Orange Is the New Black Episode 306 Recap: All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter

Orange Is the New Black has never gone all in on a theme the way it did in “Ching Chong Chang,” focusing every character’s story around a central question: How do society’s beauty standards affect every woman on this show differently? It did it by bringing Chang, one of the show’s most underused characters (and one of the show’s only Asian characters), to the forefront and exploring her invisibility; and by passing around a Victoria’s Secret catalog and examining different characters’ relationships to a hundred-dollar pair of panties.

The episode centers on Chang’s story, about being invisible and the violence of that oppression. Gloria and Sophia have a conversation about what a “real” woman looks like — bags under her eyes, grown-in roots vs. flawless hair and M.A.C. counter makeup skills — and why, as a trans woman who fought so hard for what she has, Sophia aspires to the ideal. Morello explores different ways to make herself up to appeal to different kinds of men. Black Cindy, Janae, and Flaca pursue a Panty Shoppe catalog looking for representation. And, of course, Piper talks about how overpriced panties are empowering, the way Thor would say his hammer is empowering (yeah, I’m sure it is, for you, God of Thunder; it was made specifically for you and for literally for no one else).

This recap is going to be a departure from our usual format, because I am a cis white lesbian and it’d be fully Piper Chapman of me to to center the commentary around my own very limited perspective. So, I’m going to give you a traditional recap of the episode, and then I’ll be joined by Laura MandanasKaeLynFikri and Yao Xiao to talk about how their personal experiences line up with the ones we saw on our teevees.

If you want to hop straight to the roundtable with Laura, KaeLyn, Fikri and Yao, click right here!


Bell and O’Neil are at a bakery worrying about what they’re going to do when Caputo inevitably fucks up saving their jobs, when O’Neil is accosted by a red velvet donut. Let me tell you something, he is more upset about this artisanal hooplah than he ever has been about anything in his entire life, and he is surrounded practically every day by women who are suffering the consequences of being denied agency for their whole lives. Also, red velvet donuts are delicious, O’Neil, so welcome to Wrongville. Population: You.

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Dottie did not drop that ball on purpose; I plowed over her.

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Whatever you need to tell yourself. #RockfordPeaches

Pennsatucky rolls out the welcome wagon for some new inmates, including Lori Petty, whom we last saw getting the hell kicked out of her in a Chicago prison because of Piper. She’s pretty psyched on Litchfield, though. Like the floors are swept and the lights are on and nobody’s wailing and clanging a tin mug against their cell bars like so many jails you see in the Wild West. Pennsatucky tells them their families can come visit if they want to, but try not to get too sad if they never do; these women are still bright shining stars. When Chang walks by, Pennsatucky introduces her with a racial slur, and Chang gives it right back.

Chang wanders into the bathroom to brush her teeth with salt and also so we can juxtapose her with Alex and Piper. On the one hand, it’s like: This is what Alex and Piper’s life would be if they were living together on the outside, standing together in front of the mirror flossing their teeth and plucking their eyebrows and bitching about their jobs and being assholes about people who aren’t them. But on the other, it’s juxtaposing Chang to the two women you’d copy out of this show and paste onto a Rolling Stone cover. Laura Prepon and Taylor Schilling are the conventional beauty standard.

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God. My hips are huge! I hate my calves.

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At least you can wear halters. I’ve got man shoulders.

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I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there’s lots of things that can be wrong on your body.

They mock her because they suck, right there in front of her face, and she finally she goes, “Hey, lesbians, my eyes are squinty, but my ears work just fine.” They leave, but they giggle the whole way out like a couple of elementary school Mean Girls.

Flashback! Chang came to the U.S. so her brother could sell her off to a suitor in an arranged marriage/mail-order bride situation, but the woman who ran the arranged marriage business was unimpressed with Chang’s looks and her shyness, and so was the asshole who agreed to marry her. Chang’s brother and the asshole intended husband yelled at each other about how ugly and awful Chang was, and then her brother told her she owed him a thousand bucks for the plane ticket, which she could work off at three cents per hour in the family store and by doing his laundry and by cooking his dinner and whatever other sexist garbage.

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Let me MANsplain this in terms you can MANderstand.

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*taught Liz Lemon how to eye roll*

Back in real-time, Red is watching Chef Judy King get arraigned on tax evasion charges on TV (something Red thinks she deserves because of how she puts cream in her carbonara) and Gina is writing a story for drama workshop that ends with her running over her mom with a lawnmower and Suzanne is patiently waiting for her turn to watch Adventure Time, when Gloria arrives asking for a favor. She needs Red’s husband to pick up her son in Queens and bring him up to visit so she can do his homework with him, but Red explains that she’s done with men who are mushrooms. They consider being gay for each other; they already have the haircuts. And then they just laugh and laugh.

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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 854 articles for us.

