The WAC committee on Orange Is the New Black
The fuel for this episode, Janae’s story, was a karate chop right to the heart bones.
How goddamn terrible is the SHU? Is it a building wrapped in actual nightmares? Are the guards dementors? The thought of being sent there is enough to silence the craziest of criminals, and inmates who come back from the SHU act like they’ve spent eight months strapped to some sort of Kubrickian eye clamp machine. Janae returns from there this week, silent and thankful, arms spread wide with her head tilted to the sky like she’s praying to a god she just started believing in. Maybe the SHU exists solely to promote Stockholm syndrome — oh, you moved me from the worst possible shitbox to this mildly irritating, less oppressive shitbox? PLEASE SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER.
The flashback sets the tone for the episode and Janae’s story. Some cute kids are playing “boys chase girls” on the playground; one of them is Janae, and she’s fast, too fast to catch. I won’t get too bogged down in metaphor here, but it’s important to note the hurt and abject sadness she feels when she’s told by one of the boys to “slow down and stop showing off” while they go to chase the other, slower girl who is game for being caught. A lot of the inmates we’ve met so far seem to have had their wings clipped in some ignominious way, as if the decisions that landed them in the Litch were an inevitable conclusion for being too righteous. Janae was a track star in high school who yearned for attention from men despite her personal accomplishments; when she finally got the attention she was seeking, it was from a guy who cared less about her potential and more about having a partner in petty crime. Janae got nabbed when, as they were running away from a robbery, the guy said the same words that originally made her feel like she had to hold back in order to be loved: “Wait up and don’t show off.” She stopped, the cops grabbed her, and he got away. Janae’s story is made that much more terrible because she was poised to be the best, but didn’t believe in herself enough to follow through. Her anger and attitude are easier to understand once you know how she got there; Yoga Jones tries to tap into it one night when Janae won’t stop exercising, to the consternation of everyone else, telling her that the “negative energy is going to eat you up inside,” but ends up punching her in the mouth when Janae suggests Yoga is in the Litch for killing a kid. Janae is not exactly innocent, having actually performed the robberies, but there’s an unshakeable feeling that, like so many other inmates at the Litch, she’s also a victim of circumstance.
Elsewhere in the prison, the first meeting of the WAC is taking place in Healy’s office. He got a box of Dunkin Donuts for the occasion, which sends most of the committee spiraling into ecstasy. Having recently tasted my first DD crueller in years thanks to a visit back east, I can confirm that these junk food feelings are REAL. Piper, Taystee, Chang, and Ruiz take turns asking Healy for various items to “improve the quality of life,” like an extra pillow, and the hot sauce with the rooster on it. Piper, of course, takes this to absurd heights, clearly not reading the room, and asking for everything she could think of: preventative healthcare, legal counseling, an updated GED program, and, of course, reopening the recently closed track. Healy humored her for about ten seconds in the way I’ve often seen parents tolerate made-up-on-the-spot stories from their children, and then brought the hammer down; basically, the WAC is a sham, and he won’t put out money for anything due to the “budget situation.” The other WAC members are fine with it as long as they get coffee and doughnuts, and Taystee said she’s happy because her appointment to the committee would look good when she goes up for her disciplinary board hearing. Piper, not yet accustomed to being held at the mercy of people who don’t have your best interests at heart, keeps looking for ways to subvert the established system.
Pennsatucky is losing her mind while working in the laundry room, unable to comprehend how Piper got elected to the position she wanted. She tries to intimidate Piper into getting her a new set of teeth as a sort of apology for winning, but Piper is way too oblivious to pick up on the perceived threat, and shrugs it off. Alex wanted Pennsatucky to shut up, and they bickered back and forth for a couple of days until Alex put a stop to the ranting by threatening to have sex with Pennsatucky. It was played for comic relief, but it was also strangely uncomfortable hearing a character threaten someone with sex. It was definitely leaning towards the “assault” side of the spectrum, and it’s just strange to hear lesbianism used as an intimidation tactic. I wasn’t really a fan of this scene, but Alex sticking up for Piper (or at least, willing to be lumped in as her ally) is an interesting development, considering she won’t say more than three words to Piper’s face.
