Orange Is the New Black: ‘Turn Table Turn’

Reviewing the ninth 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 nine, “Turn Table Turn”

Read the review of the previous episode here.

In a prison that denies its residents lives that, in Kip Carnigan’s words, “feel full,” prisoners resort to fantasy. Suzanne’s interstellar erotica is one example; Lolly’s time-travel machine, and the daydreaming it spurs in other inmates, is another. Piper’s panty ring was an act of imagination, of sorts—she got so carried away pretending to be a gang leader that she accidentally became one. But the most common kind of escape is through the mere act of conversation, the bantering that makes this show so fun to watch—like when Flaca and Ramos debated whether they’d rather eat a live baby mouse or a bunch of dead flies.

So it’s a particularly demented kind of cruelty that weaponizes the kind of harmless nonsense fun that keeps inmates alive. C.O. Humphrey’s torture of Ramos at first struck me as way too outlandish—TV-typical fake drama, creating a new big bad prison-guard villain just when the horrors of Pornstache had all but faded from memory. But elsewhere in this episode, Piscatella told his employees to “go freestyle” with the inmates, with the “Abu Ghraib-y” punishment of Blanca highlighting how imagination, when wielded by people in positions of power, can be a sick thing. It’s only a small stretch from there to believe a corporation like MCC would have hired not only thoughtless frat boys but a secret psychopath.

This season has spent a lot of time piercing the bubble of unreality that inmates have tried to create within Litchfield. Piper’s punishment was the ultimate example; branding herself with a window conveniently coincides with the fact that she now sees herself and her surroundings with new clarity. Her tormentor Ruiz has become a totally compelling figure—it’s fascinating to watch a soft-spoken secondary character develop into a savvy kingpin, able to inflict pain but also trying to run her crew with judiciousness and hard logic.

Blanca’s storyline in the past and present was an insight into how someone develops the opposite strategy from someone like Ruiz: Rather than responding to injustice with quiet cunning, she goes for stinky defiance. It worked with her grouchy elderly employer, but will it work against the uber-grouchy Piscatella? Sister Ingalls practiced a combination of those techniques, though it required some encouragement on Gloria’s behalf for her to defy the system with the necessary amount of drama—to the detriment of Gloria’s jaw.

It perhaps sounds #problematic to say, but it’s nice to have the original white-girl crew back together: When united, Piper, Alex, Red, Morello, and Nicky can give any of the prison’s other cliques a run for the title of Most Amusing Mealtime Dialogue. What distinguishes the show’s foundational (and currently platonic) couple, Piper and Alex, is their fetish for the bougie—drooling after Shake Shack, making casual use of academic feminist jargon. Morello responding to Nicky’s affections and drug use seemed to bring her character back to Earth, and in scenes like the one where she chewed out Angela for defiling the shower, she was more sympathetic than she’s long been (though her jealousy of her sister visiting with Vinny seems like an ominous sign for her mental health).

There’s always been the second squad of white girls, the methy ones, and while they’re still played for somewhat condescending comic relief, they now come with an edge of danger due to the White Power element. It’s a bit depressing to see that the seemingly reformed Doggett may start gravitating toward them now that Boo is acting 100 percent judgmental about her showing forgiveness to her rapist. While a race war may be brewing—maybe with the fragile Judy/Cindy alliance as the spark?—for now the Aryans are mostly serving as an unintentional chorus for the show itself, like during the discussion about Breaking Bad and the golden age of TV. I loved one of the girls’ terror of reading sparking empathy: “What if other people are having these experiences that are totally legit and I’m supposed to start thinking about them before I start judging their lives?” It’s Orange Is the Black’s great social appeal distilled, and in a funny way, the response could be a review of the show: “That’s … chaos!”

Best line: Either Ingalls failing at hate speech against Gloria—“I’d do it again, Latino!”—or Alex describing lunch: “This food looks like something a walrus would regurgitate to feed its least favorite baby.”

Questions: How long till Judy and Cindy’s fauxmance sours on account of Cindy feeling exploited? Would the show be so cruel as to have Aleida fail outside of prison? And is the supposedly humanist Caputo going to do anything about the treatment of Blanca or the fact that one of his guards is seems to be acting like the serial killer in Se7en?

Read the review of the next episode here.