After four episodes of chaos and lack of direction both within Litchfield and the overall arc of the season, Orange Is the New Black finally managed to pull it together enough to produce an episode worth watching with “Sing It, White Effie” (save for one MAJOR issue). The episode’s flashbacks center on Watson as a teenager in school. She is initially smart and engaged in class, but her views of the education system and motivation to succeed in it change drastically after participating in a field trip to a nearby predominantly white private school. Watson is paired up with a chatty white student who gives her a tour and is ignorant both to her own privilege and the pain that the experience causes for Watson as she takes in the glaring disparity in resources, finances and opportunity between her own school and this private school despite being only two zip-codes apart.
The tour ends with a heartbreaking scene in the school’s theater as Watson and her guide watch a rehearsal for the school’s production of Dreamgirls. Tears stream down Watson’s face as she stands with her eyes glued to the white girl standing on stage shamelessly donning an afro wig while trying — and failing — to “channel her inner Aretha” as instructed by the director and sing “And I Am Telling You.” The ever oblivious student tour guide thinks Watson’s tears are a sign of her being impressed by the mediocre and appropriative performance. In reality it’s Watson’s crushing realization that the system is rigged against poor, brown students like her. Following the field trip, a broken Watson expresses her anger about the systemic inequality she’s facing to her teacher who admits to Watson that she will have to work twice as hard to achieve half of what her white counterparts will.
This experience plays directly into Watson’s present day feelings surrounding the events unfolding in Litchfield. Taystee knows that the best way to get the media’s attention for their cause is to get Judy King to go before the press and speak up for them given her celebrity white woman status. The main obstacle to this plan is that King has been captured by the racist/nazi/white-power inmates, and when Taystee, Watson, Cindy, and Alison try to retrieve King from them, they demand payment as King is now their slave and it’s “The American Way.” You’d think OITNB would have had the tact to end this problematic exchange of white inmates demanding that black inmates PAY THEM FOR A “SLAVE” quickly, but NOPE, they turned it into a full on slave auction in the cafeteria.
I’m going to repeat this. Taystee, in her fight for justice for Poussey and basic rights for ALL prisoners of Litchfield knows that because the system is fucked, making the painful decision of using Judy King as the voice of their movement is her best chance to be heard. Putting her hope and potentially the fates of all the poor brown prisoners in the hands of a rich white lady who has no idea what their experiences are, actively used prisoners of color for her gain during her imprisonment, and received VIP treatment during her sentence, is her best bet. This is heartbreaking. Apparently though, the all-too-real level of pain, desperation, and frustration that comes with having to appeal to and trust in the oppressor for the greater good wasn’t heartbreaking enough. The OITNB writers needed more so they wrote a scene in which POC inmates trying to use what little resources they had to hold the system accountable, were required to participate in a slave auction led by white-power inmates and buy one oppressor from another group of oppressors, and it was supposed to be funny. It wasn’t funny. It was degrading, tactless, hurtful, disturbing, and a glaring reminder of the racial makeup of the writers of the show and who they seem to be writing for. Not. Funny.
Cindy wins King in the auction and PR Josh is enlisted to prep her for the speech. Watson, who has been visibly uncomfortable with the entire situation hits her limit while Taystee, Cindy and Alison provide King with talking points. Everything feels too reminiscent of her past and she protests the idea of letting King speak for them when she is so far removed from their experience by her privilege. Taystee holds her ground, insisting it has to be King because that’s who the world respects and will listen to, and they head out to address the press. Taystee introduces King, gives her the floor to speak, then in the best moment of the season snatches that wig back before King can get out a full sentence because she knows. She knows Watson is right.
King’s whitewashed delivery of their words could never be enough, so she shuts her up and delivers a speech from the depths of her soul that brought every person of color ever failed by the system right out onto that field with her. She tells the reporters “Our fight is with a system that don’t give a damn about poor people and brown people and poor brown people,” and when her speech ends she throws King into the crowd saying she is neither a hostage nor necessary and free to go, then struts back into Litchfield triumphant. Danielle Brooks slayed every minute of that scene and continues to be the beacon of this season.
A few other important developments occur in episode five that should make things interesting moving forward. Ruiz finds out via Caputo that the five years Piscatella added to her sentence likely aren’t in her file yet, and never will be if she lets him out of the port-a-potty he’s locked in. Those years were the catalyst of her recent no fucks given attitude so this revelation may be a turning point for her. Gloria calls Aleida, presumably to tell her what’s been going on with Daya but isn’t able to work up the strength to so lies and says everything is fine. Aleida also lies to Gloria and says she is doing well when in reality she is struggling to find work.
