Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Fictions fracture OITNB’s Litchfield, in more ways than one

Illustration for article titled Fictions fracture OITNB’s Litchfield, in more ways than one

Welcome to TV Club’s coverage of season four of Orange Is The New Black. Reviews will be posting daily at 2:oo pm EST, leading to the review of the season finale on June 29. These reviews are written from the perspective of having only seen the episode in question, and so we ask that you respect the pace of other viewers and avoid spoiling details from future episodes in your comments.

As “(Don’t) Say Anything” begins, Taystee, Suzanne, and Morello are mopping up the floor. It’s a simple conversation, the type of everyday work chatter you’d expect on janitorial duty, but part of it rankles Morello. The topic turns to her new husband, who Taystee and Suzanne feel is absolutely likely to have sex with someone else while Morello is in prison. Taystee’s argument is sound: Morello is not in prison for a short period of time, and thus it’s probably realistic to presume that Vince might stray at some point.

But Taystee makes the mistake of doubting Morello’s willingness and ability to separate herself from reality. When we eventually join her trying to initiate phone sex, she opens the call with an important bit of fiction: as far as their long-distance sex life is concerned, she’s stuck in traffic on her way back from work, not locked away at Litchfield. The fantasy dissipates when Vince’s mom yells at him to come help his little brother with his homework, but it’s not for lack of trying from Morello, who was perfectly willing to act out this fantasy surrounded by her fellow inmates if it meant bridging the distance between them.

Morello and Vince’s commitment to fantasy climaxes—yes, I know what I did there—with an unsimulated, synchronous recreation of the When Harry Met Sally diner scene, which is absurd and wonderful in its own right. But it also reinforces how much being in prison relies on the stories these women tell themselves, and on the fictions—large or small—that get them through each day. Some people see these fictions for what they are, like Red calling out the fact that whatever she had going on with Healy last season was never going to be consensual, and thus was never going to be anything more than a fantasy. But Healy doesn’t have the same sense of perspective, as evidenced by his mail-order bride and his sincere belief that Red could reasonably be in love with him. Healy may see himself as practical and utilitarian, but his entire time at Litchfield has been built around the misogynistic, racist, and homophobic worldview that he’s ultimately used in guiding Litchfield’s inmates.

Brook is, on the surface, somewhat the opposite. From the time she was first introduced, Brook Soso been painted as an idealist, someone who stubbornly refuses to accept negativity to the point that it becomes a liability. The third season played out the tragic consequences of this arc, exploring the prison system’s inability to treat basic symptoms of depression, but here we return to the inherently vacuous nature of Brook’s worldview. Brook is not the kind of person who wants to learn information or establish a well-formed opinion: she is someone who will contort the facts to suit her situation, and who ultimately sees the world in ways that best serve her efforts to articulate herself and those around her relative to it.

The two situations we see Brook in within “(Don’t) Say Anything” are not identical. In the flashback, we see a young Brook protesting something she feels strongly about, going to a sex offender’s door in order to prove a point to her dick of an ex-boyfriend. She’s trying to win a bet and take a stand for herself, and so her ability to keep saying yes to this man who might mean to harm her is reckless but also a credit to her determination. And so it’s initially rewarding when the man reveals that his “sex crime” was public sex on an empty beach—Brook gets her signature, she doesn’t get assaulted, and she has the ammunition she needs to be able to go back to the office, show up her ex-boyfriend, and earn the date with the lunkhead she has decided she desires by her own free will.


But that ending doesn’t serve Brook. It’s a win, yes, but it’s somewhat of a hollow victory, and she can’t help herself. Despite having just commiserated with this man over the way the myth of his sexual assault has grown well beyond the facts, she becomes part of the problem, making up a crazy story about him stalking a nine-year-old and stroking her hair when she got his signature. The ex shuts up, the lunkhead is suitably humbled, and Brook is able to turn her day into a story that better positions her relative to the people she wants to impress.

There are undoubtedly similarities in her efforts to bring Judy King and Poussey together. She chooses a version of events that is false, which reinforces her own superiority while ignoring the facts of her interactions with Poussey. Nothing about the way Poussey speaks or carries herself would give the indication that she comes from poverty or drug addiction, but it fit the narrative Soso was creating for Judy King, and so it just started coming out of her mouth. The difference, however, was that Brook didn’t make up a story about that sex offender for his or anyone else’s benefit: that was all about making herself feel better. But while she slipped into this self-interest when interacting with Judy King, her central goal was to help Poussey connect with an idol. When she eventually apologizes with an homage to Say Anything—continuing a weird recurring theme of references to John Cusack projects, reinforced by the episode’s title—it’s accepted as genuine because the fictions she created here were supportive rather than substantive, instinctive rather than intentional.


