Piper and Alex are officially boning!
Nicky is on to them and their “strategically staggered arrival” at breakfast, no matter how much they both protest. Piper feels like she’s 23 and no time has passed, but quickly acknowledges that she’s also changed a lot. We still can’t define their relationship beyond boning; Piper is fairly adamant that she wants to at least hear from Larry (who hasn’t called since Thanksgiving after finding out that she and Alex had been touching), but Alex is familiar to her and, well, available. Is this dalliance an extension of Piper’s selfishness, a tipping point, or just a way to get by?
When she talks to Cal on the phone, she finds out that Larry will be going on a radio show, “Urban Tales,” to discuss their relationship, and she finally starts to get angry while describing this news to Tricia. It’s good to see her angry, especially about ’ol opportunistic Larry, but at the same time she is cheating on him. The moral ground she’s standing on is shaky at best. In a couple of flashback scenes, we at least learn how she and Larry ended up together. Polly gave Piper some advice at her wedding, to look for the person you can “spend two weeks cramped in a timeshare in Montauk” with, the one who “knows when to order Chinese food,” and not the “hot girls that make her crazy.” Piper admits to wanting the adventure, which is exactly what Alex said a few episodes ago, but gives Larry a chance after finding him in Polly and Pete’s apartment while they were on vacation. She drunkenly confesses that a dog bit her (after, it should be noted, she pulled her usual Piper Knows Best routine with it), and starts falling for Larry when he suggests they order Chinese food and stay in. It’s not fireworks, but it explains them a little bit; Piper made a decision to be with Larry as a way to counter her life up to that point, to become the “nice white lady” she was always meant to be. Nothing too exciting, but it’s interesting in terms of how calculating Piper could be about her decision to have a different life.
Speaking of calculating, Pennsatucky’s act of aggression against Piper and Alex has not been forgotten; Alex is just playing the long game. When Pennsatucky starts proselytizing, Alex fixes it so that other inmates trick her into thinking she can actually heal people; Janae’s bum knee is fixed, and Boo is miraculously cured of being a lesbian (“Gaylord NO MORE!”). Pennsatucky gets a boost from laying hands and having God work through her (Leanne says “You’re not the Wizard of Oz — you’re the wizard of GOD” to give some emphasis to the claim), but Alex’s revenge manifests itself in a big way at the end of the episode.
Daya and Bennett are pretty boring this episode. After Cesar pays Bennett a house call and reveals that Daya is in fact pregnant, Bennett pulls Daya aside in the yard to confirm. He’s pissed that she didn’t want to tell him, but even more baffled when she says she wants to keep the baby, revealing that he could lose his job and go to jail as a sex offender if they find out the baby is his. Aleida sidles up and demands to know how he plans to take care of the baby financially, thinking he must get a lot of money for losing his leg in combat. Surprisingly, Bennett didn’t lose his leg in combat — he got into a “dirty hot tub in Orlando with a small scrape that got a big infection.” Without missing a beat, Aleida says, “You should probably tell people you lost it in the war,” and tells him he has nine months to save for this baby.
Miss Claudette has a minor story arc in this episode. Sophia helps her get ready for her visitor, and she reveals that she hasn’t seen Jean Baptiste in ten years, so that’s at least as long as she’s been in jail. When she shows up for visitor’s hours, the COs joke that Miss Claudette having a visitor is “a joke older than my nana,” but a quick check of the list reveals that she does, in fact, have someone waiting to see her. When she sees Jean Baptiste for the first time in a decade, her eyes simultaneously fill with hope and tears. More than hug, they hold each other in the center of the room, letting time and emotion fill a space that would normally be filled with talking. It’s such an emotional scene, and I love seeing Miss Claudette feel some sense of hope about her future.
Elsewhere in the Litch, some of the inmates are getting ready for a Scared Straight visit, where they get to convince teen girls not to follow their path. Everyone involved is super excited, and it’s cute to watch them prepare their meaner, tougher sides. Poussey is especially psyched, saying, “Oh yeah, I’m going to make them scared like they’re going through a haunted house. A haunted house called LIFE,” and Suzy hopes this is a chance to do some “real acting roles like Desdemona or Ophelia or Claire Huxtable.” I really love scenes like this, where the inmates get to be reminded of their humanity or some link to the outside world. Sophia commented last week that people were never meant to live this way, and Red reminded her kitchen staff that no one gives a shit if prisoners have a Thanksgiving since they’re the bad guys; it’s sad to think of people adapting to that loneliness. When the Scared Straight teens arrive, one of them, Dina, is in a wheelchair, which throws everyone for a loop. Dina is tough and seemingly unbreakable; Poussey doesn’t want to say mean things to her in the lineup after she admits that she has her own gang (“Of handicap people?”) and has robbed a liquor store simply because people told her she couldn’t do it. The other inmates are hissing and cursing at their charges, but Dina is nonchalantly calling bullshit on the entire operation. Eventually CO Bell asks where Tricia is; she was supposed to be there, and it’s “good for them to be scared by someone their own age.”
Tricia is back from rehab, but don’t expect any parties, as Red has cast her out. Red has one rule — “no drugs” — so Tricia is turned away, and right into the arms of Pornstache Mendez. He wants her to buy from him; when she turns him down, he forces her to distribute the drugs, saying he wants an “empty baggie and a list of names” as a sort of penance for being part of the reason his drug operation had to change.
