The inmates make their voices heard

By Andrea Reiher
June 10, 2017 at 10:00 AM EDT
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Now this is how you do an episode of Orange Is the New Black. In the previous episode’s recap, I mentioned how this show sometimes can’t seem to figure out if it’s a comedy or a drama. That wouldn’t be a big deal if every episode were as outstanding as “Sing It, White Effie.” The episode veers more toward drama than comedy, but there’s plenty of both to be had, while still advancing the plot and making some pointed observations about the prison system, institutionalized racism, and the cycle of poverty. Bravo, OITNB.

The main thread this time around is that the white nationalists have taken Judy King as their own personal slave. But Poussey’s prison family want her for themselves — Black Cindy wants to make King do things for her, while Taystee and Abdullah know they need Judy King in order to quiet the media, who took one look at the debacle on the roof and declared that Muslim terrorists were torturing King.

Not only is the media wrong about that situation, but they are of course running with the narrative that the riot is religiously motivated and that King is being persecuted for her Christian beliefs. Taystee and Abdullah know that this kind of coverage will derail what they’re working for, and they need Judy to nip it in the bud.

This leads to a “slave auction” of Judy King in the cafeteria, which is one of those scenes OITNB excels at — taking something that is generally not at all funny and pushing it to the absurd.

The list of items Black Cindy offers up for King: a Debbie Gibson Electric Youth cassette, an autographed copy of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Lisa Frank stickers, and an Anne Geddes calendar — amazing. As Brandy puts it, “Art is always a good investment.”

So Poussey’s family acquires Judy, and then they utilize PR Josh (which is a smart move; the guy obviously knows what he’s doing in that regard) to craft their talking points and draft a statement. Their plan is for Judy to read it, but Taystee eventually comes to agree with Janae: While these words certainly may get more attention coming from a white celebrity, the words and their message are from the inmates of Litchfield and should be presented as such. Judy King gets them in the door (or out of the door, as it were), but Taystee takes it from there in a beautiful speech to the cameras about the injustices they are facing in this prison (and presumably many others).

Taystee also lets Judy go, which is a good choice, plot-wise. Her time has kind of run its course on this show. If she has a shred of decency inside her, she’ll keep relaying Taystee’s message — she did seem rather fond of Poussey, and maybe that’s connection enough — but I’m not holding my breath on that (or even expecting the show to check back in on whether she decides to advocate or keep silent).

This plot dovetails nicely with this week’s flashback, which finds Janae in her junior high years. She’s obviously very bright, and a teacher who cares about her future sets her up on a tour of a private school that looks like a castle after talking to Janae about doors opening for her. It’s a shame we don’t have just a tiny bit more information about what’s going on here — is Janae up for a scholarship to attend this school? The set-up feels more like a field trip, and that’s a little weird. No wonder it makes Janae feel like she’s basically having her nose rubbed in what she can’t have.

It puts her off to her own school so much that by episode’s end, young Janae seems to give up. “Why even bother playing a game that’s rigged?” she asks her teacher, who has no good answer for her other than to keep trying.

But what is she trying for? A scholarship to attend the fancy private school? Because Janae makes it clear she can’t afford to go to a school like that on her own. If there is no scholarship, why did she go on a special tour? And why were the rest of her classmates there?

That’s my only big quibble with the episode, which could have been easily solved with just a little more attention paid to the dialogue in the flashback. But it’s a minor beef, because it certainly informs Janae’s present-day mindset about “their voice” being the one to speak about the prison conditions.
(Recap continues on page 2)

Outside the prison, the governor is furious with MCC for not handling this situation better, so he’s sending in a SWAT team. He wants the prison stormed and this incident ended — which: Please do not let that be how this ends, because it will be a bloodbath.

But regardless of whether that’s the right move or not, it’s still immensely satisfying to watch a SWAT team member — a black man, which cannot be a coincidence — order Piscatella to play parking attendant and let the big boys handle the riot. It’s like in Die Hard when the awful Breakfast Club principal gets shoved aside by the FBI guys. So great.

Anyway, so that’s where the inmates and guards stand as of now, but there’s so much to be mined from the other, smaller plotlines, too.

Let’s talk about Pennsatucky and Coates for a second. This story line has been so fascinating and unsettling since it began in season 4. I tend to side with Big Boo on this one — Coates raped her; he should go to jail. But my perspective doesn’t mean Pennsatucky’s perspective is invalid. At times, it has made me uncomfortable to even consider things from her point of view, which is the sign of good art.

