In which we focus on matters of life and death -- and badass bank robbery, courtesy of Young Rosa

Credit: Ali Goldstein/Netflix

There oughta be a law against opening credits spoilers — you know, the kind that inadvertently reveal which characters are making a “surprise” return after a long absence. Thanks to Pablo Schreiber’s name popping up as Caputo nearly discovered Red’s smuggling operation in the greenhouse, it was clear that Pornstache would be back in the game by the end of “Appropriately Sized Pots” — and when Caputo abruptly fired Fischer, it wasn’t tough to connect the dots as to how Mendez would worm his way back into Litchfield. (Although, uh, doesn’t it matter to Fig that her new re-hire was caught having sex with an inmate last season? No? K, cool, just checking.)

So Mendez is checking in, Fischer is checking out… and poor Rosa, the focus of episode 8’s flashbacks, is checking way out. Rosa was something of a nonentity last season; I couldn’t blame you for forgetting her name entirely, at least until her chemo gave Morello a chance to pick up her favorite hobby (moderate to heavy stalking) again in episode 4. As it turns out, though, Rosa is an awesome, card-carrying badass — one whose younger self is sort of like what Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s own Rosa may have turned out to be if she’d chosen a life of crime over law enforcement. (Side note: Stephanie Andujar, who plays Young Rosa, is mesmerizing, and I want her to star in a prequel spinoff called Portrait of the Prisoner as a Young Bank Robber.)

As a 20-something criminal mastermind, Rosa’s got everything going for her: looks, brains, bags and bags of delicious smelling cash. There’s just one problem — the roughly interchangeable men in her life have a nasty habit of dying on her precisely when she needs them most. (She wasn’t kidding about that curse mentioned back in episode 4.) First up is Marco, who’s shot in the back during her very first heist; second is Andy, victim of an extremely inconvenient heart attack that comes just as the gang is switching into a new getaway car.

The third man in Rosa’s crew — Marco and Andy’s old pal Don, who doesn’t seem too upset about being last in line for Rosa’s affections — manages to escape with his life, possibly because Rosa never hits him with a bad-luck post-robbery kiss. More likely, though, it’s because he managed to stay relatively cautious — as cautious as a bank robber ever can be, really — while Rosa got addicted to the thrill of pulling a job, needing to commit increasingly dangerous crimes just to get that same old thrill. In the end, she’s picked up after deciding impulsively to hit a bank she hasn’t bothered casing first, proving once more that grasshoppers finish last.

Speaking of: Present-day Rosa is just finished, period. She needs an expensive, invasive operation that the DOC isn’t interested in paying for. Instead, Healy tells her as gently as he can, “we’re” just going to have to stick with the chemo. “We?” Rosa replies wryly. “You got cancer in your ovaries too?”

It’s a horrible way to go no matter your background — but for Rosa, who yearns for adventure despite the years she’s spent in lockup, this sort of gradual, undignified decline is especially painful. She always pictured herself going out in a “blaze of glory,” she tells sympathetic Anita — a loud, dramatic, Bonnie and Clyde-type situation, except presumably without having to share the spotlight. But her current situation, “this slow, invisible disappearing into nothing” — well, let’s just say Rosa doesn’t seem to be super into Alanis-style irony. (You know, the kind that isn’t literal irony so much as “man, that sucks.”)

At least Rosa has one quasi-bright spot throughout her ideal: That snotty cancer-stricken teen, who’s become the Jonas to her Giver. She teaches him how to pull a minor heist, nabbing a wallet from one of the hospital’s drunk orderlies; he makes her feel useful and vital again, and provides her with a valuable Comfort Object (cold, hard cash). There’s even something of a happy ending to this story thread, a rarity on OITNB. Rosa sees the kid — whose name, according to IMDB, is Yusef — and his mom crying quietly in the hospital, and at first, she assumes that her old curse has once again reared its ugly head. Turns out quite the opposite is true: Yusef tells his mentor that he’s actually in remission. Part of me suspects that those tears looked too genuine to be the result of good news, and wonders if the kid is lying to Rosa just to make her feel better. Another, bigger part — the part still smarting from The Fault in Our Stars, perhaps — is just glad to see things turn out well for somebody for once, even if that somebody’s only a tangential asteroid in the Orange galaxy.

As an older woman in prison, Rosa has become a member of this marginalized group’s most marginalized minority; that status is reflected in how little her spotlight plot has to do with the episode’s serialized threads, which swirl around without ever really touching her. As Rosa languishes, Red and Vee are circling each other, getting closer and closer; their cold war is going to boil over sooner rather than later, and the fallout could end up scorching even those on the margins. (I hope you like your metaphors good and mixed.)

