The Soul is the Prison of the Body - Orange Is The New Black Roundtable #4

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S04e07, "It Sounded Nicer in My Head"

Paranoia strikes deep for Lolly and Judy, aggravating an 
already tense situation. Red sticks to a Russian tradition 
for an important occasion. (Netflix)

S04e08, "Friends in Low Places"
A new work detail doesn't go over well with 
the inmates. Judy seeks help from Poussey. 
Maria finds a place she can conduct business. (Netflix)


Tova: I have a lot of feelings about these episodes, and few of them are positive. Some of it is story-related sadness, some disappointment at badly executed plots and some is pure frustration. Let’s start with Caputo and the continued MCC-mess, which to me was part good, part bad and 100% depressing. What are your emotions and thoughts on these scenes? 

Frida: It was infuriating to watch. The show is doing a great job to make me hate Linda, and then the frustration from the whole thing Crystal explained mixes with that hate and it’s just a sad, angry mixture of feelings! It makes me wonder how many prisoners out there are in Sophia’s situation, and it’s horrible. Caputo’s education idea was really good. I’m disappointed he didn’t stay mad at Linda or MCC for completely changing it to basically slave work (but what can he do really?). I feel like MCC, Caputo or Linda has to suffer to make me even remotely satisfied after all that has happened this season.

Adrian: As Pearson warned, Linda is completely heartless. She isn’t interested in understanding Caputo or his ideas, and her pulling a gun on Crystal was absurd and infuriating. I hoped Caputo would end it with Linda, but he completely disappointed me. Linda’s so unlikeable now, her being convicted and sent to Litchfield might be the only satisfying evolution of her arc, but I’m not even sure I care anymore.

I’m upset at this whole scene: it’s completely believable, even Caputo’s arousal, which is frustrating because it’s far too serious of a moment to be played off as a joke. I can easily imagine a scenario where Linda kills Crystal, and her lawyers spin it as a “Stand Your Ground” situation, which hits too close to home for me. It ripped me out of the fiction and into the real world.

Tova: It's interesting how that scene made you both think about reality. The show in general has done a really good job of getting people to think and talk about what it's like for those who are currently incarcerated in the U.S., but it's clear that some stories have more impact than others, and Sophia's is definitely one of them. I loathed Linda before, but the scene with Crystal made it so obvious what kind of person she is (one who kisses up and kicks down, constantly strengthening structures of oppression). Caputo is a tougher nut to crack, but I'm starting to realise he's not the almost-good guy I thought. Being easily manipulated is one thing: getting turned on by Linda’s actions is repulsive. And I wasn’t ready for that side of Caputo so soon after his comment about the education initiative essentially ending up a chain gang, which was just spot on. Are you surprised that the MCC has found a way to make the prisoners do labour without any payment? It fits with what we know about the company, but if this happens in real life (and I don’t think the show would use it as a plot point if it didn’t), then that seems completely absurd to me.

Amanda: The only part that seems absurd about it to me is they’re just digging around in the yard, and not implementing an “inmate outreach program” à la Shawshank Redemption. At least the panty-sewing job turned a profit for the prison, but the chain gang is only saving them the actual cents an hour the inmates are otherwise paid.

Adrian: Well, their digging isn’t pointless. They’re building a new dorm (at least, that’s what Caputo later said) and MCC is saving revenue from their free labor. It’s not surprising that the story’s gone here - OITNB has been pretty consistent about reflecting the state of the U.S. prison system and sadly, this kind of labor is happening today.

Frida: I totally agree with you about Caputo. He does bad things on a regular basis but he also does good things sometimes. I’ve felt like he is a good person “inside” but getting turned on by Linda in that situation is just outrageous. I’m sad to say that I’m not surprised inmates work without pay in America, but maybe it’s not that common—I hope.

Tova: One thing I’m constantly surprised by is the access to drugs the inmates have—both in max and Litchfield. I don’t know the reality behind that, but it’s depressing enough to watch a character you care about (Nicky) going backwards like this. How do you see this playing out for her?

Amanda: It’s already over for Nicky. You can only hurt yourself like this as long as you can hide from the people who love you. I’m not sure how Red will handle this, but I know she will handle it. I mean, you can’t just take an old Russian Matriarch’s make-up! When I saw Red freaking out I was worried she wouldn’t see it was Nicky and take the fight straight to Maria and her crew.

Frida: Yes, I wonder how Red will handle this with still being super happy and emotional that Nicky is back. It’s almost unbelievable that drugs are so available, yes. I wonder if the meth heads will suffer anything since they’re the ones actually handling the smuggling.

