The Mindy Project Recap: Season 4 Episode 1

The Mindy Project is one of those shows that I think a lot of people support in theory, but have trouble remembering when it comes time to actually watch something. There are a couple of reasons I can’t stan for the show completely (foremost being its deep commitment to the parade of plain white dudes…I realize this is a send-up of/homage to traditional rom-coms, which traditionally have featured Tom Hanks/Billy Crystal types, but can we get ONE love interest or major character who isn’t the most vanilla of vanilla scoops?) Continue reading “The Mindy Project Recap: Season 4 Episode 1”


Artist Spotlight: SMUT

B.C. talks to burgeoning band SMUT, fresh out of Cincinnati’s rich music scene.  Continue reading “Artist Spotlight: SMUT”

OITNB Season 3: Recap and Watch-Along [Episode 2]

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

S3e2: Bed Bugs and Beyond

I could listen to Flaca talk for a loooong time. There’s something so soothing about it. In the opening scene of this episode, she rambles to a nurse about what she thinks are crabs on her arms, but the nurse quickly drops her arm when he realizes it’s actually….bedbugs.

While the hispanic inmates gather to tell cootie jokes, we see Red walking ponderously back to her old cell with Piper. Piper’s need for approval shines out from every pore and every follicle of her miraculously well-groomed eyebrows. “Red, you’re back!” she exclaims. Like a golden retriever, her eyes follow Red’s every move.


But Red’s not having it, saying that she doesn’t give liars second chances. Now we’re taken back to the episode where Piper, briefly outside Litchfield for furlough or whatever it’s called, went to see Red’s store on her behalf and found it closed. Piper lied then, and said there was a line out the door, but Mr. Red’s horrible lying has ratted Piper out.

Piper is her usual crunchy white savior self. “You know,” she preens, “many cultures value a person’s dignity over the truth. In Korea, they actually call it kibun…I heard that on The World with Marco Werman.” Oh my gooooooood, Piper. Just…stop. I understand that her character is in some ways parodying a specific type of person but it’s still just as painful to be reminded that there are so many well-intentioned young white women going around saying things like that IRL.

Red rightly points out that Piper lied to save her own ass from Red’s potential anger. Piper stands up and petulantly insists, “I said what I said because I am a nice person and it felt right.” A truly incontrovertible argument, Piper. Everyone knows that those who insist on their own niceness are the truly nice ones, of course.

“Nice is for cowards and Democrats,” Red spits back. “You’re a selfish little person. You wanted me to like you. Now I like you less.”

MMMhmmm Red! Withhold that approval.

At the entrance to the prison, Bureaucrat Bennett signs in a visiting woman while weirdly overenunciating his words. She says, like the mother of a five year old would, “Oh, Bennett! You’re George’s friend!”

I’m with Bennett, who hesitates and asks, “…George?”

Of course, it’s this woman who “never could resist an accent” (OK, whatever) and who, with her Cuban ex-husband, gave the world Pornstache. I think I recognize this actress as Elizabeth Banks’ mom from 30 Rock. Maybe? Does she get every hot mom role?

Mama Pornstache and Aleida have an awkward grandmother’s meeting in the visitation room, where MP says things like, “hispanic women have amazing skin.” Aleida cuts right to the chase, asking what Daya’s baby will get from Mama Pornstache. MP wants to adopt Daya’s baby, apparently to save it from a life of being raised by Cesar.

“I’m up nights…haunted…” MP says, closing her eyes dramatically under the weight of her words.I can’t bear the thought of the baby ending up…like…”

I expected her to say Daya, aka in prison, which seems in keeping with the kind of distancing benevolence that MP has so far evinced. Instead, she says, “George.”

I agree that the world of the show (and the world in general) does not need more Pornstaches. But…you raised him, so why would it make sense for you to raise yet another baby in order to avoid future Pornstache-ness? Aleida has the same question for her. “So…you want to raise the baby so it don’t turn out like the bay you raised?”

MP brags about having raised three sons total, naming a dentist and an art historian as proof of her parenting ability. “So you raised two sadists and a homo,” Aleida cracks.

Aleida goes on to negotiate a stipend for herself and for Daya, if MP gets the child. The scene ends with Team Hot Grandmas staring each other down.

Back in the dorms, the women gather their bedding and clothes in a pile. Bad News Bennett wanders in to whisper loudly to Daya that Aleida is meeting with MP. Daya hilariously calls MP “Lady Pornstache,” like a character in the world’s worst historical romance. Daya then has to repeatedly reassure Bad News Bennett, for some reason, since he’s puffing and sighing like he’s just run a marathon. Why are you so upset, Bennett? This feels like a weird contest of manhood—like he doesn’t really care that much about how Daya feels, giving birth in prison, but he just doesn’t want his genes to “belong” to Pornstache.


Then he changes the subject with the ever-romantic, “I don’t usually get to see this much of you at once,” since Daya is in her bra and underwear. Thanks, bedbugs, you make everything so much more romantic. Also, B.N.B, there’s a reason why guards like you don’t normally get to see inmates in their bras and underwear. Please stop acting like you’re Romeo. There’s something really disturbing about the composition of this scene, to me, with Daya’s vulnerability and exposed belly next to Bennett, who’s fully clothed and sports a shiny pair of handcuffs on his belt.

Daya doesn’t think about this though, and there is something sweet about the way she asks, “You like it?”

Oop, Caputo interrupts to make an announcement about the new paper uniforms. He comes over to Daya to tell her about the one maternity-sized paper uniform. As she leaves, Caputo takes the opportunity to breathe hot breath all over Stoic Bennett, warning him yet again to stay away from the inmates. Bennett whines, “BUT LADY PORNSTACHE IS HERE…” and Caputo cuts him off to say he doesn’t care, and neither should Bennett. “This is not 3 Men and a Baby…you [and Pornstache] are two morons, and a ward of the state.” It feels weird, how much I can dislike Caputo and yet find him sensible…at times.

