Episode 11: We Can Be Heroes
Written by: Sian Heder
Directed by: Phil Abraham
“A writer does not search out a muse. A muse appears.
And when that muse wears uniform pants that fit in
all the right places, it writes itself.” -Suzanne.
Episode 11 creates opportunities for escape and confrontation. From Angie (Julie Lake) capitalizing on a clerical error to Healy (Michael J. Harney) ousting Berdie (Marsha Stephanie Blake) from her stint as a counselor, we see both inmates and officers toiling with the paths they’re on and, in many cases, turning in a new direction. Caputo (Nick Sandow) features prominently in flashbacks that detail how he ended up in his not-so-glamorous role at Litchfield. He wrestles with the idea that he may relate more to the guards’ push for unionization than to MCC’s hands-off, profit-based approach to prison management, and how standing up for the guards might mean becoming a more confrontational person.
Flashbacks show us a young Caputo serving as a good example on his high school wrestling team. Yet even then, the early sense that he’s a stand-up guy is based on the idea of his helping the underdog. When he agrees to fight a disabled member of the opposite wrestling team, he ends up losing the round almost immediately. His seemingly heroic behavior, despite being ethically sound, has cost his team its long-term success, as he himself becomes a lifelong underdog. We later see Caputo as a passionate musician, who ultimately decides not to tour with his band so as to demonstrate his commitment to his pregnant girlfriend—whose baby is his band mate’s. He finds a job at the prison in order to settle down and provide stability for his new family, only to find himself alone again after she leaves him, with the infant, for the former band mate turned successful musician.
Caputo’s current role is a direct result of his upstanding choice to provide for a family, and now he’s stuck in the dramatic dynamics of the prison without any family to go home to. Even his leisure band, Side Boob, doesn’t seem to be doing much these days. To top matters off, this episode shows that he’s sleeping with Fig (Alysia Reiner), both of them disgusted by the experience. In trying to stand up for others, Caputo has consistently been shown that he simply doesn’t benefit personally. Others walk all over him, undermine his authority, or insult him. While he first tries to explain to the disgruntled guards that he can’t help them, he finds by episode’s end that he actually can benefit from the way he’s perceived by them. If he stands up for the other guards, who need his guidance, he’ll both better serve the prison he cares about and also find a new sort of confidence. Finally, he can be on the right side of the fight.
The group of guards truly shines in this episode as they work toward unionization, and the cast provides a serious dose of humanity mixed with humor. O’Neill (Joel Marsh Garland) and Bell (Catherine Curtain) use their newfound love of Les Miserables to inspire others to “sing” for their cause, while Ford’s (Germar Terrell Gardner) concern for his family helps convince others of the importance of fighting for benefits. When Angie is mistaken for another inmate with the same last name and an ignorant, untrained guard approves of her early release, Maxwell (Lolita Foster) underscores the overall need for consistency. Even Luschek (Matt Peters) joins in the cause when the benefits become clear, and the ostensibly stern-faced Donaldson (Brendan Burke) shrugs off the Admiral Rodcocker comparisons enough to smile at the bar.
Many of the guards are loyal long-timers who are not only technically trained but also knowledgeable. They know the inmates’ faces, not just their ID numbers, as Maxwell points out. Standing up against MCC’s money-saving policies isn’t just about preventing embarrassing accidents; it’s also about the prisoners’ wellbeing. To ensure the inmates are treated, protected, and contained—which can only benefit the business of the prison—the guards responsible for them must be fully employed and fairly compensated.
Meanwhile, capitalist greed also affects those within the prison walls. Piper’s (Taylor Schilling) panty business comes to a standstill when Flaca (Jackie Cruz) enlightens the other Whispers wearers to the imbalance between the amount Piper makes on each pair and the lack of money the panty-wearers are making. Flavor packets won’t be enough, Piper learns when confronted by her entire staff. She comes up with a more complicated scheme when faced with their demands: she finds a cell phone to use to transfer money to individual accounts in the outside world so that each girl can be paid. Alex (Laura Prepon), recognizing the increasing complexity of Piper’s once-hobby-like business, tries to ground Piper by showing how badly things go in the real world of smuggling. Piper is unconvinced and agrees to the other inmates’ fair compensation terms just before firing Flaca for inciting action. Piper’s zeal over this big-bad-boss power trip proves too uncomfortable for Alex, who’s left that smuggling world behind and calls everything quits between them.
