Resistance - Orange is the New Black Roundtable #5

S04e09, "Turn Table Turn"
Ramos and Flores figure out ways to rebel against 
authority. A news item has an unexpected effect. 
Red and Lorna face personal disappointment.

S04e10, "Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull"
The movie night selection becomes
controversial. Aleida makes an adjustment.
Piper worries the prison punishments are
getting too medieval. (Netflix)


Tova: We seem to have come to a point in the season were few new issues pop up, and instead there are conclusions and progression of storylines from before. That’s not to say it’s not interesting to watch, or that the developments don’t take unexpected turns! 

One storyline that’s taken several turns in all sorts of directions is the interactions between Doggett and Coates. We’ve talked about this before, and commended the show for the way it highlights rape culture and shows that perpetrators come in different forms. I forgot to mention this in last week’s roundtable, but the scenes where Doggett and Coates talk about time travel and he apologises to her had me worried the show was going too far in its ambition to humanize Coates. It was almost crafted as something out of a romance narrative, and like I’ve said that type of redemption for Coates would make me sick. Fortunately, we’ve got Big Boo here to set the conversation straight - episode 9 made me hopeful again. What do you think? Are you optimistic about where the show will take this, or do you think it’s going in the wrong direction?

Amanda: Boo’s anger is more interesting to me than Doggett and Coates’ conversation at this point, with her backstory of not fighting her mother because her father told her not to, trying to do it in a sweet conspiratorial way. I think that’s where her anger is coming from, and why she directs it at Doggett rather than reserve it for Coates. She wants, or maybe needs, Doggett to fight. Her championing for Doggett is touching, but the application of that anger isn’t helping (although, this might also be caused by Boo’s helplessness to save Doggett from this situation)

Frida: I think the show usually takes twists and turns when it comes to storylines like Doggett’s and Coates’, so I think we will have to see how this will turn out. But I would be surprised if they further humanized Coates in this way as you say! I just find it interesting to see how Doggett herself processes this and makes her choices. I understand Boo’s fury but I agree with Amanda that it’s not really helping right now. It’s hard to see them disagree.

Adrian: The humanization of Coates is vital to a story men need to see. I’ve heard men insist, “Rapists are monsters; normal men don’t rape” and the story of Doggett and Coates shows that a man others believe is normal, who believes himself to be normal, who is intelligent, sometimes thoughtful, and otherwise friendly and likeable can still, absolutely commit rape. He can do this without realizing he has raped someone, because of a rape culture that does not sufficiently educate people about consent. Making Coates unlikable would allow men to excuse themselves from the conversation because “I’m not a monster like him.” Coates forces men to look at themselves in the mirror and start asking important questions.

I don’t think we’ll see a romance, but Coates’ apology and her opportunity to forgive is a boon for Doggett. She deserves the opportunity for peace on her terms.

Amanda: Speaking of peace on her own terms, I feel really, really weird about Flores’s backstory. They’ve done it really well before on the show, reminding us that not every person is wholly good or bad, but the whole “Getting hers back on a grouchy disabled elderly woman” storyline felt off on both ends. If you’re experiencing what’s basically emotional abuse at a job, quit that job (I’m assuming Flores was working through an agency and could request another client). And not humanizing an aging woman at all, when they humanized Coates, is just sloppy to me. 

Tova: I appreciate that the show gave us some insight into Flores’s not giving a single fuck behavior in Litchfield, without making it her whole person. But the rebellious act in that story did not have to consist of violating another person like that. I feel similarly to you here: I appreciate the multi-faceted characters on OITNB, even when the revelations about them are uncomfortable, but this didn’t sit right with me. The fact that the whole story is set up so that you’re almost yelling at the screen because you want Flores to tell the lady to fuck off so badly, and is told in parallel with Flores’s current righteous resistance, makes the end look a lot like righteous resistance as well. And like you say, it’s a bit sloppy to humanize a rapist but not this woman. I’d also like to point out that what Flores did is a clear violation of consent, which makes it sexual assault.

Shirleen: This is awkward. I’m grateful Tova invited me and worry my first comment goes against the grain. I loved Blanca Flores’s backstory. Writer Sara Hess shows that homecare resembles prison conditions. Imagine hours of Millie scrutinizing Blanca’s work and her body, after Millie calls Blanca a ‘half wit’ and scorns any desire for Diablo.  As this Atlantic article reports, home care is emotional, intimate, and isolating work. The intimacy of this labor blurs power dynamics between caretaker and senior. Worse, these complicated interactions occur outside the purview of homecare job agencies, making invisible the toll of this labor. 

Millie is old and weak, yet she governs her home. She teases she’ll bequeath it to Flores, rather than to her daughter; the gesture spotlights what Flores lacks: property and nearby family. When Flores’ courtship “distracted” her 24/7 attention from Millie,  Millie uses her power and privilege to fire Diablo despite his gardening talents . Blanca’s cry of “He’s a person. I’m a person. I don’t just live to work for you” pained me. Amongst my Caribbean family are homecare aids and nannies dedicated to caretaking, while they raise their own distant families. Millie acts possessively over Blanca’s body, which shows how live-in work can feel imprisoning. 

