Who knew smoking crack would lead to such honest and revelatory personal insights?
After the horrors of last episode, which left Piper with a bleeding swastika seared into her arm, “Friends in Low Places” starts in, well, a low place. Not only has Piper come to the realization that her actions have hurt both herself and others, but she’s got a bloody reminder on her arm of how much she’s messed up. Alex is still wracked with guilt about murdering her would-be assassin. And Nichols has betrayed her oldest friend and biggest champion, stealing from Red in order to fuel her drug habit.
But just when you think everyone at Litchfield has hit rock bottom, they pick up a shovel and start digging an even deeper hole — literally.
Caputo initially pitched his prison education program to MCC as a way to give the inmates a sense of purpose, teaching them literature, music, art, science, and math. Linda from Purchasing (who is delightfully evil and profit-oriented) transformed it into less of an education program and more of a work camp, recruiting the inmates to build a new dorm on campus, all under the guise of “construction education.” Things start optimistically enough, especially when the (extremely attractive) construction safety officer shows up, but when the backhoe breaks down (and Boo, who knows next to nothing about fixing heavy machinery, is tasked with repairing it), the inmates are forced to pick up shovels and dig trenches in the sweltering sun. As Caputo tells Linda, it’s literally a chain gang, a fact that is underscored by a bluesy guitar soundtrack and the sounds of shovels hitting dirt.
Even more depressingly, it turns out the backhoe was merely overheated, not broken, and the inmates watch, dejected, as the backhoe gets to work, making their hours of backbreaking work look like nothing.
After hours of manual labor, coupled with the bleeding swastika on her arm, it’s enough to finally break Piper, and in a desperate attempt to get away from the chain gang, she finds herself hiding in the garden with Alex and Nichols. Having absolutely nothing else left to lose, she accepts their offer to join them and smoke crack, and the result is a poignant, confessional scene between the three of them. “I’ve brought this on myself,” Piper tells them. “This is what I’ve become.”
Her own misery (and the fact that her brother recently told her he’s going to be a father) are enough to make her take a long, hard look at her recent choices. For the first time all season, Piper shows remorse, about what she did to Stella, about what she did to Hapakuka, about what she did to Maria… and about what she did to Alex. The two exes have an actual heart-to-heart, sitting with Nichols in the middle of this cornfield, and Piper tells her she’s sorry she hasn’t been there for her lately.
“I think I’ve been trying to win prison,” Piper says. “And I’ve destroyed people’s lives.”
It’s a sobering moment from the normally self-absorbed Piper, and it’s enough to make Alex want to open up. And her confession kind of overshadows Piper’s, since Alex admits to murdering her former hitman, chopping him up, and burying him in the garden. The garden they’re currently sitting in. Pleasant.
NEXT: Opening a window
As for Judy King and her fear of being murdered by Litchfield’s black inmates, she soon learns they’re not retaliating against her racist puppet show (although they all do agree it was pretty messed up). Instead, they just want a picture to sell the tabloids — and Judy is more than prepared to give them one, sensing an opportunity to shift the media narrative. So, she surprises Cindy by the porta-potties, planting a big fat kiss on her lips. Poussey takes the picture, and it looks like Judy’s racist media problem may soon be solved. Cindy, for her part, is less shocked by the kiss and more by the idea that her mother is going to see her in the tabloids, making out with an older white woman.
Finally, in case you weren’t sure just how evil Linda from Purchasing is, we catch up with her at Caputo’s house. Not only does she effectively ruin Caputo’s delicious-looking pasta sauce (which is a crime itself), but we watch as she and Caputo confront Sophia Burset’s wife, Crystal. Apparently, Crystal and her boyfriend have been knocking on Caputo’s door for weeks, desperate for information about Sophia. At this point, Crystal isn’t even asking to see her — she just wants to know that Sophia is alive. Caputo’s strategy is to hide whenever he hears the doorbell and to turn off all the lights, but Linda decides to take things into her own hands and PULL A GUN on Crystal. She calmly tells Crystal she’s trespassing on private property and that she has every right to shoot her, all while Caputo stares at her with wide eyes. So not only is Linda a profit-hungry corporate drone, but she’s a gun-wielding one, too.
You’d think this would be enough to clue Caputo in to exactly how monstrous Linda is, but instead, he tells her that was the sexiest thing he’s ever seen. C’mon, Caputo. Get your act together. I get the feeling it won’t be too long before you’re the person standing in Linda’s way, and she’s pointing a gun at you.
All in all, it’s a pretty dark episode (although most of this season’s episodes have been pretty dark so far). But things end with a slightly optimistic and slightly horrifying coda, as Piper’s friends gather in Red’s kitchen to once again take hot kitchen utensils to her arm. But this time, there’s a determination in Piper’s screams of pain, instead of simply terror, as Red turns her swastika into a makeshift window. As Red puts it, in what might be the most badass line of the season: “When God gives you a swastika, he opens a window. Then you remember: There is no God.”