“Orange Is The New Black” 402 Review: “Power Suit”

Watching Donald Trump slash and crash through the 2016 election as the embodiment of every bit of bile Fox News has puked out over the last two decades is almost like watching racism grow into a movie monster. Like some kind of CGI beast that soaks up evil and visits it back onto the world in the form of stump speeches and campaign promises. It’s not like Donald Trump is rebirthing racism; he’s just legitimizing racism that’s been bubbling under the surface of an angry, entitled mob of white assholes who can’t tell the difference between a dog whistle and the literal word of God. If presidential politics made their way into Litchfield in season four, you know Angie and Leanne would be Trump proselytizers, and so of course I thought of him when this exchange happened in “Power Suit:”

Angie: Is Dominicans the ones that wear gold chains and smoke cigars and swim to Florida?
Leanne: No.
Angie: Is it the coffee and the coke and ‘Hips Don’t Lie?’
Leanne: No. They talk a lot and they play baseball, and they’re always like, “I’m super not black” even though Haiti’s the exact same island.
Angie: Yeah, I hate them.

There’s nothing quite like figuring out which stereotype fits a specific group of non-white people so you can make sure your hate is catalogued properly.

Leanne and Angie are discussing what it means to be Dominican because the influx of new inmates to Litchfield has caused division among the Latina women. “You can’t even tell us apart. You thought I was Venezuelan for like two months,” Maria tells Flora, but within the context of this show, the Latina characters have never needed or wanted to tell each other apart. It’s always mattered to Maria, though, more than we knew. Her father, El Leon, was a bit of a Dominican nationalist, so much so that he basically disowned Maria as a teenager when he found out her boyfriend was Mexican. But her flashback frustration at her dad doesn’t stop her from furiously defending her Dominican heritage when push comes to shove inside Litchfield and the new Dominican majority jockeys for power.

Maria ultimately abandons her initial battlecry — “We’re all mestizos; we all eat beans and rice” — in favor of the lessons of her youth. Tensions between the Mexican, Dominican, and Puerto Rican factions are high, but not as high as they’re gonna be, I’d guess.

Cindy and her new Muslim bunkmate have a similar but friendlier kind of feud that’s right on the nose. After Alison finds that Cindy has tossed all her stuff on the floor and taken over her shelves:

Cindy: I lost all the space on top of my locker, so I had to make it up.
Alison: That’s not my problem, and this half of the window is my half. You on the east side of the cubicle; this part belongs to the west bunk.
Cindy: How you even know what’s east and west up in here?
Alison: When you pray to Mecca five times a day, you figure that shit out.
Cindy: Bottom line, I got way more things that you. Fair is fair.
Alison: Fair?
Cindy: Well, by fair, I actually mean I’m bigger and stronger and I got more friends.

Well! It ends in pranks, at least. I’ll take my Litchfield laughs where I can get them.

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While the Latina population of Litchfield fights for the basic right to be able to take a shower in a functioning bathroom, Judy King, the new face of white privilege in Litchfield, enjoys a semi-private room that she only has to share with Yoga Jones. What’s bonkers about this, and what’s so true to life about it, is that Judy King didn’t even have to request special treatment. She’s rich, she’s white, she’s got connections (because she’s rich and white), so the luxuries of Litchfield are simply given to her, and of course she doesn’t argue. Yoga Jones thinks about it, for just a minute, just one little sliver of guilt, but Judy’s fancy tea convinces her to keep quiet and enjoy the ride of the one percent. When has privilege ever been dismantled by the person with power willingly giving it up?

Which brings us to the power suit in question. It’s Caputo’s, of course. How much does it cost an evil corporation to squash the tiny bit of goodness and altruism out of the one man who can thwart the complete dehumanization of a black trans woman? One thousand one-hundred dollars. That is the cost of a black woman’s life. There’s a literal price tag on it. It doesn’t matter that Gloria manages to contact Crystal let her know about SHU, or that Crystal comes running to Sophia’s aid the moment she finds out her wife has been thrown into confinement. It’s three women of color, two of whom are inmates, fighting against one white guy with an office and a title.

That’s the thing about racism: It doesn’t have to take the form of slurs or stump speeches. Yeah, it can look like a Cheeto with a mouth running for president. But it can also look like a Regular Guy walking around in an $1,100 suit.

What’d you think of “Power Suit”?

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer 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 1062 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. Caputo just wanna be accepted by his new bosses/associates by looking the part of a ‘warden’ or more precisely the ‘Director of Human Activity’. And he thought to himself, “Oh I deserve a $1100 suit cos I really care for these ladies, did my darnest best to fight for the ladies’ welfare, so I shouldn’t feel bad about this expensive suit, never mind that the ladies are earning less than 15 cents an hour.”

    And that is how good men/women are lost.

  2. I’m a little bit irritated that these reviews are praising the show so highly when the writers pulled some truly heinous stunts this season. But I guess not everyone’s gotten that far yet. It’s Bad

    • I’m so upset and angry at this show right now and I keep coming on here hoping that they cover it. I can only hope that none of the writers have watched that far yet because if they have and are still choosing to promote and praise this show I’ll be so disappointed.

      • THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT. What I am going to say after this is going to be a spoiler. I am going to write a spoiler here, kind of. I am writing all of this text so the spoiler doesn’t appear in the sidebar on the home page and people who are blissfully unaware of what happens at the end of this season don’t have to know.

        Here is my feeling re: this comment above me:

        I had only watched these two episodes when I reviewed them. I’m finished with this whole season now and I feel sick.

  3. The “I’m super not black” even though Haiti’s the exact same island” line cracked me up because that’s like the gist of what some elderly Cubans santerxs said/grumble ranted about Dominicans.

    We were talking about food across the Caribbean and I guess she just kinda takes umbrage with the heritage denial and well…Rafael Trujillo is how we got onto that topic because parsley.
    Ay no perejil.

    Yeah don’t google “Rafael Trujillo” and “parsley” unless you want to feel sick and disgusted with humanity a bit more.

  4. SO CONFLICTED by Black Cindy and Alison. While I loved the “west bunk” joke I feel really weird about the fact that they’ve just turned Black Cindy Jewish so she can be horrible to her Muslim roommate? I guess its easy conflict to write but I’m not sure what I think about it yet.

    I hope they end up being friends. Which I guess says something about me and my politics. OOH DEEP.

  5. dear autostraddlers! I was sooo excited when i heard the song by Rita Indiana being hummed at the beginning of this episode! and then again extensively at the end.
    In this case, please do google RITA INDIANA she is an awesome artist from the Dominican Republic, also she is a lesbian, she also writes books, she is awesome!

  6. They haven’t shown us the halal meals I’d imagine Alison is getting, the way they showed the kosher meals that started BCindy on the road to Judaism. In fact, I don’t think we’ve even seen BCindy eating different food than anyone else. Did they address that? Has the privatization meant no more “special meals”?

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