Orange Is the New Black
In almost all of its intersecting story lines, “Full Bush, Half Snickers” directly confronts the idea that the outside world is seeping into Litchfield. Not all of those story lines are successful, and some are actively bad, but that connecting theme resonates throughout, providing new context to the riot that allows Orange Is the New Black to explore its characters’ motivations.
With the gun gone and the immediate confusion of the riot subsided, the inmates are falling into defined roles and routines within Bitchfield, the moniker Black Cindy and Alison give to the new state of things. In “Full Bush, Half Snickers,” the inmates attempt to re-create elements of the outside world within prison, suggesting that the riot has them all thinking even more about life on the outside. For Pennsatucky, this means handing out “yellow drink” to other inmates. It’s part of her community service, but it’s also a connection to her mother, who used to make the flavored water for her growing up. Even past characters who exist on the outside reappear in small ways, like Bennett, who makes it into Daya’s dark mural, and even Larry, whom Piper briefly mentions. (“I don’t know who the fuck Larry is,” Taystee says, solidifying her as the best character on this show.) Thankfully, these characters are both in the rearview mirror, but the emotional stakes of OITNB still depend on a strong sense of the characters’ pasts. That’s why the best story lines in “Full Bush, Half Snickers” are ones that tap into long-standing character development.
Reconstructing the outside world within Bitchfield happens on a much larger scale when several of the inmates put together a flea market where inmates can trade goods and services. (One shop, from which the episode gets its title, offers pubic braiding for the price of candy.) Big Boo buys a thread necklace for Linda, who’s still giving an all-out performance as Amelia Von Barlow, “the counterfeit cunt of Connecticut.” Boo is part of Linda’s attempt to blend in, but when Boo saves her life from two other inmates after her necklace, she takes her undercover life to the next level by hooking up with Bitchfield’s number-one stud. Unfortunately, as much as I love Beth Dover, I’m not very invested in Linda as a character.
This season, it’s exceptionally difficult to be invested in the characters who exist for comic relief — especially when that comic relief hinges on a character’s racism. In addition to a prison flea market, a prison café pops up when Pidge and Ouija decide to start making cold-brew and coffee in exchange for other goods. Brandy the Nazi gets involved, too, turning it into a full-fledged café with her barista knowledge. It turns out she’s in prison because she was poisoning Jewish people and black people while working as a barista. The banter between Brandy, Ouija, and Pidge relies on us finding their unlikely partnership humorous, when it’s really just uncomfortable. I’m tempted to say it’s worth it for Ouija’s set of impressions at the open mic, but OITNB gives in to fanservice a little too often (I find this season’s textual use of ship names like Vauseman and Flaritza jarring), and that’s exactly what Ouija’s impressions amount to. In this particular case, I don’t mind much because Rosal Colon is so funny and on point with her impressions of Morello, Nicky, and Red.
It’s no secret that the OITNB cast has become too big. It’s tricky from a casting perspective, though: I love that this show gives so many roles to brown and black actresses and otherwise underrepresented people (Asia Kate Dillon, who plays Brandy, is gender nonconforming). Still, this is the first season when the size of the cast seems to be working against the show. The only characters whose stories really work are the ones who tap into the show’s dramatic elements, or the ones with fleshed-out histories. Gloria only has a small subplot in the episode, but it means so much more than some of the other story lines that get more screen time because we know her backstory. She starts the episode living the high life (literally), smoking and shooting the shit with the rest of Frieda’s bunker crew. But one text ruins all that, informing her that her son Benny is in the hospital. Given her tumultuous relationship with Benny and her repeated attempts to reach out to her family since the riot broke out, the moment hits hard. “Full Bush, Half Snickers” presents pockets of peace within the riot, only to shatter them with the smallest of changes. Gloria’s fun in the bunker is short-lived. So is the supposed harmony of the café, which devolves into violence when Leanne and Angie steal a jug of cold-brew.
One of the best moments in the episode similarly relies on past character development to land. Black Cindy notices how deeply Alison misses her daughter. “You have no idea,” Alison says. Only, she does, at least to an extent. Black Cindy has a daughter, too, and she has a damaged relationship with her. Alison doesn’t know about any of this, but we do, and it’s easy to see the pang of sadness and guilt on Black Cindy’s face in that moment. The moment comes about as Black Cindy and Alison try to help Suzanne cope with the new conditions in the prison. While everyone else is busy trying to bring the outside in, Suzanne just wants some semblance of normalcy. The eradication of a routine has left Litchfield in limbo, and most have seized the opportunity to live the way they want to. Suzanne’s mental illness has made this state of limbo harder to grapple with. All season long, we’ve seen her confusion about the change in meal schedules. That confusion is exacerbated here, when she pretends to be in visitation with her parents. In order to establish a new normal, Alison and Cindy dress as guards and let Suzanne treat the actual guards as fellow inmates.
Throughout the season, both in Suzanne’s story line and elsewhere, mental illness has been met with apathy or even mockery. Even though she does eventually help her, Cindy calls Suzanne crazy, and Suzanne immediately asks not to be called that. Meanwhile, no one seems to notice Daya’s depressive state. In past episodes, Bayley’s mental instability has been brushed off. In this one, Morello’s mental health is also laughed off by most of the other inmates, as evidenced by Ouija’s impression and other inmates calling her “Lorna la Loca.” When Morello tries to tell Vinnie about her pregnancy with a confusing lasagna metaphor, he immediately bolts. It’s tough to tell exactly what’s going on in his head, but Morello will likely see the worst. Nicky taps out of taking care of Morello completely, opting to get a makeover with Alex from Flaritza so the two can get their groove back or something. Again, given how much we know about Morello’s background, these scenes carry a different narrative weight. They aren’t funny at all. The context of her history colors everything with tragedy.
As far as the more peaceful moments go within this episode, Soso’s memorial to Poussey is cathartic and beautiful. Taystee and Soso finally meet on common ground here, both acknowledging how angry and undone they are. “Every time I close my eyes, I see her,” Taystee says. She can’t eat or sleep. While Soso learns to take her anger out on a pillow, trained by Watson in the art of exercising through your rage, Taystee has poured herself into demanding justice. They’re coping in their own ways, but they come together to honor Poussey. The library memorial is a fitting tribute to Poussey, one that again builds on our deep knowledge of who the character was. Danielle Brooks so effortlessly balances the show’s comedic and dramatic voices, and that’s the exact kind of performer this season demands. Taystee embodies what this season should really be about, but unfortunately, we’re kept busy with other characters and story lines that feel more like distractions than anything else.