Season 2, Ep. 10: “Little Mustachioed Shit”
Welcome back! When last we checked in on the inmates of Litchfield prison, things were heating up. Red’s nemesis, the drug-running and inmate-raping Pornstache, had been recalled from involuntary leave and was terrorizing the women of Litchfield once again. Boo had snitched on Red, revealing her secret underground pipeline to Vee. Vee had revealed her master plan: running not just cigarettes, but heroin, through the prison. It seemed that these three plot lines were set to collide; everything was set up for a confrontation.
Hey, seems like a great time to check in on the never-ending Daya’s Pregnancy Plotline! Daya has been pregnant for approximately eight years, at this point. Children have been conceived, born and put through medical school in the time that Daya has been pregnant; when Daya gives birth, in Season Twenty-Seven of Orange Is the New Black, the attending doctor will be the grandchild of someone who was conceived in the third trimester of Daya’s pregnancy. Which need not be a problem. Interesting women get pregnant every day and proceed to have interesting lives. But when Daya got pregnant, the writers of OITNB seemingly forgot everything else about her: The only thing she ever talks about, these days, is being pregnant, and the only thing she says about being pregnant is that she wants Bennett to “be a man” and claim paternity for his offspring, and, no matter how many times the other characters explain to her how nonsensically counter-productive it would be for Bennett to do such a thing, she keeps insisting on it anyway.
This episode, at least, the plot moves forward incrementally: Bennett reveals Daya’s pregnancy to the administration and frames Pornstache for it, and, after Daya gets thoroughly slut-shamed and victim-blamed by Fig, Pornstache is arrested for rape and sent away. But notice how all the verbs in that sentence — “reveals,” “frames,” “shames,” “blames,” “arrest” — describe things being done by characters who aren’t Daya? Yeah. That’s because Daya just sort of sits there while things happen to and around her. The story of her pregnancy is rarely about her, which is why this is so frustrating.
The show can do much better than this. For example: In this episode, Taystee, Poussey and Suzanne, will each, separately, break your heart. Poussey is scared by the fact that Vee’s running drugs and targeting vulnerable inmates: The first person Taystee hands a packet of heroin to is recovering addict Nicky, who spends most of the episode agonizing over whether to start using again or report it to Red. So Poussey tries to pryTaystee out of Vee’s group. But Taystee is locked back into an old pattern, endlessly loyal to her abusive mother-figure even though she has every reason to know Vee is not loyal to her or anyone: In this episode, Janae gets caught with cigarettes she’s selling for Vee and is sent, once again, to SHU, and Vee cares so little for Janae that she doesn’t even look at her as she’s being hauled away. Which is probably a hint at how Taystee wound up in prison in the first place. But facing the fact that your mother doesn’t love you is painful, so, rather than listen to Poussey, Taystee snaps, and pushes her best friend out of her life. Poussey, heartbroken, gets drunk and tries to start a fistfight with Vee. And Suzanne — who needs Vee more than anyone, whose loyalty is based on the fact that Vee is the only person in Litchfield who’s ever treated her like a human being, let alone seemed to love her — beats Poussey to a pulp, at Vee’s command.
It’s an ugly scene, but it’s also tragic, because we know all of these women – Vee excepted – is acting out of love, but that where we see love, Vee sees weakness, and exploits it. Taystee’s trying to hold on to the only parental figure she’s ever had; Vee sees that as a means to control her. Suzanne desperately needs to matter to someone; Vee sees an unbalanced, needy woman who can be made to do horrible things in the name of loyalty. Poussey loves Taystee; Vee sees that as her biggest threat, because if Taystee has a real, non-toxic relationship, she might start asking questions about why she can’t get that same treatment from Vee.
This is a show that can set women at each other’s throats, and have them beat each other half to death, and still maintain such fidelity to its characters that you can’t hate any of them; you just wind up feeling sorry for them all. Which is what makes it all the more frustrating that the only thing it can think of to do with Daya is have her sit there.
Season 2, Ep. 11: “Take A Break From Your Values”
SWEET HOLY MOLASSES, LARRY GOT PUNCHED IN THE FACE.