Ohhh, ok! Now we’ve been dropped into an Army Bennett flashback, He strides around looking purposeful and shouting acronyms, like a proper Army Bennett, looking like a little action figure. Now’s the time to remember that Army Bennett, who tells his unamused sergeant that he’s “ready to get into the shit” (charming, Army Bennett), actually lost his leg to a hot-tub infection and not combat. Lying about that was what made him seem so vulnerable and lovable to Daya in the first place, right?

Army Bennett action figure, ooh shiny
Army Bennett action figure, ooh shiny

I’m a little confused what we’re supposed to get from this flashback. Sympathy? more dislike? ~*deep understanding*~?

The sergeant coins the fabulous jeer, “John Wayne McCain” to describe Overeager Bennett. I’m starting to see what this is going to be about. The sergeant reprimands Bennett for his eagerness to do the job of the “camel cowboys” who are, I assume, supposed to be Afghan soldiers (the set is very…Vaguely Middle Eastern ™ but they have Afghanistan Army arm patches in some scenes). Are we supposed to draw a pat conclusion about Bennett’s ability to connect with the people he should distance himself from—the people under his command, so to speak? Has OITNB inadvertently written into itself a critique of the way America conducts its interminable wars in the Middle East, by tracing a parallel between the American prison system and the hierarchy of dependency and see-sawing support of American foreign policy? Probably not, but damn it’s tempting to see that.

Back in Litchfield, CO Wanda looks over the cafeteria full of half-naked inmates and proclaims the situation a “cluster-knuckle.” “Could this be our fault,” she asks her…boyfriend (?), Fat Good Natured Security Guard. Apparently they brought in a mystery couch from the curb. For what? Fat Good Natured Sex? I guess we’ll never know.

An older white lady tries to sit with Janae, Cindy, Suzanne, and Taystee, and is unceremoniously shooed away. Poussey comes to sit down instead, wearing a necklace of garlic cloves. She defends the “magic” of Gloria and Norma. Cindy realizes that not only does the garlic necklace come from the hispanic contingent of the prison, so does the food, and she starts to spit it out. Suzanne jumps in to say (quite sensibly) that it’s just extra protein. When Taystee points out that Cindy hasn’t showered in 3 days and is scratching herself, Suzanne also offers this: “Poor personal hygiene can be a sign of depression.” Sometimes I love the way they write her lines. So sensible.


In the middle of all this, Pennsatucky calmly sits down at their table. “You’re discriminating me,” she says, winking, to Suzanne. Suzanne immediately agrees. Cindy asserts that even if Rosa Parks were to try to sit with them, they’d kick her out if she had bedbugs.

And THEN OH MY GOD Pennsatucky sneers something about Vee being their “big-haired mammy” and “taking Satan’s three-pronged penis up her butt.” WHY. Jesus. Suzanne freaks out, grabbing her potato to smash it into Pennsatucky’s disrespectful face. Taystee quickly holds Suzanne back as CO Wanda comes over to threaten them for causing trouble. Potato her at a future time, Suzanne.

Over at another table, Piper teases Alex about “secretly loving this” situation of half-naked inmates. The show is really taking Piper off the sympathy of the audience, I guess. Even a casual observer should have been able to tell that Alex was miserable and really struggling—Piper, remember that scene in the chapel where you told Alex it was “the system”? But P’s need for approval trumps all, I guess. “Give mama a smile,” she says, sounding like every gross man who has ever ignored a woman’s lack of desire to smile for his own gratification (ladies, you know what I’m talking about. This random dude in a coffee shop once demanded I smile while I was getting cream for my coffee.)

Alex tries to voice her fear of Kubra, who’s probably waiting for her to get out of jail so he can kill her. To Piper’s platitude about survival, Alex responds that she does indeed survive, like a cockroach. Piper points out that it might be her spirit animal. What kind of girlfriend says your spirit animal is a fucking cockroach? That is literally one of the worst ones you could have chosen, Piper. Is this your first time playing this game? Or interacting with another person? One who’s hurting?


When Alex points out how fucked up it is to say your lover’s spirit animal is a cockroach, Piper rattles off a list of reasons why cockroaches are “bad bitches” (cringe): they mated in space. They live in tight colonies because they love being touched. They can carry cigarettes. Each reason she gives highlights her own priorities: thinking about how to survive in the prison economy (the cigarettes), pursuing her own comfort (touch). Alex just gets up and leaves.

Nicky and Big Boo watch from the window as an inmate is released early, probably someone in for a minor drug offense. Nicky points out that their “smack scheme” is no minor offense.


In the kitchen, Gloria and Aleida prepare itch remedies for the girls who’ve been bitten up. Conspiracy Bennett stalks past, and Aleida hurries over to talk to him. So much Bennett plotline is really boring, honestly. I feel like he forfeited his right to our attention over his moral dilemma when he decided to have sex (and unprotected, at that) with an inmate in the first place.

In the storage room, Daya and Conspiracy Bennett corner Aleida to ask about her meeting with MP. CB starts freaking out, while Aleida says, “Your job is to listen right now.” Very sensible advice, Aleida. Aleida invokes Daya’s year in foster care as a reminder of what could happen to the baby if left unprovided for. Bennett chimes in with a “That’s not going to happen,” though it’s unclear what he plans to do about it since his hands are tied, anyway. When Daya says he should let Aleida finish, he gives her such a betrayed look. Stop being so dramatic, CB.

Aleida holds out her trump card—that with MP, Daya’s baby can have her own bedroom. “Did you ever spend the night in a room by yourself?” she asks Daya. Bennett looks on, uncomprehending. This is clearly a moment in which the economies of Daya and Bennett strongly diverge. Daya’s calculation includes that which Bennett, from his position of privilege, either takes for granted or assumes on blind belief.

To make this point even clearer, Aleida points out that the baby would have clean towels. “Daya and I are happy,” Bennett insists. “You don’t need clean towels for that…right?” Aleida and Daya just look at him. This is why I don’t buy Romantic Bennett at all. There’s no attempt, that we’ve seen, for him to understand where Daya is coming from, or the way she thinks, despite Conspiracy Bennett’s professed love for her.

NOW WE CUT TO A SCENE THAT NO ONE ASKED FOR: a shirtless Army Bennett, in flashback, dancing to “Hollaback Girl” while one of the Afghan soldiers films the Americans.


