Who is Litchfield's real HBIC? Gloria thinks she's it; this episode proves otherwise
Orange Is The New Black 29
Credit: K.C. Bailey/Netflix

Are the Latina ladies of Litchfield getting a short shrift this season? Aside from that whole “Daya can’t crap” plot and the brief peek into the kitchen we got at the top of episode two, they haven’t had much of a presence as a group onscreen thus far. That changes in episode five, which reveals Gloria’s sad backstory—and digs deeper into the war that’s brewing between her girls and Vee’s adopted posse.

As it turns out, Red and Gloria have more in common than just their successive command of the kitchen. Both worked in convenience stores before getting locked up; both engaged in shady behind-the-counter dealings. (Red’s, you’ll recall, had something to do with organized crime; Gloria was involved in a food-stamp scam.) And maybe most importantly, both women were also victims before they got to Litchfield.

Red found herself at the mob’s mercy, all because of an accidentally burst breast implant. Gloria, on the other hand, faced an abusive boyfriend named Arturo. As flashbacks go, Mendoza’s aren’t exactly Orange‘s most compelling; it’s tough to dramatize something like domestic violence without veering into Lifetime Movie territory, although Gloria’s backstory scenes never get too melodramatic. At least, not until the very last one, which seems beamed in from a telenovela—and I mean that in the best way possible.

After Gloria is arrested for fraud, scumbag Arturo sneaks back into her bodega to steal her wad of stolen cash. (Like Sophia’s, Gloria’s theft falls under the “vaguely justifiable” category; she’s been trying to save up so that she and her kids can get away from Arturo.) He takes the money and goes into the bodega’s back room, a makeshift shrine to an army of Catholic saints. One of its candles gets knocked over, instantly starting a mighty blaze, one that Arturo is helpless to escape, thanks to the self-locking door he just personally installed. How’s that for poetic justice?

Present-day Gloria is older and wiser, but maybe not quite as prison-savvy as she thinks. In any case, she’s nowhere near the level of Vee, who’s got a complicated plan for total prison domination—one that begins its second phase today.

Vee’s opportunity to seize greater power comes via the most unlikely of sources: a literal sh– storm in Spanish Harlem’s bathroom. Crooked Fig, naturally, can’t be bothered to spend the 80 grand required to stop the sewage leak; instead, she simply declares that whoever’s unfortunate enough to be assigned to this bathroom will just have to take 30-second showers. This definitely falls under the category of cruel and unusual punishment.

The crappy showers spur a feud between Vee’s crew and Gloria’s. First, the Latina women barge into bathroom used by the black tribe, reasoning that if they can’t cut the black women in line, they won’t be able to make breakfast for everyone. The black women, spurred by Vee at her most Lady Macbeth, retaliate by stealing their rivals’ shoes. And so on, and so forth; it’s sort of like the camp prank war in The Parent Trap, but with a much more potentially dangerous edge. At one point, Janae trips Daya in the cafeteria, and Bennett gets so unbelievably angry that for a moment, it looks like he might pull a Healy and send her to the SHU. (If every other inmate doesn’t already know that they’re a couple, this could be the moment that blows their cover for good.)

As the group’s leader, it’s up to Gloria to parlay with Vee, and she decides to take an aggressive route, slamming the drug lord against a wall and threatening that if any of her followers put a finger on one of the Latinas, “There’s going to be more than salt in your food next time.” Wait, could there possibly be something worse than a tampon sandwich, or piss-flavored gravy?

NEXT: Red in retirement?

We’re not going to find out, at least not yet; Vee seems to melt under Gloria’s tough act, saying that she’ll give up the bathroom if Gloria grants her some kind of small favor in return. Like, say, getting a few of the Spanish girls transferred from custodial to the kitchen, so that Vee can move Taystee and Janay onto the prison’s cleaning crew. The trade hardly seems equal to Gloria; she agrees without a second thought—which, of course, is exactly what Vee wanted her to do all along. Moving the black women to custodial is just the next part of her evil master plan, and Red tells Gloria as much once she discovers what Mendoza did, informing her that she played right into the palm of Vee’s hand. Gird yourselves, ladies: There’s a regime change afoot.

