We open the episode with cameras zooming in on the World’s Largest Pile of Cheeto Ash and Tampon Kindling. Inside Litchfield, the women are scrubbing blood, dirt and spilled condiments from the first day of the prison takeover off of the walls and floors. Tiffany is handing out her Mama’s signature “Lemon Drink,” made from crushing the commissary’s lemon drop candy into cold water, as a part of her community service.
I still hate that she ended up in this situation by helping her rapist abuser escape, but the moment itself is as pure as I have ever seen Orange Is the New Black produce. I love that the prison’s Lord of the Flies-style Matriarchal Justice Council has decided to treat each other with human dignity, kindness, and a focus on reformation that they otherwise don’t receive from the outside world.
In her most earnest voice, Tiffany reminds us that, “It’s like my mama used to say: when life makes you lemons, make water with a taste.” The Latinas find tins of Bustelo (Puerto Rican liquid gold, and the only coffee worth drinking) in the guard’s lockers and decide to take her advice to heart.
They open a makeshift coffee shop in the TV room. Ouija, Pidge and Brandy the white supremacist work together to fill the other inmates’ elaborate orders. The café grows and evolves over the course of the episode until it has its own acoustic guitar and spoken word open mic. The open mic alone gets about ten thousand gay points in my book, which says a lot in an episode that features not only trading Snickers bars for tampons, but also pubic hair cornrows, and three separate lesbian sex scenes (including Boo eating Linda out spread eagle on a desk like a MASTER CHAMP). The clear stand out of the open mic is Rosal Colón’s Ouija, who impersonates Red, Nicky, and Lorna in a moment that gives me my biggest stand up comedy laugh since season one’s “Amanda and Mackenzie” routine from Samira Wiley and Danielle Brooks.
Both the coffee shop and Tiffany’s mobile lemonade stand represent a brief, fleeting freedom and women creating a semblance of normalcy — or even luxury — for themselves in the midst of swirling chaos. They highlight what I consider to be the coalescing theme of the episode: Self-Care and Healing after Trauma. There are no flashbacks; however, that doesn’t mean the past isn’t important to our characters in this moment. With the immediate repercussions of the riot coming to a close, the past haunts heavily as the newfound quiet creates some space for reflection. The women of Litchfield turn their attention inward, taking care of themselves and one another.
Everything leading into this moment has been breakneck speed. I keep reminding myself that not even 48 hours have passed since Daya first shot the gun. But “Full Bush, Half Snickers” enjoys a slower pace. The inmates seem to ask: Now that we’ve done these (awful) things in order to get some freedom for ourselves, what are we going to do with it? How are we going to take care of ourselves? I find that question, how can women take care of each other when their community has been deemed beyond reproach, to be profoundly feminist and loving.
Audre Lorde writes in the epilogue to her 1988 anthology A Burst of Light, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” It’s one of her most cited quotes, and for good reason. The Good Lorde reminds us that self-care is not a selfish endeavor; it’s about discovering how to exist in a world that doesn’t want you. For women, in particular queer women, trans women, and women of color, developing systems of care is inherently political. It strengthens and protects us against systematic oppressions that would prefer we remain small, forgotten, and left behind. OITNB is best for me when it tells the story of women who preserved their own fragile humanity. Women who were brave enough to find the humanity in one another despite being told that they were monsters.
Linda tells Boo, “It does seem oddly peaceful today. It must be the heat.” Boo responds with what we were all thinking, “Or the absence of patriarchy.”
One of the clearest examples of community care comes in Suzanne’s arc this episode. She’s falling apart without the stability of prison routine. Uzo Aduba crying is always going to be the worst thing in the world. She doesn’t do it with her eyes; it’s corporeal. Her body clenches from the gut and then her arms and legs, her fists tighten, her face crumples, and then her eyes grow four sizes before a single tear falls. It drops my stomach to my knees every time. This is how Cindy finds her, in need of help.
Alison and Cindy work together to recreate some semblance of Suzanne’s routine. I don’t necessarily approve of their plan to use the guard hostages as Suzanne’s “playmates.” Everything about the hostage situation continues to make me profoundly uncomfortable. That said, I appreciate that their hearts are in the right place. Watching Suzanne “play” with the guards reminds Alison of her daughter’s past sleepovers and she seeks out another form of healing on her own.