Adrian: Easy access to addictive substances underscores the nature of mass incarceration today. Instead of a means of rehabilitation, prisons function as means of punishment carried out by an authoritarian state, and this is no great secret. The public expects that prisoners have drug access, or will callously joke about prison rape, righteously declaring it as deserved. Societal attitudes about prison, criminality, and human nature will be need be critically overhauled before we can see much-needed changes here. It’s a real-life nightmare. Until then, with only other inmates to support her, Nicky’s best shot at survival is undoubtedly Red.

Amanda: Almost worse than the drugs though, is the way prisons handle mental illness. Lolly homeless with a coffee cart shouldn’t be the happiest part of her flashback, but it is! The only thing worse than knowing she was treating her voices better herself than Healy (with an improvised noise-maker), is how many prisons she’s been in before Litchfield. And think of how many people she’s helped without reservation: homeless coffee guy, Piper and Alex—even Healy. It’s so wrong she was thrown away like this. Can we talk about how many of these characters need real help, and aren’t getting it?

Tova: That scene with Lolly had me smiling wide; it’s uplifting to see someone make a little room for themselves in the world against all odds, and I loved the examples of everyday solidarity between the different outcasts living in the area. On the other hand, yes, it’s depressing that that was the peak for Lolly after she became ill. And above all that when she formed her own solutions—after all institutions had failed to help her—the system destroyed that too.

They’re definitely not getting help! Lorna seems to be going to a dark place, and I don’t think anyone has even acknowledged that she has a mental health problem. It’s not just the inmates with mental health issues either: there’s of course Sophia, whose treatment is the absolute opposite of help. Not to mention the assaults committed by prison guards. Trying to think of an example of someone getting help is more difficult.

Adrian: It’s a real problem when, rather than seeing inmates as people who need opportunities for self-improvement, behavioral counseling, or addiction recovery, Correctional Officers are encouraged by the system to see inmates as self-indulgent troublemakers. It makes it easy to dehumanize people you don’t respect, and for more mercenary or sadistic officers to take advantage of inmate vulnerability.

Frida: Lolly’s flashback felt so real to me. After living in the United States you get used to seeing people like Lolly, people who need help and have no social security but try to live their lives as meaningfully as they can. Coming from Sweden, it is very different. Of course we have homeless people but they get help from the government on another level. But yes, I really liked her story, and the coffee-selling part was heartwarming. What happened to her in the end is of course so sad, you definitely feel hopeless and that people like Lolly will rarely get the help they need from society. I’m also worried about Lorna, maybe Nicky coming back stirred something inside her and now she’s very confused so bad habits come back?

Tova: I would agree it’s better in Sweden, even if the mental healthcare institutions are far from perfect here—not to mention how other agencies and institutions fail to understand mental health issues (being both unemployed and unwell is not a great combo, for example). 

On Lorna: I found myself torn between “Oh, no don’t ruin your marriage because I know you’ll freak out if you do!” and “Come on, get it on with Nicky. You know you want to.” If Lorna’s falling back into old habits has anything to do with Nicky, I’d land on the staying away side though.

What do you think of the current-day scenes with Lolly? Healy seems to continue to play a big part, and I continue to feel for him, but also worry that he’s not helping Lolly as much as he thinks.

Adrian: Nicky made a crude but interesting point when she suggested that Vincent might be turned on by the idea of Lorna getting with a girl. Would he? Or would he be homophobic? Or would he be hurt she cheated on him? There are many ways this could go wrong, so I’m preparing for the worst.

I’m enjoying getting to know Lolly. No one else has let her just talk and explain herself, so we’re learning much more than before. It’s difficult for me to feel thankful toward Healy, however. His motivation seems more about satisfying himself—rather than helping his patients—which is why his treatment typically hasn’t worked out. Healy is a guy that (in his flashback) took his patient on a date and wouldn’t acknowledge the transgression. I’m worried for Lolly but on the bright side, she isn’t smoking crack in the cornfield, or being literally branded in gang warfare. For once, Piper is having a worse day than most everyone else.

Amanda: It was like the writers heard about how many people don’t care about Piper as the main character, and thought they had to go this far, with the branding scene during Nicky’s welcome party—almost like punishing us for our blasphemy. I would have said this is out of character for Maria, but I learned a lot of bear safety in school: a mother bear will stomp on your spine if you’re a threat, and Piper made herself a threat. 

