Larry. “Tattoo You” reminds us Larry exists. And Larry’s ass. Yes there he is, and there it is, and OMFG he had the Kool-Aid Man tattooed onto his buttocks because of course he does. Yet in a way Larry’s White Kool-Aid Ass is the perfect metaphor for this episode. Like, we now interrupt this prison riot/social justice crusade with the most jarring thing you never expected.
Look, on any other show, I would be thrilled when one of the main female queer couplings moved their relationship to the next level on screen. Like, hallelujah, thank you for reflecting our real, everyday lives. (Yes, yes – insert your own U-Haul joke here.) And maybe in the first season I would be excited to see Piper propose to Alex, maybe. But here it sticks out like Larry’s White Kool-Aid Ass.
Because what season five should be about – the through line that should be engaging all of our emotional energy – is Taystee and the prisoners’ quest for justice and fair treatment in a corrupt corporate prison system. That’s it. It’s that simple.
And for a brief, shining moment we think they might have won. Negotiations have stalled at Litchfield between the two most unlikely negotiators, Caputo and Figueroa. Was anyone rooting to see these two together again? Yeah. But then the governor grants them everything to stop the PR nightmare unleashed by the publishing of Piscatella’s torture tape. Not because it’s the right thing to do, mind you, but because of optics. Whatever, victory is victory. Viva la revolución!
Yet Taystee sees it as hollow because they won’t give them is the one thing her heart needs the most: Bayley’s prosecution for Poussey’s death. Figueroa tells her to “trust the system.” Hahahaha. Oh, wait, she was being serious? Trust the same system that allows cop after cop to be acquitted and/or not even charged in the deaths of countless people of color across our country? M’kay, lady. Sure.
Speaking of people who don’t deserve to be taken seriously, Bayley pops up again this time to scare babies and ask Poussey’s father for forgiveness. Seriously, he can fuck right off forever. Don’t give me any of this tortured puppy dog with his tail between his legs bullshit. If the real-life officers who killed black men, women and children with impunity were so guilt-ridden by their actions, they wouldn’t put up such vigorous, successful and often racist defenses of themselves.
And while we’re on the topic of police brutality, Piscatella remains tied up by Red and The Olds. Amid the unnecessary wackiness and tonal deafness, season five has given us a few genuine glimpses of the dehumanization caused by a system intent of profiting off of systematic racism and human fallibility. And, even better, the grace it takes to overcome that. One is when Red instinctively offers a coughing Piscatella a drink, which he spits out violently. To which she says back to him: “In addition to not seeing yourself, you can’t see me. And we have so much in common.”
Another is when Nicky calls Vinnie to tell him to love Lorna like she deserves, even though she really loves her. There but for the grace of whatever you believe or don’t believe in go I.
Yet, oddly, the biggest emotional swing of this episode is one no one really asked for. Piper – who the show thankfully continues to move away from much to its own benefit – somehow manages to re-center herself in true Piper fashion. Our flashbacks are to both Piper and her fish-is-beauty tattoo and Alex and her love-is-pain tattoo. But these memories do little to move their relationship forward because we already knew all of this. They’re toxic, incompatible and hurt each other over and over – lather, rinse, repeat.
Still there Piper Elizabeth Chapman is, on one knee, with a can of baked beans asking Alex Pearl Vause to be her partner through love and pain and beauty fish forever. It’s the Larry’s White Kool-Aid Ass of plot-points amid a prison riot gone wrong, negotiations undermined by released hostages and a rapidly approaching SWAT team.
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