“Orange Is The New Black” 408 Review: “Friends in Low Places”

Boy howdy, this season of Orange Is the New Black has sure been a mixed bag. Just to clear the air, I’m writing this review from the point of view of someone who’s watched the entire season, and it might be better reviewer-integrity to only talk about this episode or things that have happened up until now, but I don’t really care. I’m not going to spoil things that happen later on, but I will be talking about this episode in the context of those things happening, because I feel like it would be irresponsible to overlook what most of us now know. This whole season is too depressing and too exploitative and too mean to ignore that.

We open on Piper crying and Red looking for her missing mirror. Piper just got branded as a Neo-Nazi, and I think I’m supposed to feel bad for her, and on the smallest microscopic level of caring about human beings I do, but really I’m like, maybe don’t start a white supremacist gang and you won’t get branded? I honestly feel much worse for Red who can’t find her makeup or her mirror. When Red asks Piper, “are you okay” she responds by saying “not even a little bit” but she’s probably the most ultimately okay out of all the people we see. She’s got a racist gang backing her up, she’s got the guards backing her up, she’s fucking white and young and comes from a rich family and doesn’t seem to have any mental illnesses or anything that makes her a target at the prison. She’s Piper.

We also spend a ridiculous amount of time focusing on Judy King. She thinks that all of the Black inmates are out to get her because she did a really racist puppet show, and so she’s being even more separated from the others and given even more protection and privilege in the prison. She has a disgusting guard who stands outside her shower to creep on all the women of color in the prison bathroom; she gets scared when Suzanne crosses her in the hallway singing one of Judy King’s racist-ass songs with a sock puppet; she complains about how she’s “not really racist.” Prison is so hard on her, you guys. Seriously, I’d rather watch five minutes of Maritza or Taystee or Maria or Daya or Poussey sitting silently than watch one minute of Judy King and Yoga Jones talk about how they’re going to solve their “problems.”

Back to our other long-suffering inmate, Piper. She calls her brother and finds out his wife is pregnant. I really don’t care about Piper’s troubles or happiness when Maria has years added on her sentence, the guards are being racist assholes to the Latinas, Sophia’s in solitary, and much, much worse things are to come. I’m even more bored by Piper’s storylines this season than usual. She’s being oppressed by being punished for starting a hate group and everyone else is being punished for being human beings.

Nichols starts flirting with Morello in the bathroom, and finally we’re onto some characters that I actually like! Morello tells her that that’s over because she’s a married woman now, she even took his last name, because “we’re very traditional.” I’m not gonna lie, I think her marriage is super cute and as a desperate romantic, I can’t help but root for it to work out. But Nichols won’t stop, she’s been in max for too long. While I normally love Nichols, I feel really, really bad for Morello in this scene, she’s such a hardcore romantic, admittedly to the point of being obsessive and paranoid, but still. Like, I mean, do I think Natasha Lyonne with that wild hair is a billion times sexier than Morello’s husband? Different strokes for different folks, I guess! I just want Morello to be happy.

The inmates who used to work in the underwear factory are called outside for their new job. They’re a part of a “class” where they’ll “learn construction” but really it’s just another fucked up part of the Prison Industrial Complex, called forced labor. Most of the inmates are forced to literally dig ditches in the hot sun. While the inmates are being treated horribly and inhumanely, they start talking about the time machine in the laundry, and what they’d do if they could travel back in time. Pennsatucky asks her rapist what he’d go back in time and change and he makes a stupid comment about not missing a Judas Priest concert when he very clearly should have apologized for raping her. He’s an asshole and a rapist.

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My prima, Maritza, is off doing her driving-the-van-secretly-smuggling-drugs thing and “drops her sunglasses” to pick up the drugs from the van. For a moment it looks like the female guard is onto her but really she just wants makeup tips. Maritza tells the guard to go to the store and buy a nice eyeliner pencil (I think she should use liquid eyeliner, but that’s just my opinion) and some mascara, “the pink kind” (I use that kind, so: good advice), and then breathes a sigh of relief when the guard accepts her excuse. Maritza’s scared of getting caught, and it makes sense: If Maria got three to five more years for underwear, imagine what she’ll get for this. But when she goes to talk to Maria about it, Maria intimidates her into not being intimidated about being caught. I just want Maritza to be happy, you guys.

Piper catches Nichols and Alex smoking crack in the corn field (Nicky’s been stealing things from Red and trading them for drugs in the salon) and decides to join in. Piper uses this time to complain more about how hard she’s having it. Boo fucking hoo. Alex admits she murdered that guy. I guess I feel worse for Alex than Piper, but I feel much worse for literally every single woman of color in this prison. Especially based on what’s going to happen to them over the next five episodes.