Piper has her own drama going on when Janae figures out it was Piper who had the screwdriver that sent her to the SHU, and Piper doesn’t know what to do with the phone she found last episode. She reconsiders sending a text message after she opens an incoming message to find a dick pic, and goes back to playing Snake instead of looking at one. Flores is using this phone a LOT — how on earth is it getting charged? That’s been nagging me since the phone was found. Healy and Piper have a deal that he’ll find a way to reopen the track if she finds the cell phone; he changes his mind when she gives it to him, but only after deleting everything on it except the photos. She might have found a loophole that would keep her from being IDed as a snitch, but she’s definitely making an enemy in Healy. Which is the smarter move: staying on the right side of the inmates, or pissing off the person who has the most power over your life while you’re inside? Caputo is pissed when Fig tells him Healy found the phone, but is thrilled to rub it in Healy’s face that they’re reopening the track because of Piper’s idea (relayed through CO Fischer) about preventative care saving the prison money in the long term. Everyone should be worried about Flores, who ripped the door off of the last stall when she discovered the phone was gone. Is she going to go on a rampage, or just be sent to SHU?
Red is getting into a similar power struggle with Pornstache, having to hide her contraband from him while he tries to manipulate her into letting his drugs come through her food shipment. Things could get ugly — Red has the upper hand now, since she’s smart enough to anticipate his next moves, but Pornstache will always have more weight to throw around.
Larry goes out to dinner with Polly, and they decide it’s okay for them to acknowledge the shittiness of their lives even though Piper might be having a worse time of it in jail; Larry takes that idea and runs a marathon with it when he later tells the bartender how pissed off he is to not be able to hit on her because he’s engaged to a woman in prison. I keep trying to muster up some kindness for Larry, but he mostly gets on my nerves. He’s entitled in the same way Piper is entitled, without any sort of humility, and as much he tries to empathize with Piper, he grows increasingly angry with her while also profiting from her experience by writing about it. Is he actually a source of support, or will his anger eventually outweigh his love?
One of the more interesting subplots in this episode was Taystee, Black Cindy, and Poussey discussing the politics of Taystee’s upcoming disciplinary board hearing and potential release. Taystee “never wants to come back” once she’s out, so there’s a lot riding on this hearing. Her friends think she needs to show remorse, “tell them you saw Jesus and you’re going to help underprivileged youth,” and play on white liberal guilt (“You better hope for white women; you know they love drinking wine with their friends, talking about how sad it is black folks haven’t gotten a fair shake!”), but Taystee rolls out the same hopes we always hear about prison programs: When she gets out, she can get a job at a law firm or go to college. Her friends laugh it off, knowing the chances of that happening are slim. When they get to Sophia’s salon to help Taystee pick out a new, respectable hairstyle, they all say she should go for “the black best friend in the white girl movie” just to be safe. This show is awesome at using subtlety to discuss larger issues, and the kind of meta way they reference the fact that Hollywood under-utilizes black actresses is masterful.
At the end of the episode, Janae runs around the reopened track, absolutely beaming. When she passes Piper, she says, “This doesn’t make us even,” but it is absolutely a good start. Healy is hovering at the edge of the track, giving Piper the staredown, and I’m pretty sure she just made one of the worst enemies she could have on the inside.
- Chang gives zero shits about anything, and I love her.
- Taystee wants 50 Shades of Grey for the library, but is told the “Fed is not going to subsidize erotica.” Thankfully, all of her WAC members lean in to tell her they have copies.
- “My brother had a rat named growing up; he was kind of cute, actually. Named it Antonio.” “I saw one chewing a baby’s face; I called it Face-Chewing Rat.”
- Boo gets a service dog and names it Little Boo.
- Healy trying to learn Ukrainian to keep up with his wife and mother-in-law.
- Yoga Jones punched Janae when she insinuated that Yoga was in there for killing a kid. Did she? Do we get any Yoga Jones backstory?
- Piper’s annoying entitlement was on full display this episode, with no signs of slowing down. When she analyzed the Robert Frost “road less traveled” quote and Tricia said she was going to kill her in her sleep, I howled. Fischer put Piper on blast by remembering the gigantic pain in the ass Piper was when she used to bag Piper’s groceries at Fairway in Red Hook. “You always forgot your bags; I would bag everything in brown bags, and then you would pull your own bags out of your purse and make me re-bag everything.” Piper tried to play it off like it happened once or twice, but Fischer said, “It was almost every time! You were a pain in the ass.”
- Taystee’s hilarious recount of her infractions, including “smacking a bitch for not respecting my ice machine choices” and, of course, overall “bullshit.”