Following their conversation, Aleida finds out about the riot on the news, calls a media outlet to complain about the way they are portraying the inmates and defend them, and ends up agreeing to an interview that seems like an exploitation waiting to happen. Angie and Leanne get wasted on cough syrup and forget where they put the gun. Turns out it was on Angie’s belt the entire time and Pennsatucky snatches it and throws it, loaded, to Coates who had been captured by Angie and Leanne. He shoots in Leanne in the finger when he catches it, then uses it to escape the prison. Oh, and Alex and Piper are off playing house in a field somewhere.
man, remembering how incredible that moment was when Taystee gave that speech… makes me even sadder that I don’t remember it ever being followed up on in future episodes. i wanted THAT to go viral and for people on the outside to react to it, but instead it just kinda stood there on its own. and watson’s flashbacks here are some of the only flashbacks all season that actually inform the episode in which they reside. i always want more watson.
anyhow! excellent review. the slave auction was one of a few moments on this season where i buried my head in a pillow
Danielle Brooks was the highlight of the season
Thanks so much for this! I haven’t bothered to watch this season or last yet, but I do love and miss so much of the cast. Danielle Brooks is incredible and deserves so much.
Watson’s backstory sounds a lot like this episode of This American Life called Three Miles: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/550/three-miles?act=1#play
I wish I was surprised that the writers thought the slave auction idea was ok. Damn they need a staff shake-up.
Watson’s flashback was SO GOOD.
I know Cindy’s always doing something ridiculous, but the Judy King slave bit fell super flat. Definitely one of those, “look, they would do it to us if they had the chance” stupid arguments white people make about slavery to make it something individuals did rather than a larger system thing. Not every serious issue has to be treated as a comedic no-go, but if there is an opportunity to make people laugh about Judy King being a slave to Cindy, I am 100% certain it is not going to be done successfully by a room of non-Black writers. I have no idea what makes the writers all so certain they are qualified to write these things. I mean… white supremacy, obviously, but there’s not one of them who’s uncomfortable with that??
Thanks for continuing to write reviews and recaps of this show, providing us all with opportunities to scream into the void about it together.
Yeah, someone definitely needs to check the writers in their bs.
Yes agree with this for sure –> “Definitely one of those, “look, they would do it to us if they had the chance” stupid arguments white people make about slavery to make it something individuals did rather than a larger system thing.
No, seriously, what’s going on with Flaca and Maritza? They’re on the cover pic.
Their role thus far this season has been purely for comedic relief which is likely why we’ve not given much mention to them (at least that’s why I forgot) given all the other things/issues going on. They started posting YouTube how to videos about doing makeup and managing to look cute in prison, and are using the riot coverage as a way to gain followers. That’s all they’ve been doing.
Yeah, they’re doing wacky side shenanigans, but if we have to watch someone doing wacky side shenanigans, I’ll still take these two any day over Leanne and Angie’s tired nonsense this season.
I saw this and thought, “Okay, it’s Danielle Brooks’s Emmy reel” and then she had like 4 more episodes that would be just as good. She’s a queen.
I read some reviews of this episode elsewhere that made me feel like a crazy person. They were saying that Watson’s flashbacks were out of nowhere, didn’t really seem organically connected to her character, and could’ve just been anyone’s. Uh… did these folks forget the ENTIRE FIRST SEASON? The pilot?? Every beat of Watson’s story since then? Granted, it was more emphasized in Season 1 than anytime thereafter where she was more of a sidekick, but still. I can’t think of anyone more suited to that flashback, and Vicky Jeudy has done some great work this season. I was never quite sure of whether or not they’d ever REALLY bring her back into the main fold again since, unlike a lot of her prison family, she’s not a comedic character at all. But she’s a great dramatic character and Jeudy’s been delivering like hell this year.
Yeah a lot of the reviews and recaps I’ve read elsewhere have made me feel like a crazy person too. Well, I am a crazy person, but like a CRAZIER person.
But I feel like Watson’s flashbacks were great and interesting, and were fleshing out a story we’d only heard a little bit of so far, plus it tied in to the narrative of the season, with Watson’s support of Taystee, and also her connection to Poussey.
I’m aways happy when they return to give us more information about characters like Watson, Taystee, Suzanne, Cindy, Daya. I’d also really like more backstory for Sophia and Big Boo.
I felt kinda ripped off this season, but at the very least they seemed to realize who the best characters are.
Such a great review, Reneice! OITNB has always been at their best when focused on people like Watson and Taystee, who are actually interesting without having to conjure up an Australian romantic foil or incite the rise of literal Nazis.
On the real though, somebody tell Jenji Kohan that she can literally Snapchat me 10 seconds of ideas for season 6 and I’ll tell her whether or not they’re racist AF for free.
Danielle Brooks is wonderful and talented, but nothing feels as good or as right as when black writers actually get to have a role in writing black characters and their arcs.
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Deciding to not watch OITNB until I have read all of the Autostraddle recaps for the season has been one of the best decisions I have made in a while