“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.