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