Orange Is the New Black: ‘People Persons’

Reviewing the 11th 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 11, “People Persons”

Read the review of the previous episode here.

A fundament divide in correctional philosophy now and maybe forever is over rehabilitation vs. punishment. Should prisoners to be guided towards improving themselves so they don’t want or need to break the law again once they’re out? Or should the convicted be made to have such a horrible time while incarcerated that prison serves primarily as a warning to others who would commit crimes?

The new crop of guards at Litchfield subscribe to an extreme version of the punishment ideology, though most of them probably aren’t thinking about a greater social good while doing something like, say, smashing Taystee’s prized watch. Even Piscatella’s reasoning for why he does the things he does is spotty. He told Red that people don’t change, a clear rejection of “reform” as a goal for prisons. But he also told her that he believes people don’t change because he was sent to a gay conversion camp. It’s a tragic leap in logic—just because his sexuality is fixed doesn’t mean everything else about everyone else is—that suggests how trauma just begets more trauma.

And we saw plenty of trauma in this episode. It opened with Piper and Blanca undergoing standing torture in the dining hall, with some inmates (Black Cindy) looking on not with sympathy but disgust toward them. They were saved by the bell when Aydin’s body was discovered in the garden, leading to a lockdown that doubled as prison-wide sleep deprivation. Later, in one of the most sickening scenes of the show (we’ve been saying that a lot this season, I feel like?), Humphrey proved his dementedness again by forcing a fight between Suzanne and Kukudio.

As with the previous instances of sadism from C.O.s, the beatdown felt too horrible to believe, until I Googled. Yep, just last year real-life prison guards were accused of coercing gladiator-style matches between inmates. Litchfield has become a greatest hits of headlines about degrading behavior in the correctional system, countering critics who’ve argued Orange Is the New Black overly glorifies prison as zany comical fun. Nicky is right: Tiffany Doggett might be the only person we’ve met for whom Litchfield has, in fact, had a rehabilitating effect.

The torment of Suzanne came amid the show’s second series of flashbacks about her life, depicting the awful episode of child endangerment/kidnapping that landed her in prison. There have been times lately when Crazy Eyes has seemed pretty sane, but the backstory made clear that she really does face intellectual challenges. Which, of course, made her a prime candidate for abuse by Humphrey, just as Lolly’s schizophrenia made her a prime candidate to take the fall for Aydin’s murder. In a just system, perhaps these women would be better off in a psychiatric ward dedicated to actually helping them. But in this unjust one, it feels like Lolly was consigned to hell in psych, and it seems possible Suzanne may be headed there as well. Again, their trauma is other peoples’ as well: deep guilt for Alex and Healy; a bloody face for Kukudio.

The cycle of exploitation even applies to molly-assisted threesomes. While they’re rolling, Judy seems able to assuage Yoga Jones’s guilt about being used by a celebrity manipulator: “We are here for each other’s amusement,” Judy says in a scene destined to live for eternity in facial-expression gifs. But the shot of Jones and Luschek in post-coital depression as Judy chipperly sipped tea and chomped on grapes was a sign that she was the only one who really benefited from that crazy night in lockdown.

Can anyone fix this place? Caputo gave specific instructions for Piscatella and his crew to not pull any “cowboy shit,” and they ignored him. I have a bad feeling that this won’t turn out to be the breaking point where Caputo fires the guards, but rather the moment when the guards assert full authority over Caputo. Piscatella can now claim to have found the murderer before the FBI even showed up. Caputo, meanwhile, may talk about having righteous convictions, but he’s a very weak actor: Just a few flirty words from Linda lured him away from the place he’s supposed to be watching over, a place that, for now, only harms the people within it.

Best line: Lovey-dovey Luschek not even able to suppress his negging tendencies while all the way up on ecstasy: “Hey, you’re both beautiful women. For your ages, you’re both beautiful women.”

Questions: Is the Suzanne/Kukudio fight the kickoff to the long-awaited Litchfield race war? Will Danny confronting his dad with the smuggled picture of Sophia finally lead to her release from the SHU? Will the seemingly decent guards like Bayley and (relatively, recently, seemingly decent) Coates do anything about their wacko coworkers? Any chance the show might just this one time go surreal and allow Lolly to time travel?

Read the review of the next episode here.