“Orange Is The New Black” 404 Review: “Doctor Psycho”

“This is a shit secret. This is a secret that fucks everyone who touches it.”

Those are Red’s angry words as she reacts to Alex’s confession that she, Lolly, and Frieda are caught up in a murder web that has only grown more tangled and more dangerous with every passing second. Alex is not among Red’s cared-for daughters, but she knows Red has a certain sway over Frieda, whose latest scheme is to poison Lolly with a tea made from oleander leaves (“Oh those fucking leaves. She’s been dying to use those.”). And just by uttering her confession to Red, Alex has pulled yet someone else into this gathering shitstorm.

After the initial Papa Roach-scored cleanup/chop-up in the premiere, it looked like Alex and Lolly were going to pretty easily get away with what they did. But the greenhouse murder has quickly become one of season four’s most suspenseful through lines. On Orange Is The New Black, conflict is usually not so easily wrapped up. Conflict festers, has lasting implications for any characters touched by it. When bad things happen behind the walls at Litchfield, those bad things have a way of seeping through the halls, touching others in varying ways. It’s an emotionally significant moment for Alex when she decides not to tell Piper the truth. She hates Piper, but she also doesn’t want her to be touched by this shit secret.

And it’s not just that the greenhouse murder has turned into a long-term plot; it has long-term emotional significance, too. All season, Alex has struggled to reconcile the fact that she helped kill someone, even though he was bad, even though he was trying to kill her. She isn’t a killer, and even though Red also becomes convinced that Lolly has to go, Alex can’t fathom it. She sees Lolly as a person—and an innocent person at that—and she’s trapped in a place that so often tells her that neither she nor her fellow inmates are people. Laura Prepon is giving her best performance to date on the show, effectively capturing the turmoil of Alex’s mind and the psychological toll of this secret. These more character-driven, emotionally rooted parts of Orange Is The New Black’s storytelling are its strongest. The writers aren’t going to let Alex forget what she did, to stop feeling what she feels about it.

Similarly, the subtle but powerful emotional through line of how Pennsatucky has dealt with the trauma of sexual assault has been a very strong part of this season, and it reaches a critical moment in “Doctor Psycho.” Pennsatucky finally says that Coates raped her out loud for the first time, and she says it to him. Coates represents a very real and toxic perspective born from rape culture: He genuinely does not believe he raped her because he told her he loved her. “That makes it different,” he says.

But rape has nothing to do with love or sex. It has to do with power, with violence, with control. He claims he loved her, but when he raped her, he didn’t see her as a person with thoughts or feelings or sensations. Pennsatucky doesn’t back down. She knows the truth. She knows to trust her own experience. And her psychological journey this season, like Alex’s, is one likely to continue, likely to not be forgotten any time soon. Nothing happens in a bubble in Litchfield. Orange Is The New Black expertly makes the narrative DNA of the show lasting, its characters’ histories not easily forgotten. Rosa has been mentioned multiple times this season, even though she’s dead. Characters becomes an indelible part of the show, even after they’re gone, because they’ve touched the lives of others. And in “Doctor Pyscho,” two familiar faces resurface.

Sophia Burset makes her highly anticipated return, asking SHU guard to speak to Caputo as she’s handed over a tray topped with something that looks an awful lot like Prison Loaf—the tasteless, brown brick masquerading as food that’s used to punish inmates in prison and jails all over the country. Her tone as she asks for Caputo evokes the sense that she has asked this question many, many times, as if it has been embedded in her throat. The scenes with Sophia are very short and infrequent, but their brevity is an effective storytelling choice in and of itself: Sophia, as she puts it, has been thrown in a dungeon and forgotten.

It’s cruel that we don’t get to spend more time with her, but this is a storyline about the cruelty, isolation, and violence of solitary confinement. Through Sophia’s lock up in SHU, Orange Is The New Black is telling a larger story but through the very personal and zoomed-in lens of Sophia’s experiences. They may be brief, but these scenes bellow with intense emotions, and Laverne Cox using every second she’s on screen to viscerally communicate the pain and exhaustion and determination Sophia feels. The scenes effectively relay the horrors of solitary confinement in specific and subtle stokes: the suffocating quarters, the aforementioned Prison Loaf, the way the guards ignore Sophia as if they can’t hear her, as if she doesn’t exist. Even the one glimmer of hope these women share—the kites that fly beneath their doors exchanging contraband, games of hangman, cards—evokes a hollow, desperate feeling.