The soldier, named Farzad, starts to film one of the women soldiers instead, and the sergeant angrily stops him, saying that the point is the men dancing. Army Bennett comes by to reassure Farzad. “You did good, you did good,” he says, nodding at Farzad, who looks like a happy puppy. Farzad explains that the other Afghan soldiers are upset because the American soldiers are acting gay, dancing to Gwen Stefani.

Back in the present, Soso does laundry and intones, “We’re stuck in our own spin cycle.” Wise Soso. Nicky and Luschek arrive with fans. Pennsatucky’s former posse (I keep forgetting their names) warn Nicky to keep away from their “soggy boxes,” truly an inventively unappealing name for a vagina.

Luschek, realizing that the guards’ uniforms are just as susceptible to bedbugs as the inmates’ clothes were (is this a hidden ~**~*metaphor*~**~??!), treats us to a very jiggly, pale strip scene. While handing his jeans to Angie to wash, he quickly pulls out his baggie of weed—to the inmates’ side-eye.

In the bathroom, Cindy sprays her whole body, including her crotch and face, with chemical disinfectant to ward off bedbugs. As Taystee points out, this is “the Titanic of bad ideas” as Cindy is “steering out of the way of bedbugs, and CRASHING into an iceberg of chemical burns and shit.”

Suzanne comes out of a toilet stall she’s been cleaning, and Taystee also gives her some helpful advice: that she can’t lose her shit every time someone talks about Vee.

“Did you hear that slattern? …Look, that business about a tri-penis, unacceptable,” Suzanne argues. That’s not incorrect, Suzanne. AND Suzanne throws in a great pun for good measure, because she loves us, saying, “That WARRANTS/WARREN-S a severe response.” Get it? get it?? I do appreciate how Cindy and Taystee work to protect Suzanne, in many ways, from getting herself thrown into psych.

Alex wanders in, coughing, and stops Taystee from spraying herself with “Lybol” disinfectant. Followed shortly by Piper. “When did our bathroom become gentrified??” Cindy asks, pointing to them. Lines like this remind me why I watch this show, sometimes.


Alex clashes with the black CO (what is her name, OITNB?? Tell us!), when the CO tells her to leave the bathroom. Alex is clearly cracking under the strain of being back, and she goes on a mini-rant about the bedbugs and cockroaches swarming over Litchfield. Piper steps in to stop the CO from sending Alex to seg, earning herself a shot but successfully warding off a stint in SHU.

Out on the lawn, Daya reaches into the electrical box near her usual meeting spot with Romantic Bennett and pulls out a chewing tobacco tin that says “Open Me.” Inside is a ring made of a silver gum wrapper—and when she turns around, Romantic Bennett is kneeling at her feet. He gives a little speech about their future together and proposes. Daya agrees, and they kiss. I just know this couple is going to suffer—Romantic Bennett’s proposal sketched out a life with no particulars, just HAPPINESS. Kids! Think it through!

Over by the van, Nicky approaches Luschek and rather un-suavely brings up the subject of “candy.” Luschek’s slowness is supposed to be the joke, I guess, but I just don’t care enough about this forced subplot. Why are Nicky and Big Boo cooking up this “candy,” seeing as it could add 10 years in max for them both? What’s their motivation?

Luschek starts dragging her to Caputo’s office, but then stops and says he’s fucking with her. He then agrees to sell it for 80%.

Poussey comes into the kitchen with an egg that she slept with and prayed over, hoping that it would absorb her problems. Gloria takes it and puts it back with the other eggs, to be cooked at breakfast.

Gloria reveals that she cooks all of the eggs she gives to people as magic charms and walks away, but Norma comes around and breaks the egg for Poussey, earning herself (and us, thanks Norma!) a glorious Poussey smile.

In the cafeteria, Alex and Piper eat together as Alex jokes about being “literally garbage” in her trash-bag uniform substitute. “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown,” Alex says. Red pops her head in to say, in a dash of pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing (or is it some kind of post-shadowing?) that Piper will think of the right lie.

Piper talks about ignorance as the shield of her happiest time in Litchfield, but Alex points out that for her, revealing everything about themselves and “still deciding that we like each other? THAT is an amazing thing.” Piper looks tortured. Ok, she looks up and now LITERALLY a single tear is trickling down her cheek, cliche to end all cliches.

I think this scene is supposed to involve a big emotional payoff but I can’t remember what Piper did, or even what Alex did, or the many unnecessary twists and turns that their *whirlwind romance* or whatever has involved.

Piper reveals that she was the one to rat out Alex to her probation officer. For what, I don’t remember—maybe for having a gun? To protect herself from their old drug boss? Piper tearfully tries to argue that she was doing it to protect Alex, who was in danger.


Alex points out how fucked up this mind game is, and how Piper’s decision to unload the truth on Alex, and get Alex to stop blaming herself and start blaming Piper, is just another play to keep control of their increasingly complicated relationship. “You were having a nervous breakdown,” Piper starts saying. Alex cuts her off—”Which wasn’t hot for you, was it?” It’s harsh, I guess. But where’s the lie?

In the library, the exterminator tells Caputo that the books need to be burnt. Poussey and Taystee are working in the library, and Poussey defends Rats of NIMH against the exterminator’s recommendation of, well, extermination. Taystee, pointing out that the prison will never replace the books if they’re burnt, argues that what the exterminator thinks is a bedbug in the binding is just a muffin crumb. And then she FUCKING EATS IT to prove her point, because Taystee is a hero and a savior of books.


Awkward Bennett shows up at Cesar’s house to take up Cesar’s invitation to his house most literally. With no warning. So rude. But Cesar is excited to hear that Bennett has proposed to Daya, but is suitably unimpressed with Awkward Bennett’s gum wrapper ring.

Caputo is meeting with another old white man, whose name is apparently Mitch. He has a rolling suitcase and wears a sweater vest—that is literally all I know about him at this point. Oh, and he really liked Fig, Caputo’s predecessor. Mitch is not going to give Caputo new mattresses because these new mattresses will just be thrown away in two months. Ohhhh shit. Caputo realizes, along with us viewers, that Litchfield is being closed down. Fucking Mitch, he’s loving this. He reassures Caputo that he will still have a job, but it seems like all the other staff are being laid off.