Tova: So King is a wolf and Maria is a bear? You guys are extending the animal metaphors from Spektor’s theme song and I like it. I think Maria activated some parental instinct in Red as well—or maybe just pissed her off. The alliances are really hardening. Who would you peg as most likely to escalate the conflict next? And what about the other aspect of this mess; the racial elements, Nazi branding and actual Nazi sentiments—does the show handle them well?

Frida: I’m really bad at predictions, but I feel like Piper is pretty much done. Perhaps the Nazis will make a move if they found out what happened to her? I think the show is handling everything okay; Nazi gang being not a problem but Maria’s gang being a problem, according to the COs. I thought it was scary to see how easily factions like these can be created and grow with certain people being in a certain context. It makes me wonder if White Power-related groups are common in prison, and if so is anything done to prevent them? Or perhaps this is uncommon in real prisons and the showrunners just thought it would be interesting to have on the show?

Adrian: White Power groups are common in U.S. prisons. Real inmates have historically divided themselves along racial lines (resulting in a trifecta of white/Latino/black gangs commonly represented in film and in television), just as Litchfield’s inmates have done since Season 1.

However, Sanky’s gang isn’t in the same league as Maria’s. Sanky is focused on White Power ideology, while Maria is running an enterprise. Trafficking contraband carries real danger that claiming cafeteria tables for the Aryan race does not. Sanky can afford to pick her battles in a low-stakes game, while Maria is on another level, backed into a corner, making her far more dangerous.

I think they’re doing a decent job of illustrating individual motivations behind joining up with gangs, but let’s see where these arcs lead. I doubt Piscatella will allow gangs to continue beyond this season, but maybe there are surprises ahead of us.

Amanda: Maria isn’t a bear, she’s a mother. Bears are just the only mothers people bother warning us not to fuck with, that’s all. I’m not sure Piscatella, as authoritarian as he is, can do anything about gangs. They were always in Litchfield, it was just quieter before, when there were fewer voices. I almost want Red to form a response to the Nazi group, besides Piper’s window. Also, while I’m glad Taystee didn’t see the need to be the new Vee, it feels like her group takes a backseat (which they super deserve, after last season). Some of their best screen time is interacting with the other inmates, though, and I miss that.

Tova: I could definitely see Red stepping up (again) and leading a group of inmates against Maria and her group. I have a feeling the White Power women will be left on the outside if that happens, and Red is more interesting to watch than all of them, but perhaps also more dangerous. Because Red could get on Maria’s level, and a real threat means the stakes of any full-blown conflict will be higher.

I agree about Taystee and the others. It’s unfortunate that we either get awful events focused on the group, or barely anything at all. I’m not about to wish bad things on these characters just so I get to see more of them. Something like Poussey’s and Soso’s love story would be nice though (or any reason to see Poussey being adorable and smiling, really).

I’ve got a final question for all of you before we wrap this up: If you could choose one scene, character moment, or theme touched on in episode 7 and 8 to be explored further (either in these episodes or later on), what would that be? 

Adrian: I wonder about Lolly’s family. In her flashbacks, her ex-co-worker Ann-Marie tries to drop her at a group home, and mentions that Lolly’s mother moved away. I’m assuming Lolly’s mother abandoned her, but what if she didn’t? Maybe Lolly is confused. Maybe she still has people in the world, outside of Litchfield, who care for her. I’m hoping Lolly gets out and finds the care and support she needs to live life safely and on her terms.

Amanda: Aleida. Aleida, Aleida, Aleida. My mother was half Alaskan Native, not Latin American, but she is so, so similar to Aleida. I hate her when she does horrible things, but it hurts me the most that she’s right about the GED, about her job prospects as an ex con—very real problems few people think about—and I feel for her funny-looking mother love.

Frida: Maybe it’s naive, but I’d love to see Aleida’s nail salon idea come true! It would just feel so rewarding that someone is “doing okay” outside, and even though she has done horrible things I still want it to end well for her! Right now the nail salon has turned into something else, so we’ll see how that turns out. I guess I wanted to focus on something positive for this one.

Favourite quotes

Adrian: "When God gives you a swastika, he opens a window. And then you remember: there is no God."

Frida: “Everyone was a moron in the 80’s.”

Tova: “Sometimes what it looks like is all anybody can see.”

Amanda: “My momma gonna see me kissin’ a white woman!”

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.

Amanda Ling is an American who’s never lived further east than AZ, and has much too much free time to overthink television.