54 Comments

  1. It is as if the writers of Chang’s backstory did not know how to build in complexity and humanity into Chang’s lines. Besides the priceless bathroom scene where Chang is given visibility, and validity, in her interaction with Piper, where Chang shows Piper how to interact with another human being with dignity, confidentiality, and respect, and just for a moment, Chang is there, taking up space and time as though she existed beyond her limited and go nowhere excuse for pre prison life. I can’t imagine if the OITNB writers have given themselves enough credible leads in introducing Chang as a Human, to develop her as nuanced, idiosyncratic, paradoxical, with conviction enough to extend her character into future central storylines, say, in the way that Pennsatucky, Black Cindy, Gloria or Big Boo have grown. I was cheering for Chang, as her temperament of being so far, contained, self sufficient as to ?not want small talk, or risk her security, could be represented with more authenticity and investment. I was disappointed at the lack of investment of complexity and depth in her character.

    • Same. I just felt like they could have done so much more. But they haven’t really built anything around Chang as a three dimensional character up to this point, so maybe it was too much to ask for one episode? However, I feel like the writers did it with Rosa in Season 2 in a really meaningful way. I’m glad they decided to finally focus on Chang as they have with other secondary characters. I just wanted more for her and better Asian representation on the show, in general.

    • Right. Like, yes she’s not trying to assimilate to white American culture, but that doesn’t mean she’s not relatable on a human level? As a first-generation American I’ve seen people in my parents’ immigrant community be “othered” due to their heavy accents in ways that are not always so blatant, but still quite damaging, especially in health care contexts. Though I am white and blend in with American culture, I see the struggles that my family and friends have had just to be treated as human sometimes. By portraying Chang as an immigrant who doesn’t mind being left alone and treated as other in an otherwise progressive show, it loses a dimension of humanness that is almost completely universal: the need for connection.

  2. Laura, KaeLyn, Yao, and Fikri: Thank you, thank you, thank you. You guys hustled over the holiday weekend to create this wonderful, insightful commentary, without which this recap would just be even more erasure for Chang. I learned so much reading your thoughts and am so so so thankful that I get to work with you every day.

    KaeLyn, that part about Chang symbolically killing the male gaze was so on point, and I’m so glad you called it out. I would haven’t seen it on my own.

    • I learned so much from reading other people’s words, too! Thanks for including us all, Heather. It was a great way to process the mixed feelings I’ve been having about this episode.

  3. I’m sorry but I found the writing for Change incredibly racist and predictable. Is it so much to ask that we get Asian characters with stories that don’t involve arranged marriages, Karate, Asian ~mysticism~ or violence?

  4. THIS WAS AN AWESOME RECAP.

    I personally found the parts of the episode about Chang’s day really heartbreaking at first. Totally projected myself onto those lonely meals. Then I just found it kind of badass that she had a hidden bag of oranges and a phone – WHO PUT THE ORANGES THERE?!

    I’ve always found Pilex/Aper a bit annoying/boring – but I’m really starting to actively dislike them in this series- they’ve been hella racist and bitchy. WTF is up with that?

    Also- no spoilers but- can we all hold hands and eat marshmallows during the Episode 10-11 recaps? I really struggled with those episodes.

  5. aahhhh, thank you so much for the roundtable! I was having trouble articulating why this episode didn’t really do it for me, and it was so helpful to see my reactions reflected in other people’s responses. Also, I want more Soso in our lives. Hapa girls unite!

  6. That screen cap of Chang looking at Piper– oh, my heart. KaeLyn, your commentary on here was really fantastic to read. Roundtables like this expand my worldview, which I appreciate so much.

  7. I have wondered where Chang’s story might get explored.
    It just strikes me as kind of unique that the audience hasn’t been shown yet, a few things about Chang that seem to be pretty forthcoming and common for the show’s other characters.
    Themes such as How does Chang cope with remaining sane and balanced while being in prison? Who supports her? Why have her desires and the struggle to fulfil her desires and goals while she is in prison not been elaborated on? Is she as self sufficient as she seems? She is not depicted as struggling, but she is visible by the very fact that her support systems within and outside of prison have not been disclosed and explored. No one is an island, but if Chang is an island, I wish the writers would provide context for how and why Chang is. Who is bringing her her supply of oranges and her cell phone? How does she fly so unnoticed under the radar to remove food items from her food tray in the cafeteria without anyone reprimanding her for doing so?

    How did she get her job in commissary? Why is she in prison, exactly? I am hoping that the writers of OITNB have as yet not finalised her story, since there is so much to explore. Any thoughts? There is no danger of a spoiler here in speculating as season 4 has not been released.

  8. I don’t know if Fikri can respond to questions, but do you know what a better translation of “你说你要我们把他怎么办” would have been? I studied mandarin chinese in the past, hence my curiosity.

    What about “你要我们把他做什么?”