For what it’s worth, Red hardly seems like she’s out of the game, either. She’s biding her time in the greenhouse, putting the Golden Girls to work and silently suffering the insane ramblings of white-haired Jimmy, a sleeper choice for season two’s Best Character award. But clearly, the Russian hasn’t lost interest in trying to regain her perch.

For evidence, look no further than what happens when Piper says she’s trying to learn to let things go, just like Red does—and Red reveals that she’s really more of a Rose than an Elsa. “Don’t ever let go,” she hisses to Piper. “Not until they make you.” A pan over to Gina’s scarred neck serves as a reminder of what happened the last time Red refused to let her power slip away, indicating that when the inevitable Vee/Red showdown happens, it’s unlikely that anyone will escape unscathed.

Will Gloria be there too, battling on behalf of Spanish Harlem? Maybe. But as things stand, I’m finding it hard to believe that she’s really a player in this fight. Perhaps it’s because she fell for Vee’s manipulation so easily; perhaps it’s because she’s simply less flamboyant than either of the other two. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make her character pop less than theirs.

Interestingly, even as Litchfield’s factions have begun to openly brawl, there’s some movement among the guards to form a united front against a common enemy: Fig. Say what you will about serial masturbator Caputo, but the guy genuinely seems to care about the prisoners’ well-being. He’s sincerely frustrated with the warden’s criminal penny-pinching (“Why fix the plumbing at all? Why not cut the food rations so they don’t sh—as much?”), and his passion is enough to make Healy reconsider the unjust way he’s been treating Piper.

Chapman wants to be granted furlough so that she can visit her sick grandmother, a reason that’s real, but sounds drawn from The Big Book of Flimsy Excuses. Initially, Healy seems about as likely to listen to her request as his mail-order bride is to suddenly fall head-over-heels in love with him. But after hearing Caputo opine about the duty the COs have to their charges (“The least we should do is keep these women safe and clean”), Healy has a change of heart. Maybe it’s not entirely altruistic; after being rejected over and over again by Katya, he clearly relishes being in a position where he can play white knight to a woman who will actually appreciate him. Still, it’s a positive development, and it’ll be interesting to see if Vee’s war and the fight against Fig end up coming to a head at the same time.

The Commissary

– Healy’s still coming to Red for Katya advice. (When asked if she thinks Mrs. Healy might like to see a teenage production of Our Town, Red’s response is priceless: “I’m not familiar with the actors at that particular high school.”) But interestingly enough, Red doesn’t seem interested in keeping up their quid-pro-quo agreement. What’s her angle?

– Did you recognize Katya’s friend? She’s played by Oksana Lada, best known as Tony Soprano’s Russian mistress. Sorry, comàre, which is apparently how you spell the word I’ve always assumed was “gumar.”

– “Behind every strong man is a strong, c—faced witch monster.” But Caputo, how do you really feel about Fig?

– A harsh reminder that the prison’s tribalism doesn’t carry over to the real world: Cindy tries to get C.O. Maxwell on her side by calling her “sister.” Maxwell…doesn’t take it well.

– We still know next to nothing about inmate Chang, but I kind of loved her as the no-nonsense commissioner of Nicky and Boo’s bet.

– Suzanne knows all about manners: “Fork on the left, knife on the right, little fork on the other left.”

– Today in Larry: He’s eating trendy cronut ripoffs and still spending way too much time with Polly.

– Red, showing infinite wisdom: “All problems are boring until they’re your own.”

– While codifying the rules of their sex competition, Nicky and Boo assign point values to everyone in prison. Village bicycles are one point; guards are 10. So really, Daya’s winning.

– Fischer has decided to start monitoring the inmates’ phone calls. Clearly, she’s going to end up hearing something juicy; any guesses to what it might be?

Episode Recaps

Orange Is the New Black

Jenji Kohan’s absorbing ensemble dramedy, based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, takes viewers inside the walls of Litchfield, a minimum security women’s prison where nothing’s as simple as it seems—especially the inmates.

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