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 13, “Toast Can’t Never Be Bread”
Read the review of the previous episode here.
Why Daya? So many characters have been antagonized by Litchfield’s administration this season—off the top of my head: Ruiz, Maritza, Alex, Piper, Blanca, Red—but it was an inmate who mostly stayed in the background, quietly trying to navigate her place in the social order, who picked up a pistol and pointed it at C.O. Humphrey. The feeling of randomness, that it could be any girl who ended up with that gun, is what’s so brilliant about this cliffhanger. For one thing, it shows that the inmates’ grievances really are shared. For another, it creates a feeling like the one when Poussey died—the lurching sensation when the wheel of fate spins and lands on someone.
Daya is, no doubt, a fascinating character to be in this position. She’s been with the show from the start, and we’ve been made very aware of the stakes that exist for her: a baby, and now her mom, on the outside. Running through her head must be the realization that if she pulls the trigger, it means she’ll likely never get to be a mother to her kid. But so too must the memory of C.O. Bennett, the war-vet guard who impregnated her and abandoned her. “Fuckin’ C.O.s, y’all are pieces of shit,” she spat with more anger (and at a quicker pace) than we’ve ever heard from her.
It’s a testament to the careful construction of this season that viewers are, on some level, hooting along with the mob of inmates for Daya to spill some prison-guard blood. Individually, Humphrey is a monster. Collectively, we’ve come to see, MCC is something worse—a carefully calibrated machine that treats inmates as objects. This episode reemphasized the cravenness of prison overlords who would let a dead woman rot on the dining-hall floor so they could spend time figuring out who to dishonestly blame for her death. Most sickening was Dixon trying to comfort Bailey by casually listing atrocities he’d committed in Afghanistan—the latest sign of Orange Is the New Black’s surprising transgressive skepticism toward veterans, and of its willingness to make Piscatella’s guards the rare totally unsympathetic characters on this show.
The inhumanity of MCC was in stark contrast to the raw and varied mourning of the humans within the prison. Norma breaking her silence to sing to Soso was when I almost lost it. Poussey’s closest friends charted the range of possible reactions, with Janae airing the righteous rage of Black Lives Matter, Cindy eating and bantering, Suzanne obsessing over the manner of death, and Taystee trying to make herself useful. This show’s embrace of the meaning of “dramedy” has never been so heightened, with slapstick scenes amid the grief, culminating most deliriously at the expense of Abdullah’s hair: “It’s like Backdraft up in that shit!” “Little red riding head!”
Poussey’s death rippled also across the cliques that didn’t take much of an interest in her in life. After all, her suffocation happened as a result of the entire population’s collective action. That doesn’t mean the Aryans weren’t willing to say awful, insensitive stuff or that the meth-heads weren’t going to drink Poussey’s hooch or that Red wasn’t going to first and foremost worry about how this tragedy would affect her girls. But it does suggest a shared struggle. Some things really are universal: The ongoing joke was that people kept inappropriately sharing stories of their encounters with death, whether it was DeMarco talking about her cousin being murdered by someone with a full head of hair, the snorer revealing her parents’ suicides, or Doggett recalling the pilfering ghost of her uncle.
Popular culture is usually interested in straightforward hero-and-villain tales, and Orange Is the New Black has definitely given us some straightforward villains. But it wasn’t the most obviously terrible guard who killed Poussey. It was hapless, immediately apologetic Bayley, a kid who was enjoying a night in New York the same time as Poussey a few years back. Even eerier: Both got busted for trespassing while smoking marijuana, and while the white guy got let off by cops who joked about the idea he’d be seriously punished, the black woman was sent to the prison where she’d die. Caputo immediately excusing Bayley’s actions at the press conference was another example of screwed-up double standards, but in declining to blame either the killer or the victim, he implicitly pointed a finger where a finger most deserves to be pointed: at the system. I wish Caputo had criticized MCC directly, but maybe, just maybe, the uprising his speech caused will end up accomplishing the same. At the very least, it’s now a lot more difficult for Judy King to claim ignorance about the whole situation.
When Alex said of her would-be assassin Aydin that “he was a person,” she was repeating a mantra that’s surfaced in various forms across the season (most recently when Frieda was pelted with an egg). The simple notion that everyone is someone has been shown to be radical in a place like Litchfield, and it indeed can be a radical one in the wider world. Last season ended with a joyful moment of unity for the prison, where people rediscovered their shared humanity by the lake. This finale united everyone in anger, but it also made another call for empathy by depicting Poussey’s one wonderful night in New York City, full of drag queens and improv monks and some harmless trespassing. Orange Is the New Black isn’t just saying that someone like Poussey is a person. It’s saying that being a person means having the capacity for joy and wonder, and that the biggest crime is for all of that to be taken away.
Best line: Angie and Leanne screaming “Attica” without knowing what it means. “Oh, maybe it’s the dad from that bird book?” “Oh you mean To Kill a Mockingjay?” “Yeah! Hungry Games!”
Questions: The obvious one: What will Daya do? But also: What’s Piscatella’s secret? Will Coates quit? Will Judy speak out? And will this uprising have any reforming effect, or will it just get the entire population sent to Max?