“Orange Is the New Black” Episode 401 Review: “Work That Body for Me”

I have never been so glad to welcome Orange Is the New Black back into my life. 2016 has been an appalling year for gay ladies on TV, and while OITNB is sure to put its myriad queer women through some hardcore emotional turmoil this season, it’s weirdly comforting to know it’s because all the women on the show will be forced to suffer (because yes, it’s a dark comedy, but also it’s a sprawling, scathing social critique).

We’re going to cover OITNB a little differently this year. We’ve finally accepted that it’s an impossible show to recap in that old school play-by-play way that we all grew up on and love. Basically no one recaps like that anymore, even for shows that don’t drop all 13 episodes at one time, because it requires like ten hours of work for every hour of TV. (Remember Television Without Pity? Those pioneers had a full week to write their recaps, and they didn’t even include screencaps!) Also, it’s hard to make jokes-jokes-jokes about OITNB because it does center around such intense cultural commentary. The best jokes happen inside the show, and trying to add humor always feels weird because every episode features at least one true-to-life horror that women — and particularly women of color — face every day. I can’t think of anything funny to say when I know I’m going to have to write about Sophia being the victim of a hate crime 20 minutes later, you know?

So, our plan is to review one episode every day for the next 13 days, starting right now today with this very review. We have a whole team of reviewers lined up because this show is so diverse and we want our coverage to reflect that. We’re excited to talk about each episode with you, and also to take this break from the apathy and general cluelessness of broadcast TV for a minute.

“Work That Body for Me” picks up only a few minutes after the triumphant, sob-worthy ending of season three, and of course Piper Chapman thinks everyone is running from her (and her new hard-ass crime lord reputation), instead of toward a moment of freedom down at the lake. Despite the fact that she’s been in Litchfield for a while now, Piper is still playing at being a prisoner. She almost beat Pennsatucky to literal death two seasons ago, but inside her mind, this whole thing is still a stage for her one-woman show. She spends the majority of the premiere strutting around trying to effuse competency and control, and finding out at every turn that the only person who is thinking about Piper is, in fact, Piper.

Even Alex has moved on from the whiplash of being tethered to a textbook narcissist. She didn’t die, by the way. Lolly showed up just in time to kill the guy who was killing Alex. Nope, just kidding. Lolly only incapacitated him. It’s a shock to Alex when she sneaks out of Litchfield to bury the hitman’s body under the toolshed and finds him paralyzed and wheezing. If she’s going to stay alive, he’s got to die — she already catfished her old drug boss with pictures of her fake dead body, so he’d move on — so she finishes him off. It’s so much more brutal than the stomping Lolly gave him. Alex covers his mouth and his nose with her bare hands and feels the life go out of him. So much of Alex’s over-it swagger came from the yarn she always wove about how she was just a white-collar criminal who got a raw deal. She’s a killer now. Self-defense? Yes. But it’ll be interesting to see how that works with her own personal chaotic neutral hero narrative.

Freida’s a lot more pragmatic about the whole thing when she finds the dead body in the greenhouse. (“Why waste my time digging one six-foot hole when I could dig six one-foot holes? That’s just murder math.”) (#MurderMath) She hands over the garden shears along with a hot tip about not puncturing the corpse’s intestines, and next thing you know, that dude is fertilizer.

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(Alex, I am begging you to stay away from Piper and get a storyline with other people this season.)

The person who surprises herself the most, I think, is Suzanne; first, by running away with Maureen, who wants to live inside Suzanne’s imagination; then, by returning to jail and begging to be let back in. Maureen and Suzanne are so sweet and timid and gentle with each other at first, but by the time they’ve really gone on the lam and discovered an abandoned house on the edge of Litchfield’s property, it’s pretty clear Suzanne is the only one operating in the real world. Sure, she licks the paint on the cottage door to find out it’s covered in lead and fungus, but at least she knows it’s not actually a house made of gingerbread and with a witch inside. Caputo lets her back in when she shows up outside the fence, and no one is more relieved than Taystee, who has been forced to deal her anxiety about Suzanne while dealing wth the space-constraints of the new inmates while stopping Cindy from starting a race war with Soso because she’s bored at lunch.

Soso! Soso and Poussey! It looks like they’re really going there, and that’s not the only good news for Poussey, who frankly deserves a season-long reprieve from the alienation and depression of the last two years! Judy King has finally arrived and eventually she’s probably going to even be Poussey’s roommate! Poussey is so starstruck when Judy King introduces herself that she can’t even talk to get anyone’s attention to freak out. Caputo shows up at the last second and takes Judy King away to give her better accommodations (she already spent a whole day eating pizza!) because she’s a celebrity and she’s got connections and she’s obviously going to write a tell-all when she gets out of there.

