"That’s just murder-math!" - Orange Is The New Black Roundtable Review #1

S04E01, "Work That Body for Me" With a major security breach and a lot of new inmates, Caputo has to call in the big guns. Things get a little too real for Crazy Eyes and Lolly. (Netflix)

S04E02, "Power Suit" The newcomers stir up ethnic and domestic conflicts, but Maria sees an opportunity. Judy's special treatment raises eyebrows. (Netflix)

Before we start digging into the episodes, a brief introduction for the readers:
Welcome to our first roundtable review of Orange is the new black! During the coming seven weeks we will be sharing our thoughts and feelings on the fourth season of the show, roundtable discussion style. Our hope is that we can extend the conversation into the comment section, but if you prefer quietly basking in the glorious light of our collective intellect that’s perfectly fine as well. Now let’s get to it.


Tova: The first episode/s spend a lot of time on setting the scene and making us re-aquainted with all the characters. While it’s amazing to see them all again, I think the privatization issues are more intriguing than the more character-centered parts of the plot, and I find myself waiting for the show to dig deeper into that rather than wanting to know where the personal conflicts are going. So far overcrowding seems to be the only noticeable effect of MCC taking over Litchfield, and I suspect the full effect of that is being saved for later episodes - so the question is what’s going to keep things interesting until then. What do you guys think? Are the characters doing interesting enough things by themselves? What issues should be explored within the scope of Litchfield’s privatization?

Adrian: The privatization of American prisons is a real problem; it will be interesting to see how the writers address these real problems on the show, where prisons are driven by profits rather than rehabilitation. At some point, I’d like to see a take on the “Kids for Cash” Judge Mark Ciavarella story, where a victim of the racket, the corrupt judge, or even both are in Litchfield.

Otherwise, I’m excited to see the cast expansion, and the higher inmate population shaking things up: with equal parts social examination and inmate conflicts, there’s quite a lot to dig into this season.

Frida: I think the first episodes picked up and started interesting plot points for most of the characters, so I don’t think we will be bored until further and bigger plot twists. I feel like we won’t meet Sophia for another while - they’re keeping her story for later in the season, maybe to keep the viewers interested. As for the privatization I’m interested in how they’re going to focus the issues that come up. For now it seems like we will follow Caputo a lot.

Tova: I hadn't heard about the Kids for cash thing before, but it doesn’t surprise me that something like that happened. It seems like a natural side effect of allowing such facilities to be privately run… I like your idea - parallels to real-life situations are always interesting, especially if you’re engaging in social critique, which OITNB usually (thankfully) does!

Regarding the expanded cast: Which additions are you most excited about?
And do you think the focus on Caputo in these first episodes is a good storytelling decision?

Adrian: Ouija is playing nice for now, but she asked Flaca who la jefa is, underlining her ambition. I wonder what Hapakuka, Piper's new bunkmate, is in for. Judy King is a new force of gravity in Litchfield's universe; the scene where she communicates with Healy via innocuous code (‘white bunkmates only’) had a sobering truth to it.

I generally prefer more inmate story focus, but Caputo and the prison guards are important to the overall Litchfield story and relevant when considering their real-life equivalents: prison guard unions are a big factor in the problematic and continued growth of for-profit prisons.

Frida: I think the writers did an amazing job with introducing the new characters because almost all of them seem interesting to me. The new guard, Priscatella, seems pretty amusing and I wonder how his interactions with the inmates will evolve (will he soften his swat-team manner?). I agree with Adrian about Piper’s new bunkmate, she seems interesting and I feel like she has a lot of integrity; she knows how to play people.

I think the focus on Caputo is a good thing; we get to see events outside the prison and the company people, we get a wider perspective of the privatization process. I find Caputo hilarious and likable and terrible at the same time, which makes him a good character to use as some kind of center point.

Tova: That’s interesting, because I don’t feel very interested in any of the new characters! I’m worried about Ouija, but so far she’s a threat without a pronounced personality (which her cool name can’t make up for). I hope the show fleshes her out a bit more, even if she turns out to be a temporary character. Hapakuka seems to have more potential, but I wonder if the two qualities you mention (integrity and manipulation skills) aren’t too far apart to be reconciled in one character in a good way. I only know of one person in real life who has both of these sides, and that’s one complicated little gem…

Tell me more about guard unions and for-profit prisons! I’m also curious what you two think about the Maria flashbacks in episode 2.

Adrian: Like most labor unions, prison guard unions seek to protect the livelihood of its members, which leads to supporting “tough on crime” policies and candidates (which tends to disproportionately hurt people of color). More prisoners leads to higher profits and the increased health of the industry: human incarceration. Aleida says early in episode 1: “It’s sardine time, bitches. We a for-profit prison now. We ain’t people no more. We’re bulk items.” So while the stories of Ouija and Hapakuka are more interesting to me, there’s value to examining the prison guard world when seeking to end mass incarceration.

