Photo: JoJo Whilden/Netflix
Have any of you ever had bedbugs? It is one of the worst experiences I have had in my adult life along with wisdom teeth removal, grundle waxing, and attending a booze cruise with a University of Tennessee alumni association. It is the absolute worst thing, and it takes months of living with your stuff in plastic bags, disinfecting, treating your clothes and furniture and mattress and the whole time imagining your blood is being sucked out by tiny meanies that get you in your sleep. On the upside, they send a cute beagle to your house to make sure the infestation is gone, but that is an Instagram picture that you pay for dearly.
I totally sympathized when Flaca thought she had crabs on her arm and discovered that she had bedbugs, which caused the whole prison to have to disinfect, burning the mattresses, books, uniforms, and just about everything other than maxi pads and the fan that they turned into a windmill for the Mother’s Day miniature golf course.
It seems like there is a different structure for most of the episodes this season. Last episode featured the Mother’s Day event, around which all the stories hung. This time it’s the bedbugs, and the main stories are infused with comical moments about this central trope. We saw this a few times last season (like the hurricane episode), but last year the season was organized around Vee and her introduction into the prison ecosystem. That was a nice way of giving structure to a show with a cast so large and sprawling, it could easily fall into disarray. I’m worried that is what is happening here without a central focus to draw everything else in.
That is especially true because the stories we had to focus on are the same, tired old stories that we’ve been dealing with since episode one: Piper being an awful manipulative person, Piper and Alex’s love affair, Daya and Bennett’s relationship, and Red dealing with her family either inside the prison or outside of it. Snooze.
Still, this episode contained plenty of sparks. The scene where the women in the “barrio” find out about the bugs was hilarious. The same goes for Black Cindy washing her “tits, pits, and naughty bits” with disinfectant and saying it was her grandmother’s birth control. The best of all was Taystee trying to convince Caputo and the exterminator that a bug in a book was really a muffin crumb. Who would be reading that book and eating a muffin at the same time? Who would be eating a muffin? Did the Muffin Fairy show up on every other Sunday or something? But Taystee went so far as to eat that bug/muffin crumb to save her beloved library.
That was all for naught because Caputo learns that in two months the prison is going to be closed. Maybe that is what is going to draw this season together? I thought, Oh, the ladies will save the prison so that they can all stay together, like this is The Brady Bunch and they’re going to start a bake sale to save their class turtle or something. This is not that show. These women have no power whatsoever. If the state decides the prison closes, then it closes. Period. They’re shipped off to who knows where and the next season is called Beige Is the New Purple, it is written by Ryan Murphy, and there is a serial killer with a clown face (also played by Lea Delaria) on the loose in the clink.
There were a couple of new stories, like Nicki and Boo’s attempt to get Luschek to smuggle their drugs out of the prison after they find out he’s a weed smoker who brings his stash with him to work every day. Also, Poussey is becoming obsessed with the Santaria in the kitchen, which I find odd and out of character for her, but I’m curious where it is going. I give it two more episodes, tops.
The Alex and Piper thing was a total snore. Alex is super pissed because she is back in jail. It seems that the only thing worse than being in prison is being back in prison. When debating the lie Piper told Red — that her store was still open — Alex says that getting all their shit out on the table and still liking each other was better than being blissfully ignorant. That’s when Piper, with a single tear and a million eye rolls, told Alex that she is the one who ratted her out to get her back in jail. Seriously, we got rid of this story in two episodes? Could it been dragged out a little longer to give it some real tension?
Alex finally realizes what we did halfway through season one and tells Piper she is a, and I quote, “manipulative cunt.” After talking to Red some more, who is still pissed, Piper says that she lies and she gets in trouble and she tells the truth and gets in trouble. That’s because she only ever tells the truth after she has lied about something. If you break the copy machine and tell the boss that it is broken, he won’t care too much, but if you blame it on Susan in accounting and your boss finds out later it was you, then your ass is gonna get fired. Piper comes to the realization that she is manipulative in just the same way that her mother was and is determined that she’s not going to do it anymore. Somehow this leads to her and Alex fighting and fucking on a table in the library. Ugh, I feel like this is all these two ever do. Break the cycle!
Daya and Bennett’s story was a bit more interesting. Aleida met with Pornstache’s mother (Mary Steenburgen, always a pleasure to see her on our TV screen or laptop or phone or wherever the hell you watch this) and shakes her down for money. Ms. Stache says that she wants to adopt the baby and give her all the privilege that a rich white lady in Greenwich can give her, like money, her own bedroom, and clean towels. Bennett wants to take care of the baby himself, because he and Daya are happy and don’t need clean towels. Oh, poor, sweet Bennett. As Cher said, your love can’t pay the rent.
Naturally, Bennett goes to visit Hector, Aleida’s boyfriend who is raising their children and finds what a house full of kids without enough money is like. It’s mostly screaming, toddlers zooming around on a scooter, and a kid getting a gun pulled on him because he doesn’t want to eat French fries that came out of the microwave. (I don’t blame him. Gross French fries are even worse than no French fries at all.) Hector insists on giving Bennett Daya’s old crib so he can raise his own daughter in it, but after the traumatic visit Bennett leaves it on the side of the road.
Bennett, as it turns out, is a coward. We find out through his backstory that the way he lost his leg wasn’t valiantly in battle, but from a grenade an Iraqi soldier threw in his tent that he could have kicked out and saved everyone, but instead he jumped on the ground and another soldier lost his life to protect the platoon. I think it was good to learn this about Bennett, but I was a little disappointed that this was one of the guard’s backstories, and the guard was a man. We are told enough stories about men all over the television (and movies and podcasts and comic books and everything else). The great thing about OITNB is that it always tells the stories of women and many of them disenfranchised. This is one of the few places we can get those. If we want to learn more about straight, white, male Bennett, we can watch How to Get Away with Murder.
The worst thing about this whole story, though, was Daya. Does she not have any agency at all in her own pregnancy? Sure, the inmates are entirely powerless, but she doesn’t seem to care very much about what is happening to her. Both Aleida and Bennett are trying to figure out what should happen to her baby, and she’s just walking around like a sulking somnambulist who took too many Xanax. Get it together, girl, and show some pluck or your baby is going to get taken away.
Here’s looking forward to the next episode, where things will hopefully come together and we’ll get some developments about something other than these tired romantic pairings. And hopefully the bugs will be gone.