Orange Is the New Black
Well, this show is just muddying our rigid cultural definitions of “good” and “bad,” huh? With this episode, I found myself high-fiving a murderer, and I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing.
Gender studies has been my jam for most of the past decade (as both a teacher and a student), so I’m well aware that a large population of women are currently incarcerated for crimes related to men — either taking the fall for something like drugs or prostitution, or straight-up killing them when the law doesn’t protect women in instances of domestic violence. This week focused on Miss Claudette, who is in prison for a little bit of both.
At the end of the last episode, Suzy was revenge whizzing all over the floor in front of Piper and Miss Claudette’s cell after she’d been shunned by her Dandelion. We pick up right after that moment, with Piper furiously scrambling to clean up the urine with maxi pads (which, at this point, are like the duct tape of prison). Prim Miss Claudette offered little in the way of sympathy during this moment when Piper was begging for it, instead using it as a chance to rib her about her privileged life. Every time Piper is debased, the inmates find a way to further humiliate her; it’s great to see this harsh juxtaposition from artisanal berry-based soaps to piss-drenched maxi pad hands. For Piper, jail is less about being punished for her crime, and more about being tested for her ignorance. Her pleas of “I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t want this, and I don’t know what to do” are met with Miss Claudette’s very practical life advice: “YOU CLEAN THE PISS.” Piper, this is both a metaphor and your new reality, so get used to it.
Piper spends most of the week learning that her actions have negative consequences for others when she accidentally steals a screwdriver and Janelle, prime suspect No. 1 as the person in charge of tools, gets sent to SHU as a result. She’s assigned to work as an electrician with Officer Luschek, and in between electrocuting herself and failing to fix a lamp, leaves the screwdriver outside in her coat pocket at lunch. It’s difficult to fess up right away, as Caputo immediately reminds the inmates that a screwdriver is considered a concealed weapon, which, if found in their possession, could add five years to their sentence.
Piper bumbles through a series of attempts to get rid of the screwdriver, but Big Boo eventually steals it when she and a bunch of other inmates try to get Piper to review their appeals. “I wasn’t even IN New Jersey when that happened!” At first I was convinced that she’d use it to stab someone — Mercy is her former girl, Tricia is her annoying thug of a girlfriend, and she’s “stolen time” from inmates on their way out before — but she takes a page from the Martha Stewart manual of doing time and turns it into a dildo instead. Good for you, Boo! Luschek buys a replacement screwdriver to save his own ass, so Boo can ostensibly keep her creation safe for a while.
Miss Claudette was brought to NYC from Haiti as a scared child to work off her parent’s debt as a maid, so it’s easy to understand why she has zero tolerance for unruliness, having been culturally steeped in a lifetime of subservience as a means of survival. When a man named Baptiste helps usher her into this lifestyle, promising to “not let anything bad happen to her,” they form a tight friendship. She rises in the ranks and becomes house frau to other timid Haitian girls years later, and their friendship is tested when Baptiste marries a cold bitch named Josephine. When one of her girls comes home with giant bruises all over her body, Miss Claudette goes over to the customer’s house, stabs the living shit out of him, and cleans his house within an inch of its life, stepping over his dead body on the way out. I generally don’t applaud murder, and I want to feel terrible about this? But in a system that fails to protect women, immigrants, and especially women who are immigrants, I can’t necessarily blame her for taking matters into her own hands. Plus, Miss Claudette, old-school grandma with a picture of Denzel Washington over her bed, is a stone cold murderer! With this development, I find myself anticipating the backstories of the other inmates more and more.
Not only is she holding down the fort with Piper by trying to help her get rid of the screwdriver, but Miss Claudette busts Tricia in the act of trying to plant drugs on Mercy in an attempt to keep her at the Litch. She grabs her by the throat, looks her in the eye, and lets her know in no uncertain terms that “you can’t mess around with someone’s life like that” for a “schoolgirl crush.”
Having never allowed herself much in the way of hope, Miss Claudette receives a letter from Baptiste telling her Josephine has died and he’s coming to America that changes her mind. Originally thinking it was “too much aggravation for nothing,” she decides to take Healy up on the offer to have her case reopened as a potential early release. As Mercy sails toward freedom on a wave of kisses and well wishes, Miss Claudette’s eyes fill with tears as she gazes forward, full of hope.
- I am more in love with Nicky every time she appears onscreen. When referencing her seemingly endless task of drilling a hole in a wall, she says, “It’s an art piece representing the futility of blue-collar labor in a technological age. And vaginas.” Her assessment of “runcher theater” and reaction to Piper confessing to being a squirter “one time!” were probably my favorite moments of this episode.
- Nicky: “When the alarm goes off you have to lay down on the ground.” Piper: “Why?” Janelle: “Because the white man says so.” Nicky: “She’s right.”
- Luschek might be a complete idiot, but he’s funny. “I say a lot of shit, then I want to go home.”
- I love the tag-team effort of Alex and Boo while they were setting up for Mercy’s party: “This is more depressing than a Tori Amos cover band.”
- I am already onboard for a Taystee spinoff in the style of an advice show: “You ain’t steppin’ on the Goblet of Fire!”
- The thoughtful lunchtime convo between Nicky and Piper about the endlessness of doing time, the emotional reaction to waking up in prison day after day, helps the viewer refocus and remember that it’s not all zippy one-liners and toilet-paper-designed parties — this is a show about women doing time. The writers do a great job of shifting the narrative juuuuust enough to remind us.
Verdict Is Still Out:
- If this Daya-Bennett love story is going to revolve around chewing tobacco, count me out.
- I’m into this burgeoning friendship (potential romance?) between Nicky and Alex!
- UGH, Pornstache. I know his modus operandi is to be a complete dick, but I throat-puked when he was feeling the inmates up during the patdown.