Orange Is the New Black
I’m not sure that Orange Is the New Black knows what to do with Brook Soso, especially now that she isn’t the naïve newbie or deep in a depression. (I’m not sure that it knew what to do with her in those stages of development, either, but here we are.) It’s nice to see her with Poussey, but that’s more because I’m invested in Poussey’s happiness. After the novelty of her introduction faded, and after the tragedy of her suicide attempt, Soso’s main quality seems to be her inability to see the world through any lens other than her own assumptions.
Admittedly, that’s not an uninteresting character to have around — the person who honestly tries her best but is perpetually behind the curve is a trope as old as fiction. If she were funnier, Dickens would clutch Soso to his chest and happily claim her as one of his own cheerful nincompoops. It’s not that she’s irredeemable. Particularly in her last big moment of this episode, standing in front of Poussey with a Say Anything–style radio over her head that’s pumping out Eminem’s “Bitch Please II,” she’s quite endearing. It’s enjoyable to watch her sincerely apologize and try to own her mistakes.
But of all the potential stories to tell in “(Don’t) Say Anything” — about any of the new characters who’ve arrived at Litchfield, about the new guards, about Linda From Purchasing — another Brook Soso flashback did not feel necessary. Nor did it do all that much to illuminate who she is, or address any of the bigger thematic arcs that season four might be putting into place.
At some point between her over-parented childhood and the protest that put her into jail, we learn that Brook spent time as a protester against big-box corporations, gathering signatures to stop Walmart while also trying to make her ex-boyfriend Ethan jealous. What starts as an attempt to train volunteers in effective canvassing techniques quickly turns into a bet — if Brook can get a signature from the registered sex offender living in their canvassing territory, Ethan will give her $50 and she’ll go on a date with the other guy she likes. (Other Guy has remarkably little to say about this situation.)
Approaching the door with trepidation, Brook is reluctantly greeted by the registered offender, and soon enough, she learns that far from the pedophile she’d half feared, half hoped for, this guy was caught having sex with his girlfriend on a public beach. He’s now stuck on a sex-offender list, forced to tell all of his neighbors about his status and avoid all public parks and schools. It’s a sad story! In its best moments, this man’s story speaks to one of the frequent preoccupations of the series — the unfair, illogical circumstances that trap people in an unfeeling legal system. Plus, it includes one of the best lines of the episode, when the sex offender agrees to sign her petition in spite of the fact that her proposed park would force him to move. “It’s not like Walmart’s gonna lose,” he shrugs.
As is often the case with OITNB’s flashbacks, Soso’s experience getting an anti-Walmart signature from a sex offender parallels what happens in the present day. Rather than actually listening to the person in front of her, Soso quickly overwrites this guy’s unfortunate situation for her own uses. It turns out that in trying to impress and get back at her ex-boyfriend, it’s much more memorable to have been nearly assaulted by a pedophile — so that’s the story she tells. Back at Litchfield, in a sweet but misguided attempt to smooth things over between Poussey and her idol Judy King, Soso takes Judy aside and explains that the reason for Poussey’s spazzy behavior is, ultimately, institutional racism. In Soso’s mind, the reason that Poussey can’t approach Judy King is that her imagined crack-addict mother and childhood in abject poverty has made a white celebrity like Judy so unapproachable that she’s basically an alien.
This blows up in her face. Poussey’s conversation with Judy quickly reveals the story Soso created out of her own unquestioned assumptions, and Poussey confronts Soso about the tragic youth she invented in her head. Ultimately, Soso apologizes and the legend of Lloyd Dobler lives on. But this could have been a thoughtful, nuanced story about the dumb injustices of the legal system and our blind assumptions. Instead, it gets filtered through Soso’s frankly simplistic perspective on the world, and becomes a fable about as subtle as a jukebox held above a suitor’s head.
Here’s the thing: I love Poussey, I think Judy King adds intriguing elements that will hopefully be developed, and I like the idea of Soso becoming more self-actualized. I’m happy for Soso and Poussey to be cheerful “lezzies togezzie.” I’m just not sure this “Asian woman assumes black woman’s mother was a crack whore, then realizes her mistake” plot was something we needed.
Especially when there are other interesting developments happening in Litchfield! There’s a drone flying over the Litchfield grounds (causing Lolly’s garden-corpse paranoia to spike), Judy King is moving in on Red’s produce, Red is moving in on Judy’s bowels, and the Dominicans are stealing Piper’s panties operation. The inmates are also renovating the cabins that will house the veteran guards, whom we just barely glimpse in this episode. The prisoner work assignments tend to be intriguing story premises, so I’m sad we didn’t see more of the construction work. But we did get a classic Tiffany Doggett anecdote about her décor recommendation: X-rays. Real human X-rays that a doctor took of you as a favor because he was trying to get into your mom’s pants.
Also, Soso and Poussey aren’t the only Litchfield lovebirds in this episode. Caputo’s hitting it off with Linda From Purchasing, and has a fascinating confrontation with ex-guard, now-busboy Donaldson at the restaurant where he takes her for dinner. This exchange, which ends with Caputo refusing to feel sorry for Donaldson walking out during the inmate crisis, is a solid piece of OITNB ambiguity. The guards were treated unfairly, but Caputo’s not wrong that when “the shit hit, instead of turning off the fan, you plugged it in and hit ‘oscillate.’”
It would also be remiss of me not to mention the, um, events in the visitor area. Worried about losing her man, Morello kicks off some sexy talk with her “manicotti” Vinny, and things quickly escalate. Let me just provide you with a verbatim excerpt from my episode notes: “Role-playing cookies? Snickerdoodles? OKAY some things are happening at this table. Yep. YEP. THAT IS A THING THAT JUST HAPPENED.” Like much of the Soso story, I’m not sure we really needed this. Still, it proves to be a remarkably effective demonstration of the power of language (and a little bit of table humping).
Finally, and most notably, let’s turn to Taystee’s new job as Caputo’s assistant. Taystee with a clipboard. Taystee giving tips about not ruining the internet in the new guards’ cabins because otherwise they won’t be able to get porn and will take out all their sexual energy on the prisoners. Taystee refusing to go to jail for doing Caputo’s taxes too well. Instead of all those Soso flashbacks, I wish we just spent more time with Taystee learning how to use the prison phone systems.
Here’s hoping for a little more Taystee in the episodes to come, and a little less of Soso making assumptions based on The Wire.