The overcrowding storyline has transformed Orange Is The New Black’s narrative fabric. This season seems determined to show how the overcrowding reverberates in Litchfield, how it touches everyone in different but meaningful ways. It’s a villain without a face—or, more accurately, it’s a villain with many faces: Caputo and his board of stingy, soulless MCC overlords; the hardlined guards from max; just about anyone who profits from the prison-industrial complex. The effects of overcrowding have become the connective tissue for this season, opening up a whole new storytelling avenue for the show and radically changing the setting. And setting is hugely important to this show: It’s the one thing that connects all these characters together. The weight of overcrowding isn’t as palpable in “(Don’t) Say Anything” as it was in the first two episodes of the season, and for that reason, it isn’t nearly as tight or engaging of an episode.
Much fuss has been made over whether Orange Is The New Black is a drama or a comedy—a conversation that’s not particularly interesting and ultimately just goes to show how outdated and rigid awards shows are with their incessant need to categorize and sort. It’s not breaking news that the show transcends those genre distinctions. But even beyond its ability to blend drama and comedy, Orange Is The New Black eschews traditional storytelling altogether. The show has increasingly become a collection of stories all unfolding in the same place but with entirely different stakes, moods, themes, structures. It is a true ensemble show that can tell so many stories at once, never letting one character take up too much space. This keeps Orange Is The New Black exciting, twisting and turning down new story corridors in a way that plays with expectations. Although in the case of “(Don’t) Say Anything,” the multitude of storylines is another thing that leads to an uncharacteristically unfocused episode.
This episode ends up being about a lot of things—too many arguably—but the flashbacks are Soso-centric. Over the seasons, the flashbacks have become less and less about what landed the prisoners in Litchfield. That narrative device was useful at first, proving that “prisoner” is not some monolithic identity and that the reasons why all of these women are here are as complicated as they are. But I’m very into the new direction these flashbacks are going in. They’re more about who these characters are, what has shaped them. And it makes sense: Orange Is The New Black is always trying to prove these women are more than their sentences. We already know why Soso is in prison, and the flashbacks this time around just provide another glimpse into this character’s psyche. And these flashbacks tie into the present quite well without being purely plot-driven. Soso has a history of running her mouth, especially when she likes someone. She made up a bunch of fucked up shit to impress a guy—as well as her garbage ex-boyfriend Ethan—back when she was a young and eager canvasser. In the present, she spins a wildly racist—and false—backstory for Poussey in an attempt to get Judy King to agree to have lunch with her.
With the changes to Litchfield come new characters, new stories to tell. Blair Brown’s Judy King is among one of the stranger additions to the show, but “(Don’t) Say Anything” makes it clear that she’s more than just the show’s attempt at a Martha Stewart spoof. She’s becoming an increasingly significant part of the season. She explains to Soso that she never uses the the n-word. “Despite this drawl, I’m brighter than that,” she says. In fact, the only person who throws the n-word around in this episode is Soso herself, something she most definitely should have faced more consequences for other than just a stern look from Poussey—especially since she’s stupidly comparing the reclamation of sexuality labels to the discourse around one of our country’s most violent racial slurs.
Orange Is The New Black often plays with the idea that its characters are complex, unpredictable people who defy and challenge stereotypes. The show pointedly creates characters that don’t fit into racist narratives. Poussey’s actual life doesn’t look a thing like the over-the-top tale Soso goes on about. “(Don’t) Say Anything” provides an incisive takedown of prejudice. Soso represents a very specific type of privilege and liberal naivete: She knows all the right words to use when talking about institutionalized racism, but she doesn’t really understand what she’s saying or how her own words and actions contribute to the very systems she purports to be against.
In both the flashbacks and her present storyline, Soso leans into harmful stereotypes for selfish reasons. Soso’s rich-hippie schtick is often played for laughs, but here the story is a bit more emotional, a bit more personal. The storyline gives new stakes and depth to the burgeoning relationship between Poussey and Soso. They share several cute moments throughout the episode, too. Samira Wiley is—as always—delightful throughout, especially hilarious in her portrayal of Poussey’s nervous energy every time she’s in proximity to Judy, a personal hero of hers. But “(Don’t) Say Anything” makes this story about a lot more than just the fact that they’re dating. Again, Orange Is The New Black is so good at taking unexpected story turns. But when it’s all said and done, the Soso storyline doesn’t really seem to have any larger implications for the season and almost gets resolved too neatly. There’s a sense throughout “(Don’t) Say Anything” that something is missing.
Meanwhile, Piper pisses off Maria and her friends who, by episode’s end, look like they’re going to start a rival panty business of their own. Meanwhile, Alex is still dealing with the trauma of the greenhouse murder and the anxiety that Lolly is going to break. Meanwhile, everyone—myself included—wants to know where Sophia is and when she’s coming back. Meanwhile, Lorna and Vinnie are having phone sex. Meanwhile, Caputo crushes on his coworker Linda, and the one important detail there is that Linda is played by Beth Dover, one of the most under-appreciated comedic actors on television. Meanwhile, Orange Is The New Black throws shade at Kickstarter. Meanwhile, is Ovaltine a corporate sponsor of this season?
While “(Don’t) Say Anything” has some trouble finding its footing, especially in the first half of the episode, all of those aforementioned subplots definitely have at least one moment that lands. Alex coaching Lolly through processing her thoughts and feelings is a cutting and intimate look at self-care and coping mechanisms. But the only other storyline in the episode that really stands out is Taystee’s promotion to Caputo’s personal assistant. It’s a nice development in Taystee’s arc, which has always been about how her intelligence and ambition have been thwarted by setbacks and injustices. She won the job fairly, after all. It’s great to see her succeeding, even if Caputo gave her the opportunity to her for gross reasons. Taystee is the clever businesswoman Piper Chapman thinks she is. And the Taystee storyline also leads to one of the best conversations in the episode: Cindy, Suzanne, Poussey, Watson, and Soso discussing all of the most unfair things that have happened at Litchfield—some we’ve seen and some we haven’t. It’s a stark reminder of all the horrific shit that has gone down in this place and how there’s likely much more to come.