Season 3 continues its streak of surprising but fascinating flashbacks with a look back at the life of Leanne before her time in Litchfield. Leanne was always a character who I thought I understood about as well as I ever would, but “Where my Dreidel At,” flipped that expectation around on me yet again, offering the character a depth I’m so happy to have witnessed.
Leanne’s life before her time in Litchfield was quite different. For one, she was Amish. And though she had left the life (whether on an extended Rumspringa or simply had run away), she becomes sick of the lifestyle. All the drugs, partying, and general aimlessnes has caused Leanne to become disenchanted with life outside of her Amish community. So she stashes a bag of drugs and her other paraphernalia and returns to her home.
She’s accepted back, and even allowed to go through the baptismal service, telling her community that while those on the outside might think they are the free ones, it is really those who stay and become part of the community that are free.
Unfortunately, her freedom is at risk because of that bag she stashed away in the crops. It happened to have her ID in it, and after being discovered by the cops, she has one choice to make—either work with the police to help catch her drug-dealing friends or go to jail.
She chooses the former, as difficult as it may be to accomplish, but in doing so, she becomes a pariah in her Amish community. (It’s difficult to blame them when she put all their kids behind bars.) Sadly, the isolation extends beyond her to her parents, whose livelihoods are threatened by her actions. In the end, Leanne chooses to leave—if the community won’t have her, she’ll make sure, at the very least, her presence isn’t hurting anyone else.
This ordeal left her with some loss of self-worth. Late in the episode, she tells Norma that sometimes the kindest thing to do is to let someone go, that the unity of the group is more important than the feelings of one individual. She’s talking about Soso, who she scared away from Norma’s group after the two came to blows on their newfound spirituality.
But she isn’t just talking about Soso—Leanne is referring to her own past, and in doing so delivers another of the season’s best flashbacks. The parallels to her time at home with her time helping to shepherd Norma’s group forward are simultaneously heartbreaking and exciting, surprising in the way it expands our notion of Leanne. She’s been relegated to a similar role for more than two seasons, but this episode opens up just how we view her in the way Orange’s best flashbacks do.
Leanne’s plight all comes down to a sense of identity, which seems to have solidified as one of season 3’s most prominent themes. Leanne’s Amish community gave her a sense of purpose, which she lost after being thrown out. Now, she’s found purpose again, but, to her, Soso puts it at risk, and she must, at all costs, do what she can to protect it. Their discussion together, which ends in Soso and Chang laughing at Leanne, is a painful climax to the sequence, and will hopefully not be the last we see of Leanne’s expanded characterization.
Searching for that sense of belonging extends beyond Leanne and Soso, though. “Where My Dreidel At” finds its title in another identity-focused narrative, as the rise of kosher meals has made MCC suspicious of just how many inmates at Litchfield are actually Jewish. To validate that concern, Danny brings in a rabbi to test the inmates on just how actually Jewish they are.
Unsurprisingly, the interviews fail miserably. In a hilarious montage, just about everyone is at a loss for how Judaism actually works. Despite all of her studying, even Cindy can only get by with a couple of Annie Hall and Yentl references (as much as she may think, growing up Jewish does not boil down to being nervous, cooking lobsters, and having a thing for girls in suspenders). And sorry, Taystee, but hating shrimp is not the sole qualifier for being Jewish. Just about the only person who passes the test, as we later find out in the cafeteria, is Sister Jane. Turns out the abrahamic religions aren’t too different—until you get to Jesus, as Jane points out.
NEXT: Piper’s business gets complicated.