“Orange Is the New Black” Episode 412 Review: “The Animals”

From the polarizing U.S. presidential election to the exit of Britain from the European Union based ostensibly on xenophobic ideas about immigration, the racial tension of this season of Orange is the New Black almost perfectly mirrors real life. Episode 12 is a focal point as it contains what many consider the season’s heartbreaking climax and a scene touted as the series’ Black Lives Matter moment.

It starts with a flashback to CO Bayley’s reckless teenage years, giving us a glimpse of the white male privilege he has benefitted from his entire life. He trespasses on private property with a few of his friends while smoking weed and engaging in some quality underage drinking. After being arrested and sitting in jail for what seemed like two seconds, he’s released alongside his friend despite admitting to to the weed intake. No doubt if he were a person of color, that would’ve been the “gotcha” moment.

We can glean a lot about Bayley from the flashback. He’s shown as timid, shy and beholden to authority — traits that he holds on to in adulthood. They lead him to inform Caputo of the fighting incident between Suzanne and Maureen that Officer Humphrey incited, but the plan backfires. Piscatella swiftly cuts Caputo down to size when he tries to suspend Humphrey, making for an awkward showcase of toxic masculinity and power imbalance in front of the other guards. (But we’re used to that, amirite?)

The only good thing to come out of the fight between Suzanne and Maureen is the coalition building between the different racial factions within the prison. The Black women, Dominicanas and white supremacists band together and plan a peaceful protest against the guards. (Could you imagine the power if all the disparate marginalized groups in our country came together to push against state violence?)

Throughout the episode, we also see Sophia coping with all of the changes that have occurred in her absence. It’s touching to see Gloria reach out and care for her. In one of the few moments we get of Sophia this season, Gloria styles her hair and soothes her. As a trans woman, I’m always particularly interested in the moments when OITNB lays off the abrasive transmisogyny and shows how cis women can be better allies.

We also see Pennsatuckey openly discuss with Big Boo how she’s forgiven Donuts for raping her. Their friendship seems back on the right track and we see some redemption for Pennastuckey victim status. Her character is given the chance to express that she forgave him of her own accord and no other reason.

The gravy of the episode happens when Piscatella causes a scene by pushing Red on the ground, and the plans for the protest began. One-by-one the inmates stand on their tables, like Blanca and Piper did previously, which starts an all-out shuffle. Piscatella instructs the guards to pull down the inmates causing Suzanne to respond frantically. Poussey jumps in to try and get the guards off of her, and Bayley pins her to the ground where she is killed by asphyxiation.

Poussey’s death directly references the death of Eric Garner after New York City Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo held him in a chokehold in which he couldn’t breathe. This was the climax of a season that really went into the depth of social and systemic racism almost with no regard for its fans of color. This episode, like much of this season, falls flat on it’s face, largely because there are no Black writers on the show. In fact, out of 16 writers, only two are of color, Latino and Asian respectively. We’ve seen numerous problematic things said by all types of characters on racism and anti-Blackness. Poussey’s death underscores the tone-deafness of the writers on race. Yes, having actresses of color is great, but we’re barely hitting the mark on representation if their words are coming from a white lens.

I understand the mindset behind staying true to life, considering we still see law enforcement getting off scot-free after killing Black folks, but in a show that leverages several inmates murdering a prison guard without consequences and an hours-long prison inmate escape, we should at least be able to see some justice in fantasy. There was so much emphasis placed on humanizing and empathizing with Bayley’s plight in life, which ended up being a disservice to our relationship with Poussey. She deserved better.

For queer fans, it was an especially brutal way to kill off a character that had meant so much to us. Far before Ruby Rose, Poussey was one of the show’s most beloved crushes. She also existed amongst a family of characters who actually identify as a part of the LGBTQ community — and not just pawns in a the situationally queer prison trope. Those who followed her past of having a girlfriend with a homophobic parent, her inrequited crush on Taystee, and the season where she finally had a love interest (albeit one who held super privileged and problematic ideas about race), Poussey’s storyline was one of the most authentic.

