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.