We cannot say the same for Joe Caputo. Last season planted the seeds for “Caputo: Corporate Stooge,” but the way it has played out in context is a nice thematic counterpoint here. Caputo is not a bad person: yes, he has made decisions in the interest of personal interest that have dramatically affected people like Sophia and the guards who made efforts to start a union, but Nick Sandow does a nice job emphasizing the way Caputo rationalizes his decisions. He’s hiding behind his corporate interests, but there’s moments of rational defense in his confrontation with Donaldson. Caputo is obviously just trying to make himself feel better—and impress Linda with his humanitarian side, which she seems shocked to discover as if she’s never once felt bad about anything, which tracks—by giving him a twenty-dollar tip, but he’s not wrong that he was put into an impossible situation when they walked out on that day. I may personally feel that Caputo should have allowed the guards to unionize, or fought harder with MCC, but is it reasonable to expect him to put his own job on the line when the corporate interests would be only too happy to replace him? In a system where all labor is highly expendable, is Caputo’s story about his actions being justified necessarily fiction?

Caputo’s ongoing presence in the story means that we’re seeing more of his side of things, but I like the way Donaldson’s appearance reminds us of an alternative narrative, being told by the other guards as they go about their lives. We’re not seeing them: O’Neil is on dialysis, but we’re told his story through Donaldson, and we might never return to it. Or, it may potentially reemerge in the form of a lawsuit, much as the simmering tensions around Sophia—Crystal’s visits to the prison, Michael’s Kickstarter campaign—could blow up into something more significant. We typically see any narratives kicking around Litchfield, whether it’s Alex’s attempts to convince Lolly they made the right choice or Piper’s attempts to keep her business afloat as the Dominicans move in on her turf. But those that happen on the outside are less apparent, and Caputo (and now Taystee, as his assistant) is in a key transitional space for exploring the interplay between the fictions swirling both inside and outside of Litchfield.


As someone writing about the show, I’m applying my own narratives: much as Soso can’t resist turning Poussey into a treatise on the intersections of race and class, despite the ways in which Poussey upends stereotypes therein, viewers come to the show with their own perspectives. I imagine that different viewers would feel differently about Caputo depending on how they feel about unions, or the role of corporations in everyday life, or any other political or moral quandary lying at the heart of these narratives. “(Don’t) Say Anything” punctures numerous fantasies and fictions, but it also explores why they exist, and moves forward from them with the caveat that all are nonetheless contained within the context of incarceration. And for Morello and many others, that will not be changing anytime soon.

Stray observations

  • On this topic, it’s interesting how rarely the show talks about the prospect of prisoners being released—the topic hasn’t come up since Alex’s return, and there’s been no parole boards or anything similar to what happened with Taystee. I’m curious about that creative choice, and what will happen as it plays out.
  • Taystee as Caputo’s assistant is just perfect: Danielle Brooks is delightful with the clipboards, phone fails, and Shawshank/Game Of Thrones references, and Caputo’s logic for hiring her (she is intelligent but not sexually attractive to him) is a wonderful indictment of his character. Win win, here.
  • I’m not sure the previous episode did enough to set up Ruiz as Piper’s main antagonist, but it gives her arc a bit more substance, and creates more of a “plot” that can evolve from episode to episode (here with the emergence of a competing panty business).
  • Speaking of which: I keep forgetting it’s called Felonious Spunk, which means I get to keep reliving my potent mix of disgust and delight at that name.
  • So let’s discuss: given when Brook would have been arrested, would hashtags have been enough of a thing that she would have thought #TheOtherOnePercent would be a good one? What year is this supposed to be? What year was Season 2? Gloria obviously wouldn’t know what Kickstarter was, having been in longer, but I’m not sure people spoke in hashtags when Brook was out in public, millennial or no.
  • I have to wonder given how prominent Ovaltine was here if there was some kind of sponsorship deal, but I appreciated the fact Piper’s bunkmate was so earnestly into it, and that Piper would imagine it as an enticing gift for her employees. What fun delusions Piper has.
  • With Red, I feel like I have a very good grasp on when she’s making a joke about killing people; with Frida, who suggests she and Alex will have to kill Lolly, I have no such grasp, and truly believe she may just off her.
  • The various reactions to Morello and Vince’s in-person phone sex orgasms—or whatever you want to call them—were fun, but I particularly liked how Bayley was smiling so giddily about it. What a dumb-dumb.
  • “It’s like Rehab Addict: Litchfield Edition, but with like real addicts”—Taystee appreciates HGTV as I do. And, if she had brought the idea of bringing in HGTV to MCC, I bet they totally would have gone with it, and Nicole Curtis would have been flying in from the Midwest in no time.

Public Service Announcement

If you don’t want to be spoiled for events later in the season, we’re now reaching the point where your only solution might be just avoiding Twitter/Facebook altogether, especially if you follow any pop culture sites—Vulture, in particular, has been thirsty when it comes to posting plot details and postmortem interviews with carelessly revealing descriptions. I would also suggest, as some noted in the comments yesterday, avoiding Googling the show itself or the name of specific characters—Google News is going to be the first thing that pops up, and some of the “Share Sentences” that the site’s algorithm is picking up are even undoing carefully written spoiler headlines. Basically: if you can’t binge-watch the show, the internet (whether through a lack of human decency and a lack of human control) is not going to let you navigate it safely, and so you’ll need to decide how best to stay vigilant.