Tricia is the primary flashback story this week, and like most of the background stories, her story is heartbreaking. When we first see her, she’s panhandling with a friend, Ali. We don’t get the full story about how she ended up on the street, but she says things like, “that shithead looks like my rapist stepdad” when a car rolls up and the guy asks if she wants to party, and “I’m 18 now so the shelter can’t call my parents,” so it’s not a far leap to figuring out that she was abused and left home very young. A lot of men treat these women as disposable — Cesar using Daya and Aleida, Claudette’s young charges working under the threat of abuse while trying to do their jobs, Janae’s boyfriend leaving her in the lurch — so it’s sad but not surprising to see Tricia stumbling out of one of the cars she so adamantly refused to enter a few months (possibly years) earlier, strung out and looking desperate. She rather endearingly keeps a log of everything she steals and wants to pay it back one day; the number of entries and thickness of pages suggests she never will, but it’s a beautiful peak into her character to know that she wants to. Tricia runs into her former street buddy Ali, who has a job, Section 8 housing, and a boyfriend, shining a spotlight on how Tricia, too, could have had a chance. But could she have had the same chance? Is it luck or perseverance that made it possible for Ali to get well? Tricia is still full of pride, turning down the place to stay and saying instead that Ali should “stop by the park with some leftovers sometime” as she scurries into the night. Her strong and possibly stubborn desire to repay everyone she stole from is ultimately her undoing; she gets caught stealing a necklace when she’s trying to pay for headphones she stole two years earlier.
Present-day Tricia is in bad shape, too; Nicky sees her stumbling around the cafeteria, obviously high, and swearing that she’ll make things right with Red. Nicky, of course, feels like shit, because she knows she ratted out Red but Tricia is taking all of the heat for it. On her way to her Scared Straight post, Mendez pulls Tricia out of the hallway for being too obviously strung out, and locks her in a closet until she can get back to normal. Mendez goes to check on her after Bennett asks where she might be, and when he opens the closet door, Tricia is slumped against the wall, dead.
You would think that would be the end of it — her young, complicated life snuffed out, ending on the grimy floor of a prison closet — but Mendez takes it to another level. He freaks out, naturally, realizing that she died on his watch (and his pills), so he hoists her up, ties an electrical cord to a pipe and around her neck, and tries to make it look like a suicide.
So Mendez is officially disgusting, right? He’s crossed the line completely, and is firmly planted in bastard creepface territory. I’m not sure if they’ll address it with the next episode (how could they not?), but he’ll probably get away with it. Nicky goes to Red, sad and confessional, admitting that it was her who told Mendez about Neptune, and that she also knows Tricia died of an overdose, having seen her bobbing and weaving in the cafeteria. But what recourse does Nicky have? No matter how jovial and buddy-buddy it seems in the Litch, no one believes or sides with the inmates, especially not when it comes to something that might implicate one of their own. We see it with Healy time and again; lines are drawn, and it’s us versus them.
Piper stumbles upon the Scared Straight group when she goes to the bathroom; they try to include her in their intimidating tales about dropping the soap, but ever the somewhat obtuse know-it-all, she calls them on the stereotype “not applying here,” since she uses body wash. CO Bell leaves Dina behind with Piper; she puts up the same disinterested front, but Piper gets through to her in a way that hasn’t been tried yet; she tells Dina the truth.
First she breaks down how she could approach it, saying, “I could tell you that I’m going to do to you what the spring does to the cherry trees but in a prison way. Pablo Neruda.” By tipping her hat to Dina’s intelligence, she gets right on her level quickly, and also makes herself trustworthy. She goes on to say it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re something you’re not in order to keep moving before she calls Dina COMPLETELY out:
“But you’re weak. I’m like you, I’m weak too. I can’t get through this without somebody to touch, or love. I was somebody before I came in here, with a life I chose for myself, and now it’s just about getting through the day without crying, and I’m scared. I’m scared that I’m not myself, and I’m scared that I am. Other people are not the scary part of prison — it’s coming face to face with who you are. Truth catches up in here, Dina, and it’s the truth that will make you her bitch.”
This was a brilliantly executed speech, half talking to Dina, but mostly talking to herself. Piper has always admitted her role in being in prison, but she’s never admitted how the experience has changed her, or at least started to change her. This revelatory moment reveals Piper’s selfish, exhausting actions as an intentional tool deployed to help her get by, to stay in prison without losing herself in the process. This show is really great when it comes to developing the nuance in these characters, particularly with how their able to plumb the depths of the characters by mostly showing us what’s on the surface, and allowing us to occasionally dip in.
Piper quickly spins out of that moment of clarity and into a moment of revenge, of course, when she sees Pennsatucky on the steps on her way out of the bathroom. Dina is still in there, reeling from what she just heard, and Piper tells Pennsatucky there’s someone in there who needs a “real miracle.” The next thing you know, Pennsatucky has Dina out of her wheelchair on the ground, and is on top of her screaming about healing. When the COs arrive and she gets maced, she hilariously says, “The Lord has blinded me!” before they restrain her and request she be sent down to psych for an evaluation. Alex’s game has paid off — Pennsatucky is going away, possibly for the long term, as a result of her own actions, and she won’t even know Alex was involved. That is some cold dinner.
Nicky has been spitting mad in this episode; she mostly turns it on Lorna by saying she’s sick of hearing about Christopher since everyone knows he hasn’t been to visit since three weeks after Lorna got there, and calling bullshit on her fantasy world. She finally breaks down when talking to Red, admitting that she’s been so mad at Red for “always giving her shit.” Red forgives her, knowing she can trust Nicky once she admits the betrayal, and says she only sent Tricia to detox to force the prison to investigate where the drugs came from. But they didn’t investigate, and now Red has a new plan: She wants Mendez taken out.