With only two episodes left of season 4 of “Orange is the New Black“, and given the season up to this point, we feel this penultimate episode will be the biggest yet. The negativity inside Litchfield this season has been almost tangible, a black shadow swallowing up the prison. Power struggles, lost hope, regret, but also an always present undercurrent of a light far in the distance that they keep crawling to. It sometimes feels like they are trapped between wanting so much to be happy, but feeling like the odds are already stacked against them in ways that are predetermined. We want to take a moment to commend the show’s amazing ensemble cast, and the writers who provide them with material that would make most actors’ mouths water. This season for us, as scary and dark his presence has been, Piscitella has made perhaps the biggest impact of all. His influence is everywhere. We have loved learning about lesser known characters this time around, like Blanca and Aleida. We would be remiss if we didn’t give a nod to actor James McMenamin, who has turned C.O. Coates into someone you feel some compassion for. I can’t think of many actors who can turn a minor character known mostly for his sexual assault into someone you feel isn’t maybe so bad at the core.
In episode 12, “The Animals”, we start out climbing the ladder to a water tower overlooking the town. It’s C.O. Baxter Bayley, the fresh-faced All-American guard from Litchfield, as a teenager fresh out of high school. He is that one friend who is the conscience of the group, always wanting to fit in yet always pointing out the dangers of what they’re doing. He remarks how pretty the prison looks at night from there, all lit up. In the present, he nervously tells Caputo about Humphrey forcing the inmates to fight gladiator style during the interrogations Piscitella ordered. Caputo is frustrated and realizes he was right to want to be there, things are out of his control. He confronts Humps and suspends him for a month without pay. Piscitella overhears and stands up to Caputo, threatening to walk the entire team of guards. He embarrasses him in front of the other guards, including Bayley. Caputo can never quite be in charge, even when he is. Back in time again, Bayley is in a holding cell at jail with his friend. The guards toy with them a little before releasing them. Bayley is one of those squeaky clean kids, afraid to get into trouble.
Suzanne is catatonic in the aftermath of her violent attack on Maureen that Humphrey instigated. The white power girls approach Poussey, Taystee, and Suzanne in their bunk, which they assume is to be a confrontation. They aren’t there for that. They realize there’s a bigger problem at Litchfield. Humphrey, the sadistic psychopath. Time to join forces and fight the true evil. Taystee and the blonde white girl approach Maria and the Latina ladies about the situation. They have their own issue with C.O. Stratman. Maria wisely points out that the problem they all have starts at the top with Piscitella. He is the new target. A truce is called. They have bigger fish to fry. They have a roundtable and bring Red on board. She wants to kill Piscitella, but this is clearly not an option. Pipers bunkmate suggests a peaceful protest like one she was involved in previously, with successful results. They each feel they should lead the protest, and the situation devolves until Red grows tired of the fighting and leaves.
Poussey and Soso escape to the time machine and dance together. Poussey talks of her mother, who was kind and loving. It shows in her daughter. Poussey, of everyone, has always seemed so out of place at Litchfield. They imagine they can travel to the future together. Judy King and Yoga are each reacting quite differently to the aftermath of their Molly trip. Yoga is disgusted with herself for what she has become being exposed to the finer things in life. Poussey shows up to their room and asks Judy her advice for when Poussey is released. She loved helping Judy in class, and wonders if she thinks she has what it takes to make it in the real world. Judy tells her she will find her a job when the time comes. Soso is so excited for her, but Poussey laughs off Soso’s dedication to the peaceful protest idea. Hurt, she walks away and tells Poussey to leave her alone.
Sophia Burset is back at Litchfield, following Danny’s confrontation at MCC with the photograph of her in the SHU. She is a shell of her former self. Gloria sees her in the bathroom, and tries to communicate, but Sophia shuts her down. Later, Gloria clears the Latinas out of the salon so Sophia can go in. This is home for her. She needs to look like herself again.
Alex and Piper have grown closer in the aftermath of the murder. They each long for things to be simple for a change. They make a pact to try. Pennsatucky is glommed on to Nicky, to the annoyance of Boo. Red approaches the women and Piscitella comes over to give her some more grief. The ladies loathe him, but think he might be too big a fish to get fired. Piper wants to try. All of the women aren’t ready to let go of the idea, but their differences keep getting in the way of forming a cohesive plan. Pennsatucky offers Boo an olive branch by way of sweets. She misses their friendship, and she wants Boo to forgive Coates like she has and move on. When Boo spots him, she smacks him across the face and threatens his life if he ever hurts her again. Morello finally talks to Vinny, and accuses him of sleeping with her sister. He realizes that she may not be all there. Alex and Piper are hooking up again! The time machine seems to bring out the lust in them.
The Feds are on site, and nobody can figure out the identity of the body in the garden. Caputo spots Bayley and warns him to get out of this job before it eats his soul. Red visits Healy in his office and asks to take a nap. She realizes he is traumatized by something, and tells him to get it together because they all need him right now. He tries, but he is mentally spent. He can’t move.
Everyone is thinking about where they have been in life, and where they are headed. Bayley wonders if Coates thinks Litchfield has changed him, if he ever gets tempted in there to cross lines. Coates says he doesn’t, but we know that he has at least once. Back in Bayley’s past again, he gets fired from an ice cream stand for giving free cones to all the pretty girls. His friends hatch a plan for revenge on his boss. They egg his house. Bored, they egg the town, slowing past the inmates working outside on yard-work. Frieda gets nailed and screams to them that she’s a human being. They all laugh, but Bayley’s conscience kicks in. He is not like the rest. There is goodness inside him.
Caputo shows up unannounced to Figueroa’s house. She’s drunk. He apologizes to her for judging her when she ran the ship at Litchfield. Recognizing his fatigue, she invites him in for a drink, letting it slip that he must be stressed about the new crop of inmates headed his way. He thinks she means the huge wave of inmates who has been there for months, but she doesn’t. It turns out the building the inmates have been constructing is actually a super-dorm to fit the rest.
Piscitella is still making Red his main target. She is so exhausted and sleep deprived, but he has no sympathy. He treats them all like animals. Worse. When he throws Red to the ground after threatening each and every one of them, they have seen and heard enough. Blanca is first, then Piper, and then all of the women stand on the tables in protest. They demand Piscitella’s resignation, and promise they mean to create no danger. They are united and they mean it. He goes or they stand until he does. Piscitella orders every guard report to the cafeteria and start clearing the inmates out. Suzanne snaps, and Piscitella orders Bayley to get her to psych. Poussey jumps down to defend her, and Bayley holds her down on the ground forcefully while trying to deal with Suzanne at the same time. Poussey is screaming for Bayley to get off of her, but there is chaos. And just like that, Poussey is gone. A scream that comes from the depths of the most wounded spirit arises. It is Taystee. She runs to her and lay beside her. It has finally gone irreversibly far.
This episode was heartbreaking. We can’t recall ever having chills like that watching anything on television before when Taystee spots Poussey and realizes she is gone. Poussey. The sweet soul with so much goodness and promise. She had hope, she had a future. This event was destined from the beginning, and it’s going to change everything. We are heartbroken, as Poussey was our favorite. She was sacrificed for the greater good, but it hurts. We will miss her. The next episode is all wraps up for the season. What will happen with Piscitella? Is Caputo ready to take control of the situation, or does he recognize that it’s way too late for that? How will the women handle life at Litchfield without Poussey, and how will her death affect change? For now, we need to go sit with some Kleenex for a while. Grade: A+.
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This review was written by Michelle Wilmot and if you’re not already following her on Twitter, you can do so at the link here. (Photo: Netflix)