Back at Cesar’s, Cesar gets into a heated argument with Aleida’s son, who won’t eat his fries.Cesar, of course, does the reasonable thing and points a gun in the boy’s face. After he eats one fry, he’s dismissed. Awkward Bennett watches all of this go down in nervous silence, and then the scene cuts back to Afghanistan. Army Bennett’s squad is playing a video game in their tent. Outside, Farzad is seen arguing with his fellow Afghan soldiers—only Bennett notices them approaching the tents. Er…


Farzad screams that they have a grenade, and one of the soldiers shoots him in a panic. The grenade rolls into the tent. Bennett, who’s ordered to kick it out, flings himself into a corner and closes his eyes. His young friend, another American soldier, throws his own body onto the grenade instead.

Cut to Healy, because we can’t have nice things and must look at his face once in a while. He’s watching a youtube video of a dog farting, because of course. Red comes in to ask him to add her lawyer to her visitation list, and to have her husband taken off. I guess they’re getting a divorce. Healy makes her sit because he’s just such.a.good.counselor. Healy then gives her some platitudes about avoiding absolutes when speaking emotionally, and marriage being a two way street, and blah blah blah. I know where this is heading, and it makes me tired. Don’t worry, Healy. We haven’t forgotten your disastrously stupid Russian mail-order bride who, surprise surprise, didn’t automatically love you just for buying her.


Also, surprise surprise, Healy starts to accuse Red of “trivializing a man’s emotions.” The manhood! It’s so fragile! The only real surprise in this scene is that Red actually looks somewhat chastised by this outburst. Come on, Red. Where’s the fire?

In the laundry room, Nicky and Boo find their stash is missing—because we’re not allowed to just let this storyline lie.

In the yard, Caputo watches the mattresses burn with a defeated look. He starts to toss books into the fire too, saying, “Doesn’t matter.”

The camera pans over the various inmates trying to arrange their beds for the night without mattresses. Soso prattles about leaves she found that might work, and looks over to see Chang sleeping upright because of course, we can’t resist a weird-old-mystic-Chinese-lady trope for good measure, can we, OITNB?

Piper confesses to Red that she got in trouble with Alex for telling the truth, and that she can’t do right no matter if she lies or tells the truth. “Stop trying to mold the real world into the one inside your pointy blonde head,” Red counsels. Wise Red. Piper sits up as she breathes, “Maybe I AM manipulative….you just described my mother.” Must we do this, OITNB? Must we sit through Piper’s self-awakening and a tired trope about becoming like one’s mother? I would much rather have an episode where Poussey and Taystee read Rats of NIMH with Suzanne.


We get an extra dose of Awkward Bennett for good measure. Cesar advises that Bennett get a side piece to help him with raising Daya’s baby, then offers Daya’s old crib to Bennett to use for the baby. Awkward Bennett is so awkward it’s a little painful to look at him. Is he having a moving revelation about his coming glory as a father? Somehow I doubt it.

In the hallway, Piper and Alex look at each other. Piper dramatically tears the police tape away from the closed library, and Alex follows her in. Without saying a word, Alex slaps her in the face. Then they start having sex, just to drive home the fact that Piper is manipulative and this is an unhealthy relationship. Poor Alex. I mean, Piper looks good at going down on someone, but still. Wasn’t the whole point of her struggle with Piper to avoid being used for a quick physical gratification?

At the very end of the episode, we see Conflicted Bennett crying in his pickup, because his life is a country music song. He drives off, and the camera tilts down to reveal that he’s left the crib Cesar gave him at the side of the road because SYMBOLISM. But also, RUDENESS. I mean that’s a perfectly good crib and Cesar did say it had been used by all of Aleida’s babies, and would be used again. Why waste it just because you want to be All Dramatic, Bennett??

I'm sighing too, Dramatic Bennett. I'm sighing too.
I’m sighing too, Dramatic Bennett. I’m sighing too.

OITNB Season 3: Recap and Watch-Along [Episode 1]

I watched this so you don’t have to. Spoilers ahead, obviously….

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

S3E1: “Mother’s Day”

Damn, this theme song is still so good. No matter how much my initial enthusiasm for this show has waned, this theme still stirs something in me.

The episode starts with Pennsatucky driving a van somewhere with two prison guards, a white woman (Wanda something?) and a black woman. The first joke of the season is out the gate, ladies and gentlemen: Pennsatucky says “Crack is for coloreds,” prompting a stare from the black prison guard. Realizing she’s made a mistake, Penn amends it to: “African Americans. Crack is for African Americans.” I file this away for a roundtable discussion of the future. Is this joke analogous to the way the show talks about race???, my pseudo-academic brain insists. Quiet, brain.

The three quickly recap for viewers the way bald Miss Rosa drove the old van into a quarry. EXPOSITION. Penn tells a dumb punny joke about being bald, having bawled, and getting balled. “My momma taught me that, isn’t that wild? My momma taught me so many things.”

Dear viewers, it’s been announced. We’re 3 minutes in. This episode is about Motherhood.

Now: flashback to Mama Pennsatucky forcing Baby Pennsatucky to chug a giant glass bottle of Mountain Dew before a welfare meeting. Mama uses this Baby Penn’s hyperactivity to ask for supplemental welfare.

Cut back to Pennsatucky and the guards. They’re shopping in what looks like a dollar store. Penn states confidently that one of her aborted/lost babies might have been another Tim Tebow. I have nothing to say about this reference. Is it about Christian hypocrisy? Is it a nod to football fans? I’ll never know or care enough to find out.

Wanda the guard loads up the cart with a mishmash of party supplies from the sale aisle—mostly leftovers from Cinco de Mayo. It’s summer at the ladies’ prison funtime camp. We’re about to have a mother’s day party of some kind, I’m going to guess.