Taystee (who Cecelia says is the character I’m most like, thank you very much) is trying to complain about her desk job with the warden and is acting like the new Piper, but her friends all tell her basically to stop. Poussey joins the conversation and they start talking about Judy King, which would normally bore me, but I really love all these characters. When Poussey finds out that they just want a picture of Judy King, and not to beat her up, she starts coming up with a plan. We see this plan come to fruition when Cindy and the other inmates are walking away from their digging and they see Judy King running straight for them. She runs right up to Cindy and kisses her square on the lips (“She tastes like strawberry,” Cindy says) and reveals that she and Poussey planned it so that they could get a picture for them to sell. Finally something good!

Back to more characters I don’t care about: Mustache Warden and his Corporate Girlfriend are making pasta sauce and she’s talking about how she has no idea what prison is actually like but she’s still really, really terrific at her private prison corporation job. I really don’t like these people. There’s a knock on the door and while Mustache Warden goes to see who it is, Corporate Girlfriend tastes the sauce and makes a face and adds what looks like four tablespoons of salt to it.

At the door is Sophia’s wife, Crystal, demanding to know where Sophia is and if she’s okay, or even alive. After she repeatedly refuses Mustache Warden’s demands that she leave, Corporate Girlfriend comes back and shoves a gun in Crystal’s face and it’s terrifying. Mustache Warden and Corporate Girlfriend are gross people, so they have sex because Corporate Girlfriend just threatened a distraught wife with a gun.

I wish that this season wasn’t so universally terrible, manipulative and cruel, because this issue of trans inmates being forced to stay in solitary “for their own protection” is a very real and important one. This is what really happens to many trans inmates, where they spend 23 hours a day alone, without human contact, for usually their entire stay in prison. It’s cruel, it’s unusual and it’s inexcusable. Laverne Cox is one of the most powerful actors on this show, and she absolutely owns every single minute she’s on screen, even though there aren’t many of them. I wish the show gave her more of a chance to do things this year other than just look miserable and near-death because she’s in isolation.

At the end of the episode, Piper’s swastika is turned into a window thanks to Red, which doesn’t feel fair. She’s the only one who’s punishment this season isn’t permanently scarring. None of the women of color have a Get Out of Jail Free card like Piper does with her swastika brand. Sophia’s still in solitary, Maria’s still in prison, the Neo-Nazis are still roaming the prison, the guards are still racist, evil monsters. Things happen to other inmates that can’t be erased or fixed, things that will scar them for life in a way that doesn’t look pretty.

Mey Rude is a fat, trans, Latina lesbian living in LA. She's a writer, journalist, and a trans consultant and sensitivity reader. You can follow her on twitter, or go to her website if you want to hire her.

Mey has written 574 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. I don’t know. I care about every woman of color on this show more than I care about Piper (well, maybe not Maria), and Piper makes terrible, racist choices, but I’m not into people being assaulted and permanently disfigured. It was brutal and horrifying to me. Not any more so than anything else on this show, I guess, but it got to me.

    I also want to hug Maritza so damn much.

    • yeah, I did say “on the smallest microscopic level of caring about human beings I do” care about Piper being branded, because like you said, it’s disturbing watching a human being being branded, but compared to everyone else, it’s hard for me to feel bad for her.

      • It is ridiculous to hate Piper because she’s white and that somehow make her responsible for the all the shit that happens in the prison. But of course this is Autostraddle I shouldn’t be surprised. Also Laverne Cox is a medicore actress and she only works in very small doses.

    • It got to you because you are a human and have feelings. If its ok to you that I person was assaulted and branded you’re probably a little messed up. Piper is certainly not a favorite character of mine but that was messed up.

      • i don’t have a high opinion of piper and think the way she’s treated ruiz and other inmates is nothing short of disgusting, but as a jewish person i had a very visceral reaction to the swastika branding and it made me feel a bit sick.

        i’m almost annoyed by the sympathy i felt for her in that moment.

        • My girlfriend and I were both like, “well, she deserves this” when Piper was taken from the hallway. Then they show the stove and I’m like, “oh, wait. Maybe not.” Then I realized what they were branding and while I think it’s potentially “earned” in a dramatic sense, it’s still brutal and awful and horrifying to watch. This season has me simultaneously applauding and questioning the writers at nearly every moment.

  2. Isn’t this kind of the point? It’s not fair because it’s a reflection of how shitty the system is. We love to hate piper because she is a reflection of the white upper-class folx. We love all the characters of color because, hello, they’re amazing! And yet, despite how awesome they are, they’re still dealt a shitty (shittier) hand. Because, hello, this is White America, after all. And I think by making these women of color all the more likable, the writers are pushing for more outrage from the layaudience. We, as a white society, are otherwise unmoved by what’s happening around us, because we don’t have that personal connection with individuals- we remain stoic because society has painted a picture that POC, especially black men, get what’s coming to them. This show NEEDS to be unfair, because that’s what people need to understand.