Adrian: I'm with you, Shirleen. Also, I didn’t find Millie lacking in humanization, and it’s unclear to me why some of you did. She doesn’t have to be likeable to be humanized, but estranged from her daughter, she’s alone and sad. Millie’s busybody tendency and general mistreatment of Blanca is detestable, but her suggestion that she may leave the house to Blanca showed a sense of gratitude and loyalty. Point is, I didn’t like Millie, but she isn’t quite a villain.

This made Blanca’s rebellion fascinating. Rather than suffer silently or quit, she chose a third option: remain in the relationship, but under new conditions. Blanca deliberately violated Millie with an exhibitionist display, simply to reverse their power dynamic. I like Blanca, but maybe she is a villain?

Not every inmate’s story need be unjust misfortune or pitiable misadventure. We may discover that Blanca truly earned herself a conviction.

Tova: Don't worry about going against the grain! Different perspectives means people are going to disagree, and we definitely want different perspectives here. 

I did appreciate Flores's backstory, and I think you’re spot-on in describing it as a kind of prison, especially if she doesn't have the opportunity to leave and take on a different job. It was just the conclusion, presenting a type of sexual assault in a triumphant way, I didn't appreciate. In the current day scenes, I'm 100% with Flores. The searches are humiliating, and for sure a way to assert power and make (Latina) inmates constantly police themselves. 

I think I mainly wanted Millie humanized in the moment, as she changed into a victim. Adrian is right that we did get some sense of why she was such a bitter person, 
though I disagree that seeing her waive the possibility of inheriting under Flores’s nose helped make her more sympathetic. I just saw it as manipulation and control. 

These episodes are practically overflowing with content on the themes of control, power and abuse of power. I’m curious to hear your theories on CO Humphrey making Maritza live out her thought experiment - what the hell was that about? And how do you think this connects to other situations with guards in Litchfield, from racial profiling and frisking to punishments like Flores’s?

Amanda: Well, for one thing, having them all live together was probably the opposite of a good idea. Alone they all have one or two personality flaws tops, and Humps would freak them out a little. In this situation, between Humps and Piscatella, every guard is encouraged to be a little rougher, a little meaner, or they aren’t “standing together.” I’m curious to see if this gets worse when the new, bigger dorms are built. Assuming all of Litchfield’s brewing issues doesn’t cause it to become a new Atlantis and fall into the lake first.

Frida: I definitely agree about them living together was a bad idea; the overall threatening and inhumane behavior against the inmates get worse. The situation with Humphrey and Maritza was just so sickening. He has some serious problems making her do that against her will. My perspective of this is that prison simply brings out the worst in some people; how easy it is to start manipulating inmates and also other guards, and the privileges and power that the guards have. It’s just a bad environment for everyone, some people might handle it better than others, Humphrey being the one that flourishes in a bad way in that environment.

Shirleen: The stop-and-frisking of the Latina inmates isn’t a mere nuisance, which Ruiz’s dismissal of Flores’ objections implies (“What’s the big deal?”). As Foucault would predict, panopticism isolates each inmate, who then internalizes rules of the COs who surveill them. The Dominicans grow self-conscious before frisking. Ouija worries if Flores doesn’t shower, her smell will confirm the CO’s racist stereotypes of Dominicans as "dirty people." Panopticism works if Latina women not only discipline and punish their own bodies, but also monitor each others’ bodies absent the guard’s gaze. But, Flores persuades Ouija, Zirconia, and other to resist, subvert and reclaim the spicy Latina stereotypes with humor: hot sauce, oysters, pile them on! Blanca sets the stage for inmates to consider collective action against guard abuse.

Tova: I wonder if the group mentality is reinforced by the specifics of working in a prison environment as well? The loyalty to Humphrey is insanely misguided, not just because he’s an abusive creep--I understand you can’t fire someone for being a bad person--but because his mistake was such a clear violation of the core ethics of his job. I used to think Piscatella took pride in doing a good job, even if he has strange ideas about what that entails. Now I’m wondering if his main motivation isn’t just to live out his aggression towards “criminals.” He sure provides plenty of room for others to do so. 

I find Shirleen’s analysis of the stop-and-frisks very interesting. The Latinas’ discipline of the self/body is one of the more subtle effects of power, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more benevolent. Can you think of any other examples of how the power mechanisms of prison become ingrained in the inmates themselves, or how they fight back against it?

Shirleen: In Episode 10, Daya, Aleida, and Ingalls seem more aware of how prison mechanisms shape their identities and their social networks (quite a dilemma for  inmates in solitary). How each woman resists these forces intrigues me. Daya wants to reset her prison life to birth a new identity, plus, she rejects Ramirez's kitchen network for Ruiz’s salon. I don’t know if Daya is acting calculated or impulsive.