Back at Litchfield, Red saunters into the room with all the older ladies: respirator Anita and Sister Ingalls. It’s also Rosa’s old room, so her bed has been turned into a mini shrine. The fat dude guard who’s not Luschek (Scott? Brad? something like that…) assigns Red to Rosa’s bunk. Red dismantles the shrine, saying that the women shouldn’t commemorate Rosa in a place she hated. Red offers the women painkillers she’s been hiding in her mouth, which Anita rejects.


At least, I think that’s the reaction we’re supposed to have, judging by the music. She has an artfully black and blue bruise on her eye. Her roll toward the other women was suitably dramatic. To be honest, I can’t remember shit about Alex’s plotline. I guess it’s supposed to be a surprise that she’s back in Litchfield.

Cut to: Caputo walking with a new CO outside by the field. He explains the Mother’s Day Visitation Fair to her. I think we’re supposed to feel sympathetic to Caputo, who “got caught in a shitstorm but put up a sturdy umbrella,” (the new CO’s words, not mine…) in season 2. The thing is, I can’t look at him or that little wisp of hair on the crown of his head without thinking about Fig being blackmailed into giving him head. And the term “beer can.” And then I have to take a break to throw up.

He complains about shortstaffed by “Madame Shit-Storm”’s departure. “What’d you hear about me?” new CO asks him, with a little lift of her chin.

“That you’re smart, and you’re qualified, and…you said yes.”

God, this is boring. Is this how Caputo flirts?

“These are complicated ladies in a complicated place,” Caputo says. How sensitive, insightful, and brilliant he is. New CO nods but she’s probably really thinking about how good her cheekbones look in this natural light.

Taystee helpfully announces herself and her expository function in this scene by yelling out, “Yo! Mr. Caputo! That your girlfriend? I had a feeling you had a thing for the darker berries.” This prompts Caputo to introduce Counselor Rogers (new CO gets a name! yay). Taystee asks about Mr. Healy (old sad sack counselor who wanted to bone Piper her first day in prison, remember?). Caputo tells her Healy’s still around. OH THANK GOD WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT HIM.

Taystee: “This is gonna get interestin’.” Oh, Taystee. You are so much better than this poor excuse for viewer stand-in. But thank you for assuring us that this will be interesting. It was good to see you. Taystee gets in a parting-shot “massa” joke and is gone.

Oh look it’s Serious Bennett! Serious Bennett walks with his hands behind his back and puffs out his chest. He furrows his brow to make it clear that he’s sensitive and thoughtful. He wants to tell Caputo some boring story about lights being out in one of the dorms. Caputo, probably for Counselor Rogers’ benefit, reprimands Bennett for calling the inmates “girls” and corrects him with “inmates” and “women.”

“Or electricians,” CO Rogers chimes in. Bennett pouts at her seriously.


“Officer Bennett…is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” Caputo asks. Like how you abused your CO position, however “romantically”, and got an inmate pregnant because you didn’t like the feel of condoms? No? No? OK, bye, Serious Bennett.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Gloria is doing “Catholic-plus” magic on an inmate by rolling an egg over her body. The egg cracks, prompting the inmate to leave in a panic so that…Poussey can walk in! Oh, Poussey. How we have missed you. This show will always have value to me, no matter what it does or says, because it introduced the world to Samira Wiley.

Gloria and Poussey talk about Poussey’s alcohol brewing side business, and the fact that Poussey wants to set up a games booth for the visiting kids. “It’s y’all’s day,” P tells Gloria. “It must be hard as fuck bein’ in here when you got kids on the outside.”

“Don’t forget to call your mother tomorrow,” Gloria tells P. This can only mean one thing…

“My mom’s passed,” P reveals, looking a bit like a sad, lonely puppy. Y u do dis to me, OITNB.

And then, because we can’t linger on that sad/sweet moment, apparently, Blanca (the crazy Hispanic woman) is called into the shot to tell a strange and meandering story about her old goldfish “Tequila.” Ok, OITNB.

Cut to: Luschek and Piper in the grass outside, wiring what looks like a cardboard windmill for mini-golf. They’re talking about ways they would commit suicide, and Piper says, “pills.”

“Figures,” Luschek says. “Pills are expensive. But you don’t even think about that.”

Piper fires back that she makes eleven cents an hour in prison, and that when she gets out, she won’t have a job or prospects. This is kind of a hard sell to me because…well, she’s still white and pretty, no? Her parents are still lawyers, or whatever. She still has that college degree. Not saying it’ll be easy, but why is this conversation happening around Piper? Maybe I’m cranky because she bores me. It’s also weird to me that Luschek is the one lecturing her about waking up to the “real world.” He seems to do all right by himself. COs make a decent living, don’t they?

Luschek is chock full of economical ways to kill oneself. (“At a shooting range, you don’t have to pay until you leave.”) Piper insists that they change the subject, so Luschek informs her that “the hot one” is back. Of course, this means Alex. “The Bettie Page of Litchfield,” Luschek offers. Another gem: “And to be honest, she looked a little rough. It sucks when hot chicks start to cool down.” Damn, this show is really good at making me dislike the characters.

Meanwhile, Sophia is in the salon while a long line of women, winding down the hallway, waits outside. “If you don’t have children comin’ today, please come back another time.”

Maria, waiting in another chair, asks for her hair to be the same length as the last time her baby saw her. “It’s called object permanence,” she tells us. I have a real affection for Maria and her baby daddy, at this point. He dresses that baby in the cutest outfits for their visits with Maria. That’s love.

Morello sits in Sophia’s hairdressing chair and asks for a “no. 7,” excitedly chattering about her four kids who are coming to visit. Maria looks over like…this bitch…

“Show me your stomach,” Sophia says. “Mother of four, twins no less.”


Morello, no surprise, evades the question, and Sophia tells her to get out of the salon. Morello, in desperation, pleads that “dollin’ up’s the only way I got to feel better.” Sophia looks over thoughtfully. I guess a transgender woman doing her transitioning while in prison would know a little something about that, honey.

Sophia and Morello talk about the strangeness of Mother’s Day when Sophia’s son isn’t sure how to treat Sophia—like a father? Like a mother? Cut to a flashback of Sophia in her previous life as a man, rubbing her wife’s feet and singing as they wait for their son to be born.