    • I mean, speak for yourself, I’m not white, and neither are all of OITNB’s viewers. We already understand that life and prison and America are unfair. We see our family being deported and arrested for being Black or Brown and beaten and murdered all the time. This season has been rubbing our faces in it.

      • And I will piggyback on @meyrude comment, even as a white viewer I am not unmoved by the horrendous things that I see happening in the world around me, I feel grief and outrage at many things that happen in other communities and I don’t need a show like this to beat it into my head that it’s happening. So we don’t beed to sacrifice amazing poc characters to make a point to white people.

  3. In earlier seasons, I felt bored by Piper and wanted to spend more time with literally everybody else. This season, I was groaning internally every time she was on screen. (Same feeling about Caputo and the guards really, I just didn’t care about them and wanted to see more from all the INTERESTING inmates.)

    Absolutely agree that Laverne Cox was woefully underused this season and they could have done so much more with Sophia. Maybe they could have cut some of Piper’s stuff for that.

    • I read that LC had scheduling issues due to shooting for the series she starts in the fall. I miss her character’s presence but am glad OITNB is using her absence to call attention to the deplorable way Trans* people are treated in prisons.

  4. “She’s being oppressed by being punished for starting a hate group and everyone else is being punished for being human beings.” So, so, so much this, it was horrible to watch, but not more horrible than how old Maria’a daughter is gonna be when they can go to the park, or have naps, or do crafts, and have real life again.

    Corporate Girlfriend was already the worst, when you lock a human being up alone and won’t even admit to doing it, you for real deserve Crystal, a hundred Crystals, at your fucking door.

  5. Thanks for this article, Mey. I made the descision not to watch this season, but I’m still reading the recaps because I care about what happens to my favorite characters. Your analysis is crystal clear and your empathy soothes my heart. Thank you thank you <3 your thoughts (and the other recappers') are so valuable to us

  6. The scene where Crystal was threatened with a gun was fucking terrifying, one of the most terrifying scenes I saw in this season (I decided not to watch episodes 12 and 13). I hated hated hated how it was immediately turned into a joke. Fuck this show. I’m so disappointed.

  7. seeing corporate girlfriend pull out a gun on crystal and knowing that the next scene would be her and caputo having sex made me so mad. like they are just being disgusting in their treatment of sophia this season and i hate it. i love love love laverne cox calling out the writers on today’s twitter ask extravaganza with the cast of oitnb!!!

  8. I don’t necessarily feel less or more bad for one character than the other this season. I didn’t feel sorry for Piper until she got branded because up until that point nothing had happened to her. But once something horrible happened I guess I just found it as horrible as the rest of horrible things.

  9. It bothers me to see so many of these recaps complaining about “having to watch” characters you don’t like, or you don’t feel deserve the screen time. Or complaining about bad things happening to characters you do like. That’s the show, that’s the entire point of the show. It’s not fun prison happy time – it’s about how shit prison is, how unfair prison is, how skewed the prison system is against black people and trans people. How exactly are they supposed to show that without putting their characters in the same position?
    OITNB is all about unlikeable characters. It’s all about making you look at every facet of every person. Sometimes that means spending time with characters you don’t like, and yes, perhaps being asked to feel sympathy for people you wouldn’t normally care for. It’s meant to be difficult. You’re meant to hate Piper for her privilege. You’re meant to hate Caputo and his girlfriend for their actions and their attitude. That is the entire point. You don’t have to like it, but criticising the show and its writers for doing their job is just misguided.

    • Because we need another show that shits on queer women and women of color? It’s not like that’s ALL cishet white TV.

      Everyone that’s sick of it has a right to be. You don’t have to agree, but you don’t have to sit there and call people “misguided” because of it.

  10. I think it was in this episode, but I’m not sure…. at some point, someone mentions that the prison company gets $30,000/year per prisoner. Can you imagine how much that would have changed the lives of most of the “inmates” if they’d been given the money before they were caught up in the system? That, plus access to helpful medical care and quality education, and decriminalize marijuana– boom! Massive drop in incarceration rates.

    Also, this article describes some of how private prisons are run in real life.

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/06/cca-private-prisons-corrections-corporation-inmates-investigation-bauer

    I really don’t think OITNB is exaggerating the horribleness.

    Laverne Cox did an interview saying how proud she was of being able to show people Sophia’s story, and that it’s really depressing but that in real life trans women are usually put in male prisons — and that isolation “to protect” is typical. What happened to Sophia was horrible, but she actually had allies who tried and eventually succeeded in getting her back into the general population– with other women– instead of serving her entire time in solitary, and among men.