Meanwhile, Aleida re-enters in life outside Litchfield, and struggles to shake what prison ingrained. I laughed and cringed at what Cesar’s girlfriend imagined about prison. No, Margarita, no Botox or pills hidden under Aleida’s tits! 

Sister Ingalls is diligent, albeit clumsy, when she evades the SHU infrastructure that isolates inmates when they eat, shower, and leave their cell to exercise briefly. How do you all rate Daya, Aleida, or Ingalls in how they resist prison’s mechanisms to over-determine their path in episode 10?

Frida: I think all three of them were trying to resist and make their own decisions, but in the end all of them ended up knowing they had less control of the situation than they thought. I think all the characters you mentioned tries to shape their future in different ways, with Daya more going with the flow for example. With being a part of the Dominican gang maybe Daya is thinking that she has protection and friends that will stand up for her, but I’m not sure she knows what she’s doing. Ingalls on the other hand has the most control I’d say, even though her whole story ended pretty differently than she probably thought it would.

Tova: Yes, even if Ingalls acts very deliberately, she doesn’t seem to know what effects those actions will have outside of landing her in the SHU (which she doesn’t know much about either). That doesn’t mean she’s not resisting power though, and she got what she wanted in the end, so I’d say she did it successfully!

If anything, Daya joining Maria’s group seems like defeat. There are many different ways characters on OITNB get through their time in prison, and staying under the radar or being a model inmate is definitely not the only legitimate one, but I think we all feel that this development will end up hurting Daya somehow - and that’s definitely only benefiting the system (or, if you want to be more specific than a high schooler who’s listened to too much angry white boy music, the prison industrial complex). Maybe Aledia will turn out to do better, despite being the appointed fuck-up of the two. What do you think? Assuming we get to see more of her post-prison life next season, what would you like to see the show explore?

Shirleen: Aleida frustrates me. Yet, her abrasive character and her hustle to escape the corners she boxes herself into hook me. That diner scene evokes both my skepticism at Aleida’s paranoia that everyone knows she’s a criminal and my empathy that she is marked as an ex-Litchfield inmate: grey sweatshirt and pants, $40, bus ticket, old map.   

Season 5 needs to depict Aleida’s post-prison life and elaborate on her tragic irony: Aleida now faces boxes and corners she didn’t create. So many laws restrict ex-convicts’ lives and livelihoods when re-integrating into society. As Michelle Alexander explains in The New Jim Crow, parolees navigate so many prohibitions they become second-class citizens demoted to a lower caste, a permanent criminal. Housing, employment, family re-unification--Aleida will be denied at every turn.  Reform initiatives like “Ban the Box” exist, but progress is slow. Let’s see how Aleida rebuilds her shattered bonds of family, confronts foster care and the color of child welfare.  

Frida: I’m totally with Shirleen; I really want to see Aleida’s post-prison life in season five. I don’t know much about the ex-convict life in the United States, I just have an idea that it is very hard and you have that conviction following you your entire life. I’d like the show to focus on Aleida and her children, the process of getting them back and where they are now. It’s time the show added a story about one of the inmates outside trying to make it, it would make the show more dynamic I think.

Adrian: We’ve been holding out hope for Aleida since our second OITNB roundtable, and I remain very keen on seeing her story remain outside of prison walls. I understand how Aleida is frustrating, but Aleida is discouraged very easily and the situation of an ex-con is a Sisyphean exercise in that. I’m hoping she gets inspired and tempers her anger into the determination she needs make it on the outside. Maybe Aleida could find employment and purpose working with Pearson!

Tova: That would be something! Quite unlikely, but it would be interesting to see someone from Litchfield work for prison reform (or abolition) after getting out. There’s a whole movement out there, and though the show has touched on most of the ideas and societal critique behind it, it hasn’t explicitly dealt with the activists and organizations (like Critical Resistance) that are working together to change things and which often cooperate with people currently incarcerated. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the different types of resistance inmates engage in during season 4, and this could be a neat way to explore the theme further. On the other hand, being more explicit might not mean a better portrayal of human nature, prison life and oppressive structures. And that’s what I want from Orange is the New Black, more than anything else. 

Favourite quotes

Amanda: “It was up a nun’s vagina” “What, and you didn’t rinse it?” “Yeah, I sprayed it with windex, especially the microchip part with all the information on it”

Frida: “You didn’t leave me poop, you left me gifts.”

Adrian: "I cannot believe that those posers just smoked us on the unspoken, interracial, prison couple power ranking."

Tova: “I’m a rebel genius. The Che Guevara of hallway groping.”

Shirleen: “You can put me in jail, but you can’t tell me what to do with my own body.”

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.

Shirleen Robinson is a black feminist researcher living outside New York City.  She is overjoyed to think and write about her latent love of television