via her touch, but isn’t she a fraud just like Guru Mack? And when paired with the whole Red situation, the episode also gives the impression that Norma leaves the kitchen and commits to leading the group in the church because it makes her feel better. Whereas Boo’s flashback, for example, revealed new layers of the character and showed me how they could both help and hurt her in Litchfield, Norma and Chang’s flashbacks leave me even more unclear of exactly what they’re after and what they’re capable of.
As for non-flashback material, the strongest portion of “Ching Chong Chang” and “Tongue-Tied” is MCC/the new guard issue. Not only am I interested in connecting the dots and discovering what Pearson is really up to, but the whole situation is also adding a good deal to Caputo and the guard characters. It’s an intriguing and fragile predicament. On the one hand, Caputo has to keep MCC happy in order to keep Litchfield running and ensure his old guards have work – even if it’s part time work. On the other, he’s finally starting to realize that he’s being played and needs to figure out what to do about it. It’s an issue that’s been building well from episode to episode, making it feel much more important than most other elements of the show.
Meanwhile, Piper and Alex set their sights on the new 21-year-old guard, Bayley (Alan Aisenberg). He doesn’t know a thing about working at a prison and is also clearly prone to screwing up, so they peg him as the perfect person to use in their used underwear operation. Is it a game changing scenario with the potential to add deep, important content to the show? Probably not, but it is one of the more amusing subplots at the moment. I’m getting a kick out of Morello’s dating scheme too, but that’s another instance where I’m not quite sure what the writers are trying to do with it. Is Morello really just looking for commissary money or does she want to find love? She’s a pathological liar so perhaps that’s why it’s tough to track her intentions, but there will need to be some clarity if they’re going to take that storyline any further.
Then we’ve got Red who continues to make power plays. I still haven’t quite forgiven her for breaking Healy’s heart, but Kate Mulgrew’s speech in episode 6 is persuasive enough to get me rooting for her to get back into the kitchen. It feels a little too easy when Gloria happens to quit during Red’s first day back, but the episode does justify it enough using the situation between Gloria and Sophia’s kids. Plus, between Norma leaving and MCC’s new prepared meals, Red still has quite the challenge ahead of her if she wants to get things running her way again.
The entertainment value is definitely still there, but “Ching Chong Chang” and “Tongue-Tied” are noticeably weaker than all other episodes of Season 3. The show has always had a habit of squeezing many, many scenarios and characters into each episode, but this time around, the flashbacks just aren’t strong enough to hold everything together and a good deal of the subplots are entirely forgettable.
Episode 6 Rating: ★★★ Good
Episode 7 Rating: ★★ Fair
- I assume the whole Judy King got arrested thing means that she’s coming to Litchfield, but boy did that little bit of information come and go fast.
- “MCC appreciates your feedback. We strive for excellence.” – PA Announcement
- “You forget that when you leave here tonight, you lock me in behind you.” – Red
- “It’s two people connecting … with four other people, and aliens.” – Suzanne
- What’s up with Lolly (Lori Petty)? One minute she pretends she doesn’t remember Piper, but then tries to be her buddy again? Perhaps that’s an issue that’ll be addressed in future episodes, but right now, it doesn’t make much sense.