Piper faces the consequences
Credit: Netflix

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

As a side note, it’s been fascinating to watch Maria’s evolution into a full-blown kingpin, but it’s hard to reconcile this Maria with the pregnant Maria we met in season one. That Maria had only one thing on her mind — the health and safety of her baby — so it seems odd that when she’s faced with an additional three to five years on her sentence, her first response is: “Oh, I’m now going transform my panty-selling business into a full-blown illegal drug ring.” Her desperation is understandable — and again, there’s that theme of questing for power when feeling powerless — but it seems a bit odd that a woman who was previously content to keep her head down in the hopes of seeing her child soon would throw that all to the wind to sell drugs.

In non-panty-war news, we can finally welcome Nicky back to Litchfield! Everyone is, of course, thrilled to see their favorite sarcastic redhead back, but no one so much as Red, who hugs her tightly and says, “You don’t realize there’s a piece of you missing until that piece comes back and immediately pokes fun at your dye job.” But while drugs may not be as widely available in Litchfield as they were in max, they’re still available, and it doesn’t take Nicky long to solve the mystery of the serial shower pooper, pinning it all on Methhead Angie, who apparently has been kissing her boyfriend during visitation, swallowing bags of drugs, and pooping them out in the shower. (Ew.)

Meanwhile, Judy King is facing a bit of a PR problem: A certain videotape has resurfaced. (No, not a sex tape. She already has one of those.) Years ago, she put together a children’s puppet show that was basically the dictionary definition of racist. At the same time, Cindy, Taystee, Alison, and Suzanne are still trying to get their one-on-one photo with Judy King to sell to the tabloids, but they’re extremely awkward about it and end up confronting her in a dark, lonely corridor — which makes her think they’re out for justice after seeing her racist show.

Finally, we spend some time with Lolly Whitehill. It turns out Lolly’s always been a little skeptical of authority, and we meet her in flashbacks as a young journalist trying to expose pollution and corruption. Christina Brucato plays the younger Lolly, and it’s a piece of pitch-perfect casting: She completely nails Lori Petty’s quirky mannerisms and speech patterns. We watch as Lolly slowly develops schizophrenia, and it’s a sad commentary on both gentrification and mental health facilities. The NSA may not be out to get her, but she still has every reason to be distrustful of authority.

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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