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 five, “We’ll Always Have Baltimore”
Read the review of the previous episode here.
Last episode, we saw very specific version of screwed-up gender attitudes in the form of Counselor Healy; this episode, we got a much more general look at stupid sexist nonsense. Women were treated as objects to be ogled, fondled, and used, while also often being denied the dignity of being treated as a full people—what else to make of Maxipads being labeled “inessential”?
Maritza’s story summed a lot of the episode up. Once upon a time, she used her cunning and a sob story to con nightclub patrons. But of course there was a more lucrative approach than empathy: “Get off the pity angle. Go straight for the dick, it’s the better play.” She did just that by following the instructions of car-thief kingpins, who likely abandoned her after she landed in the horribly awkward position of being in the passenger seat next to men she’d told competing lies to.
In the present, she could only perform her legitimate prison job in the driver’s seat of a van while being catcalled by the passengers who supposedly protect her. She turned their piggishness to an advantage, offering her body for the creep doing pat-downs so as to cause a distraction for the new panties-smuggling cartel. But when the guards came across the man at the pickup and Maritza convinced them he was just the gardener, it was a reminder—as the lead creep C.O. pointed out in Spanish—of the brains behind the beauty she’s so frequently been made to rely on.
Would real life veterans-turned-prison guards be as openly sexist, racist, and irresponsible as this new batch is? The frat-house parody in the woods behind Litchfield seems a bit over-the-top, even for this show. Then again, it’s easy to find stories on the web about correctional officers driven to alcoholism, and the crack about Call of Duty: Guantanamo is a reminder of real-life examples of abusive behavior fostered in closed, authoritarian environments. Plus: Ethnic profiling, it’s plenty clear, is no fiction.
On that note: It’s maddening to see Piper either mindlessly or intentionally support full-fledged racism to squash a competitive racket that she could have prevented from existing in the first place if she’d let the new Latinas work with her. Praising someone’s noble Mayan lineage doesn’t excuse harnessing stereotypes about skin color for personal gain. Anyone could see the ominous direction things were headed from the moment Piper agreed to create a “task force”: Four seasons in, we’re finally going to get acquainted with the prison phenomenon that is white-power networks. What delicious irony in that it’s the supposedly tolerant Piper’s supposedly gang-busting efforts that leads to the Aryan gang’s creation. I loved that the show put a modern touch on the comedy trope of accidentally stumbling into racist rallies by having the inmates break out into “White Lives Matter!”
Caputo and Linda’s trip to CorrectionsCon may have felt farcical, but it was largely based in fact. Way back in 1998, The Atlantic was writing about precisely this kind of carnivalesque manifestation of the incarcerations industry:
The prison-industrial complex now includes some of the nation's largest architecture and construction firms, Wall Street investment banks that handle prison bond issues and invest in private prisons, plumbing-supply companies, food-service companies, health-care companies, companies that sell everything from bullet-resistant security cameras to padded cells available in a “vast color selection.” A directory called the Corrections Yellow Pages lists more than a thousand vendors. Among the items now being advertised for sale: a “violent prisoner chair,” a sadomasochist's fantasy of belts and shackles attached to a metal frame, with special accessories for juveniles; B.O.S.S., a “body-orifice security scanner,” essentially a metal detector that an inmate must sit on; and a diverse line of razor wire, with trade names such as Maze, Supermaze, Detainer Hook Barb, and Silent Swordsman Barbed Tape.
Lack of menstrual materials for women in prison is a real problem; laser guns in correctional facilities in line is a real thing. Perhaps the biggest liberty Orange Is the New Black took in regards to the trade show was making subtext text by having Danny (Mike Birbiglia’s recently M.I.A. character) point out just how grotesque the whole affair is. At first I suspected he warned Caputo about Linda being Satan just out of jealousy, but you do get the sense she’s a bit of a power nut, getting turned on by karate moves and blithely joking about the war on drugs as a goldmine for her employer.
She’s not the only power nut, though, as seen in Piscatella’s humorless, hardline, Giuliani-worshipping approach to the prison’s problems. It was good to have him humanized a bit in this episode, outing himself to Piper and cracking a joke about his quads being too big for suit pants. But mostly he remains a chilling figure, willing to use openly prejudiced tactics and unwilling to grant that prisoners have civil rights. Worst of all, he’s incompetent: His employees are drunk on the job, he’s being played by Piper, and he’s encouraged the creation of a gang that could turn out to be a lot more dangerous than the panty bunch.
As always, the show offered breaks from the heavy satire with a few purely comedic plots threaded through the episode. After an hour, we still have no idea who the shower pooper is but we do know that the show’s writers are having a ball pairing up Lorna and Suzanne for a detective mission. But my money for the funniest moment of the episode was Taystee getting online and trying to search for info on her friends—Poussey yielding porn and Red yielding, well, red.
Best line: The panel titles at the convention: “Media Relations: Turning Scandals Into Scandalade,” “Taking Max to the Max,” “Shanks for the Memories: A History of Prison Weapons”
Questions: Is Piper even going to try to derail the white power elements of her task force? Will Aleida keep up her studies after the thoroughly unhelpful tutoring from Soso? How feasible is it for Taystee to become a paparazzi photographer of Judy? And how will Caputo give his inmates purpose—or, per Linda’s frightening correction of him, the feeling of purpose?
Read the review of the next episode here.