But there’s just so much going on here, and I cannot imagine what it must be like inside Penn’s head. First of all, she’s so broken as a person — that’s a huge part of her wanting to forgive and reconcile with Coates. She’s so desperate for love and for the possibility of a better life with someone who cares about her that she’s turning to her rapist for it. In season 4, she also just wanted things to be more normal. Pennsatucky doesn’t do well at dealing with her feelings, and it’s easier to try to get things back to the way they were than deal with the reality of what happened.

A large part of this is also Coates’ reaction. He doesn’t really even realize that he raped her, and when he is informed of such, he’s horrified, because he ostensibly cares about Pennsatucky. That doesn’t make him okay, or even sympathetic, but it does change their dynamic a bit. It also feeds into Penn’s need to make this better and try to salvage the life she was starting to glimpse with Coates before the rape.

It’s so messed up, but also — I get it. I don’t believe I would ever respond to this situation as Pennsatucky is, but I can intellectually understand what’s happening with her, even if it turns my stomach at times.

Now that Coates is outside the prison, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with them after this is all over, because their story line for the last 18 episodes or so has been one of the most compelling and complex things OITNB has done.

And speaking of Coates/Penn — of course Angie and Leanne got blitzed on cough syrup, of course they lost the gun, and of course one of them managed to get shot by it anyway. But what a great way to get the gun out of the prison. It’s kind of nuts that Penn would just toss a loaded gun to Coates, but it also doesn’t seem out of character. And now that that has been dispensed with, everyone can start worrying about the much bigger guns the SWAT team is packing.

It’s actually kind of a shame episode 3 didn’t just lead right into this one. This would have been a great place to pick up after the demands were posted on the doors. But hey, then we would have missed out on Stratman’s striptease, so… take the good with the bad.

Odds & Ends

  • Three minor story lines help weave the wonderful tapestry that is this episode. First is Flaritza — these two are some of the strongest comic relief on the show, but it’s a little sad when Flaca makes a day-in-the-life video and it’s Maritza getting all the attention online. Such a perfect little vignette of friendship and how hard it can be sometimes.
  • Second is Alex and Piper, who have largely been incredibly boring this season (which is fine, because they aren’t really what this season is about, and trying to shoehorn them in would be annoying). But their little domestic bliss scene out in the yard is actually kind of cute and funny, especially since it comes with a group of Alex disciples, who not only respect her honesty about her guilt over Aydin and Lolly, but also probably feel very lost in this riot that they don’t have a stake in. A lot of people need a leader to follow, even the people who just want to sit on the sidelines. Alex gives them “permission” to be sideline-sitters, and now we just have to hope there’s not some tragedy in the yard where a bunch of redshirt inmates get mowed down by SWAT when they aren’t even participating in the riot.
  • Third, there’s an intriguing bit regarding Ruiz. Caputo makes her realize that Piscatella can’t possibly have had time to get time added to her sentence (if he even has that kind of outright authority, which I doubt anyway). But how will her attitude change if she doesn’t think she’s in Litchfield for five more years? She’s been going rogue since mid-season 4, when they upped the panty game to drugs. But with the possibility of getting out and seeing her baby daughter — remember how she was pregnant in season 1? It feels like so long ago — will Ruiz perhaps try to reel in her crew and end the riot out of fear of getting time added to her sentence?
  • Finally, there are the guards. Look, Stratman was right there with the other a-holes doing random cavity searches and generally being horrible, but it’s hard not to sympathize with the man who just needs to go poop in peace. Same goes for Caputo. The ladies are completely justified in being angry with him for not doing more — he could have and should have done more for them before it spiraled so far out of control — but he was always trying to do his best. He’s one of the good ones, and he genuinely cares about the inmates, so I hope someone lets him out of the port-o-potty before he, like, has a stroke from the heat and dehydration. Losing Caputo would be a major bummer (and also not a good thing for the inmates’ cause).
  • Enough cannot be said about Danielle Brooks this season. This season won’t be up for Emmy consideration until 2018, so let’s hope she doesn’t get forgotten about when it comes time to nominate. In addition to two excellent monologues in this episode, her delivery of, “Your wild booty hair gonna have to wait” was priceless.
  • “If you don’t curate your s—, you’re not a collector, you’re a hoarder.” Preach, Piper.

Episode Recaps

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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  • 07/11/13
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