Few shows are as truly ensemble as Orange Is the New Black, and even fewer can say they’ve done right by so many of those characters despite having to juggle a few dozen plotlines. So it’s still shocking to see when a character like Boo, who’s been around since the beginning, is only now the subject of an episode’s flashbacks.
And like so many episodes have done before, Episode 4 did a tremendous job of completely breaking down what we know about a character and building them back up with a much more complex background.
Boo’s flashbacks begin when she’s still a young girl. She seems to have come to terms with her sexuality, but her mother, refuses to accept the outward signs that her daughter is someone other than she expected—a.k.a., not straight. Boo had short hair even when she was young, and anything frilly would never earn her seal of approval, but her mother wants her to wear a, as Boo sees it, needlessly girly dress. She should be allowed to be who she is, wear what she feels comfortable in, but her father convinces her that the pain of not being herself for one day is worth the joy it will bring her mother in the longterm.
Unfortunately for Boo’s mother, whatever she hoped to accomplish with the dress doesn’t last. Boo outside of Litchfield was very much the Boo we know her to be inside the prison, including a temper that would make even the hottest headed celebrities blush with embarrassment. It comes from a good place—she wants to defend her and her date when a boy calls them a slur for being lesbians—but her aggression can be a little much to handle.
She eventually found love in her life, someone accepted the good, bad, and hilarious of Boo. But her bliss, inevitably, is disrupted when a guilty conscience leads her to visit her dying mother in the hospital. She never fully got over Boo becoming someone other than the daughter she wanted. But Boo isn’t living her life for her mother, she’s living it for herself, and so when she shows up to the hospital, the point of contention is, of course, her clothing. Her father wishes she could have dressed more feminine for her mother.
And that sends Lea DeLaria into an absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking speech. Boo declares that she’s not wearing a costume to be something she’s not—she’s owning up and proudly broadcasting who she is. She’s not about to let someone, not even her own mother, tell her that’s wrong. It’s not the life she intends to leave. Boo is Boo, and she (and I) wouldn’t have it any other way.
The story mirrors Boo’s time in Litchfield, where, after learning Pennsatuckey scores cash donations from religious members of the Eastboro Church (talk about thinly veiled commentary) supporting her attempts to improve her life.
Boo decides that’s exactly what she needs, and so she’s going to pretend she’s trying to convert her life as well. Walk a better path, renounce her lesbian ways and become a follower of the (well-paying) lord. She even gets her hair done, reminding her of how her mother looked, and tries to put up a front when she meets with a pastor.
But the ruse can only go on for so long. The man calls her and other lesbians a different slur than the boy in her flashback did, but it’s more than enough to boil her blood. Boo may really want an extra flow of cash after the heroin deal fell through, but she decides she can’t deny who she really is. She erupts in the reverend’s face (and says some things about Jesus his, or really any church, wouldn’t love to hear), and settles in to being her financially poor but emotionally rich self.
Boo isn’t the only one contemplating putting on a new face for show, as Caputo prepares the prison for MCC, the company interested in acquiring Litchfield. He wants things to go off without a hitch, but at every opportunity, his tour with the group (including the introduction of Mike Birbiglia’s Danny) stumbles constantly.
NEXT: Is there any hope for Litchfield after Caputo’s magical mystery tour?[pagebreak]
Proud of the cost of meals at Litchfield? Caputo learns they’re above the national average. Hoping the inmates won’t act out? Piper mocks the company’s SVP (though it’s entirely justified) for calling her “honey.” It’s a tour of embarrassment, including a few cartoon-level high jinks (herding a stripping Suzanne out one door as the tour group enters another to the same room), and it all ends in seeming disaster for Caputo. Everything that could go wrong did, but Caputo receives a surprising call from Danny—MCC is going to buy the place.
He admits it was an unmitigated disaster, but there happens to be plenty of unused real estate at the prison that MCC could scoop up for its own use. And so, Litchfield, not for what Caputo tried to make it but for what it was, will live another day.
The prison isn’t all happy news—Daya is worried about Bennett’s disappearance, and no one seems to have answers for her. Suzanne is still fretting about Vee’s absence, leading to the episode’s second most beautiful moment, as Taystee tries to make her understand Vee is dead. In the process, she comes to terms with her death too. As terrible as Vee may have been, she was still a maternal figure who offered her hope, and suddenly my room got very dusty as I watched Taystee accept the truth.
Piper is also dealing with a tough day, though the reasons why certainly won’t help her case with everyone who considers her selfish. It’s her birthday (Alex made her a mixtape… on paper, since they don’t actually have tapes. Or computers. Or music.), and her family comes for a tense visitation.
Her parents refuse to accept that she seems content in prison, her life has gone so far off the rails. But she feels part of a community (full of criminals), is learning a trade (from a pothead asshole), and has a girlfriend (who she caused to return to prison). Yes, things may not be perfect, but she makes the case that Litchfield is exactly where she needs to be in her life right now. A When Harry Met Sally orgasm joke later, and her family is out of her hair and she is back with her prison-official girlfriend (which may or may not be more official than Facebook, depending on your point of view).
Now, Piper’s confrontation with her parents is by no means on the level of Boo’s disconnect with her own mother, but their parental problems boil down to the same problem. Accepting someone for who they are can be a difficult choice, and accepting yourself for who you really are, can be even more trying. But when most of your life has been stripped away, and you’re staring out barred windows, wearing drab beige jumpsuits, and eating whatever for passes for food in Litchfield, it’s just a bit easier to not only accept who you are, but be proud of it.
- Another nice aspect of Boo’s story so far this year: her friendship with Pennsatucky. It’s been surprising to see the two bond (even if it’s over toothpaste and religious group scams) but it’s less surprisingly, given the show’s penchant for pairing up characters, been a great element of the show. And, this may be slightly blasphemous, but it’s made me actually like Pennsatucky—when she’s around Boo, at least.
- A few lingering Litchfieldian ongoing threads: Gloria’s son, who she spent Mother’s Day pissed at for not showing up, appears. And she is furious with him. She wants to see him and his homework every week. But being a strict parent can prove more difficult for Gloria when she can’t actually find anyone to drive her son to Litchfield each weekend.
- We actually get a surprising new piece of information about Soso when she has a friend visiting who’s telling her about everything she missed outside. But she becomes frustrated, upset that this friend doesn’t really seem to care about her. And since she’s not exactly the most popular inmate at Litchfield, it looks like Soso might be on the lookout for a few new friends.
- If Caputo’s dance after learning the prison’s been bought isn’t online in GIF form within a day of this episode premiering, the Internet has failed us all.
- Healy and Red are fast becoming friends after she helped him out in the last episode. This is either the start of a beautiful friendship or… maybe something more?
- I think I audibly said “Holy shit” when Lorna made a reference to Fox’s The Swan even though I largely remember that show only for its Saturday Night Live parody.