In the laundry room, Angie (Pennsatucky’s dark-haired friend, right?) tells Leanne that Nicky is always in the laundry room because she’s obsessed with “getting” Angie after the “lesbian-off” with Big Boo from the previous season. Let’s just forget that happened, why don’t we? There’s something really messed up about treating the high rate of sexual abuse and coercion in prison as a kind of game between voracious lesbians. Anyway, there’s gotta be a reason why Nicky’s actually in the laundry room…

aaaand it’s that she’s looking at some drugs drying in the air vent.

Cut to baby Nicky baking muffins for her WASP mom on mother’s day, while her nanny helps and encourages her. WASP momma can’t be bothered, blathering about going to an alcohol-fueled brunch to pretend that they like Nicky’s grandma. Hell is brunch at the Four Seasons, I guess. Baby Nicky is really adorable. “She didn’t read my card,” baby Nicky whispers. I’d read your card, cutie!

Back in the present, Morello and Nicky go through the lunch line and Nicky flirts with Morello, noticing her new look. Piper grumbles but discovers Alex walking through the door of the cafeteria. They hug, and Piper asks why she’s back. I…also need a refresher. These ladies leave, letting the camera pan to the black women: Cindy, Poussey, Taystee, Suzanne/Crazy Eyes, and Janae. They discuss Gloria’s magic and whether or not she really put a hex on Vee, killing her. Crazy Eyes insists that Vee is fine, leading Cindy to warn her that if she throws anything on her tray, they will dog-pile Crazy Eyes until she’s flat. Which is kind of a hilarious and loving punishment to imagine.

Janae asks Poussey why she’s dabbling in “voodoo magic.” Taystee intervenes with a warning we can all get behind: “Mess with the evil forces, you’ll be out like Cedric Diggory.” Poussey and Taystee simultaneously intone, “Harry Potter…” when Janae asks who Cedric is. I love P and T’s friendship. I hope that this season we get another taste of their game where they imitate white women at yoga or a cupcake shop or wherever white women in TV shows hang out.


Flashback to Poussey’s mom reading Calvin and Hobbes aloud with a pre-teen Poussey. I’M NOT READY FOR THESE FEELS, DAMN IT. Is Poussey trying to use black magic to bring her mom back from the dead? I don’t really blame you, Poussey. But remember the Deathly Hallows and its cautionary tale. I know you know.


In the dorms, Aleida and Daya talk about Daya’s “first mother’s day” and feeling like a mother because your baby gives you pain and trouble. “At least get me a card or something. Draw me one of your weird pictures,” Aleida says. You leave Daya’s amateur anime alone, Aleida. She drew herself in a bomber jacket with a bionic arm, for god’s sake. She’s doing fine.

While looking through Daya’s mail, Aleida discovers a letter from Pornstache’s mom, who believes that she’s Daya’s baby’s grandmother. Aleida pressures Daya to see Mama Pornstache because there might be money in it.

Nicky and Big Boo are making a clown costume and whispering about how to sell the drugs Nicky’s been cooking in the laundry room. I’m a little confused about Nicky’s casual relationship to drugs in this season, given how seriously Red held her to a clean standard, and how strong we were told Nicky’s addiction was. Isn’t the basis of Red’s “family” tie to Nicky the pain and suffering they struggled through as Nicky went off drugs, at Red’s insistence? Where did all that suffering go? Now Nicky can just casually sell drugs in her spare time?

Cut to: Gina and other ladies sitting under the full moon, passing around an invisible ball of blue energy in their monthly witches’ coven meeting. Freida and Red are in the greenhouse, discussing how the “witch ladies” get to have their night walks because Caputo’s reign is so much gentler, and that people are getting out early! This doesn’t bode well.

Red pours concrete into the old smuggling tunnel in the greenhouse, cutting off Nicky and Big Boo’s sell route. Red carves “RIP V” into the concrete. “Life is complicated,” she says. Yes, Red. Yes it is.

Meanwhile, Healy is in Caputo’s office whining about CO Rogers being hired. He insists he’s “got it covered” but that if Rogers has to stay, “she can have all the blacks and the crazies.” EW GO AWAY HEALY. He then falls back on that old racist standard, “she’s got a weird smell.” When is this gross old man going to be dispatched in some entertaining and satisfying way? I’m waiting, show writers.


Flashback to baby Healy trying to give his insane mom breakfast as she draws on the wall with lipstick and smashes vases on the wall. I guess I’m supposed to feel some sympathy but mainly I’m thinking about how satisfying it would be to smash a vase against a wall.

Piper and Alex share a romantic moment in the chapel, talking about their mothers and their disappointment in their imprisoned daughters. Memorable line from Alex about her mother: “She’s probably looking down right now….vomiting…angel dust…” Alex is understandably frustrated and upset about being back in prison, while Piper cracks a lame joke about living in Queens and how that makes prison seem much more attractive. Whatever, Chapman.

Piper then proceeds to literally shut Alex up by kissing her. “It wasn’t your fault,” Piper soothes. Maybe she’s talking to herself, here. Alex fires back, “Of course it was my fault! No one put that gun in my hand.” I’m not sure what gun Alex is talking about here, but…if I have to choose between these two white ladies, Alex seems infinitely more sympathetic at this moment.

Ever so earnestly, Piper leans in to whisper, “It wasn’t you! …It was the system.”


I can’t take this seriously at all. That Piper, whose storyline so far has revolved around being the one who is in prison “against all odds,” should be the one to spout a platitude about “the system” is just…ridiculous. How about Taystee being back in prison, in season one, because of the system? Where was the show’s revelation about the system then? Like yes, let’s talk about the system and incarceration of women and other very important themes that this show addresses. OITNB does create an opportunity for dialogue and thought by highlighting women of color and the prison state. But these words, “it was the system,” just…should not be so easily available to Piper. What authorizes her to critique the system in such an empty and ultimately thoughtless way? You can almost see the wheels in her head turning as she gropes in the dark for something comforting to tell Alex. Even Alex refuses to buy it totally, though this would be one way toward self-absolvement.