Caputo devastatingly lies to Sophia about her wife’s visit. He then carries out small displays of empathy that really just serve to make him feel better about himself, which is pretty much his whole thing. When Sophia lights her own bed on fire, she’s taken away, escorted past Nicky Nichols who only manages to get out a concerned look and a “Jesus Christ” before we’re torn away from her. It’s brief, and yet it hits hard and stirs up a whole slew of emotions.

While the episode overall brims with really strong character moments, the flashbacks drag it down. They’re Healy flashbacks. Who in the world thought we needed more Sam Healy flashbacks? In truth, these flashbacks don’t tell us much we didn’t already know: Healy’s mom suffered from mental illness and was treated with electroshock therapy before eventually fleeing, leaving little Healy with a ton of abandonment issues and a twisted view of women. This time around, we learn that his flagrant hatred of lesbians is also connected to his mother: Healy’s father equated “lesbianism” to a disease not unlike his mother’s mental illness.

We already know Healy to be the bumbling, misogynistic, racist, and homophobic idiot of Litchfield’s counseling staff. The flashbacks only further confirm that he has a long history of being a petty, easily angered worm who expects women to perform emotional labor for him and engages in inappropriate relationships based on a power dynamic that skews in his favor. Thankfully, the way these flashbacks are framed—as with previous Healy flashbacks—don’t serve to justify his awful behavior, only explore it on a deeper level.

The only truly interesting thing to come of this storyline it the way Judy King sets herself up to be Healy’s most formidable foe to date. The episode’s title refers to a Wonder Woman character who King and Luschek compare Healy to, a character who similarly hates women. King flexes her privilege, convincing Caputo to get her a new counselor by telling him Healy makes her uncomfortable and has power issues. Other inmates have made similar allegations, but King has power herself, and Caputo bends to it. King’s on the rise to becoming as powerful as Red around here. But while Healy’s flashbacks are narratively connected to the present, they don’t operate on a more layered level, and it’s just hard not to feel like the writers could have unearthed better story from a more dynamic, unexplored character.

As I anticipated, Poussey has forgiven Soso in totality, which undercuts some of the significance of last episode. Apparently, Soso’s radio stunt was enough to convince Poussey she isn’t racist. The two are on pretty good terms in “Doctor Psycho” — by which I mean they’re fucking in the little bottom-bunk tent they’ve fashioned out of towels. It’s blissful, but it seems oddly forgetful of very recent history or, at least, dismissive of the significance of Soso’s racism. The latter seems especially true now that Soso is positioning herself as a victim of racism when around Watson. Maybe the point is that Poussey is willing to quickly forgive in order to keep some of the fantasy of their seemingly lovely relationship alive.

But I’m not quite as convinced by that as I am by other storylines that embody a sense of fantasy for the sake of survival. Healy convinces Lolly that her paranoia about having killed someone are just the product of her “delusions,” and even though Healy unequivocally sucks, he inadvertently does some good here, allowing Lolly to embrace the fantasy that she didn’t kill anyone. Daya, meanwhile, loses herself in the chapel, drawing cartoons of her and her baby instead of reading up on law and foster-care regulations, because it’s what she needs to keep going. She needs to cling to the fantasy, to tell herself a different story.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 837 articles for us.


  1. NICHOLS! I screamed.

    One episode for Healy’s flashbacks was more than enough. Whose idea was this? Seriously.

    • At least the Healy flashback explains later how he helps Lolly because he sees his mom in her. I thought that was sad and touching. I felt genuinely bad for Healy. What I don’t need on the other hand is more storylines revolving around Caputo and his love life.

  2. Everyone I was watching with groaned audibly when we saw little Healy. Nobody gives a fuck about him, there is literally zero interest in his reasons for being a giant misogynistic, racist and homophobic doucheface!

    I’d have gladly taken an episode about Piscatella with an s or any of the new inmates over Healy’s “sob story”.

    • Incorrect – I care. I appreciate that the show is a little more nuanced than “misogynist = does not have a past or feelings worth exploring”. I want to know why people are messed up, or just plain awful, and were they might have gone in a better direction. It’s interesting.

    • Sophia gets so little screen time each season compared to a lot of the others, and still she’s one of the most interesting characters. That says something about Cox’s acting.

      • I find Cox quite a bad actress, especially with very dramatic moments, and this became evident to me in season 3 (e.g., the conflict with her Gloria).

