Orange Is the New Black Continues to Mourn Poussey, with Anger, Humor and Faith
(Episodes 5.03 and 5.04)JoJo Whilden/Netflix TV Reviews Orange Is the New Black
“Pissters!” opens with the comical score usually reserved for goofy inmate shenanigans and flashbacks to happier times, so I figured we were about to get insight into the former life of one of Litchfield’s women. Set in a dog grooming/dyeing parlor, I was half expecting Morello (Yael Stone) to pop up and tell the story of how she developed her obsession with all things beauty-related, before finally settling into the business of fraud. Given Stone’s recent appearance on High Maintenance, we already know she has a great effect on pooches, so why not, right? Wrong. The pooch parlor is actually CO Bayley’s (Alan Aisenberg) new hangout.
Putting him to work alongside his dad, his family attempts to give their broken son a sense of normality and routine while he continues to struggle with his fault in Poussey’s death, but they refuse to acknowledge the toll it has taken on his psyche. No one wants to pin the blame on him, just as no one is willing to confront the pain it has caused him.
Bayley’s storyline continues to be troublesome in that it is hard not to sympathize with him, causing Taystee’s (Danielle Brooks) fight to lose impact by playing on the audiences’ emotions. Having opted for this particular portrayal of a CO, OITNB’s writers are matching the narratives we’ve grown used to in the media—badly trained and/or downright violent officers continue to be pardoned and humanized, while innocent victims are buried nameless and villainized. This storyline does little to honor Poussey’s memory, and everything to excuse a failing system.
When the police finally announce their readiness to meet the prisoners’ demands in return for the hostages, Allison (Amanda Stephen) insists on Spanish Harlem, The Ghetto, The Suburbs and The Others to form a united front—because “the worst thing you can do is take another woman’s voice when she finally found it”—and while the majority of the demands are realistic and in their collective favor, Bayley’s trial barely makes the list. So much for unity.
Grief may be masked by anger for the moment, but that’s not to say it can’t be felt throughout the episodes. When Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and Maureen (Emily Althaus) appear in the cafeteria still beaten and battered in their hospital gowns, Suzanne is distraught to find her fellow inmates disrespecting the sacred space in which Poussey took her last breath. Sealing off the area with trays and candles, Suzanne, Maureen and Brook (Kimiko Glenn) invite Taystee, Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) and Janae (Vicky Jeudy) to join them in a séance. Welcoming Poussey’s spirit into their circle, they offer her the opportunity to resolve any unfinished business here on Earth. This type of “pagan bullshit” is a bit too out there for Janae, but as Cindy rightly notes: “Everybody’s got their own way to grieve.”
Though “Litchfield’s Got Talent” thrives on twisted comedy, grief continues to be a recurring theme. The inmates aren’t just mourning the loss of Poussey; they’re mourning their former lives and relationships. With many women now able to access smart phones, they’re forced to watch their lives outside of prison scroll by and realize they no longer play a part in it.
Sankey (Kelly Karbacz) is confronted with pictures of her boyfriend and his new girlfriend all over Facebook; Allison can’t help but fear her daughter, Farah (Layla Bunch), will come to accept Sahar (Malika Samuel)—her husband Hassan’s (W. Tré Davis) second wife—as her mother in Allison’s absence; and Gloria (Selenis Leyva) feels completely shut out of her kids’ lives when no one returns her countless phone calls. A glimpse into the reality outside of the confines of prison may have seemed comforting at first, but it comes at a painful price.
On the upside, access to fashionable clothes and shoes by ways of the inmates’ stored personal property allows the ladies to recapture their personal identities. This is most notable in Boo (Lea DeLaria), who swaps her prison rags for a snazzy, tailored suit and immediately rediscovers her stylin’ swagger. It may seem like a small pleasure, but to these women it’s the closest they’ve come to feeling like individuals in a sea of orange and beige jumpsuits.
I know a lot of people gave up on OITNB because they could no longer stand the drama brought on by Alex (Laura Prepon) and Piper (Taylor Schilling). I get it, I really do. Their storylines continue to irritate, but you gotta love the irony when it comes to their newly adopted “inmate,” Linda (Beth Dover), MCC’s Director of Purchasing, who had been hiding in the toilets during the riot’s outbreak. Instructing her to walk with “depression” and “persecution” in her shoulders, and urging her not to let her “interior white privilege” shine through, they give her the “Counterfeit-Cunt” character to roll with in an effort to make her blend in, when they are themselves the poster children for white privilege.
The same can be said of Yoga Jones (Constance Jones) who, just last season, enjoyed all the luxuries she gained from being Judy King’s (Blair Brown) roommate, and is now chasing her down on an envious witch-hunt, convinced she’s being feathered and waited on hand and foot in her very own prison panic room. What ensues is a hilarious image of Jones, Helen (Francesca Curran) and Brandy (Asia Kate Dillon) tying Judy to a wooden board and making her walk the halls of Litchfield like Christ on his way to being crucified.
The comic highlight on “Litchfield’s Got Talent” is, of course, the talent show hosted by the new deputies in town, Angie (Julie Lake) and Leanne (Emma Myles), who got a hold of the gun when they “pantsed” Gloria and it fell out of her pocket. Acting as judges alongside Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) and the Counterfeit Cunt, Angie and Leanne force their hostages to show off their talents, which range from singing and bad stand-up comedy to a wild striptease performed by Stratman (Evan Charles). Fuck, how I hated myself for drooling over his moves.
To whom it may concern,
We, the inmates of Litchfield, are human beings. We are protesting the abusive conditions under which we are being held. In hopes of a peaceful resolution we set forth the following demands:
1. Replace all current guards with properly trained ones.
2. Reinstate the GED program.
3. Better healthcare.
4. Conjugal visits.
5. Amnesty for all involved in this riot, provided there are no casualties.
6. An end to arbitrary and degrading searches, and the use of solitary confinement.
7. More work opportunities, fair wage and equal treatment of the prisoners, regardless of their race, status or celebrity.
8. Internet access.
9. CO Bayley is to be arrested and tried for the death of Poussey Washington.
10. Hot Cheetos and Takis in commissary, free tampons, more nutritious foods, fresh vegetables, real meat, whole grains.
Read our other episodic reviews of Orange Is the New Black Season Five here.
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.