No one can protect you in a world where everyone is a criminal.
That’s got to be one of the most depressing one-sentence thematic summations of any television show we’ve ever written about. And yet, it is, as always, to this show’s enormous credit that it can explore such vein-opening sentiments without ever truly being depressing.
Alex can’t quite protect Piper from an angry and violent not-quite-ex-girlfriend. Taystee can’t protect Poussey from Vee’s wrath. Healy can’t even get anyone to take seriously the idea of a “safe space” in this world. Bennett can’t stand up for the mother of his child. Figueroa treats inmate rape as an inconvenience. And the very walls themselves can’t protect Lorna from owning up to the truth about herself. Criminals, it would seem, are dangerous to be around. Who knew?
Sarcasm aside, it’s not the physical dangers of prison that resonate here; it’s the emotional ones. Sure, it was hard to watch Suzanne give Poussey a beatdown in the shitshowers, but not because of the violence; because of the relationships being destroyed by that one act. It’s hard to see how Taystee and Poussey will ever bounce back from something like that. And it worries us that Suzanne’s being turned into a weapon by Vee; one that doesn’t have a safety and can’t always seem to shut itself down. What will happen to Suzanne when her rage gets the better of her? As we saw with Janae getting hauled off to SHU, Vee ignores you the minute you become a liability. And while we fear for Red now that Vee’s made her intentions known regarding the use of the pipeline, we tend to worry more about the power she’ll lose if she lets Vee take this away from her; what will happen to the prison family she just got back. We worry about the introduction of heroin into the prison, less because of the physical dangers, but more because of how it’s clearly tearing Nicky apart.
And yes, this is a world full of criminals, from top to bottom. That’s not exactly a revelation since we’re talking about a jail, but the show has gone out of its way to show two things this season. First, as with Morello’s, Vee’s, Rosa’s and Cindy’s backstories, care was taken to point out that not all of these women are here because of one bad choice in their lives. Many of them are straight-up dangerous. Second, the show is giving us more of the people in charge of the prison this season – and making the point that many of them are as corrupt as the inmates. Figueroa gets more repulsive by the second. Faced with a rape scandal in the prison, she does everything in her power to cover it up or “get out in front of” it. Bennett seems quite happy with sending Mendez to jail for doing the exact same thing he did, convincing himself, like so many do in the Litch, that he’s the good one; the exception to the rule; somehow morally better than those people. In Daya’s eyes, Mendez actually comes off a better than Bennett, simply because he had the balls to say to the world that he loved her and that she was bearing his child. Of course it makes sense why Bennett would be reticent, and maybe Daya’s not being entirely fair about it, but that’s fine by us. The whole situation is fucked up. We can’t say we’re rooting for anyone in that scenario, except for maybe the baby. We shudder to think Mendez will somehow get custody of it. Although that doesn’t seem likely, what with him in jail and all.
But it’s not all terrible in the Litch. Soso finds an ally in Yoga Jones, who reaches her breaking point when she sees Janae hauled off to the SHU for a second time. It was a wonderful character bit, first because, as Brook pointed out, she was one of the most likely to join her, but also because she and Janae had a powerful moment last season and it’s nice to see the show remember these sorts of brief encounters and how they affect people in such a closed environment. But Sister Ingalls is feeling shame. She’s the activist in the group and she should be joining Brook, but as she says, somewhat acidly “It’s not Guantanamo.” It’s possible that Sister Ingalls isn’t quite the radical she wants everyone to think she is. Brook’s the real deal, but everyone treats her like a naive annoyance – and she is, in a lot of ways – but when you step away and look at what she’s doing, it’s incredibly brave of her. Unlike many of the women in this prison, she still has a high self-regard. Such a thing makes her a target of ridicule, if not violence. But it also gives her the strength to stand up and say that the conditions around her are inhumane. She has enough self worth left to not only stand up, but to inspire other people to stand up with her. That’s no small thing.
And Sophia got a cute moment with her son, even though it wasn’t the moment she figured she was going to get. In some ways, it’s probably harder for her. An angry blowup might have made it easier for her to move on. Instead, she’s going to have to deal with emotional change the way most people do: in increments. Slowly. And not always directly. After all, it’s not a coincidence that Michael kicked her ass in cards. Aggression comes in many forms. Still, it’s growth, and it’s good.
As for Piper – OH GOD WHO CARES. LARRY POLLY WHATEVER. The only fun part was Piper’s new sister-in-law, who apparently is the kind of person you can call up from prison and say, “Hey, could you do me a favor and leave a flaming bag of shit on someone’s doorstep?” Don’t we all need someone like that?
We’re worried what’s going to happen when Red finds out Piper lied, though. Red’s not the most ligical person in the world and she’s likely to figure out a way to blame piper for her family’s failings. She’ll be humiliated to know Piper pitied her. See what we mean? It’s never about the threat of violence with this group. It’s always about the fear that someone’s going to get truly hurt.
And speaking of getting hurt, Lorna had a heartbreaking reunion with Christopher. As much as we feel for her and her realization that she has some serious mental health issues, we really couldn’t blame Christopher for the way he acted. It must have been terrifying to think the woman who threatened to kill your wife broke out of prison, broke into your home, and stole her wedding veil. That is BEYOND creepy. It’s to the show’s credit that it so expertly toys with the viewer’s emotions this way. Of course Christopher’s right to be mad. Of course she’s dangerous and mentally unstable. But wow, was it sad to see her world fall apart like that, right in front of her eyes.
If you want to hear more of our thoughts on OitNB than you ever thought possible, you can check out this podcast Tom did with Mo Ryan of the Huffington Post and Ryan McGee of HitFix here. Settle in. It’s a looooong one.
[Photo Credit: Ali Goldstein for Netflix]