  11. My main struggle with the entire branding thing was that Piper didn’t turn it into a window herself *immediately* instead of just weeping and waiting around

    With a giant caveat that my specific history of mental illness has left me with a bit of a blasé attitude towards self harm of that kind, I just think she ought’ve Woman’d Up

    Done it Herself

    It seems to me the only reasonable response but again: I’m maybe coming at this from an odd angle

    • I mean it’s entirely in character for her to just weep and wait around

      But goddammit! I’m sick of Piper sacking out loud SO MUCH

      If they must give her scenes, and of course they must, either make her so bad that she’s fun to hate or slightly less unbearable and eye roll deep groan sigh UGH worthy

  12. Caveat: I’m only up to episode 8, so I don’t know what is to come.

    I’ve also found Piper particularly intolerable this season, but I think that’s kind of the point. Both she and Judy King are completely oblivious (or perhaps willfully blind) to how bigoted and narrow-minded they are. I didn’t take Piper’s branding as the show telling us to feel sorry for her – I took it as a natural culmination of her actions which should act as a wake-up call, but probably won’t. It’s a brilliant allegory for where we are as a nation, particularly as we’re trying to “make America great again,” and all that that entails. (Two caveats to that: (1) The reviewer is probably right that this point could have been made without spending quite so much time with bigoted white characters at the expense of screentime for the far-more-interesting women of color; and (2) it’s disappointing that the message had to be delivered by demonizing Maria and her cohorts, although to be fair, Maria’s character hasn’t been particularly well-developed up to this point anyway.)

    However, in terms of Laverne Cox, I’m almost positive that the character’s minimal presence is less a deliberate choice of the writers than a result of the actress embracing other opportunities and focusing on her activism. I’m fairly certain she asked for a reduced role and wasn’t particularly available, so the show really shouldn’t be blamed for that.

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  14. The majority of white people being so highly unlikeable is I think indeed a ploy to get the ‘general audience’ to understand how unbelievable unfair the prison system and American society is. There is no more room for subtlety. That’s why Piper and Judy King are so valuable as characters, because they can be used to tell a story of privilege.

    Also, of all the horrible things that were happening when ‘Linda from purchasing’ (vomit) pulled the gun on Sophia’s wife – OMG. And afterwards I thought Caputo was gonna break up with here, instead he kissed her ’cause he was turned-on?? I literally screamed out loud: “Americans are disgusting”. Sorry for offending all of the good ones…but as a European it was something I NEVER WOULD HAVE NEVER thought that was gonna happen. Ugh, OINTB gives me so much feels!!

  15. I think that Laverne Cox is the worst actress on the show, especially when she’s trying to convey anger by standing there squinting… I know Sofia is desperate but setting fires, starting floods, and finally self harm is insane, especially since there are other prisoners in SHU. I think it’s so hard to feel sympathy for a trans in prison JUST BECAUSE THEYRE TRANS. she seems irrational and crazy, and nothing she did was going to help and she did all that stuff anyway. Trans people aren’t experiencing problems because they’re just walking down the street, these people are doing THE MOST and refusing to take responsibility for any of it. I guess we’re supposed to ignore the fire and the flood because she’s trans, and we’re supposed to believe that it’s acceptable to break laws and risk other’s lives WHILE IN PRISON because she’s the victim of unfair treatment and she’s trans. Nope. If she leaves the show I won’t miss her in the slightest.

    Nicky smoking crack in a cornfield sounds like the setup to an amazing joke, this show is insane. Pulling a gun on Sofia’s wife and then celebrating that with sex was worse than anything they did to Sofia, not that she’d ever see it that way.

    Best line of the show was black cindy’s “my momma gon’ see me kissing a white lady”

    And stop with the spoilers, I really enjoy watching an episode and then reading the recaps, so spoilers are too lame for this awesome site, for realsies , you’re better than that.

  16. I like Piper so seeing her raped by that brand fucked me. Yes it was rape, they held her down they pressed a hot make shift brand into her skin and could have potentially killed her. That’s fucked up and I think Maria deserves more time for it. Piper deserves more time as well for all the fucked up shit she’s done.

    What I’m saying is two wrongs don’t make a right so everyone cheering on the branding of any human is fucked up even if they are part of the 1% that is privileged. We start branding the privlaged people and we become the horrible bigot racist we so boldly stand against and try to defend others from.

  17. ” Laverne Cox is one of the most powerful actors on this show”

    You must be joking. She’s quite a bad actress, cringe-inducing at times. I’ve thought so particularly since season 3.

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