Orange Is the New Black
Even though a mere two days have passed since Daya shot Humps, waiting until episode eight to fully engage with Daya’s arc in the aftermath is an odd choice. Daya’s shooting sparks the action of the season, and we have technically seen her process on the periphery. But until now, Daya’s decision to shoot Humps has felt more like a simple plot point than a meaningful character moment. “Tied to the Tracks” attempts to justify Daya’s actions and ground the character, even providing some semblance of closure for her arc. But I’m still not entirely convinced by the episode’s mechanical attempts to flesh out Daya’s motivations.
Through flashbacks and a phone call, “Tied to the Tracks” re-centers Daya’s relationship with her mother, which has been a defining part of the character ever since she arrived in Litchfield. In the flashbacks, we see a young Daya go after a boy simply because Aleida urged her to do so, only to ruin her friendship with her best friend and end up alone and embarrassed. (By the way, if you’re wondering how Orange Is the New Black found someone who looks so uncannily like Dascha Polanco, it’s her actual daughter.) In the present, Aleida continues to tell Daya that she has to look out for herself and no one else, that she can’t get attached to others or expect anything from them. She wants her daughter to be a shark, not a manatee. Daya does end up making a bold decision, but it isn’t the one Aleida anticipated: She calls Delia and tells her the truth about the baby, asking her to take her daughter. The emotional weight of the scene doesn’t fully resonate because of the weak writing, even though Polanco’s performance is at its best.
Besides, the erratic pacing of all the different subplots makes it difficult to become invested in everything that’s happening. Just like it seems off to wait so long to jump into Daya’s head, it’s strange to spend eight episodes with Red and Flores as they deep dive into Piscatella’s background. They have turned out to be quite the comedic duo, but if their takedown of Piscatella is going to be as crucial to the season’s overall narrative as it seems to be, then playing it all for laughs up to this point takes away from the story. It makes sense that different plotlines are unfolding at different paces, given the chaos of the riot and the fact that different characters have different priorities and roles within the narrative. But this is also yet another area where OITNB is trying to tell too many stories at once. The role reversal between Red and Nicky would be more poignant if Red’s story line up to this point hadn’t been so blatantly farcical.
On a similar note, OITNB has run out of ways to use Angie and Leanne, which is starkly obvious in this episode. They continue their reign of terror, bullying Pennsatucky alongside the white-power crew, who are presumably down to join simply because they like being awful people. There’s a sense that these characters are mimicking the ways they’ve been treated, resorting to harsh punishments because that’s exactly how the system treated them. There’s something similar happening with Ouija and Pidge, who chain Suzanne to a bedpost when she starts to spiral out, resorting to violence instead of meeting her mental illness with empathy and support. These women have never known a just system, and the fact that they default to the ways they have been treated is indicative of how deeply rooted the problem is and how counterproductive harsh sentencing and violent policing are in prison. They’ve internalized the abuse and are replicating it. Still, using Leanne and Angie to spin a larger story about rehabilitation and the prison-industrial complex just doesn’t work. They’re more caricatures than characters. “We’ve got a meth problem,” Linda says when she sees the meth heads coming. It’s not intentionally meta, but it certainly resonates. They’re the show’s problem, too.
Meanwhile, Pennsatucky’s arc has been confusing. Her once well-developed and interesting friendship with Boo has even fallen to the wayside. I first thought Boo’s frustration with Pennsatucky this season had to do with the fact that Pennsatucky welcomed her rapist back into her life, but it’s increasingly clear that isn’t really the case. For some unknown reason, this season seems confoundingly determined to ignore Coates’s past. And in this episode, Boo tells Pennsatucky she can’t help her because she’s more concerned with hooking up with her new boo Linda.
While it’s obvious that certain characters just aren’t working anymore, unexpected characters have moved to the forefront of the show’s emotional narrative. This includes Taystee, who faces off with the former warden Figueroa, sent in by the governor to negotiate. Figueroa is a firm and eloquent negotiator, but Taystee quickly matches her broad statements about budgetary constraints with knowledge of her own. She came to the meeting having done her research, advocating that MCC rebalance their budget to make room for all of the demands. Taystee’s tenacity shines, and once again she confronts someone who underestimates her intelligence.
Ruiz and Gloria have also buoyed this messy season. Ruiz’s transformation from riot leader to peaceful resistance advocate on the lawn is one of the smoother arcs of the season, anchored by her desperation to get out and home to her daughter. Selenis Leyva gives a powerhouse performance in the episode, joining Danielle Brooks at the top of the list for OITNB actors who deserve awards attention despite the season’s unevenness. Like Ruiz, she has a good reason to want this riot to end: Her son Benny is in critical condition in a hospital, and she begs Caputo for furlough. Caputo is sympathetic, but he warns her that “help isn’t free.” If she wants to get out to see her son, she’ll have to help end the riot.
Once again, the personal stakes are shifting for certain characters. Taystee’s negotiations hit a snag when word gets out that Humps was shot, after Judy King lets that little tidbit slip during her interview on national television. While Aleida tries to refocus the narrative on the corrupt prison system and the poor conditions in Litchfield, Judy makes it all about herself, grossly touting her friendship with Poussey not as a means to get the word out about her murder but to make herself seem like a victim. The casual way she reveals the shooting reiterates how little she knows or cares about what’s really happening at Litchfield.
Using the philosophical scenario of the trolley problem to outline their choices, Piper tells Taystee and the crew they have to decide whether to protect Daya or sacrifice her for the common good. (Though Judy didn’t say Daya’s name, she gives enough detail for Aleida to put the pieces together. Plus, it’s bound to get out eventually.) At first, Ruiz and Gloria seem prepared to protect Daya when Taystee comes to collect. But when they learn that riot amnesty will be off the table for everyone if Daya doesn’t turn herself in, there’s a subtle change in their faces and stances. They both need amnesty to get what they really want. Even just that subtle shift is more evocative than the sum of Daya’s entire arc. By doing too much to explain why they put the gun in Daya’s hands, OITNB is developing the character by rote. As the show tries to dig itself out of the narrative hole of this riot, the writing feels less and less organic.