Written by Dylan Brandsema
EPISODE 306: “Ching Chong Chang”
After “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More,” probably the worst episode of Orange Is The New Black we’ve seen yet, there was hope that it would be a one-time stinker, and then that quality of the first four episodes would resume going into the next chapter. Alas, this is not the case as “Ching Chong Chang,” while not altogether terrible, doesn’t do much to up the ante.
In television there’s a tradition called a “bottle episode” in which two or more characters are stuck in an enclosed location and forced to deal with one another whether like it or not. Of course, OITNB takes place, for the most part, in one setting, so, in a way, every episode is a bottle episode. And when you have so many different characters of so many different varieties in such a small place, it’s important to find balance in the narrative to decide who to focus on, and when, and why, especially in a show like this where the character’s activities might not at all be related to each other. As you can probably guess, “Ching Chong Chang” doesn’t have that balance. Whether it’s a directorial problem or a writing issue or whatever it may be is hard to say, but it’s nonetheless a mixed bag, and kind of a mess of an episode, and it only makes sliding into this second act of the season harder to get through.
The kicker to the episode is it’s flashbacks – this season is continuing its newfound traditional of further fleshing out comic relief characters, with Chang (Lori Tan Chinn) in the spotlight for the first time in OITNB history. We learn more about her criminal history, which apparently involved activity in the chinese mafia, and we see her as a young woman. The flashbacks are interesting, but they do exactly the opposite of what Big Boo’s flashbacks did two episode ago in “Finger In The Dyke”. Those backstory scenes, as almost of the flashbacks in this show do, served purpose to the character. They have relevance to what’s happening in the present, and they further our understanding of the assigned character’s personality and motives. Here, they are absolutely and utterly pointless. Exploring Chang makes no difference when Chang isn’t do anything to make us interested in who she is. There’s part in which she writes a scene for the drama class that’s taken word for word from one of her mafia hits that we get see, but is this supposed to substitute for depth? Do these flashbacks make Chang any more or less or less of a comic relief? There’s a moment where we see her in her young age, making dangerous mafia deals and compromises. Immediately following, we cut to her making some sort of microwavable biscuits consisting of water, peas and mashed up bits of Doritos. What is the idea here? I’m dead in the water.
Anyway, in another, earlier part of the episode, we’re re-introduced to Lolly, played by Lori Petty (who most will know as the title character from 1995’s notorious Tank Girl). You will remember Lolly from Season 2’s opener, “Thirsty Bird”, as the inmate Piper (Taylor Schilling) meets on the mysterious airplane going to Chicago. How she’s in Litchfield, why she’s in Litchfield, and how long she’s going to be here, we don’t know, but she’s here. This is one of the many instances seen in film and television in which the audience knows more than the characters. We remember Lolly’s history with Piper’s, and we wonder how it will play into the present. Petty doesn’t have much to do in this episode, though – she just kind of walks around, blending in with the rest of the crowd. But we, the viewers, know the writers wouldn’t take this character into Litchfield for no reason. Something’s gonna happen – or least we hope.
OVERALL RATING: 6/10Pages: 1 2