“It Sounded Nicer In My Head” opens with Piper flanked by neo-Nazis. She claims that their particular brand of racism isn’t one she wants to be associated with, yet when Blanca walks through the bathroom, she has no problem counting on the two of them for protection. After Blanca and Piper’s new task force groupies leave, Piper continues to be the worst by telling Hapakuka that in the midst of this tense racial environment she’s created, she won’t be able to protect her anymore. “I can’t help you, but I’m rooting for you,” she says completely unironically.
There is not much light in this season at all, but if a person coming back to prison can be light, Nicky Nichols returning to Litchfield is that lightness. Maritza is being cute and perfect, per usual, as she delivers Nichols from the van to the prison. “Do you remember this from when you were here?” she asks adorably before leaving Nicky to find out that things have changed quite a bit from when she was last here.
Throughout the episode, Nicky meets up with all of her old family, including a perfect moment of television when Red sees her for the first time. The two of them are the focus of the shot, and music swells, just a little to make your heart swell and then break. Nicky breaths in Red and Red hugs her daughter ferociously, ignoring the guard who promises to write them up because Nicky has maxed out her number of hugs for the day. “Some things can’t be rushed,” Red says, holding Nicky tightly.
Taystee, Suzanne, Cindy and her new roommate Alison continue their side plot of trying to capture a picture of Judy King on Alison’s contraband phone. They struggle to get a good picture of her, partially because of Yoga Jones’ insistence that Judy King needed special protection (remember, because Yoga Jones lied and said the big scary Black inmates knew about her racist video). When they finally do get a picture of her, it’s of Judy King running away from Cindy in what looks like an attack. At first, Taystee doesn’t think the picture will sell, but then…
For some reason, the writers of this show thought that we the viewers wanted to see a racist puppet show, even just two minutes of it. So we got to see a young Judy King being racist on television. So she’s supposed to be a Martha Stewart/Paula Deen combo. Got it. Once the women see King’s puppet show on the news, they know their accidental candid will fit perfectly into the picture the media is trying to paint. And then Alison’s phone dies. And she doesn’t have a charger because this is a prison and she can only hide so much in a headscarf without getting caught.
Somewhere else on the prison’s campus, Aleida and Daya are going at it because Aleida isn’t studying for the GED anymore. Daya’s angry because there isn’t anything she can do to help her children even if she wanted to, and from her standpoint, Aleida isn’t taking this seriously enough. Aleida is angry because the system is rigged against her and she knows it. “How’s a GED gonna make me not a felon?” she asks. “The GED only exists to make it feel like it’s my fault when I fail when the game is fucking rigged.” She’s right. She’s absolutely right. I wanted to hold Aleida forever after watching this scene.
Caputo gets a call from Lisa/Linda/whoever saying his educational initiative passed 9-1! He’s a hero for the women of Litchfield or something. But surprise! None of Caputo’s proposed classes are in there. The only classes left are vocational—beginning carpentry, beginning electrical work, concrete making, foundation pouring. It’s a chain gang. Linda/Lisa quickly corrects him: “We need to emphasize the school part…otherwise, we have to pay them their 11 cents an hour!” She hands him a glass of sparkling wine and the two forget for a moment that they are the real criminals of this show.
The star of this episode, though, is Lolly. I’ve been drawn to Lolly since she was introduced to the show—it’s those wide eyes and the bright white hair that gets me—and it was nice to get a peek into how she is who she is. Through her flashbacks, we discover that Lolly was a journalist working at a free weekly paper when she first started hearing voices. After becoming convinced of a government plot to poison Americans, she lost her home and ran away from the assisted living situation a friend/coworker tried to set her up in.
In another flashback, we see Lolly living on her own. Something that struck me especially hard while learning about Lolly’s history is that even when she is homeless and she deserves better, she is free and is better off than when she is locked away in prison with people “helping” her like Sam Healy. She has a community watching out for her, she does things she finds enjoyable and important, and she has figured out ways to cope, as healthily as she can, with her mental illness.
Lolly’s story brings to mind questions of why we incarcerate mentally ill folks. Who is it really to protect? Lolly attracted police attention because she didn’t look like a gentrifier. But she belonged in her neighborhood; she was as safe there as she is imprisoned. I just kept thinking: she deserves better. All of the women of Litchfield deserve better.
Back at Litchfield, Lolly does the best she can with the crap she’s dealt with, but she could be doing better. Healy is better in this episode, I will give him that, but he’s still functioning on a belief that he can change lives out of some masculine God complex he inherited along with some Mommy/Daddy issues. When the two of them are sitting in Lolly’s time machine, there’s a moment when she comforts him. It’s sweet but totally inappropriate. A bad childhood isn’t an excuse to do your job poorly.
The episode ends at Nicky’s welcome back party. Sister Ingalls and Gloria corner Nicky and ask her what she knows about Sophia. “Sometimes people feel like fighting so they punch the walls. That would be the best case scenario based on what I saw,” Nicky says before Morello offers her a dance to take her mind off of it. Nicky refuses, though, choosing to seek out Angie instead. Red sees her leave the common room with Angie and watches her go sadly.
Hapakuka finds Piper alone and Piper tries to apologize for being a jerk. Hapakuka asks if they can continue their conversation outside of the common room because it’s quieter. Piper agrees, and that’s when Ruiz’s gang captures her. They take her into the kitchen and lay her over a stove.
As Robyn sings, “I’m right over here, why can’t you see me?” Piper Chapman is wailing in fear. “Hold tight! Don’t let her move!” one woman hisses. “If you move, it’ll get messed up,” another tells Piper. This scene felt so out of character for any inmate of Litchfield, especially Ruiz, who we’ve watched fill a room with love towards her baby and boyfriend, who overflowed with grief at the thought of not seeing her daughter again. These are women who we’ve been shown over and over want nothing more than their freedom. But not today.
By the end of this episode, it’s clear the writers care about shock value more than character consistency. In a move no one would’ve guessed at the beginning of this season, we hear Piper scream in pain as the inmates brand her arm with a hot metal bar. The camera pans up to reveal a drawing of a swastika on a paper towel.