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