“Empathy Is a Boner Killer” feels very of a piece with its predecessor. If “Bed Bugs and Beyond” concerned the Litchfield employee’s desire for control over any meager portion of their lives, “Empathy” is about the spiral one can face when that control is taken away.
And there’s no better case of a life off the rails in Litchfield than Nicky. Late in the episode, she calls herself a “bloodhound for oblivion,” she and it seemingly intertwined since way before her time in Litchfield. Nicky and her drug-addled friends are living life looking for the next fix, but unlike the rest of her circle, she has a wealthy mother willing to bail her out of trouble.
So she steals a taxi, crashes it (native New Yorkers don’t need to drive, after all), but is freed from prison while her other friends are locked up. Her mother, who we were last shown to be distant, may not be Mother of the Year, as her behavior may somewhat enables Nicky’s darker tendencies. But she’s doing what she believes is right to save her daughter.
Nicky isn’t faring much better in Litchfield. Her conspiracy to sell the stash of heroin goes awry when she tells Luschek the stuff has gone missing. Really, though, her junkie habits have gotten the better of her, and she’s stashing the heroin in the very lights she’s supposed to be fixing. She later fesses up to Luschek when Angie and Leanne stumble upon the poorly hidden drugs and indulge in the stuff.
The situation gets away from her, though her surprisingly trusty partner Luschek (oh who am I kidding? He just wants the money) confiscates the drugs and promises to sell them off. Word of the drugs gets around to Caputo and the other guards, though, and just when Nicky thinks she’s locked her latest scheme into place, Caputo and the guards raid Luschek’s shop, where he places the entire blame of the discovered contriband on Nicky. Caputo, not wanting to rock the boat, sentences Nicky to Max (finding a new electrician involves too much paperwork, I’m assuming).
Nicky’s life is out of her control—it’s slipping away from her both by her and others’ doing. But things aren’t looking so dour for the rest of Litchfield’s inmates, even if they don’t quite have control of their futures either.
Alex and Piper are still angry—and still having angry sex—but solving their relationship issues is a problem that lies outside their grasps. Instead, it takes the new counselor Rogers, who holds a surprisingly packed drama class. It’s initially about as painful experience as you’d expect, with the inmates showing off as much acting prowess as a group of middle schoolers trying out for their first play.
Thankfully, Alex and Piper only have to put in the bare minimum of fruit innuendos before diving into the scene and hashing out their feelings with one another. Their true anger, love, frustration, and care all bubbles up to the surface, and while it’s likely not repeatable for whatever rendition of Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story Rogers has planned, it’s good enough to allow the two to put aside the horrible things they’ve done to each other. For now.
NEXT: Couples counseling with Red.[pagebreak]
Two other characters in the episode are absolutely at the mercy of others in Litchfield, hinging their happiness on the wills of someone else. Healy’s marriage continues to be, well, barely a marriage, with his mail-order bride still unhappy with him and his Russian not exactly helping to bridge the communication gap. So he enlists Red to mediate a discussion between he and his wife in the hopes of getting a better picture of where he stands.
Red is nice enough to leave out some of the meaner things Healy’s wife says (her dig at his constant drooling conveniently doesn’t translate), but even with a fuller understanding of her feelings, Healy is no more closer to making things work. His wife believes she deserves better, but that’s the comment that shatters Red’s filter. She opens up, the raging wound of her inept husband still lingering after she discovered her shop has been closed, condemning Katya’s uppity state of mind. Healy’s a good man who’s given her a life, she should check her privilege.
If Red can’t take control of her own family affairs and get them in order, she’ll do the same for someone else. Healy’s sorry excuse for a marriage is easily manipulated enough that it gives her some sense of purpose beyond living a quiet life of gardening and… whatever the opposite of running a prison gang is.
Someone not lacking for purpose is Caputo who is facing the closure of Litchfield with not even the spark of an idea how to save it. Rumor of it has begun to spread among the staff, especially as more early releases occur, and the guards want an answer to a simple question. Should they be looking for new jobs?
He finally owns up to the secret, telling them he needs them to still do their jobs until it does actually close and not let heroin loose in the prison’s halls. And once again, Caputo’s future is left largely in the hands of someone else. He calls up Figueroa, threatening to blackmail her unless she and her husband helped save the prison. She gives in to the intimidation, but only up to a point—she gives Caputo the information of a private company previously interested in Litchfield. The prison didn’t quite meet their standards, but now that he knows what those standards are thanks to her, the prison has a fighting chance. So long as Caputo can pull through, that is.
And so as much as it may seem that the lives of those in Litchfield are guided by outside forces, in the end, they’re the ones making the choices. Nicky was the one who wanted to keep the drugs. Healy is the one who wanted to solve his marital strife. And Caputo is the one who wants to keep Litchfield alive. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of a helping hand, so long as we’re willing to grab hold when it reaches out.
- On a lesser note in regard to control, Daya’s wedding plans are beginning (some made by her friends, others by her), but there’s one key ingredient missing: the groom. Bennett hasn’t reappeared after he sped away at the end of the last episode. Cliche dictates he should have waited until Daya was waiting at the altar before he got cold feed, but it doesn’t look like the path to an altar will be an easy one.
- Notably, a few inmates are actively putting their lives in the control of another force. The newfound spirituality is spreading out of the kitchen and into the bunks.
- Caputo sure wasn’t lying when he told Bennett on Mother’s Day about what he uses his office for. Those were a lot of porn ads on his desktop.
- Healy trying to fit in at the beginning of the drama class is an all-time funniest moment on this show. I can’t stop hearing him say, “And look who’s late. It’s Alex Vause, you dumb bitch” with such misplaced glee.
- A close second for funniest moment of the episode goes to the cafeteria discussion about mouth and teeth and how evolution led to the set of pearly whites we have today for the sake of blowjobs. Not sure how Darwin would respond to that theory.
- It didn’t factor largely into “Empathy,” but Taystee and Poussey’s burned book eulogy was another great example of the show figuring out how to make its main threads (the prison closing in this case) affect everyone in Litchfield. Plus I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention their moment of silence for the Jonathans.