Generally speaking, three episodes of TV make an arc and seven to eight arcs make a season. Different season orders mean different things but the general rule in TV is threes. Each episode has an A, B, and C story and those stories play out over three episodes and then all the groups of three episodes tie together in a nice little bundle to make a satisfying season. It’s a lot of planning, a lot of plotting, a lot of discussion and note cards and white boards and for reasons I will never understand in my entire life, Orange Is the New Black‘s super mega pre-season brainstorming — a thing they engaged in with the benefit of a thousand takes on season four — ended with them deciding to tie up the first arc of season five by focusing on LINDA FROM PURCHASING.
Would you like to know how this ambitious white woman who was always kind of an asshole ended up selling her soul to the Dark Lord to make a penny? Would you like to know how a well-off sorority sister ends up selling out her closest companion? Would you like to know how much the promise of even just a little bit of power corrupts mediocre white people? No, of course you don’t want to know any of that. You’ve spent four entire seasons exploring every in and out of those narratives through the eyes of Piper Chapman. Capitalism is fucked up. White supremacy is fucked up. They mix together to form a heady cocktail that most white people find hard to resist. At least Piper was making out with Alex as she descended into the abyss.
Linda is shocked to discover that the inmate uniforms are basically burlap and the food is slop. Not because she thinks the women in Litchfield deserve better, but because she thinks she’s paying for something she’s not getting and that’s a real crime.
Linda’s not the only person we don’t care about that we get to spend time with in “Pissters.” Also, there’s Bayley. He’s drunk and dazed and in shock because he murdered Poussey. Caputo doesn’t want everyone laying the blame for Poussey’s death on Bayley’s shoulders; he thinks we should talk about the systemic failures that led to all these under-trained, incompetent bozos guarding a women’s prison. One idea I have for how to really get that conversation going is by holding the people in authority who commit crimes accountable for those crimes. Just a thought. My sympathy for Bayley is zero and I absolutely resent this show to its core for trying to humanize him.
Everything else is kind of chaos, and not in a good way. Not in a way that makes sense. “Pissters” doesn’t seem to know where to focus and so it doesn’t go anywhere. Coates is hiding in the ceiling, continuing his assault of Pennsatucky by watching her masturbate. Red notices a sentimental tattoo on Piscatella’s wrist that she’s going to try to leverage. Daya’s trapped between Maria and Gloria, gunless, and the guards are starting to suspect it. MCC won’t let anyone storm the prison because Judy King’s still in there.
Taystee and Ruiz come together to work out a list of demands for MCC. Everybody’s got some ideas, including “Democracy is bullshit” and in the end they settle on some pragmatic choices that will give them a decent standard of living: reinstating the GED program, nutritious food, actually trained guards, decent healthcare, amnesty for being involved in the riot, Hot Cheetos and an anti-gravity chamber. Honestly the fact that anyone can joke about any of this is devastating to Taystee. Number on on her list is seeing Bayley arrested and tried for murder. It’s not number one on everyone else’s list and frankly Taystee doesn’t have an easy time getting it on there at all. (Though I will admit the suggestion of just “Beyonce” made me laugh.)
Soso is having an even harder time than Taystee. At least Taystee has found a way to channel her grief. She’s organizing the riot and she’s moving the pieces into place to seek justice for her best friend. Soso is just flattened. She’s looking for drugs but Nicky warns her off of them. She holds a vigil with Suzanne and Maureen at the sacred space Suzanne has set up where Poussey was killed. Soso was already suicidal, deeply depressed; Poussey gave her something to believe in and live for and now that’s gone too. Her trajectory from bright-eyed activist to completely broken inmate is one of the most real and most heartbreaking things OITNB has done.
At this point in the season, we should have a clear picture of where we’re going. The writers have had time to introduce the concept of the riot, to explore the main characters’ places in it and their motivations, and now there should be a clear path forward. There’s not. There’s no message here, no honor being done to Black Lives Matter. Poussey was supposedly killed to make a statement, but much like this show, it seems to have gotten lost along the way.