  3. ‘He inadvertently does some good’

    I really struggle with this scene. Lolly disclosed having murdered someone to Healy. Yes she was showing signs of having psychosis but the fact that he dismissed her disclosure as being part of that is so so wrong. My health and social care background had me shouting at the TV at this point. Really?! You’re dismissing her disclosure and aren’t going to act on it? He also didn’t appear to offer any form of help for her current mental health issues and wrote that off too! I love this show but this scene really disturbed me.

    • Well, Healys character *is* supposed to be pretty bad at what he does, I think to really drive in the nail that even this criminally poor job he’s doing is better than Psych for the inmates.

      • The point is definitely NOT to show that Healy is good at his job. That he has some amount of compassion, and might someday do something good for some one? Sure, maybe. But not that he’s competent or a good listener.

  4. “Maybe the point is that Poussey is willing to quickly forgive in order to keep some of the fantasy of their seemingly lovely relationship alive.” I’m almost sure the writers just forgot to write this aspect into the script, but if they had, I’d believe it. Poussey already pretends away dozens of awful things just to keep her self out of the Honey Jar prison hooch. And make-outs are really good for that.

    • Yep — I think last season made the despairing depths of Poussey’s loneliness very clear, so it doesn’t surprise me that she’s very quick to forgive in order to hold onto a relationship at all.

      • And who among us hasn’t made that kind of compromise in the face of what seem like totally hopeless situations? I know I’ve personally settled for all kinds of crap when I got lonely enough or felt the world was bleak enough. And I wasn’t in prison!

        I have gotten better about that, and am pretty good at setting limits now. I’m genuinely fussy about who I spend time with or how it goes, and I’m happier alone than in company that doesn’t measure up.

        But even now, if life got bad enough, I figure I would probably “lower my standards” and just be grateful for any available pleasures and whatever warmth was available, without being so fussy.

        Again, not my current life. But deprive and stress and pressure any of us enough, and I think we eventually change priorities and go looking for any comfort we can find, and get less likely to challenge it lest it disappear.

  5. I am so disappointed in Poussey and Soso’s relationship. I thought that due to Soso’s depression and suicide attempt from last season we were going to explore her mental state a bit more as well as her issues with her mother. I would’ve preferred it if in the beginning Soso was still a bit withdrawn but Poussey eventually brings her out of her depression and allows her to become more relaxed. It just felt like the writers glossed over each of their issues and skipped into the whole lovey dovey part of their relationship.

    • The whole Multiple storyline thing did come with the drawback of time constraints, I’m sure they didn’t want to be accused of queer-baiting. You’ve made a really good point, though, in that both these characters had issues to work through, and Brand New love sure feels magical, but it isn’t actual magic

      • Thank you and now that I think about it there probably were a lot of time restraints due to how many storylines there were. I just would’ve preferred a conversation. Just something simple like maybe they’re in the library and Soso is spacing out a bit and Poussey nudges her arm a bit and says “Are you alright” or “Do you want to talk about it”

    • true but I think one thing that happens when you’re in a new relationship is you can use it as escapism, and totally gloss over your own (and collective) issues for a temporary amount of time, as you’re high on <3.

      • True, I’m just usually not as cute as these kids when *I* do it, maybe that’s the problem, Poussey is too cute for us to see it past that 1000 watt smile

    • Yes! Exactly. It feels like we missed a lot of stuff. I was looking forward to this relationship the most of anything this season but it’s been rushed and underwhelming.

      • I disagree! It’s been a long time since Poussey has had a reason to do her adorable, shy smile so often. And any excuse for that, really.

  6. I thought the Healy flashbacks were pretty worthwhile actually.
    Without them his special interest in Lolly’s situation and genuine attempts at helping her might have seemed half-hearted. Set against his relationship with his mum – especially the part where he ignores her pleas for help and inadvertently causes her to run away, and the scene with the homeless woman who he so wants to believe is his mother – it shows that he’s trying to work through the guilt he feels about what happened with his mum with Lolly. He couldn’t help his mum because he was a child, but now he’s an adult in the position to be able to help someone with similar problems he’s trying to do for Lolly what he couldn’t do for his mum.
    One of the things I like most about Orange is that it cares about its awful characters as much as its good ones.

    • exactly. As blind to his privilege and need for intimacy with a woman as he is, and to need to work through his abandonment, guilt, blame and responsibility he feels for his Mum, Healy is shown as a human, deserving of compassion and honesty, as much as anyone else is.
      That is the shining thing about this show, is that its compassion doesn’t escape any character as twisted or fucked up as they may be.

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