“At least we’re in it together,” Piper says, satisfied. Her selfishness in this moment, as her partner is clearly cracking under the strain of being back, is kind of hard to stomach. I guess that’s the point. Show writers, are we turning the Piper ship around? Are we making her totally unlikeable? Like completely?

Cut to: the COs struggling to contain an excited crowd of children about to enter the prison to see their mothers. Serious Bennett is unpleasantly surprised to see Cesar, Aleida’s boyfriend, who talks openly about the fact that Bennett is Daya’s baby daddy. Cesar, who is either oblivious or takes a malicious pleasure in Bennett’s discomfort, invites him over to their house later. Bennett just manages to look constipated. Now that Larry is gone, is Bennett obligated to take over the role of mildly attractive, insistently well-intentioned douchenozzle?

Montage shots of the inmates with their kids, sitting in the grass, playing mini golf, petting puppies, and generally frolicking. Suzanne plays with a kite in the hallway, getting ready to go outside. Healy comes up and stops her, because he hates fun and wants everyone to be as sad sack and gross as he is. We’re forced to watch Suzanne stare longingly at the field of children having fun because GODDAMN IT OITNB. I am reminded again how good Udo Azuba is as an actress. She looks so vulnerable and subdued—even the slightest lift of her eyelids into those signature crazy eyes is full of pathos. She has the power to turn me into a cheesy film-review writer.


Soso supervises the breaking of the chili-pepper pinata, but the kids can’t have sticks in the prison yard. Fat good-natured security guard says they can work out their anger on the pinata. “Hey, kid, your mother is in prison,” he tells a young black boy. Thanks, FG-NSG. Maybe you’re not that G-N after all.

Flaca’s face-painting for the kids. One little girl looks terrified at the eye makeup Flaca’s put on her, leading to one of my favorite lines from this ep: “NooOoo, you look really good! You could like, leave here and go straight to a My Chemical Romance concert and be the balls.” Yes, Flaca. Yes.

Cindy taunts kids as they play a glorified version of beer pong, and she and Taystee agree that they’re done with mother figures (no surprise, given how messed up theirs were.) Poussey looks like a kicked puppy again. Stahp, show. Pls.

Yoga Jones makes an appearance, playing Simon Says with the kids. Some random redhead inmate I don’t recognize takes some cocaine out of her baby’s diaper and does it. Gina and Norma play duck duck goose. This happens:


Gloria speaks with her younger son, teasing him about growing a moustache. It’s very sweet.

Poussey stops Norma on her way to the port-a-potty to ask about the “juju” she does with Gloria, and how it works. I have a bad feeling about this.

Daya, Aleida, and Aleida’s kids are hanging out on a picnic blanket in the sun when Bennett shows up. He’s so awkward that it hurts. “How come computers are so smart? It’s because they listen to their motherboards,” he says. Oh my god, Bennett. Please stop. Aleida looks away. We see Caputo in the background, watching with disgust, and then grabs Bennett as he leaves for a man-to-man chat about how Bennett should keep secrets swept under the rug where they belong. Caputo helpfully points out how he could have had any inmate he wanted, as a CO. Caputo makes his point in a particularly gross way (involving the phrase, “personal pussy smorgasbord”). But at least he points out the very unromantic aspect of Bennett’s relationship with Daya: its unavoidable power dynamic. Drawing a parallel between the two men is at least helpful in pointing out that the only real difference is Bennett’s cute face.

Sophia sits doing crafts with her son, talking about his mom’s new boyfriend, the pastor. As they talk about shaving and how to do it properly, her son’s curt “ew” is a reminder that he isn’t comfortable with her identity yet, and may never be. But they have a redeeming moment in which they bond over how stupid the pastor’s “wait until marriage” advice is re: girls. Sophia gives her son some advice about exploiting girls’ insecurities as flirting practice. “You really want to be a lady in a world where men do that?” Her son asks.

“God help me, I do,” Sophia answers. A very self-aware, but ultimately kind of effective moment.

Meanwhile, the kids are still ineffectually pummeling the pinata. CO Wanda, fed up, flicks out her nightstick and smashes it open. The kids rush forward, only to discover that the pinata is empty. “Oh my god,” Soso intones, “This is such a metaphor for their lives.”

Aleida, sitting in the field with Daya as the kids play, goes over how awful it is to be a mother. “It’s not all bad…it just ruins your life, is all.”

Flashback to Aleida in the hospital with baby Daya. In the present, one of Aleida’s kids is discovered missing.

Red, surrounded by her husband and grown sons in the visitation room, talks about shutting down the smuggling business and getting back to her life, to the future. “Who’s minding the store?” she asks, suddenly suspicious. Her husband is such a bad liar.

In a corner of the field, Pennsatucky’s made little popsicle-stick crosses with her baby’s names on them. She prays that their unbaptized souls be considered for entry into heaven, because she was “wicked” and had them aborted. Big Boo, in what must be the world’s most terrifying clown costume, comes up to give Penn some weird comfort based on…Freakonomics, of all things. In this strange economy of life, Big Boo argues that the passing of Roe v. Wade prevented the birth, and therefore incarceration, of a whole generation of criminals.

Boo as a happy clown/ angel of death
Boo as a happy clown/ angel of death

Penn’s babies would have been doomed to a life of criminality had they been born—and thus she actually did them a favor by aborting them. I don’t know if I agree with this argument’s viability as an argument—its calculus seems a little cold. But it’s Big Boo’s way of helping, I guess. “Maybe you should stop punishing yourself,” she suggests. I can get behind that.

In the dorms, Aleida sneaks around whispering for Lucy, her missing child—and, of course, takes a moment to stuff Daya’s card from Mama Pornstache into her pants waistband. The buzzer goes off and Aleida has to drop to the floor, discovering….Lucy, hiding nonchalantly under the bed.

In the field, the inmates drop to the floor, leaving a bunch of bewildered children standing. In the episode’s most gut-wrenching scene, some of the children get on the ground with their mothers, asking, “What’s happening?” Your mother’s agency as a human is being denied, kid. Your mother’s being reminded of how tenuous her authority as a mother can be in a place that treats her like an asset to be contained.

