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A life-and-death game of telephone stands between Orange Is The New Black’s inmates and dire consequences

Illustration for article titled A life-and-death game of telephone stands between iOrange Is The New Black/i’sem/em inmates and dire consequences
Photo: JoJo Whilden (Netflix)
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One of my least favorite television tropes is when things happen because characters just don’t talk to one another: a single conversation could solve a lot of problems on TV, and many dramas will contrive situations to keep people from communicating clearly in order to drive conflict.

Orange Is The New Black plays with this trope in “Look Our For Number One,” as Red sets off a game of telephone in the prison to try to let her girls know what Cindy already knows, and what Frieda quickly learns here—Piscatella is dead, and the guards who stormed the prison are framing the women in the pool for the crime. After trying charades fails, Red resorts to letting Badison send word through the prison, and it reaches Nicky in time for her to accept her father and his fiancé’s legal assistance. However, by the time it reaches Piper the message has been robbed of its specificity, and Piper misinterprets the message to believe that Alex is dead.


It’s a frustrating moment of miscommunication, but the show does the work to justify it: between the way the different women lose Piscatella’s name with each new transmission and how Piper has placed all her energy on Alex’s whereabouts, it makes sense that she might hear “tall one killed in pool” and think it’s about Alex. The result is that Piper, one of the few people in a position of privilege to be able to shape the investigation without serious charges hanging over her, is too distraught to explain what happened in clearer terms—she views the riot only through the lens of spending time organizing instead of spending time with Alex. And with Nicky facing an additional 70 years for her dispensing of drugs during the riot and Frieda desperate to avoid a return to the general population, Piper’s misunderstanding removes one of the only barriers to Red being the one held responsible for Piscatella’s death.

It’s frustrating to watch, but in a way that serves the show: we don’t want these women to turn against each other, but the season has invested the time necessary to justify their decisions. Piper’s misunderstanding does play into a trope that frustrates me, but miscommunication is inevitable when the realities of Ad Seg keep them from speaking to one another. Elsewhere, though, the work has been done: Cindy’s flashback—while not particularly insightful—at least reinforced her history of self-interest, and here Frieda’s flashback similarly highlights the reasons why she is so terrified to be back at Max that she would try to kill herself. I found the performances in the flashback to be all over the place—the tone on Carol and Barb was a rollercoaster ride—but I appreciate the way it fleshes out the world of Max, and connects to the C-Block and D-Block tensions that play out with Cindy, Morello, Daya, and Flaca settling into their new home. And while Cindy accidentally sold out Taystee and chose to remain quiet about it, Frieda’s past snitching turns into a pattern, as she sells out Taystee and Red both in order to secure a place in the comforts of B-Block—aka “Florida”—alongside Suzanne.

We don’t want any of this to happen, but what are the alternatives? We haven’t been presented any, as of yet: there is no sign that anyone is crying foul at Piscatella’s autopsy, no guards who seem like possible whistleblowers, and no indication that the investigation into the riot will disappear any time soon. Given the situation that these women find themselves in, there is no happy ending to be found here. This has always been true for the show, but it seems particularly bleak here, especially for Taystee: I don’t know if the show is having to work around Danielle Brooks’ schedule or just consciously pushing Taystee into the background for dramatic effect, but all of the weight of the riot and Piscatella’s death are about to fall on her shoulders, and waiting for that to come is playing into the tragedy of the show really effectively. In the meantime, you can either accept the difficult decisions of self-interest made by Cindy, Frieda, and potentially Nicky, or we can be optimistic and hope that something or someone will emerge that could keep these women from being held accountable for someone else killing a monster who, acting as a private citizen, stormed a women’s prison to torture the inmates inside.

Stray observations

  • It’s notable that our brief glimpse of Ohio features only three recognizable inmates beyond Linda from Purchasing, and that Lea DeLaria was credited as a “Special Guest Star,” indicating that we likely won’t be returning to spend more time in Cleveland this season.
  • Speaking of Linda No Longer From Purchasing, her choice to prioritize her self-interest and leverage her treatment during the riot into a more powerful role in MCC is a nice turn, and the battle between Fig and a wigged Linda is promising. I’m way more interested in the MCC bureaucracy storyline than I am in any of the former guards or Caputo, so this is a good way into that with characters we know.
  • As I noted in the previous review, Frieda did notice Cindy’s note, and uses it to her advantage: that’s a detail that is stretched across two episodes, a bit of storytelling that really only works in binge form. If there was a week between these episodes, only a “Previously On” would have likely reminded us of that.
  • While we meet Carol in the present day, we only hear about Barb, who it appears is still running D-Block—the mythos of Max is definitely still going to be fleshed out a bit more.
  • There’s a nice little beat where Gloria—comfortable in C-Block after agreeing to testify—checks in on Daya, but overall I’m not getting a clear read on Daya’s story right now, and “Daddy” hitting on her is not doing anything to help the situation. The fact we didn’t actually see her agree to the plea has robbed her story of some specificity.
  • So C-Block has internet access and could watch Flaca and Maritza’s videos, which raises an important question: why isn’t Flaca talking about Maritza’s absence? Flaca just appears suddenly in D-Block without exposition, but there’s no effort to showcase her own emotional response to the riot and its aftermath, which is strange to me.
  • I really thought Morello not recognizing Piper was supposed to be a sign of her detachment from reality, but here she’s pretty much just your typical Morello but with morning sickness, so I’m not sure what they were going for in the previous episode: Piper isn’t that unrecognizable with her facial injuries, I’d argue.
  • Now that they have Linda No Longer From Purchasing out of the system, when are they going to notice that Pennsatucky is missing? Soon, right?

Contributor, A.V. Club, and Assistant Professor of Communication at Old Dominion University.

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