This season of Orange Is The New Black has been criticized for introducing too many new characters, thus spreading the character development too thin – packing this many new storylines into one season makes it difficult to keep track of them all. With so much going on in every episode, it’s hard to feel like any storyline truly resolves itself. It also makes it difficult to gauge how outraged we should be by the endless villains this season has to offer – Piscatella, Humps, MCC, Judy King, the white supremacists, the prison industrial complex as a whole, the writers of this show. No one antagonist commands quite the same attention as Vee, which is a relief as Vee was often painted as cartoonishly evil, but in the end, no one antagonist truly stands out. The only consistent thing throughout this episode is this season’s theme: utter hopelessness.
Piper’s allegedly courageous stand from the previous episode has all the markings of typical privileged Piper bullshit, especially when she’s allowed a drink and Blanca isn’t. That all disappears quickly when the whole prison is put on lockdown following the discovery of the murdered guard’s corpse. Poor Alex has barely been holding it together this season and she immediately begins fearing the worst, but Red and Frida remain cool as cucumbers; both of them have been through this before, in one sense or another. Honestly, the more we learn about Frida, the less I understand about what she’s doing in minimum security prison; that lady is stone cold.
When Red is interrogated, she remains unflappable, even when the dead guard’s keys are discovered hidden in her office. In the end, it’s Lolly who goes down for the whole thing, which is unfortunately the safest option for everyone else involved. Lolly has a hard time keeping track of her own reality, and no matter what she tells the guards, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever believe her. Lori Petty has done an amazing job breathing life into this character, and it’s heartbreaking when she’s dragged off to psych; the system has failed to protect Lolly in every way imaginable.
Equally heartbreaking is Suzanne’s backstory, which is so heavy it feels almost unnecessary. We already know that Suzanne has difficulty gauging other people’s boundaries, but it was brutal to watch her misguidedly kidnap, frighten and ultimately endanger a child. Suzanne spends much of the episode trying to understand appropriate boundaries, especially when it comes to her relationship with Maureen. This whole process is further complicated by Humps and the other guards, who use the lockdown as an excuse to play sadistic games with the inmates at their disposal. Poor Suzanne is so gentle and earnest, trying as hard as she can to assume that Maureen has the best of intentions, so afraid of upsetting a potential friend – but when Maureen taunts her by saying some truly unfair things, Suzanne breaks. She pounds Maureen until her face is bruised and bloody, until other inmates have to drag her away sobbing. The guards do nothing.
For some reason, this episode works very hard to drum up sympathy for Healy, Caputo and Coates, who are all dealing with the discovery of the guard’s corpse in very different ways. Unfortunately, all three of these men have treated women like disposable objects, and I have a really difficult time caring about their feelings. I especially take issue with the humanization of Coates, a man the writers seem determined to turn into a sympathetic character, the most compassionate of the guards. While I appreciate the show’s attempt to flesh out their already complex characters, there is no reason for Coates to exist in a grey area. Lest we forget, this is a man who forced an inmate to crawl on the ground and pick up a donut with her mouth before raping her in the back of a van. I honestly don’t care if he gets scared in a cornfield, on a night Bayley idiotically describes as “an important night in the history of the prison.”
I do feel sorry for one guard, though, and that’s Luschek. The man’s a lazy, cynical fuck-up, but at this point he’s the only person on staff at Litchfield who still seems like a human being. He’s clearly shaken up when Piscatella puts him in charge of guarding Judy King, which is very understandable considering she coerced him into sex against his will a few episodes back. Still, Luschek being Luschek, he isn’t able to resist slacking off and doing MDMA with Judy and Yoga Jones when it’s offered. The results are so messy I hardly know where to start.
Judy is a very different kind of villain – everything is a power play for her, and she uses her time in lockdown to establish a very creepy sense of dominance over both her roommate and her guard. Encouraged by the wide-eyed earnestness the drug brings out in the three of them, Jones tries to explain to Judy that other people exist even when she’s not trying to use them to her own advantage. For one brief moment, Jones seems to realize the degree to which she’s let her own privileges affect who she is and how she treats people, but an unfazed Judy King works her magic and before you know it, everything’s going exactly Judy’s way once again. It’s chilling to see these three sharing party drugs and having a wild night as the mental and physical health needs of other inmates are ignored and/or willfully violated.
Truly, this is the season of no hope.