For as long as OITNB continues and beyond, Poussey will be a standout character and fans will long for the what-ifs. You may have been thinking the episode’s title referred to the inmates, but it’s pretty obvious who the true animals are. With one more episode in this heart-wrenching season, we are all still gasping for air and dreaming of justice.

Raquel is 23-year-old queer, black, trans woman from Georgia. She went to college at the University of Georgia in Athens and now lives in Atlanta. She studied magazine journalism and women's studies (go figure!) in undergrad and has been writing, editing and tirelessly consuming media since college. She's out in every way imaginable and just wants to share the millions of things that are constantly on her mind. She loves music, art and activism.

Raquel has written 3 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. raquel, thanks for this recap!

    i found the amount of racism by the guards, especially piscatello, in this episode alone too too much. the sort of names that we’ve heard all season just casually thrown around was disgusting and felt unnecessary to the plot. like we get it, racism. i was also heartbroken by poussey’s death. absolutely heartbroken. and like…sophia also gets no fucking justice. everything is awful y’all.

    • w/r/t the unnecessary-to-the-plot racism: if what they were really trying to do was make the point that institutionalized racism leads to the death of people of color, and especially black people, regardless of whether the individual white cop/white person-in-authority has explicitly racialized hate in his/her heart (which seems to be the type of message they’re awkwardly and badly trying to send by humanizing Bayley so much in this episode), then not only is the guards’ racism in this episode (and season) unnecessary, but it’s even counterproductive.

  2. I watched the episode after this one, but I think I may be done with Orange after this season. It’s sad to hear all the writers and actresses interviewed defend this death as an “artistic choice”, either ignoring or feeling like they can’t acknowledge the negative consequences of losing characters like this. ?

  3. I’m white, so I’m checking my privilege upfront before I get into this.

    Whenever you hear about a violent racist crime or a violent homophobic crime, the media has a tendency to lay heaps of blame on the individual and say absolutely nothing about the system that we live in that enabled that shitty racist person to pull the trigger. “He was just a monster,” etc. And, you know, that’s true, but we also have to lay some blame on our society – which is what created that racist or homophobe and everyone else like them.

    I think what OITNB was TRYING to do – unsuccessfully – is give us an attacker who we CAN’T just write off as one, violently racist fluke who has nothing to do with law enforcement as a whole entity. By making Bayley Poussey’s killer, they made it impossible for white people to say, “Oh, yeah, HE’S a horrible racist, but law enforcement in general is still a-okay.”

    Because law enforcement in general is as violent and as invested in white supremacy as any individual racist prison guard, so instead of calling these incidents out as one-time events, we should recognize the role law enforcement plays in allowing these things to happen. Allowing a big, heavy guard to have the power to sit on this tiny woman while holding another woman to the ground – giving him the authority to do that – is what killed Poussey. I think Orange was trying to prove that the racism in law enforcement is not incidental but structural.

    That said, I think this came off as overly sympathetic to Bayley, which is over the line for me. However, I respect the intention. However, people of color may disagree and of course their perspectives are more meaningful on the topic than my own.

    • Also white here, so let me be upfront in say that I have no idea what it’s like to be in a situation like what’s depicted. This is just my opinion based on what I’ve seen in the news and on the show.

      I think the problem with them trying to give us a character we can’t, as you say, just write off as a general bad guy, is that that’s not how things went down in the real world. The police offers who’ve been continuously killing black people for years now with few-to-no repercussions are not morally ambiguous people who made a mistake the way Bayley did.

      In the show, Poussey’s murder was an act of negligence. Criminal negligence, but Bayley had no intention of actually harming her and in fact doesn’t even realize what happened until well after.

      But in the real world, that’s not the case. The murders of black people by police officers aren’t occurring because of gross negligence. They’re occurring because racists have been given an outlet for violence by an intrinsically corrupt system rigged against anyone who isn’t white.

      So while I agree with you that it is important to show that the system is a big part of this problem, individual officers being personally prejudiced, racist, and violent also plays a role, which the writers either conveniently forgot or just ignored completely.

      And, frankly, OITNB has gone above and beyond to show how corrupt the system is. We’ve seen it time and again. Poussey didn’t need to die to make that point, even if she’d been intentionally killed by a sociopath like Humphrey.

