A lot has changed at Litchfield since doubling the inmate population, but at least one thing’s still the same: Luschek is still the worst. Seriously, I know it can be hard to find decent prison staff, but how is this guy still employed? He’s lazy, rude, constantly high, and just generally a terrible human being who’s bad at his job. Someone needs to knock him down a peg, preferably as soon as possible.
And in this episode, someone does! Turns out Luschek has been getting a lot of angry, profanity-laden letters recently from everyone’s favorite sarcastic, redheaded former junkie.
That’s right: Nicky Nichols is back.
Last season was disappointingly light on Nichols screen time; when Luschek got caught selling Vee’s old heroin, he placed all the blame on Nichols, who soon got shipped off to maximum security. Finally, we get an update on how she’s been doing — and she’s not doing great. As bad as things are in Litchfield right now, max is worse, which is why Nichols spends all her time writing angry anonymous letters to Luschek and trying to steer clear of the drugs that are seemingly everywhere in max. When we first see her, she’s just earned a sobriety chip.
“This valueless piece of crappy plastic really means a lot to me,” she tells her fellow AA attendees. It’s an uplifting moment that’s immediately undercut when the guards promptly confiscate her sobriety chip. So yeah, max seems like a pleasant place.
This is a jam-packed episode, with a lot of little plotlines, but we spend a good deal of time in max, checking in on Nichols. There, she runs into Piper’s ex Stella, and Sophia, who’s still locked in the dungeon that is SHU. If we thought Sophia was struggling earlier, she’s apparently hit rock bottom. It’s heartbreaking to watch her beg Nichols to bring her a blanket, and even more so when she desperately calls after Nicky, asking, “What’s it like outside today? Is it raining?” Nichols does manage to smuggle her a magazine, but the next time she returns to SHU on janitorial duty, Sophia is gone, and her cell is stained with blood. It’s enough to finally break Nicky, and the last we see of her, she’s making a desperate exchange with a guard, trading sex for heroin.
Back at Litchfield, all of Nicky’s letters are finally getting through to Luschek, and he confides in Judy King that he’s feeling something — something she informs him is guilt. “You are a straight white man,” she tells him. “You don’t get to be a victim, sweetie.” (Which is a saying I think needs plastered everywhere.) He considers turning himself in to get Nicky out of max, but Judy decides Luschek is far too valuable a resource to let go, so she has her (very expensive) lawyer get Nicky transferred back to Litchfield. In return, Luschek is officially Judy King’s plaything, and apparently, what Judy King wants, Judy King gets.
NEXT: Piper’s problem
Meanwhile, Piper’s overzealous anti-gang task force has taken to their job with gusto, transforming into a white-pride movement. They’re so eager to take out Maria’s newly-formed Latina organization that they rat out the panty business — which is the opposite of what Piper wanted. As always, Piper’s terrible decisions come back to bite her. This means the guards are on high alert, and they’re conducting random searches. Desperate to protect her own employees (like Boo), Piper decides to be proactive and frame Maria’s organization, tipping the guards off to a secret stash of panties in Maria’s bunk.
Piscatella is NOT having it, and instead of throwing Maria in SHU or taking away privileges, he petitions the judge to add another three to five years to Maria’s sentence. It’s a seriously harsh punishment, especially since a) Maria has a baby at home, and b) she was smuggling underwear, not drugs. Pretty soon, she breaks. With her family (and freedom) out of reach, Maria decides she has nothing else to lose — and her gang decides to go legit and start smuggling drugs. Good job, Piper.
So to recap, the fragile Nichols is returning to Litchfield right as the prison is about to be flooded with illegal drugs. Things are going just great at Litchfield.
But while most of this episode is pretty dark — arguably the darkest we’ve seen yet this season — there are a few moments of levity. Amid all these drugs and betrayals, Litchfield’s cutest couple has a heart-to-heart, and Poussey and Soso finally say they love each other. Cindy and her roommate Alison set aside their feud by bonding over their shared fascination with Going Clear and Scientology. And we also get one of the best Suzanne moments yet, as Taystee, drunk with power in her new position as Caputo’s assistant, decides that she, Suzanne, and Cindy are going to get rich selling a paparazzi photo of Judy King.
As Taystee puts it, “You know what’s better than being famous?”
Suzanne’s reply: “Pizza. Daisies. Smelly markers. Any animal. A really good dream. A warm bath. Picking a booger — a dry one. Pizza. Graham cracker and icing sandwiches. The feeling you get when you make a really good joke and someone laughs in a nice way and not a mean way…”
Never change, Suzanne.