Like all episodes of Orange Is The New Black, “It Sounded Nicer In My Head” follows about a million different stories. For one, Nichols is finally back at Litchfield, making her bittersweet return after surviving the horrors of max. Judy King (a.k.a. Martha Stewart/Paula Deen) is in hot water after an old tape of her racist children’s puppet show surfaces. And we finally learn a little bit about Lolly, tracing her journey from quirky alt-weekly journalist to paranoid prisoner.
But while all of that is important, “It Sounded Nicer In My Head” will be remembered most for the last few horrifying minutes of the episode: Piper being branded with a swastika.
In some ways, perhaps we should have seen this coming. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over four seasons, it’s that power is very difficult to hang on to at Litchfield. Whenever it seems like things might be going right, something terrible soon follows, reminding everyone that this is prison, after all.
Piper’s thirst for power is understandable, in a way: There’s nothing like prison to make you feel powerless. Piper’s been too cocky since the very first episode of season four — remember when she dubbed herself “gangster with an A”? — and we all know what they say about pride going before the fall. Piper sending Stella to max, however, gave her a false sense of badassery, and every decision she’s made since then has only worsened her situation. Not only has she escalated a competing panty business into all-out war with Maria’s Dominican gang, but she’s inadvertently created a white power group. (Well, they may not be a white power group yet, but they sure want to be, according to a member actually named Skinhead Helen.)
Even more disturbingly, Piper has failed to completely disavow herself from the white nationalists. It’s clear they make her uncomfortable, but she’s so blinded by her quest for security and power that she’s not willing to alienate them — although she’s more than happy to throw her bunkmate, Hapakuka, to the wolves. It’s a decision that deeply disturbs all her former allies, from Boo and Red to Lorna and Nichols, and it culminates with Piper standing alone and friendless at Nichols’ welcome-back party. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Piper.
And if you didn’t feel sorry for Piper then you sure as hell would by the end of the episode, when Hapakuka hands her over to Maria and the Dominicans, who promptly hold her down and sear a swastika into her arm. The scene cuts swiftly between Nichols’ exuberant party and Piper’s terrified screams, and while it’s not a particularly subtle contrast, it sure is a horrifying one.
NEXT: Cracking the case of the shower pooper