Photo: JoJo Whilden / Netflix
After the junkie brawl guards were barely able to contain at the end of the last episode, inmates were put under 36-hour lockdown, from which they’ve just been sprung as we rejoin them. The first order of business for the COs, however, is tossing cells, which means Alex has to think fast about what to do with the phone Badison pressed on her in the melee. Badison regains her position with Carol thanks to her ingenious new revenue stream – and when Carol finds out that Alex concealed the phone during a patdown by putting it between two socks under the sole of her foot, she is also (literally) invited to a seat at Carol’s table. Carol also seems charmed by Alex’s smart mouth, particularly when she’s using it to roast Badison. Alex gets concerned when she discovers a mysterious $100 has been added to her commissary account: she had thought taking the phone would settle her debt to Badison, but now the scales are unbalanced. Badison claims the money is an engagement gift, no strings attached, but Alex seems prepared for Badison to try to rope her into some other future scheme.
With everyone out of their cells again and yard time segregated by block, the hot place to gather is now Luschek’s dancercise class, and not just because playing music on a phone and then abandoning said phone for Carol’s girls to retrieve is how the deceptively simple smuggling operation works. It’s where Daya and Blanca trade pills (which Blanca’s acquired, with Daddy’s money, to supply D block) for sperm (which Blanca’s boyfriend Diablo has left in a condom in the visitors’ bathroom, so Nicky can inseminate Blanca). One of Carol’s girls sees the handoff and jumps Daya afterward, since their product can’t cross enemy lines. Daddy’s furious that Daya lost all but a few pills
Carol’s crew also seeks revenge on Blanca for her part in the scheme, though it’s hard to get too upset about her probably foiled pregnancy when Nicky’s plan to do it by blowing hours-old semen into Blanca’s cervix with a drinking straw was a long shot anyway.
Having also found out about the phone business, Piper finds Luschek in the yard to threaten to expose him if he doesn’t support her campaign to revive kickball at Max. And speaking of exposing Luschek…
…is Mendoza possibly starting to find him attractive?! If so, she’s not the only convict to have hot pants for a CO: when a desperate Aleida parks in the Max parking lot and sets up a Nutri-Herbal shop in her trunk, she argues with Hopper about whether she should be allowed to sell there, but backs down when he offers to help her pack up, and invites her out to Red Lobster.
While tensions simmer between C and D block, Red yearns for a transfer to B block, particularly when she gets a chance glimpse at Frieda chilling in her Florida retirement, a cart loaded with fresh fruit and yogurt on its way to her and her neighbors. Remembering that Frieda had said her life would be in danger if she were ever to return to Max, Red starts asking around to find out who’s got knives out for Frieda. This investigation makes its way back to Carol, who summons Red for a meeting in the Max hair salon. Red makes it very clear that Frieda is not her friend, intensely monologuing, “I was the fucking queen and I’ve been reduced to the fool because Frieda sold me out like she sold you out 30 years ago. And how does she get away with it every single time? I want to put an end to it and I needed to find the person in here who was as angry as I am, who knows what it’s like to be betrayed by her.” “Well, it looks like you found her!” chirps Carol. “Now, let’s fix that fucked-up hair of yours, shall we?” Red would like that.
This episode’s spotlight shines, AT LAST, on the show’s best character: Taystee. Since they were reacquainted in the season premiere, Ward and Taystee are much friendlier – Ward not only stopping to chat with Taystee when she delivers her mountains of screened fan mail, but also an interview request from ProPublica that Ward has fished out of the trash for her. With her new lawyer at her side and both Ward and Hellman silently posted to guard/eavesdrop, Taystee is direct, clear, and forceful in speaking about her situation. She intends to keep standing up for better treatment, for more rights, and for Poussey, who can’t stand up for herself anymore. When the reporter asks whether she has any regrets about having been the face of the riot, Taystee replies, “I think I realized that regrets are for people that have another choice. That regrets are a privilege for people that have free will. Regrets aren’t for people that are stuck in hell, trying to survive years and years of abuse at the hands of guards, and a prison system that just looks the other way, so, no, I don’t have any regrets. Even with all they’re doing to me in here.” Asked what she means by that, Taystee explains that she’s experienced retaliation from COs because they think she’s responsible for the death of “one of theirs,” which she knows she’s not: “I know that they’re responsible for the death of one of mine. See, now, the only difference is that I don’t have no power. So every day, I have COs spitting in my food, calling me names, censoring my mail, beating up on me, and all I can do is hope for my day in court. All I can do is this….We are locked in cages. They’re the animals.”
Whereas Ward had, at first, seemed moved by Taystee’s remarks, by the end of the interview, we can see she’s siding with her new tribe; when she’s walking Taystee back to her cell and Taystee excitedly asks what she thought, Ward is incensed: “You think you’re smart, then you run your mouth.” When she brought Taystee the interview request, she says, she didn’t think Taystee would use the opportunity to attack guards in the media (what made her think this is unclear), and she’s especially hurt that Taystee would do this to her after Ward stuck her neck out for her.
As we see in flashbacks, Ward wasn’t always “Ward”: when they are first acquainted, she and Taystee are Tameka and Tasha. They work together at a burger joint called Storky’s, which has an endorsement deal with Method Man…
…and a stork mascot that confusingly gives patrons the impression that it serves chicken dishes, which it does not. Taystee works the drive-through graveyard shift with Ward on the grill, though Ward doesn’t seem inspired to do this work forever, yelling at one crabby old patron and refusing Taystee’s request that they invite a car full of cute young guys to hang out inside with them.
Ward may not have a passion for this work, but she does have a blunt, which she and Taystee smoke. Ward apparently gets too high to remember to lock the door, which is how a guy Taystee knows, Michael Spence, gets in, pulls a gun, and demands the money in the register. While Ward hides under the counter, Taystee explains to Michael that she can’t open the register without alerting the store’s security, and that he’s on camera anyway, so he should go. In desperation, he demands Taystee’s Jordans…
…and flees into the night. Only after he’s gone does Taystee figure out Ward peed her pants (and the floor) in terror, and does Ward find out there’s no security measures that would have stopped her emptying the till.
In the present, Ward sees a bin overflowing with mail for Taystee, delivering none. In the past, Taystee tells Ward she could be brave during the robbery knowing that if money had gone missing during their shift, they would have been blamed for stealing it, and Ward readily tells Taystee she probably saved her life. Taystee then admits that Michael didn’t even get away with her Jordans: they’re Gordons, from Canal Street.
Tasha and Tameka can hug on the corner and look forward to their next shift together. Ward can’t recognize that Taystee isn’t coming for her tribe; she’s indicting a system that can only harm them both.