With the inclusion of Norma’s backstory two episodes ago, the show’s previous focus on Pennsatucky’s militant Christian faith, and the themes of the current episode, “Where My Dreidel At?,” Orange is the New Black is racking up quite a commentary on religion… and it’s not necessarily a sunny depiction.
The kosher meals have become a kitchen commodity in the days since the introduction of bagged meals, so Danny the Professional Penny Pincher decides put the inmates through a test to prove their Jewishness. In a montage reminiscent of season two’s “Looks Blue, Tastes Red,” the Rent-A-Rabbi grills the unchosen ones and very few are successful in their attempts to fool him. Most people’s idea of Judaism revolves around food, but Cindy at least tries to infuse her bullshit with culture, even if it means reciting Woody Allen plots or referencing Barbara Streisand lyrics. Ultimately, Sister Ingalls is one of the few to skate by (“The Abrahamic religions are pretty much all the same… until you get to Jesus.”) and everyone else is left to endure the slop that Red incessantly urges is not of her making.
Meanwhile, the ever-growing following of Guru Norma is facing some persecution at the hands of actual religious groups like the Charismatic Catholics (a great band name if ever I heard one). Frustrated with their lack of perceived legitimacy, Leann takes the reigns in organizing the Faith Normas by introducing some strict principles that aren’t taken well by everyone else.
Just like Norma’s knack for running a
cult religion, we come to find Leann’s experience in severe doctrine is a direct result of her Amish upbringing. She and her other Amish friends went a little too crazy during their rumspringa and became meth heads that like to stare into bon fires and imagine them as being the mouths of hell. While her friends stay in the modern world, Leann leaves it behind and keeps it in a backpack in a cornfield. By the side of the road. With her ID and remaining meth in it. Her brief introduction to the world outside her Amish community did not teach her to be very sharp, because (of course) two cops find her and arrest her after her baptism.
But the important function of Leann’s backstory is that she chose to return to her community. In a less than sincere apology to Soso for acting like a control freak, Leann admits that her aptitude for rigid structure in religion is likely from being brought up in a world that “people like to shit on a lot.” Leann takes her beliefs and convictions seriously because she has to be an advocate for herself when no one else will be. Shortly after Leann cooperated with police to bust her rumspringa friends’ drug cartel, she is shunned because those friends happened to be the elders’ children. The religion that she discovered actually mattered to her was ruined for her by people who were supposed to be practicing it. She shouldn’t have been so abrasive towards Soso, but ultimately you can’t blame Leann for lashing out at her.
The treatment of religion on Orange is the New Black is bleak. Pennsatucky and Sister Ingalls used their distorted beliefs to influence their actions to the point that they put them in Litchfield. Judaism has been treated as a punchline. The Cult of Norma, while rooted in good intentions, is ridiculous. Leann says that her defense mechanism for dealing with Amish detractors is, “You knew you were better than them because you belonged.” But why is the purpose of religion to be better than someone, or to pervert a belief system for your own benefit? The kindness and acceptance that most (or all) religions tout as an ideology is rarely carried through by its practitioners. This show is right for treating religion with such skepticism.
– Was anyone else reminded of a moment in episode five with this episode? I literally yelled, “THAT’S how Leann knows German!”
– As Crazy’s popularity grows, so does my yearning to actually read The Timehump Chronicles.
– Piper’s panty business is booming and her eye is wandering. Who didn’t see that Stella smooch coming?
– Speaking of Stella. Bathroom scene. Man oh man. I was just thinking about how there hasn’t been enough nudity on this show in a while.
– I understand the place of Pennsatucky and Coates’ ridiculous duck feeding scene now that their playful weirdness has graduated to full-on creepiness. Yikes.
– Gloria and Sophia’s tiff is becoming a rift. It’s building towards something, and Sophia should apologize soon before it continues to escalate.
– Best line of the episode: “Papa… do you feel me?”