Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S5 E9 “The Tightening” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S5 E9: “The Tightening”

As a formerly incarcerated person, I have decided to do a deep-dive into the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black to help explain some of the things that folks watching the show without a felony background might not catch.

Holy cow we had beautiful weather today, I am starting late because last night I went to see Baby Driver (great fun) and today I was outside having fun all day (sorry).

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If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5 Things About Season 5 Episode 9 "The Tightening"


OITNB S5 E9 “The Tightening” is about:

* The telling of the backstory of how Red got married and got from Russia to America. Particularly fun is when “Young Red” shares that her boyfriend offered to take her to Lake Chernobyl.

* Piscatella breaching Litchfield attacking Blanca and eventually attacking and capturing many of the inmates.

* Gloria finding out that she could theoretically be allowed to see her son (providing she finds a way to betray everyone in prison and release the hostages).

* Aleida arriving at the prison just in time to see Daya being led to Max in cuffs (for admitting to shooting humps). Later she yells at Gloria and gets flirted with by one of the Max CO’s.

* The continuation of the negotiations between Taystee and Figueroa. Taystee eventually is required to bring Caputo to the table as a negotiator on the side of the prisoners.

* The Meth-Heads continue to do increasingly awful things. They are starting to reach some really dark ethical territory for a couple of prisoners who never really were only guilty of being idiots for most of the first four seasons. Oh, they also start carrying out scenes from horror movies.

* Piper and Alex continuing to argue over if Piper is too much of a crusader. Somehow this leads to shower sex which leads to Piscatella capturing them.

* Linda getting abandoned when Boo gets captured by Piscatella. When she runs to Caputo for protection he abandons her entirely suggesting that she is a mentally ill inmate (not his ex-girlfriend Linda from accounting).

* Morello deciding unilaterally that she and Suzanne are not actually crazy (they are just interesting people). As a sign of solidarity, she takes all of Suzanne’s meds away and refuses to give them to her (not good).

I usually catch these things, but I may have missed this one. I think “The Tightening” refers to Red and her Boyfriend in Russia “tightening” the blue jeans they are selling (Fyi blue jeans used to be illegal in the Soviet Union).

5. Can Anyone Explain The Response To This Riot?

Why do the prisoners still have electricity (I know Gina turned the electricity back on but the State would cut the juice from the outside lines)?

Why do the prisoners still have running water?

Why in the world would Fig talk about the injured guard as a negotiating tactic? They really would have breached once they knew a CO had been shot?

Why is Caputo negotiating on behalf of the prisoners when he is working against the interests of his CO’s and his career?

4. Classic Rom-Com

Speaking of Caputo, Mei Chang says the above to Linda and that Caputo is with the Giraffe Lady (Fig) and that people think they hate each other but also bone.

How would Chiang know Caputo and Fig “bone” (that started to happen after Fig left the prison)?

Anyway, Caputo sure doesn’t make his feelings about Fig opaque. From the minute he walks into the negotiation, he is full-on flirting with Fig.

And why did Caputo totally abandon Linda to the mob? He knows Linda is not a prisoner and she came to him begging him for protection (which he could have given because it would have happened in front of Figueroa during the negotiations) so why would he suggest that she was a psych transfer? Even if he were mad at Linda and found himself madly in love with Fig, it seems highly unlikely he would leave Linda at risk just to get some kind of revenge (for which she could most certainly charge him with later).

Anyway, Zirconia figures out that “Von Barlow” is a civilian and not a prisoner so Linda runs.

3. “Once You Go Clarence?”

Yes, I get that in order to question racism, you often have to deploy it. But the frequent casual deployment of racism seems to have gotten way out of hand this season.

Did it serve a major plot purpose to have the meth-heads casually make jokes about racialized bodies? Did it serve a major plot purpose for the meth-heads to force Suzanne into whiteface because “Life is going to be so much easier for you now?”

I guess what I am suggesting is that racism seems to be deployed often during Season 5 more for the entertainment of the audience than for adding depth to the plot or to characters on the show.

If you have cheated ahead, and I have (by the time I get to writing it is usually after seeing each episode at least three times), you know that there was no significant purpose served by brutalizing Suzanne (and by extension all other people of color) in this manner.