Litchfield is loud. Louder still during the three-day takeover that we are currently in middle of. You notice when things go quiet. That abrupt change in sound is most effectively used when Alison walks into the chapel. The quiet of the space creates calm and reverence. Alison lays out her prayer mat, removes her shoes, and begins her salah to Allah. I recently came across a statistic that six in ten Americans do not personally know a Muslim person, meaning that the interactions we have with Muslim characters in television or film play an important role in shaping our views of Islam. I don’t have to tell you vast majority of those portrayals are negative. Alison is funny, and often a foil for Cindy, but she is not merely comic relief. She’s educated, social justice oriented, loves her family, and respects loyalty. Taking time with her prayer routine allows us to see her religion on her own terms, rather than a two-dimensional stereotype.
Janae is continuing to help Soso work through her grief using the best method she knows how— physical exercise. When we last saw them they were running the pain and booze away; now Janae has added boxing to their workout regimen. In past seasons, we’ve seen Janae turn to exercise as she worked through her own crisis. She’s a tough coach, but there’s a poetic full circle in her willingness to teach these healthy coping mechanisms to Soso.
However, Soso and Taystee, continue their simmering tension as they mourn the woman that they both loved. Realistically, Taystee and Soso do not know each other well. While Soso and Poussey’s relationship grew over the course of season four, that same stretch of time saw Taystee and Poussey spending perhaps their least amount of time together since the show began. I can’t help but wonder how that distance now colors their relationship to one another. Soso’s suggestion for the Poussey memorial project spearheaded by Taystee and Piper does a lot begin their healing.
As a large group waits in the hallway for the memorial to open, Taystee’s anger and grief is palpable, tight across her face. Janae opens the door, and it feels like time stops.
Books are stacked on top of one another from the floor to the ceiling like columns. More books hang on yarn and shoelaces, dancing in the air like wind catchers. Even more books are strung like banners. Colorful binding and spines make patterns like rainbows in between the tan pages, bringing color and texture to the industrial walls of Litchfield. Soso christens the space “The Litchfield Community Library.”
It’s resplendent. And I’m sure I say that in part because I am a nerd who loves books more than pretty much anything, and in part because Poussey was a nerd who loved books more than pretty much anything, and I loved her so deeply. It’s the first time since Poussey died that I felt the show finally got it. That they were finally ready to do right by her in death, even though they horribly failed her in life.
Some of the women walk around with eyes open in awe. Some quietly pause to start reading from the books hanging. The music swells along with my heart, and I can’t stop blinking back tears. Just when I think I am so full of emotion that there’s no space for anymore, the camera pans to Taystee. And she’s holding Alice in Wonderland, Poussey’s favorite book. Danielle Brooks’ face is despondent, the rage has washed away for a moment and in its place is this awful, raw, sadness.
Soso comes up to her and together they apologize for how they’ve been treating each other in the days since Poussey’s death. She takes Alice in Wonderland from Taystee’s hands and hangs it in the memorial while Taystee lets hot tears flow down her face. This is the show that I fell in love with. Women, helping each other through their pain. Women, finding family. Women, finding support from one another while in the pits of the darkest places they can imagine.
OH, HOW I WISH THE EPISODE HAD ENDED ON THAT BEAT. I really wish the writers had decided to let that final moment of healing breathe. But no, instead Leanne and Angie continue on their quest to be The WorstTM and steal the remaining Bustelo from the makeshift coffee shop. In a blink of an eye, chaos has returned to Litchfield, our brief respite is over almost as soon as it began. The women once again start fighting, wrestling and screaming, blaming each other for the theft that Angie and Leanne committed. And if you still didn’t get the metaphor ripping apart in front of us, we revisit Angie and Leanne as they gang up on Tiffany— Angie holding her back while Leanne urinates into her “yellow drink” — the same hopeful yellow drink that opened the episode.
Not all chaos is loud. Gloria finds out that her son Benito is in the hospital in critical condition. The world turned upside down.