Orange Is the New Black: ‘Power Suit’

Reviewing the second episode of the fourth season


For the fourth season of Orange Is the New Black, Spencer Kornhaber and Sophie Gilbert are discussing the series via recaps, taking turns to analyze one episode at a time. Spoilers abound; don’t read further than you’ve watched.

Episode Two, “Power Suit”

Read the review of the previous episode here.

Spencer, in your recap of episode one you noted the tonal whiplash of proceedings. I couldn’t agree more—the way in which the episode ended, with Piper smugly parading through the prison to the tune of Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” before the camera cut abruptly to Alex literally cutting someone into pieces, felt especially jarring. But it’s kind of refreshing to see a show that refuses to hew the conventions of any one particular genre, and it certainly makes OITNB feel more like the tragicomedy of the real world, where my Twitter feed at any one time is a hot mess of Donald Trump, mass shootings, and lemur gifs.

To address your point about Cindy’s war with her Muslim bunkmate, my instinct after watching the second episode is that this season is going to be all about, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor, turning up the heat on Litchfield’s melting pot. When Piper first arrived in prison in season one, she was openly shocked by the ways in which racial dynamics played out in prison, with inmates mostly sticking within groups divided by color. Over the last three seasons, those divisions started to blur a little: Soso was adopted by Taystee’s crew, Black Cindy converted to Judaism, Norma’s short-lived cult attracted a diverse group of misguided followers.

But with the number of inmates suddenly doubling it was almost inevitable that fault lines would be reinforced, with the newbies seeking out alliances and the existing inmates looking to assert their dominance and the status quo. Not to mention having the extra pressure of several hundred women trying to coexist in a space that’s way too small for them (under similar conditions, battery hens inevitably start pecking each other to death, as Soso pointed out).

Caputo’s attempts to mollify the inmates in their new cramped quarters were predictably hilarious—free earplugs! breathing exercises! port-a-potties!—but also a more menacing illustration of the banality of bureaucratic evil on display. These women aren’t women to the corporate types running their lives—they’re heads in beds, worth $30,000 a year each to the shareholders making money off their increasingly unpleasant conditions and unpaid labor. Last season, the board running Litchfield at least had comic relief thanks to Mike Birbiglia. Now it seems increasingly sinister, with a roomful of people in expensive suits (Caputo among them) vying to find ever more inventive ways to capitalize on society’s most vulnerable, from imprisoned women to veterans.

The flashback this episode explored Ruiz’s life before prison: She’s the daughter of a Dominican drug dealer who took great pains to support his community, and she rejected that community when her father hit on one of her school friends, taking up with another dealer from a rival Mexican gang. On the one hand, these scenes showed how complicated heritage can be: Ruiz saw clearly that her father was just another criminal playing the same game as everyone else for all his talk about “pride,” but she also took revenge on a new inmate for beating up Blanca when loyalty required it. On the other, they offered some insight into Yadriel, Ruiz’s mostly nonverbal partner, who shocked everyone after his daughter was born in season two by chattering away at the baby.

When it comes to thinking about the new inmates, I’m a little concerned that having so many additional characters means less time for the old ones. Especially underserved right now is Taystee, who took over being the mother to Vee’s crew after Vee was finally shunned (before escaping, and being mowed down by Rosa). Not to mention Sophia still being locked up in SHU (thanks to the increasingly guilty Mendoza). But the show has definitely come to peace with sidelining Piper, to the extent where she’s more comic relief now than a dramatic protagonist.

With Piper, with Judy King, and with Caputo, Orange seems to be exploring how power and money are both illusory in nature and enormously significant when wielded over others. Yoga’s suspicion of Judy’s VIP setup was dismantled with a single cup of herbal tea; Caputo’s care for the inmates’ wellbeing seemed far less important than impressing a female board member with his new suit. And then there’s Piper, bribing her new bunkmate to be her “Secret Service” protection to impress the new inmates and maintain her vastly inflated status as a badass. I think it’s fair to assume that none of this can last.

Best line: (I’m going with two.) Yadriel’s summation that “life’s pretty crazy, but at least you can get snacks, you know?” And Maritza’s, “If I hadn’t buried my feelings so deep that they only come up when I watch Stepmom, I’d totally be tearing up right now.”

Questions: Is Maritza safe on van duty with the guard who raped Pennsatucky? What kind of mental trauma is Alex going to suffer from after murdering the guard sent to kill her? How long can the inmates last under current conditions before a riot breaks out? Is Judy supposed to be Martha Stewart or Paula Deen?

Read the review of the next episode here.