      So, while I agree with you that’s probably what they were trying to do, I can’t agree that I respect their intention.

  4. “Its Gloria who first reaches out to Sophia -but Sophia isnt ready yet, telling her to get the fuck out of my face. It was an exchange both actors questioned, Cox said, not thinking their characters would behave that way. ” And Mathew was like, Well this is the story we’re telling.” So I had to let go of what I thought Sophia would do and tell the story that Mathew was trying to tell.”

    http://mmyesss.tumblr.com/post/146559400758/onelastnightinthehoodagain-ajahmaycangoddess

    nothing like dismissing qwoc/woc, how original, what a breath of fresh air! so glad that ointb is different from every other tv show to its qwoc, woc

  5. I’ve already said most of what I have to say about this episode on the other article so I’m not going to repeat myself too much here.

    Having read a couple of interviews with the writers and actors, I still hold the same feelings. I respect their opinions that they meant well and think they were truly doing something revolutionary with these last two episodes, I just strongly disagree given the poor execution of it. IMO, there is nothing particularly groundbreaking(whatever the intended message) about killing off one of television’s few black lesbians, especially considering she is one of at least 6 that I can think of that died this year. She also happened to be one of the few lesbians on tv who didn’t present as hyper-feminine, which is usually how tv portrays us. All in service of educating an audience that they assume is uneducated and ignorant about things like Black Lives Matter and The Eric Garner case. So right off the bat, they don’t have faith in their viewers. There is also the fact that this was done by a virtually all-white writers room when this was really not their story to tell nor does it look like they actually consulted with anyone in the Black Lives Matter movement to make this as authentic as they think they did. I would love to here from one of the real black lesbians that I know founded Black Lives Matter to here what they think about this storyline.

    The way the writers and actresses have talked about this storyline in interviews, it’s as if they think that writing this story was going to educate the uneducated to the point where the audience was going to go out and fight for change in the prison system and patting themselves on the back as if nobody else on tv cares about these things. This show has been on for 4 seasons and has more than covered just how bad prison is, if people weren’t doing much about it before I doubt Poussey’s death is really going to accomplish much. Listen, I would have a lot more respect for these writers if they just admitted that they killed off an important main character for drama and shock value the way most other shows do instead of trying to hide behind liberal activism as the reason for a character’s death.

    With one episode left to review, I also just want to quickly talk about the season as a whole. I felt there was so much wrong with it that Poussey’s death was only the tip of the iceberg. The majority of the seasons WAS torture porn. There were very few, if any, light or comedic moments. Just straight misery from start to finish. There were many instances where I felt they sacrificed character development and consistency for plot devices to advance their ultimate goal. For example, all the guards and white supremacists were over the top caricatures instead of characters. We learned nothing really concrete about them and I couldn’t even tell you half of their names. And yes I know white supremacy is a very real part of prison but I think the writers went so overboard with all the racial slurs to the point where I think even real life neo-nazis would be like “Jesus Christ, man, dial it back a little”. And what the hell were they even trying to do with the Coates character this season. I get wanting to have Pennsatucky forgive and move on from her rape but I don’t respect the choice to have her continue to associate with Coates and even paint him as the good guy in such stark contrast to the rest of the guards. “Oh, he may be a rapist but he’s not like THESE guards.” That may have infuriated me more than killing Poussey. Coates is one character who didn’t need redemption or a good guy edit in my opinion. I was completely on Boo’s side about that even if she did make the rape about her. And don’t even get me started on Bayley.

    The writing wasn’t completely all bad this year, I do think they at least did well in telling Lolly and Suzanne’s stories. That was the best acting I’ve seen Lori Petty ever do and I hope she gets rewarded for it.

    • Thank you for putting my feelings about Coates in words. They almost tried to paint him as the victim (of his own desires), which is just… no. I respect the choice to have Pennsatucky forgive him because it adds to her and Boo’s character development, but trying to make us sympathize with him? Not OK.