Every season premiere of Orange Is the New Black (besides the pilot) basically reintroduces us to the characters and sets up the major themes and over-arching conflict of the season. It looks like season four is going to dig in deeper to the problems of privatized prisons and push things to their breaking point because of overcrowding. Piper’s already in over her head with this crime lord thing; one of the new inmates has tagged her as her key to Litchfield dominance. Alex is going to unravel, bit-by-bit. Maureen’s arrest record terrifies even Caputo, and she seems completely mentally stable when she’s discussing it with him, which is going to mean more trouble for Suzanne. (“She wanted the fairy tale; I didn’t. I just wanted dinner!”) There’s a giant guard clomping around. Judy King is the new white privilege. And there’s not even enough toast to go around.

What’d you think of “Work That Body for Me”? What are you hopes and fears for season four?

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1062 articles for us.

44 Comments

  1. Oh man, the reviews for the season did not lie when they said this would be the darkest season yet.

    I think this is below the cutoff for the homepage sidebar…

    Alex’s entire storyline was slightly traumatizing. Her suffocating that guard, god, you could see it in her face, Laura Prepon did an excellent job with that. Though the scene of Alex, Lolly and Freida cutting him up and burying him, set to the sounds of “Last Resort” was HILARIOUS. In a really dark, disturbing way. but that music choice was perfect. And my heart breaks every time Doggett is on screen. I really hope she gets some resolution this season, though I can’t even fathom what that could be.

    Everything about Piper is pissing me off this season. I really need Red to just put her in her place. Even last season she didn’t bug me that much, but already in the two episodes I’ve watched, she makes me want to wring her neck.

  2. I’m not feeling this new recap style. At all :/ I understand some plot points are not the time for humor, but sarcasm and wit have been what makes autostraddle recaps amazing.

  3. the comment about cosby’s money shot reminded me of why i loved this show. I’m amazed about how protective i am about alex. I was shipping her and piper so bad and now i feel like piper is the new larry. every sentence piper says, i literally go, jesus piper. i just finished ep 2 so on with the binge fest

  4. One thing I’m really liking this season is that we are seeing more of characters who have had very little to do in previous seasons.

    I’m really curious about what’s real and what’s not with Maureen. Is she playing a character? Was she being genuine with Suzanne? And what the hell is she in Litchfield for? I’m intrigued.

    Unfortunately, Piper has fast become my least favorite character these past two seasons to the point where I get annoyed when she’s on-screen and can’t wait for one of the other characters to put her in her place. As you said, she has been in prison for quite a while now. I feel like the writers are trying to play up this “Top Dog” thing for comedic effect but it’s at the expense of Piper’s character. There is really no need for her to be regressing the way she is.

    • Yeah, I really agree re: Piper’s character assassination. She’s always been naive and annoying and stuck-up, but you’d think after a year (I think? I think I read somewhere that every season has been about 3 months) in prison she’d be SMARTER than this? She really should know better by now. She saw what happened to Red, and Vee, Like DAMN girl, get some self-awareness!

      • I don’t get the Piper-stuff at all this season. They’ve managed to do more with her unbearable qualities before, but this time it’s just silly and kind of boring (at least 4 episodes in, which is where I’m at).

        By the way – I’m out looking for people to join our roundtable reviews on Critical Writ (www.criticalwrit.com – we’re so far from big enough for Google to find us just by searching the name), so if anyone would be interested in that, just write something to our Facebook page or Twitter, or message me here! I thought it’s be easy to find fellow CW contributors to discuss OITNB, but so far we’re only two people. Some more clever folks would be nice. ^^

    • Seriously, WTF is up with Maureen? She seemed vague and sweet last season, like Norma/Suzanne mixed. This season she’s terrifying. What could even shock Caputo? I honestly have no idea.

  5. ugh… this season is too much for me! I won’t give away any spoilers, but there should be an article for everyone who has binge-watched the entire season by Saturday….cause I have some feelings about the set up for season 5! Man! To those who haven’t finished yet- Enjoy!!!! <3

  6. Thank you for writing this beautiful piece! <3

    I just spent the entire week, scared of leaving my apartment and I gotta go out to my brother's house to celebrate Father's Day early later on today.

    It's Saturday. I'm gonna get drunk. With the intent of getting drunk and having fun. By myself, sadly.

  7. ^ Shit! Wrong place! x.x I’m sorry.

    Anyway, great recap (I miss the old style but I understand this new change <3). I already finished season 4. I can wait for the recaps to share my feelings. I just gotta rewatch though. Just because.

  8. I Just came back from a birthday weekend to start my marathon of OITNB a little later than usual, and I’m delighted to see Autostraddle already on it with the reviews! Expect some mass commenting in the future :)

    (I love the new system! It’s a great idea!)

  9. Also starting a bit late after being away for the weekend. My thoughts on the first ep:

    -I can’t even look at Piper’s face onscreen anymore without sneering and rolling my eyes.
    -Totally agree that I hope Poussey has some good storylines coming up!
    -But so bummed for where the Suzanne/Maureen storyline seems headed. WHY CAN’T SUZANNE HAVE ANY NICE THINGS?
    -Ruthless drug lords and hitmen pepper their text messages with cute emojis? Really?

  10. I wonder why Freida is in minimum security. She’s funny as hell in the context of the show, but given her arithmatic, I’d think she would be considered a bit more of a risk. I hope we get her backstory someday.

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