Frida: Hopefully they have some good material for the new characters in the coming episodes, maybe you will find some of them more interesting then! I forgot about Ouija, she seems pretty fierce, her backstory is probably pretty cool with the teardrop tattoos and everything. Yes, that’s true, I think Hapakuka is so hard to figure out right now, I look forward to seeing further in the season what she is all about.

The Maria flashbacks were okay, not a super strong story but I think it was well acted and still interesting. The theme of national identity and pride were interesting to me.

Tova: That’s interesting and depressing (about prison guards unions)! I’d like to see more about that too.

I do sometimes feel that these little bits we get of the characters’ backgrounds on OITNB are too short or “random”. It’s an interesting choice to show us part of a story, and then leave us without a proper ending, and it can work to the show’s advantage, but occasionally I’m left thinking “okay, so what was the point of that?”. Now, the national identity theme had a clear purpose in tying into present day events and interactions, but there were still a lot of parts that felt unnecessary.

Adrian: I found Maria’s story very interesting and personally relevant: I’m Mexican-American and I’m currently living in a primarily-Dominican neighborhood in New York. While I’m fortunate to have not lived in a time when that clash was more intensely felt, the Latinxs experience is extremely varied and identity is critically important when the non-Latin world seeks to lump us all together. The flashback gave us some much needed Maria backstory, and ultimately served to underscore how important it is that the Latina inmates agreed to cooperate; it not an easy alliance and it would be wrong to presume otherwise.

In any case, I’m thankful that we’re getting more backstory at all, regarding the other inmates, when early seasons were focused quite a lot on Piper. The most interesting part of Piper’s story for me has been Alex Vause, which by the way, is in a huge mess right now.

Tova: Definitely agree about branching out and focusing less on Piper (isn’t that what all the viewers want by now?)! In addition to making the show better, it gives more people an opportunity to see something of their own lives in the stories, like you kind of just demonstrated. It’s a show about prison inmates, and that might make them strange to most of the audience, but it’s also about a wide range of people with both differences and similarities outside of that, and therein lies the opportunity to make them all relatable in some way.

As for the huge mess... Oh, Alex. I usually think of her character as just a small step above Piper, but right now I’m really feeling for her, and I’m actually glad she’s back on the show. I think it will be interesting to see how she handles this, both practically and emotionally. But as always with the interesting storylines on this show, the anticipation is tempered by worry about what will happen to the characters.

Frida: I also agree about having Piper as a kind of supporting role and not as a main character. We know her well by now and from what I know she’s not really a fan favorite!

The murder was everything I love about OITNB; absurd, terrifying, funny and cringeworthy. I just hope Alex can catch her breath for a little while now before the next thing happens! I think the murder scene was a little bit of fresh air into her storyline, which I didn’t like much in season three. It’s going to be interesting to see the aftermath of what happened.

Tova: The (second) murder scene was sooo good and horrible. I understood why Alex did it, and I understood why she didn’t want to. There’s a lot to empathize with there, and it was well played too! Let’s hope it leads to a better storyline for her.

I think it’s time to wrap this up now. I just want to ask you a final quick question (depending on what we think about it, it may become a regular feature of our OITNB round-tables): Who do you think is the MVP of these two episodes? Who’s the most funny, awful, charge-taking, or whatever else is needed to make the show interesting? As for me, I’m going to go with Vause. Though that might be because we’ve been talking about her most recently, I also think she had the best scene, and she’s at the center of the most important drama currently happening on the show - both of which makes her important to the show.

Frida: The question is so hard with so many compelling characters and new situations in the prison! but I have to agree with you that it is Vause. Her story was carrying these two episodes with suspense and an emotional rollercoaster. But I also thought Flores had a strong presence in the first episodes, showing another side of herself.

Adrian: It might be too hard to call. Vause has the most tense storyline, but I appreciate Freida’s ‘git r done’ attitude about body disposal. Judy King’s arrival was perhaps the most disruptive single event, using her clout to make friends and earn special privileges at the expense of the other inmates. I think I’m gonna lean toward Big Boo: she always has the best lines and her horrible plan to rape Officer Coates combined with her desire to avenge Pennsatucky makes her a layered and interesting character.

Favourite quotes

Tova: "If you're gonna be racist, you gotta be accurate, or you just look dumb."
Adrian: “Well, think of it... as a mandala... of pussy.”
Frida: “That’s just murder-math!”

Adrian Martinez is a graphic designer, comic book letterer, hobbyist writer, and all-around geek living in New York City.

Tova Crossler Ernström is a bisexual Swede, feminist, socialist, INFJ, Hufflepuff, HSP and Taurus. She is fond of personality tests, labels and lists.
Frida Berntson is a Swedish cultural studies and art history student, art blogger and lover of all things geekdom; especially tv, movies and youtube.