    • I’m a native speaker and I feel like it’s not grammatically wrong, but it’s just a lot of words for that sort of moment…it’s unnatural.
      你想怎么处置他or 咱们该怎么处理这个家伙or something like that would have been better.
      It just showed that they didn’t have a script consultant who was fluent in Chinese while they wrote this. x_x

      • I’ve thought about it quite a bit, and I feel like 你说你要我们把他怎么办 in the context translates into “how do you want us to do to him?” rather than “what do you want us to do to him?”

        It really should have been “你说,你要我们对他怎么样?” That would be the closest to what they did.

  9. “One last thing that bugs me about this episode (I’m sorry! I told you I hated it!) was that Chang’s backstory is probably not going to be worked into the rest of the prison’s story in any meaningful way, just as how Chang is going to be relegated back to the sidelines after this.”

    Yes this! Even just from a storytelling point of view, nothing about Chang or her backstory ended up going anywhere this season and I’d be surprised if that changed next year. It felt gratuitous, which made the stereotypes all the more egregious. If you’re gonna tell a story that riddled with stereotypes, make it matter.

  10. Thanks so much for this. This is why Autostraddle rocks so much. .. no matter what minority within our minority is representedby something, more often than not you find someone who identifies with it to share it with us.
    I’m reading the AE OITNB recaps too, mostly out of boredom and I’ve realised what difference it makes.(and not just OITNB – exactly the same thing with Transparent and The Rich Man’s Daughter…) it’s always better here when you put the effort into matching the best writer/s to the task! 🙂
    I feel like in general they give the ‘Piper lens’ on the world and you guys share the lens around for the betterment of us all.

  11. This article was so great and insightful. I was so excited and pleased that Chang was getting an actual backstory. She had been used pretty much exclusively for comic relief in past seasons, and I was afraid that her character wasn’t going to be explored at all. But I was kind of disappointed in all the stereotypes. Maybe if there were more Asian characters on the show with lots of varied backstories, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But when the Asian representation is so low, every single stereotype that you put into one character becomes that much more prominent. I was really enjoying young Chang being so strong and badass, but I literally could not believe that they threw a martial arts fighting scene into the mix. Talk about excessive.

    I don’t know. Like Heather, I’m a white woman, so my views are limited. I just was so happy that you guys did this roundtable thing. It was really helpful to me and opened my eyes to a lot of issues I was blind to because of my white privilege. Thank you!

  12. I’m so glad the roundtable was part of this recap. People have been saying OITNB has a problem with how they underuse their two Asian characters, and it looks like this ep didn’t really redeem the writers on that front — too many stereotypes.

  13. I just watched this episode today and was unsure how I felt about it afterward. The roundtable format was super helpful in clarifying the many things going on and helping me see things in ways that I, as a white woman, did not before. Thank you for this!

    • Even as an Asian woman, I’m a Korean adoptee, not Chinese. I learned a lot from other people’s words, too! Especially the note from Carmen C and Yao Xiao’s contributions.

  14. I really liked that they showed Chang making her own food that seemed way more appetizing than any of the other food available. I would agree that I don’t think she was envying the prison families, she seems very set in her independence and self made comforts.

  15. I always enjoy reading the OITNB recaps, but am especially grateful for this one because when I watched the episode, the source I was watching it from didn’t provide subtitles. So the recap helped me to catch up on the parts I missed! I did roll my eyes pretty hard at the martial arts scene though – thanks for calling out the stereotyping. Really appreciated the round-table discussion.

  16. i really appreciated the roundtable at the end of the recap! i also had some weird feelings about this episode–glad they included a backstory, but why choose THIS backstory, stereotypes, etc–so reading about how y’all felt about it was helpful with organizing my feelings about it.

  17. Regarding Chang’s backstory, it felt too much like an 80s American action-movie style storyline to me, and I felt a bit ripped-off compared to the back-stories of some of the other characters.

    But then I wasn’t sure whether I was so disappointed because I’m Asian and so to me it’s the Asian storyline that’s dripping in stereotype, or whether folks from other minority backgrounds feel like the back-stories of other minority characters were similarly as overtly stereotypical?

    But to echo what everyone else has said, it’s really disappointing that Chang is still on the periphery. I’d be really really pleased if they somehow utilised Chang’s invisibility (the scene where the brother points out that they’d use Chang because she’s invisible really rang true for me), and have some sort of ‘it was Chang all along’ reveal of a major plot-point or season arc.

  18. Echoing others above – great recap, and I’m so glad the roundtable was part of it. Y’all are so insightful, I love it!

    Also I just watched A League of Their Own for the first time about a week ago (even though I was a Rockford Peach at A-Camp 4.0, whoops) and I thought that Kit and Lolly(?) looked very similar but I didn’t realize they were the same actress until right now!! Also p. sure the ball was dropped on purpose.

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