      Also, yes to the guards/neo-Nazis being caricatures. It’s disappointing – with the exception of Vee, the writers were really good at creating realistic villains. I’m pretty sure most of us have encountered Pornstaches and Healeys in our everyday lives, but Humphreys? Not so much.

      Really, this whole season felt like a writing exercise where you push your characters to the breaking point just to see how they react. Which has its merits… as an exercise. As a plot device, it just comes off as pointless misery porn. And I’d even go so far as to say that it did the opposite of what they were intending; instead of inciting viewers to make change, it just numbed and saddened us.

    • This: “I also just want to quickly talk about the season as a whole. I felt there was so much wrong with it that Poussey’s death was only the tip of the iceberg”

      I completely agree. I am so disappointed with so many of the choices the writers made for this season it is hard to find the words to express. I was thinking today that I laughed out loud only twice watching this season’s episodes. OITNB used to have some humor didn’t it? Is it just me? I also found myself actually missing Vee. This season was just depressing.
      The way I feel right now (I just finished watching the final episode) if they released Season 5 right now I would not watch.

  6. I read spoilers before watching the episode but watching it was still a punch in the gut. It seems fundamentally flawed that they chose to have a white woman write this story. OITNB is a show that tells stories with nuance (or has in the past) and I don’t know how you can do that without having someone with lived experience tell that story. This season was so hard to watch and tried to do too much to do any real justice to the stories of these women in a sensitive and successful way. I can’t believe that they’d be unaware of the dead Lesbian trope. Which means they chose to write it anyway and do so immediately after Poussey found love and started seeing a future for herself. It broke my heart.

    I suspect OITNB was trying to accomplish telling a story of how the system itself is fundementally flawed and abusive. It doesn’t matter how “good” you are perceived to be (gross respectability politics, but I’m using their words); the deck is stacked against you. No matter what, the white (cis) boys club will always stick together. There was a moment when Caputo implied that (the head guard with the beard?) came to the women’s prison after something scandalous occurred at the men’s prison. That character is gay so I interpreted that as yet another instance of a white cis-gendered male using someone’s “other” status to gain power.

    On the other hand, I did not see Bayley’s story as an attempt to make him seem innocent. I saw it as a way to show how he was given free passes because of his privilege (which continued when Caputo gave his press statement), even after killing someone. A way to show that his future was considered more valuable….

    Also, I REALLY hated the Donuts storyline. I get that Pensatucky forgave him for her own mental health, but they could have told that story without also trying to turn him in to some sort of redeemed character. Gross.

  7. It’s been weeks since I saw this episode, and my rage has yet to summer. In fact, everything I’ve read since has only made it worse.

    It is my deepest hope that someone in the writers room and/or cast (given how many queer women exist in both) read AS and get to absorb some of the beautiful critiques I’ve seen here, both in this article and in last week’s reaction piece. Many who spoke more eloquently than I am about to here. But let me say my final word :

    OITNB, WHAT YOU DID WAS WRONG FROM EVERY ANGLE.

    And I won’t be back.

  8. It really seemed to me that with Bayley’s back story, they were trying to make what he did forgivable. It at least, that it was a tragic accident or “deep down, he’s really a good guy! This could happen to anyone!” Which is infuriating when you view it in the context of the Eric Garner case. It smacks of police brutality apologists. It was an extra slap in the face to have both Poussey and Soso and the two white girls have conversations about their idyllic futures and then see Poussey’s cut short while Piper and whatshername are unaffected.

    • What they were trying to do was show the different consequences for the same behavior depending on whether you are white or black. Bayley commits essentially the same crimes as Poussey, but since he is white it is laughed off and he is sent home, but Poussey is arrested because she is black.

      They were both teenagers doing dopey sh*t, but only the black one pays the price. That was the message.

  9. I just want to point out that the lack of hope in Lolly’s story is just as devastating and “trauma porny” as the lack of hope in the other stories being told this season.

    Portrayals of disabled people are always about victimization or designed to generate pity. Yes, it’s real. But it’s just as traumatizing and just as relentless in the media to tell our stories to generate “the feels” among viewers who are AB or neurotypical or otherwise floating around with AB/normie privilege.