We see Maria handing her baby off to Yads, her baby-daddy. “I don’t want her seein’ her mother in prison, thinkin’ this is normal,” Yads says. Baby Maria won’t be back to see her mother this season, I’m guessing. Maria breaks down in tears, cursing.

We get a sweet acoustic accompaniment to images of the inmates cleaning up the debris of the Mother’s Day visitation. And finally, we end with Poussey picking up a discarded newspaper that has the EXACT Calvin and Hobbes comic she read aloud with her mom in the flashback. It feels pat, but I’m a sucker, so now I’m crying ugly tears and I guess I’ll see you next time.


Like A Prince: Revolutionary Girl Utena

One of the great pleasures of being an academic (though I won’t be for too much longer!) is revisiting stories, TV shows, and movies I loved as a child with a more knowing eye, and getting new readings/explanations of these stories from other scholars. When I went to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts this spring (with Acro Collective writers K.H., K.S., and A.C., no less!), one of my favorite papers was by scholar Kate Goddard on this weird and wonderful anime that I once picked up in my Ohio public library and was never able to forget (or…really understand). Here, Kate offers us a shorter introduction to the amazing and always-entertaining Revolutionary Girl Utena. 

            “Once upon a time, years and years ago, there was a little princess, and she was very  sad, for her mother and father had died. Before the princess appeared a traveling prince riding upon a white horse. He had a regal bearing and a kind smile. The prince wrapped the princess in a rose-scented embrace and gently wiped the tears from her eyes.

            “Little one,” he said, “who bears up alone in such deep sorrow. Never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up. I give you this to remember that day.”

            “Will we meet again?”

            “This ring will lead you to me, one day.”

            “Perhaps the ring the prince gave her was an engagement ring. This was all well and  good, but so impressed was she by him…that the princess vowed to become a prince herself one day. But was that really such a good idea?”

            Thus begins the anime Revolutionary Girl Utena, a visually stunning, densely layered, frequently surreal 39-episode series that poses the question of what it means to be a prince and whether it is possible to escape the binaries imposed by society. This opening narration frames the story in fairy tale language from the start, despite the fact that it is set in the modern day. Utena Tenjou is a student at Ohtori Academy who wears the male student uniform as a mark of her determination to become “a noble prince who saves princesses” like the mysterious, half-remembered figure who saved her from despair as a child after her parents’ deaths. Utena does not identify as male; rather, her goal is to take on the noble, dynamic, and protective role that a prince occupies in fairy-tale tradition. She is clear about her identity as a girl regardless of her choice in clothing and use of typically masculine pronouns (“boku”) in referring to herself. But as the opening narration suggest, the series continually questions whether Utena’s goal of becoming a prince is attainable — and even if it is, is it “a good idea”? On the surface, this might well seem problematic from a feminist perspective: is it only by forswearing feminine behavior and interests that a girl can lay claim to agency? Does gender essentialism mean that any attempt to challenge the prescribed norms is doomed from the start? But Revolutionary Girl Utena is more multi-layered than that, exploring the meaning of nobility and power through the trope of the prince while ultimately condemning the rigid binaries of its fairy tale framework. This series consciously undermines the societal “truths” set up by broad fairy tale traditions, first through Utena herself, as a “princess” who wants to become a prince, and eventually through Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride who is doomed to subservience to whoever wins her hand in a series of duels.

In the series, Utena inadvertently becomes caught up in a system of duels and intrigue when she challenges student council vice president Saionji for hurting her best friend Wakaba. Utena is led to a mysterious arena with an upside-down castle spinning above it, where the mysterious and quiet student Anthy Himemiya prepares her for the duel. When Utena wins the duel by knocking the rose from Saionji’s chest, she learns that as a result she is now “engaged to” Anthy, the Rose Bride who is bound to obey the victor of the duels. Utena initially wants nothing to do with the dueling system — and claims that despite what her attire may suggest, she is a “perfectly normal girl” who wants a “perfectly normal boy,” not a female fiancée (episode 2, “For Whom the Rose Smiles”), but as she gets to know Anthy she becomes increasingly resolved to protect her. Utena’s feelings for Anthy continue to grow as the anime progresses, blossoming into a devoted friendship and (while it remains understated in the series) romantic love as well. Over the course of the series Utena must duel the other members of the student council, who have the same Rose Crest ring that she does, and ultimately face the mastermind behind the dueling system, Anthy’s brother Akio, who may or may not be Utena’s childhood prince.

Utena and Anthy

Utena’s engagement to Anthy is a conscious queering of the system established by fairy-tale-style romance from the very start. However, the situation is also more complex than a princess in distress being rescued by a prince. Anthy is, in fact, effectively enslaved by the dueling system regardless of whom she is engaged to, for she is bound to obey her fiancé(e)’s every order, completely robbed of agency. This complicates Utena’s desire to “save” her through much of the series, raising questions as to whether she too is merely imposing her own wishes onto her “bride.” The Utena movie, titled Adolescence of Utena, is something of a hybrid between a reboot and a sequel (leaning more towards the reboot side), and it has become renowned among anime fans for its bizarre and surreal elements. Watching the entire series does help substantially in providing coherence on many fronts, but rest assured, plenty of spectacularly bewildering elements will remain. The English dubs of the episodes and the movie are available online, but if you have the option, definitely go for the subbed versions.

The dueling arena
The dueling arena

Revolutionary Girl Utena is visually stunning and fraught with allegory and symbolism that frequently ranges into the surreal. It is an excellent choice for those who enjoy analyzing their media and grappling with possible meanings; not as much for those who prefer their anime straightforward and easy to understand. However, there are many excellent fan analyses of various episodes and elements available online which can offer assistance to the bewildered. Potentially sensitive viewers should be warned that the series does include sexual situations of dubious consent, chiefly involving an incestuous pairing (brother/sister). No actual sex is shown on-screen and the relationship is not portrayed in a positive light, but viewers who are easily triggered should take this into consideration. Those who do elect to give this series a chance will find it a fascinating journey with marvelously developed characters and a sophisticated take on the themes of power, loss of innocence, and growing up.


Written by Kate Goddard, 

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