Orange Is the New Black, Episode 7: The Larry Problem

In which we finally bring ourselves to confront OITNB’s least likable character.

Sady Doyle

The Litchfield Correctional Facility Women's Advisory Council, reporting for duty. (Eric Leibowitz for Netflix)

Friends: We have come, at last, to the day every Orange Is the New Black recap­per dreads. There is a mon­ster at the heart of this show, a human vor­tex so hideous and destruc­tive that many would pre­fer not to speak of him at all. But speak we must. For the first time, we are forced to con­sid­er Larry. 

The WAC—hand-picked by Healy—has assembled, just like the Avengers, except that they can't actually do anything.

To date, he’s most­ly been a bore, verg­ing on an irri­tant. He pops into the worst expe­ri­ence of Piper’s life to vis­it, and invari­ably either freaks out over the pos­si­bil­i­ty that she’ll turn gay” or attempts to pres­sure her into sex­u­al acts. But in this episode, Lar­ry becomes a full-blown vil­lain. He’s received an offer from the New York Times to write about Piper’s impris­on­ment. When Piper tells him she’s uncom­fort­able with the idea, he goes ahead and pub­lish­es it behind her back.

Which is not the worst thing he does. The worst thing he does is this: He goes to a bar, to cel­e­brate, and begins whin­ing about Piper. Her impris­on­ment is so hard, for him! He deserves to have a girl­friend next to him at the bar, so that he does­n’t look like a los­er!” When his friends ditch him, he starts flirt­ing with the bar­tender. And when that does­n’t work, he begins yelling at the bar­tender about how angry he is that he can’t have sex with her, and mak­ing mucho inap­pro­pri­ate com­ments about this female ser­vice pro­fes­sion­al’s ass, and insist­ing that this is, some­how, all Piper’s fault.

Piper’s upset because she’s been starved, sex­u­al­ly assault­ed, stalked, ver­bal­ly abused, impov­er­ished, placed in inden­tured servi­tude, and forcibly removed from her own life. Lar­ry’s upset because he can’t sex­u­al­ly harass a woman with­out feel­ing sort of guilty. This scene does­n’t only make Lar­ry look weak. It makes him look stu­pid, heart­less, misog­y­nis­tic and mon­strous­ly self­ish. The Lar­ry-Piper-Alex love tri­an­gle” has been sim­mer­ing all sea­son long. But from this point for­ward, no rea­son­able view­er will be able to root for Larry.

Which is a shame, because the rest of the episode focus­es on some of the show’s most lov­able char­ac­ters — name­ly Janae Wat­son, recent­ly released from SHU, and Taystee, who may be get­ting released from Litch­field altogether. 

The Wom­en’s Advi­so­ry Coun­cil — hand-picked by Healy — has assem­bled, just like the Avengers, except that they can’t actu­al­ly do any­thing. The team: Maria Ruiz (Daya’s preg­nant room­mate, who wants more pil­lows), Piper (the self-appoint­ed Cap­tain Amer­i­ca, who wants the reform of every sin­gle bad prison pol­i­cy, and also a pro­mo­tion to GED teacher so that she can serve as a more effec­tive White Sav­ior), and Chang, an elder­ly Asian woman who either (a) has Alzheimer’s, (b) does­n’t speak much Eng­lish, and/​or © does not give half a shit for any of this WAC busi­ness. Either way, Chang isn’t talk­ing. And final­ly, there’s Taystee, the only mem­ber who actu­al­ly cam­paigned to be on the coun­cil, and we final­ly know why: She could be released, very soon, and she needs a rec­om­men­da­tion from Healy in order to make it hap­pen. Which means that, being a smart woman, she’s going to give Healy pre­cise­ly what he wants so that she can get what she needs.

This isn’t good enough for Piper, how­ev­er, because Janae is final­ly out of soli­tary, and she knows it was Piper’s mis­take that put her there. Janae, we learn, was a supreme­ly gift­ed track and field ath­lete in high school, with schol­ar­ships, col­lege and a hap­py future in front of her. What Janae did not have in front of her, how­ev­er, was Dudes. Since she was a lit­tle girl, she’s been a prodi­gy, and every time she showed oth­er peo­ple what she could do, she had some boy or anoth­er accus­ing her of show­ing off.” The mute look of con­fu­sion and lone­li­ness on Janae’s face every time she gets shut out or ignored or insult­ed is just a heart­break­er, and the strongest sell­ing point of what is prob­a­bly OITNBs strongest fem­i­nist sto­ry line. Janae is good at some­thing, actu­al­ly good; so, why is being good so bad? 

Any strong-mind­ed or tal­ent­ed woman in the audi­ence can con­nect with that look. And lots of them prob­a­bly know that this kind of con­fu­sion has an expi­ra­tion date on it. Once you fig­ure out what’s real­ly going on, and why those boys real­ly dis­like you, it tips inevitably into rage. And Janae fig­ures it out in the worst way pos­si­ble: She final­ly finds a dude who does­n’t seem scared of her. He’s a rob­ber, and he fig­ures Janae will be real­ly use­ful for the get­away. When he fig­ures out that she’ll be get­ting away, and he won’t, he throws one last bit of shame her way. It slows her down. And here she is, in Litch­field, serv­ing his time — fail­ing so that some man can suc­ceed, the way she was always intend­ed to — with a rage the size of the world eat­ing her alive.

Mean­while, Taystee is fig­ur­ing out exact­ly how to make the world allow her to suc­ceed. This is the first seri­ous plot­line for Taystee, who has large­ly served as com­ic relief up to this point, and it’s a plea­sure to see more depth and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty added to the char­ac­ter. Then there’s the fact that more Taystee also means more Poussey, and the chem­istry between the actress­es — just as Danielle Brooks’ elas­tic voice is made for hit­ting laugh lines, Sami­ra Wiley is a grand mas­ter of the bewil­dered reac­tion shot — is enough to make you under­stand why there’s a fer­vent Inter­net fan­dom devot­ed to their scenes. Taystee, Poussey and Cindy run over Taystee’s tes­ti­mo­ny, her word choice and her hair (should she go for the unthreat­en­ing, Eat, Pray, Love-invok­ing Vio­la Davis,” or lever­age Chris Brown hate with a 2009 Rihan­na” mod­el?), and we begin to get a sense of just how high the deck is stacked against Taystee, and how much that must weigh on her. In what seems like a slap at big parts of OITNBs audi­ence, the group tells her to pray for a review com­mit­tee of white women who will feel good about them­selves for being nice to her.

Speak­ing of over-com­pen­sat­ing white ladies: Piper, whose saint­ly self-con­cept makes her unable to tol­er­ate three sec­onds of dis­like from any oth­er human being on the plan­et, has land­ed square in the mid­dle of Janae’s very jus­ti­fied anger. And, in a hor­ri­fied bid to retain her title of Nicest Lady In The World, she’s lever­ag­ing every insti­tu­tion­al con­nec­tion she has — sell­ing out Satan Stall Lady and her con­tra­band cell phone, going behind Healy’s back to ply a soft-heart­ed guard — to get the track re-opened for Janae. She suc­ceeds, and the smile on Janae’s face when she gets to excel for even a minute will make you cry. But the look Healy’s giv­ing Piper, as the episode clos­es… Well. That look com­mu­ni­cates a lev­el of hate matched only by the look on my face when I see Larry.

Sady Doyle is an In These Times con­tribut­ing writer. She is the author of Train­wreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beat­down. You can fol­low her on Twit­ter at @sadydoyle.
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