    And yet, despite this, somehow it’s OK to be continue to be moved by this and focused on how much we love Lolly, and not have in mind the fact that she is just as much a “lovable, heroic victim for the edification of people unlike herself” as Sophia, Poussey, Maritza, et al.

    Maybe it’s time to be a little more proactive in learning about and changing the world for people like Lolly, and a little less congratulatory for the rare ability to portray her and appreciate her portrayal as her pain is showcased, while she herself is both abandoned and destroyed.

    Woe is me! There was nothing we could do! She’s another tragic victim of a social policy that discards her ilk as a matter of course! We are so wise to feel sad. It’s poignant, is it not?

    Disabled people truly are considered expendable, worthless, lost causes, hopeless, and portraying that is supposedly sensitive and enlightened.

    Apparently the best we can hope for is that people feel sad when they think about us. But guess what? What happened to Lolly was NOT necessary. She was a HERO. She saved Alex’s life. She was honest and brave and loving and the show portrayed Alex as being even more sad about the hit man who tried to kill her than about what happened to Lolly who saved her. Everyone on the show and also apparently everyone watching the show accepts that what happened is sad, but no one is up in arms about it the way they are about every other terrible thing, and also– remember how no one forgot Sophia, and tried to think of ways to save her from SHU? Has anyone been thinking about ways to get Lolly out of psych? Is anyone even talking about it? On or off the show?

    • This. Yes. Thank you for saying this.

      I’ve come here to read the recaps of the final two episodes because, after watching Suzanne tormented and Lolly dragged away to Psych, I didn’t think I could take any more. The brutalisation and victimisation of these two characters was… too much. Especially after they’d done a pretty good job of showing the ways that Lolly’s delusions mesh and spin with reality. And shown her able to respond to therapeutic attention (though I wish it had been from Birdie not Healey!).

      The world, and prisons especially, are full of people’s stories cut off too soon. Full of silence where there ought to be voices and lives. OITNB was…filling up a little of that silence. By cutting these stories off, echoing back more of that silence (and all the chatter of white, privileged lives)…it doesn’t tell us anything more, anything new.

  10. Dear People!
    am so grateful to have Raquel and then all the following comments to ease my feeling of “there is smth wrong here”
    i will like to start by saying that I am a white south-american, and that all my US experience comes from the media.
    so,
    1. even if this is a show based somehow in prison experience, doesnt fiction give us the opportunity to portray some things different. Like some of you previously mentioned, was it necessary to use the lesbian trope =(
    2. the guiltless Bayle really pissed me off. due to twitter i knew Poussey was gonna die on episode 12 , i never imagine it was gonna be like this though.
    so, they decided she was gonna die, and then? they also decide it to make it look as an accident, cause Bayle didnt want to kill her right? thats why they wanted us to see by showing us his flashbacks.. i can not understand when is that they decide to teach society a lesson and sort of base their stories on whats happening and then when they decide this is gonna be different, i dont understand, but maybe most important in this case, i dont agree with the turn they took. Am just very dissapointed =( it could have been different.

  11. I feel like you all have missed the point of the show, and that has always been to humanize these prisoners, especially p.o.c., because america likes to consider all blacks animals. The show had to go heavy handed to make the right people care about a black character, they don’t just make the show for gay fans who are already watching. I feel like you can never please trans people, and even the recapper is mad over things like the race of the writer,and less involved about the Poussey and the story and message being shown. This was such a great conversation piece about white privilege, black lives matter, and American politics that will sacrifice anyone to keep the lie going: white is always right, even when deadly.

    You guys are basically saying “we get it, racism sucks, NEXT!” Because these story lines don’t affect you, but these season has been amazing at NOT LETTING UP ON RACISM, BECAUSE IT DOESNT EVER LET UP AFRICAN AMERICANS.

    Heartbreaking. Soul-killing. Depressing. Honest.

    Thank you, Jenji. I get it.

    • Yep. Straight white people need to watch a show where they hurt all the queer people and people of color just to learn lessons the rest of us already know. What’ve we got to be mad about? We’re just plot devices for your fucking entertainment.

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