NEXT: The return of the pie-throw

Most of the inmates aren’t focused on Vee and Red’s pas de deux, though. Instead, they’re centering their attention and ire on Piper, who becomes the first of their kind to be granted furlough in what seems like anyone’s memory. (To the Golden Girls, it’s the equivalent of someone being granted the power of flight: “Did he say furlough?” “You’re deaf as a post, honey. No one gets furlough.) Perhaps uncoincidentally, Piper also happens to be the first white, blond, beautiful Smith graduate ever locked away in Litchfield. There’s grumbling from the beginning, though at first it’s largely good-natured. Naturally, that all stops when Vee gets involved, griping — half sincerely and half because she knows nothing unites like a common enemy — that Piper’s special treatment is equivalent to Jim Crow laws. Cindy follows close on her heels, speculating that Piper only got her temporary out because she paid a visit to Little Healy. Even Suzanne isn’t on her ex-wife’s side. Once she threw her pie to get Alex to leave Piper alone; now she’s tossing the dessert straight at Piper’s own highlighted head.

It gets so rough that Piper turns to Healy in desperation, asking if he can reverse-furlough her and give the time out of prison to someone whose need is greater than her own. (Even this move likely irks Piper haters — now she’s martyring herself?) Healy, though, won’t budge. This is one of the only victories he’s ever gotten in this God-forsaken place — and he’s clearly still feeling fired up by Caputo’s post-Sideboob performance lamentation. She’s going to go on furlough, damnit, and she’s going to tell her grandmother she loves her, and she’s going to make amends for whatever wrongs she may have committed against her. At his words, Piper is cowed. Then, of course, comes the kicker: Grandma died while Piper’s furlough request was being processed. Ain’t that just a kick in the ovaries? At least Yusef is okay! (Right? Right?)

Also suffering: Poor saucer-eyed Susan Fischer, who’s dealing with both an alcoholic lunkhead of a boyfriend and a boss who’s punishing her for rejecting his advances (though, to be fair, part of that’s because his boss is also being a dick). And then, quite suddenly, things go from bad to much, much worse. Fisher finally gets up the courage to stand up to Caputo, telling him that his shot quota is unreasonable. Unfortunately, her move is sort of like Rosa’s last robbery — shoddily planned and ill-timed. Caputo is so frustrated by his feelings for her — and an emasculating, infuriating visit to Red’s mysteriously contraband-free greenhouse — that he ends up firing her on the spot. Given the whole Morello thing, she may actually deserve to be let go. But not like this, and certainly not because she challenged Caputo’s authority. (Who’s gonna write the definitive examination of masculinity on Orange? Because I’d read the crap out of it.)

With that, the prisoners lose one of the few allies they had among the Powers That Be — but I’m hoping it doesn’t mean Fischer’s out of the OITNB universe for good. I’m also kiiinda hoping that she reconsiders Nicky’s proposition once Nichols gets out of prison, because those two might each be what the other one needs. Or have hours and hours in Orange immersion simply warped my mind?

The Commissary

– Terrible, thy name is Fig: “Am I like the boy in The Sixth Sense? …Am I in a f—ing M. Night Shalamalama movie?” Also, who wears their Loubs to visit prison?

– Good thing Fischer made it into the second Big House Bugle before her unceremonious sacking. Her favorite books, in case you were wondering: G Is for Gumshoe, Forever, Jane Eyre, Bossypants, Little Women, and The Help. Speaking of books: Have you seen Stephan Lee’s fascinating dissection of what the inmates are reading this season? Bookmark it for after you’ve gotten through the finale.

– Caputo, Certified Plant Judge: “Broccoli is no pussy.”

– Today in Soso, which is getting about as irritating as Today in Larry: Brook stinks. She finally takes a shower. The end.

– “A little sweet, for my… you.” Luschek ain’t exactly Romeo.

– Vee compares Red and Gloria to the main characters of a fable called “The Scorpion and the Frog.” The basic gist: A scorpion asks a frog for safe passage across a body of water, and promises that he won’t kill the frog on the other side. The frog obliges — but finds the scorpion stinging him halfway across, dooming them both to death. Why does the scorpion sting? Because he can’t help it; it’s in his nature. Do you think OITNB agrees with this bleak view of humanity, or would it argue that people have the capacity to change?

– Some possible foreshadowing: There’s talk of Daya possibly spiriting her baby out of prison by passing it through Red’s greenhouse tunnel.

– A snippet of Morello’s latest column, “Three Ways to Get a Man to Like You” (hoo boy): “Men like to be in control and be protective. It is an instinct that goes back millions of years to when we were apes.” Where’s the part about trying to murder their current girlfriends?

– Daya’s latest comic casts Fig as a greedy pig. Can’t wait for a big bad wolf to come around and blow her house down.

– Despite the Caputo of it all, there’s more guard sympathy in this episode than usual. The C.O.s share their idealistic fantasies of saving people; Healy reveals that as a young homophobe, he dreamed of changing the system from the inside out. They’re not so different from Rosa, who longed for adventure, or Taystee, who just wanted a family. But where did all of these diverse desires get these people? In the same urine-soaked hellhole. It’s almost enough to make you want more guard focus… until you remember that we’ve barely got enough time to concentrate on the inmates we already care about.

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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  • 6
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  • Netflix