“Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull” gives us a little bit of each ongoing story line from Orange Is the New Black‘s fourth season. There’s no narrative arc to the episode; instead, everyone gets their turn to be totally miserable.
The episode starts with Aleida getting out. There is no joy in this moment, only fear — of what awaits her outside (a cousin who stole her money, it turns out, and not much else) and of what could happen to Daya in Litchfield (getting wrapped up with Ruiz’s drug situation). We never see relief on her face. Receiving Daya’s beautiful drawing of the two of them only seems to make her sadder. For one moment, when she tries on that satin floral dress, she looks like she feels good, but then she and Cesar’s girlfriend get in a fight and Aleida throws money at the clerk and storms out. That’s not how you pay for clothes, babe! But she has had it. She doesn’t smile again for the rest of the episode.
In Ali’s review of episode six, she called this the No Hope season. And that’s definitely true. But this episode hammers home something even darker: season four is the No Joy season. This episode has so many opportunities for some smidgens of light that might make the show feel a little less unceasingly brutal to watch, and each time it wastes them, or snatches them away.
Once Sister Ingalls is in the SHU after deliberately getting herself put there, she uses a paper clip and sheer force of will to get a note to Sophia. We see Sophia opening the note, and for just half a second we get to see her million watt smile before the shot cuts away.
There’s a moment in the yard when inmates are examining the infrastructure for the plumbing of the new dorm. In response to a question, Hapakuka says, “Everything I know about plumbing I learned from playing Mario Brothers.” Y’all! That’s a joke! But Hapakuka doesn’t say it like one, and no one responds to it like one. Instead it’s just another admission of ignorance (read: powerlessness) from an inmate.
Suzanne propositions Kukudio after Morello’s encouragement, and during movie night Kukudio gives her the eye. They sneak back to that fated broom closet, and Kukudio sticks her hand down Suzanne’s pants. She describes how it feels in the most Suzanne-esque possible way (“lightning bolts and more lightning bolts”) and when she tells Kukudio she’s getting close to orgasm, Kukudio stops, stares her down, tells her “You hurt my feelings” and leaves. It could have been a moment of tenderness, forgiveness or bliss, but instead we see Suzanne once again feeling confused and left behind.
And then, of course, there’s movie night itself. Taystee has found a copy of The Wiz in the library and convinced Caputo to let them play it as a break from She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s rom com collection. In her words, it’s about an “inner city school teacher who learns to ease on down the road, makes friends with lions and robots, and frees a bunch of slaves using peaceful resistance i.e. DANCE,” and not even the lackluster response of her pals can bring her down. But of course, the writers have to give more screen time to the white supremacists, who have done literally nothing for about five episodes but appear out of nowhere, say racist things, and then leave. They throw some slurs at the Black inmates, the film and Soso, and as tensions rise, the guards unplug the projector and send everyone to bed.
Movie night used to be when the inmates — and the viewers — got a break from the abject horrors of prison. But not anymore. Now it’s one more thing ruined by racism and the guards’ pathetic inability and refusal to do their jobs. And I get it — I do — I get the point of demonstrating the absolute horror that is the prison industrial complex’s perfect storm of toxic masculinity, white supremacy and capitalism. But refusing to give the inmates, especially the black and Latinx women, any real relief, any moments of camaraderie or joy or peace just dehumanizes them more. It works against the supposed goal of the show, which is to make us look at and empathize with the realities this story represents, and instead just makes us all sick to our stomachs.
The show used to add some light to the show by giving us relationships between the inmates and giving them small victories that we could root for. But as it stands, I didn’t have any energy left for Maritza when she was vomiting in the bathroom — I only had passive hatred for the watch guards who speculated casually that Humps may have raped her or “he could have been making her a sandwich.” I had to close my eyes when she confessed through tears to Flaca that Humps made her eat that fucking baby rat at gun point, because my empathy reserve was tapped out after watching three episodes in a row.
The only thing we get to root for in the whole episode is Blanca holding it down on the table. She’s starving, dehydrated, and covered in her own pee, but she is proving that guard challenged the wrong bruja. But Piper is indignant and tells Piscatello that the treatment of inmates is becoming inhumane. He makes a pointed reference to the ways in which Piper’s behavior brought the situation to its current point and essentially tells her to stick her moral outrage up her ass. It’s about damn time somebody did. But by the end of the episode, a guard sent Piper to stand on Blanca’s table. In this season more than ever, Piper functions as the surrogate for OINTB’s most ignorant viewers. But as she stands on that table in false defiance, the rest of us are stuck on the other side of the cafeteria — helpless, hopeless, and without a smile in sight.