I know I promised I wouldn’t do this, but: Can we talk, for just one second, about what a horrible human being Larry continues to be, in this season? Last year, he was a guy who thought it was appropriate to endanger his girlfriend’s life in order to promote his own writing career], and/or get even with her for his wounded Sex Feelings. Which, by the way, he never stopped talking about: There was not a single Larry-centric scene that did not involve Sex Feelings and Larry whining about them. Was Larry getting enough sex? Was Piper sufficiently enthusiastic about sex with Larry? Was Piper interested in sex with women, and what did that mean for Larry? Would Piper have phone sex with Larry? Was Larry good at sex? The parade of Larry Sex Feelings went on and on and on, and it never accrued any interest in the process. This season, Larry is single again. Does this mean we get to stop hearing about the Sex Feelings? No, it does not! But we also get to see how Larry copes with dating: Rather than just getting an OKCupid profile, like a normal person, Larry has chosen to sleep with a married woman who has a newborn child, a woman who also happens to be his ex-fiancée’s best friend. He’s broken up a family, imploded what’s left of Piper’s social support system, and in all other ways endeavored to make the world a worse place, so as to appease his own all-important boner. It’s fine if Larry likes Polly, has a crush on Polly, or (as he seems to think) is in love with Polly (although, scientifically speaking, Larry is an invertebrate sea slug, and cannot love) but why on Earth would Larry assume it’s okay for him to act on any of that? Why did basic human considerations like “not hurting every single friend he has in one fell swoop” not intervene in the process? No-one knows, especially not Larry. And this lack of self-awareness or empathy means that he also, apparently, thought it was important to be in the room when Polly dumped her husband Pete, and to be condescending about how great this could be for all three of them, at which point Pete — establishing himself, once and for all, as the great unsung hero of OITNB — punches Larry right in his big fat head.
I mean. It was a bit of obvious fan service. I would wager there is not one fan of this show who did not long for the day Larry’s face got punched. But my goodness, it was a satisfying thing to see. Now, let’s hope that horrible Larry, and the equally horrible Polly, go and raise their horrible baby somewhere quiet, where we never have to see either of them again.
Meanwhile, in the actual plot line: It’s a Sister Ingalls flashback episode! Between this and the Larry-punching, this episode is really ticking off a lot of items on my personal OITNB wish list.
Brook Soso, after having been forcibly stripped and manhandled into taking a shower, is leading a hunger strike to improve the prison conditions. She’s joined by Yoga Jones, protesting Janae’s imprisonment in SHU, and Leeanne, who’s really just doing it to get back at Pennsatucky. Sister Ingalls, the only experienced activist in the group, refuses to join, and we see why: In the outside world, she was a career activist, a famous face who used her position with the Catholic Church to promote her pet causes, and — more importantly — boost her own ego. She was more interested in looking like a saint than in being one, and her “narcissism” — her investment in being a celebrity — eventually got her excommunicated by the Church. And, being excommunicated, she could no longer rely on the Church to pay her legal fees, so her illegal activism landed her in Litchfield.
The line between activism and narcissism is frequently a thin one, and this is a very smart area for any show to explore — especially this one, which has been parsed and praised so extensively for its social-justice bona fides. The basic question at play is what the rewards of activism are and whether they’re more important than the cause itself: Would you still want to do “good” if you didn’t also get to feel like a “good” person for doing it? Would you still speak up for what you believed if no one validated you, or paid attention? On the purely cynical side of things, there’s Fig, who’s promoting herself to the media as an anti-rape activist on the strength of arresting Pornstache for Daya’s rape, which she actually tried to cover up. On the purely idealistic side, there’s Soso, who truly believes in everything she’s doing, but can’t actually get anything done.
Sister Ingalls, then, has to walk the tightrope between them. Her politics are deeply felt: She really did oppose war and nuclear testing, which is what got her in trouble on the outside, when she broke into a nuclear testing facility.. She truly does oppose “compassionate release,” which is what gets her to finally join up with Soso. And being a “celebrity” has also given her a certain amount of competence, which her fellow protesters don’t share: She knows which organizations to contact, how to get a story out to the media, how to craft a coherent message and how to communicate it to the administration. Yet she also, instantly, takes over. Soso’s movement becomes into yet another Sister Ingalls Production, another chance for the nun to play the hero.
But she also, eventually, becomes a hero. Because the protest doesn’t work. The timing is wrong; there’s a huge winter storm coming, and the media outlets she’s trying to contact are devoting all their resources to it. The protest of Litchfield’s conditions is too small, and too futile, to register for anyone outside of the prison itself. Yet Sister Ingalls — old, with low blood sugar, getting violently ill from the hunger strike — keeps going until the prison has to force-feed her. She answers that core question for herself: If she doesn’t get validation, if she doesn’t get praise, if she’s not a “celebrity,” she’ll still fight for what she believes is right. With no one coming to her aid and no hope of success, Sister Ingalls is still an activist.
Which is a beautiful thing to see. Not quite as beautiful as Larry getting punched in the face, but hey: Few things are. Let’s just appreciate these moments of glory when and where we find them.
Jude Ellison Sady Doyle is an In These Times contributing writer. They are 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 them on Twitter at @sadydoyle.