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.
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.