In episode 8, Taystee talks about loving Spike Lee’s movies (“Crooklyn always makes me cry”) but perhaps the writers should have watched the Spike Lee movie “Bamboozled,” especially when the “actors” are forced to “blacken up” for the cameras.

If you can watch that scene without crying, you are a tougher person than me.

I guess I am saying that sometimes, being cool insiders, lauded for having a really diverse cast, can sometimes result in you playing fast and loose with imagery and words that have real effects on real people. Even seeing someone in white or black face leaves a mark on everyone who watches, so you better have a damn good reason to do it.

I love the show, I love the cast, I love the writers, but this shit is unacceptable. It does real violence and makes Suzanne (one of the most courageous characters in the history of television) into an object and not a subject and for what?

And what the hell is up with the meth-heads, why are they terrorizing Doggett, aligning with Nazis, and brutalizing Suzanne? When was this ever in their character prior to the riot? Ignorant cruelty, sure I see that as a possibility (even a probability) for Leanne and Angie but ongoing calculated and intentional evil?

Sorry for the rant, but I just find these plotlines deeply troubling.

2. Horror Movies

This was kind of an odd episode for another reason, they kind of did a tribute to horror movies. In particular to Scream, Friday the 13th, The Shining, and Psycho.

Again, in many cases, this is an example of using the bodies of the inmates as objects of violence and not for a particularly strong plot purpose. And, in a sense, that is kind of what many horror movies are about (giving us license to enjoy violence as a catharsis for our own darkest fears).

One of my prime reasons for choosing Orange Is the New Black was because it never treated the characters with disrespect or as being unworthy of agency. Seeing Piper and Alex, for instance, dragged into a room wrapped in shower curtains seems more than a bit exploitative. If the characters are depicted as mature adults who choose to engage in consensual sex in a shower is one thing but having them staged and displayed helplessly on the floor in this manner is a huge departure and gives me real pause.

This show, to this point, has been a deconstruction of Luschek’s “women in prison” movie fantasies but this episode institutes, as Piper would put it, “the male gaze” (which doesn’t actually have to only be used by men).

And it doesn't just happen on television shows, check out this response by my legendary brother in Michigan incarceration Shaka Senghor (we were actually released the same month - he has done a bit better than me to date) said about Gucci's new "criminal" fashion campaign (which they had the audacity to call "Criminal Couture" as if they have any right to that body space - which is hard earned).

Our bodies are not yours to use without our consent, period.

1. Red’s Rebellion

I thought some of the Red Russia was interesting, in particular, what Red said to her boyfriend immediately before they broke up:

“You’re the rebel they can tolerate”

“You get to sit here and play your music and feel like a punk”

“But if you’re threatened, you step right in line”

That pretty much sums up much of today's activism. We feel like we saved the whales by watching whale wars. We fight the power, but only until the power gets turned off. We raise our voices, but only when we are 100% sure that there will not be consequences.

So often our “rebellions” are really just“power-ups” for the man. CNN and Trump work together to mutually raise the intensity of support for each other and we take sides as if our arguments make the world change.

Anyway, I am a believer in non-violent change through traditional means, but that can only happen when you are willing to stand up for what you believe in and challenge the status quo.

I believe criminal justice reform is about fighting for restoration for all formerly incarcerated people.

I believe all meaningful criminal justice reform has to create markers for addressing racial disparities and overall reductions in mass incarceration.

I believe that incarceration should always be the last and never the first societal response.

I believe that people should never be treated as only an object unless also treated as a subject (and this includes prisoners).

So, when I make criticisms of Orange Is the New Black, they are coming from my heart and are part of my conviction that shows like this have the potential to create real societal change. It disappoints me deeply when they squander their opportunities. I wish I had 5% the microphone that they have.

On the whole, the show is groundbreaking and treats prisoners with respect, I have to admit this episode was unsettling to me on many levels.

Unlocking The Gates


I am a member of a Criminal Justice Reform organization called Nation Outside (The Voice of the Formerly Incarcerated) but I am not speaking for Nation Outside in any official capacity.

If you are interested in criminal justice reform or are formerly incarcerated yourself, please consider joining the fight (if you are a Michigan resident - you can sign up by clicking on the hyperlink above).

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“Who Had the Best Quip This Season? Red or Blanca?"

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