It’s hard to get one’s hopes up with an episode that starts with people chanting, “Poo! Poo! Poo!” And, indeed, the tonal inconsistencies of this season continue unabated in “Flaming Hot Cheetos, Literally.” Hey, look, it’s a Law & Order spoof with a zany Saved by the Bell defense. Hey, look, it’s Nicky and Morello continuing their doomed I’m in love with a straight girl dance. Hey, look, it’s Taystee continuing to carry the show’s heart, battered and bruised, on her sleeve.
Yet amid the Takis diplomacy, outhouse justice and prepper paradise, this episode delivered perhaps the most visceral description of how it felt for many of us to wake up Nov. 9, 2016 I’ve ever seen.
It comes when an obviously still reeling Soso, self-medicating with Cheetos (girl, we’ve all been there), is sitting in Poussey’s bunk. Watson comes up and their brief territoriality fades quickly into solemn remembrance. Watson tells her she misses the squeak Poussey used to make in her bunk at night. Something once considered a mere annoyance now, in its absence, feels like an open wound.
Soso says she never got to sleep next to Poussey; she is robbed of even those memories to miss. And then she says:
“That’s the thing, I’m not sad – I’m angry. I hate everyone. Anyone laughing or smiling or being alive is fucking offensive to me and they should all just fucking die. And eventually I’m just going to burn up from rage and then I’ll just be dust and I don’t know how to make it stop.”
Now, your anger at our current Untenable States of America may be tinged with real sadness. Mine is. Also fear – so much fear – for everyone who will be hurt by Trump and his hateful administration. Confusion, despair, incredulity, outrage, determination, fury. All those emotions are wrapped into a bundle that clenches deep inside us. So sometimes when you are confronted with the banality of others obliviously living their lives as if nothing is wrong it boils over. How dare you? How fucking dare you? Don’t you know the world is on fire? And we don’t know how to make it stop.
Orange Is the New Black doesn’t have the answers, and it has made its share of mistakes. Killing Poussey to teach White America that Black Lives Matter and then returning with a season that seems to preach All Humans Suck instead is – of course – the biggest, most blaring one.
Treating the white male guard who killed her as a remorseful puppy dog is another. Aw, isn’t he cute? He tried to kill himself with non-toxic pet dye. Yeah, can we not? In a country where law enforcement officers harm black bodies with impunity (even in broad daylight, even when there is video, even if it streams live), it’s not funny or cute or humanizing.
Poussey was a fictional television character. Philando Castile was not. Michael Brown was not. Eric Garner was not. And so many others. Real people, now gone. Which is why it is so important for OITNB to not squander Poussey’s life or death. Seeing her again, in that quick flashback to when she first met Taystee, made me suck in my breath. When she came out from around the library stacks the pang of what we’d lost was unmistakable.
So, no, this show does not have the answers. But perhaps in small moments we see the glimpses of some of the ways people are trying to live through this, our too often nightmarish reality. Some may take their newly acquired authority – like Leanne and Angie – and try to prove the maxim that absolute power corrupt absolutely. Others – like Frieda and her island of misfit survivalists – may try to escape the bullshit altogether by resorting to isolation. Yet some – like Taystee – resist and persist until justice is served.
Life in Litchfield during Corn Snack Attica has been a clumsy exercise in contrasts. But, I’m not going to lie, there was something oddly cathartic about seeing a pile of Cheetos burst into flames.