Now, this is the Orange Is the New Black that I know and love. Finally, we get an episode that moves the plot along, is united by a single theme, and told an interesting and surprising backstory for one of the inmates who has always been in the background but never been given much attention.
The theme was inspired by Emma Stone’s Oscar dress, of all things. In her flashback, Flaca’s mother tells her that people will believe what you tell them, like sewing a CK label in the back of a bootleg gown, and that was true of almost all of the stories in the episode. Luckily, we didn’t see much of Alex and Piper, but when we did, Piper joked that she was hired by Alex’s old drug dealer to kill Alex. While she is obviously joking, Alex can’t decide whether or not to believe her. She wants to believe what she is told.
The most interesting permutation of this theme came up with Poussey’s homemade hooch, which she brews in holes outside of the library, where she works. When she goes to get herself a big old glass of the distilled fruit concoction, she discovers it’s missing. Leanne and Angie tell her that a drunk squirrel (more precisely, a squirrel-raccoon hybrid) probably ran off with it and Poussey believes them, laying down traps made of urine and cayenne pepper. (Aren’t those the same ingredients for a Master Cleanse?)
It wasn’t the squirrel; it was actually Taystee, who stole the hooch because she doesn’t like her best friend getting tipsy and napping all day. She was going to let Poussey in on the truth, but Crazy Eyes says that they all need the power of Santa to keep going in prison. Well, not the actual Santa (though I’m sure Healy has played him in more than one shopping mall), but the idea of hope, something to believe in to make themselves feel better and forget that they are destroying megalopolises made of pubes while wearing a surgical mask rigged out of elastic bands and a maxi pad.
For all of the women in the prison, Santa was a new job that MCC, the corporation that is now running Litchfield, is offering inmates, which pays $1 an hour — 90 cents more than all the other jobs pay. Pearson, the New Balance–wearing executive in charge, tells Caputo not to worry, that he has a way to make sure all the inmates feel happy about the selection process. All the women take a test, and 40 are chosen for the new detail, including Flaca, Piper, Black Cindy, Janae, and several more of our favorites. They all believe that they are superior because the test landed them in this esteemed position.
Later, Pearson tells Caputo that he just downloaded a random personality quiz from the internet (I’m an ENFP) and selected the inmates who got the job at random from the pile of tests. There’s even more thought put into a Tinder hookup than giving the women these jobs. He says that the test keeps them from being mad at the administration for not getting the job and instead makes them feel bad about themselves because they didn’t have what it takes to pass the test. So it’s just another disappointment to these women’s self-worth, which is what landed so many of them under the boot of the system in the first place. Great job, Pearson.
It’s become increasingly clear to Caputo and the rest of the officers that MCC does not have their best interests in mind. After this stunt with the quiz, it shows that even Caputo, as much as he’s occupied by shaking his beer can under his desk after the inmates leave, cares a little bit more about them as actual human beings than MCC does. To MCC, they are just beans to be counted and warm bodies to sew the elastic waistbands on Whispers, the line of panties they’ll be constructing in the prison. Do you think yoga moms would be as interested in buying these American-made drawers if they knew they were constructed using prison labor? Oh, who cares? I’m sure people will wear tights made out of the foreskins of baby seals if Lululemon puts its two-armed-squid-looking logo on them.
The new gig was great for Flaca, though. She was an emo high-school student who took sheets of computer paper, printed them with cute designs, and sold them to her stupid classmates as hits of acid. All she wanted was some money to buy some Frankenstein flats to wear to the Gym Class Heroes concert, but it turns out that one of her classmates did his best Helen Hunt Afterschool Special impersonation and threw himself off of the roof of the school.
Flaca always wanted something better for herself and imagined herself as greater than everyone else. That’s why she imagines that there is something inherent in her that the new regime unearthed with the test that she was too anxious and itchy to even finish. She is so convinced that this personality quiz plucked her out as a genius that she turns her back on her family in the kitchen. (Who wants to bet that things are going to go wrong in the sweatshop and she’s going to have to go begging back to them? This season has been nothing if not obvious.) But this is the perfect assignment for Flaca, whose mother taught her how to sew by knocking off designer dresses in magazines. While the flash on her face at the end of the episode is an acknowledgement of the irony that she ended up exactly where she never wanted to be, it was also a little bit of that Santa that Crazy Eyes spoke of. Now she’s convinced that the quiz selected her because of her sewing skills, and because she’s going to be the best one in the class, she’ll probably be running the joint in just a few weeks.
The only story line that had subverted the idea of people being duped by what they’re told is the weird thing going on with Red and Healy, which was equal parts creepy and cute. For the record, I would like to vote that Red keep the changes that Piper made to her appearance for good. She looks more like a stylish old lady now than she does some sort of Soviet muppet named Natasha. While she said all these nice things to Healy and made him think that she was interested in him romantically, what she really wanted was her kitchen back. Healy was crushed when he discovered the truth, and though she said she wasn’t being kind only to gain favor, that is exactly what she was doing. Sometimes people’s intentions are a lot more transparent than they would like to believe.