While Piper may find herself feeling in control as a result of breaking more rules and establishing a more corporate mindset, middlemen like Caputo may find more of a sense of triumph by listening to others. If inmates may benefit from an increase in individuality, perhaps the guards, contending with the negative effects of workplace privatization, will get more out of the decision to band together.
Episode 12: Don’t Make Me Come Back There
Written by: Sara Hess
Directed by: Uta Briesewitz
“You got to stop using slavery every time
you wanna justify some foolishness.” –Taystee.
“I’m just using it as a placeholder until I become Jewish
and I can pin it on Hitler.” –Black Cindy.
In Episode 12, responsibility becomes a pressing issue for many inmates. Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) tries to defend and empower Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning), while Healy finds himself back in charge of dealing with Soso’s (Kimiko Glenn) depression. Throughout, flashbacks outline the origins of Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and Daya’s (Dascha Polanco) contentious relationship, further illustrating the troubled definition of motherhood that has affected them and their current interactions in the prison.
The character required to accept the most (ill placed) responsibility in this episode may be Sophia (Laverne Cox). After the conflict between her and Gloria (Selenis Leyva), driven by both players’ maternal instincts, results in an accidentally brutal physical encounter, Sophia receives new threats. As she deals with a decreasing amount of acceptance, she eventually suffers a curiosity-powered hate crime that literally strips her of her power. Her weave is taken away, her identity questioned, her salon infiltrated.
When Caputo refuses to stand up for her, she employs a powerful argument about tabloid gossip that barely registers for Caputo, himself trying to keep relations with MCC at a level of decency. When Sophia discusses her situation with Ingalls (Beth Fowler), the sister provides some valuable advice about keeping her head up high and inflicting threatening glares on those who have wronged her. As Sophia is led away to sig “for her own protection,” she heeds Ingalls’ advice and marches out confidently, knowing she herself is not at fault. She stares down Gloria, who clearly feels guilty for failing to defend Sophia amidst others’ brazen insults.
While Sophia leaves the scene with her head held high, other characters don’t fare as well. Soso has become even lonelier with Berdie gone and Norma’s supporters continuing to ostracize her. She appeals to Healy, who again points her toward MCC’s cookie-cutter doctors to get prescribe medication for her depression. Instead of waiting for actual help, Soso seizes any available drugs while the doctor looks for her file. Later, during movie night, Poussey (Samira Wiley) discovers Soso’s unconscious body in the library and panics, causing Taystee (Danielle Brooks) to reexamine her role as the mother in her friend group.
Taystee must also take responsibility when Black Cindy (Adrienne Moore) steals corn that she didn’t realize had been specially harvested by Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) garden team. Red has begun hosting themed meals as a way of bolstering her self-worth, so the theft of her garden’s corn causes a real uproar. Although Taystee uses Poussey’s hooch as a carrot in the bargain, Red’s mood is lifted up much further when she finds a case of corn in the kitchen. She later leaves a slice of her special meal for Healy as a token of thanks. Such small gestures of admiration go a long way in this episode, and in the season as a whole, in the context of so much disappointment.
As Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) consider how best to exact revenge on Coates (James McMenamin), the untrained guard who assaulted Pennsatucky, the reality of Doggett’s situation becomes more dishearteningly clear. After Boo explains that she’s offering Tucky a chance to express her anger by assaulting Coates in return, Tucky provides a chilling reminder that she isn’t angry; she’s just sad. Breaking Coates, the scene suggests, will not un-break her.
In the world of prison contraband, Piper finds herself going further out on a limb to prevent the loss of business. When the Gerber guard decides to quit, other inmates convince Piper it’s a ploy by him to get more money. However, he proves his innocence after she confronts him, showing that not even sexual favors were on his mind; he was simply intimidated by the fear of breaking the rules.
For Piper, breaking the rules has only become more and more comfortable, especially with Alex having stepped outside of the picture. When she thinks Stella (Ruby Rose) is coming on to her even more blatantly by asking her to movie night, Piper even goes so far as to ask that they be “partners—like business partners,” before learning that even Stella has an issue for her: she’s being released in a few days’ time.
In grappling with their chosen levels of responsibility, to themselves and to others, the inmates in this episode further commit to the sides they’ve chosen in various fights. For Sophia, that means standing up for herself; for Gloria, letting her own ego absolve her of any loyalty to Sophia and later regretting it. For Taystee, responding to how her friends have crossed others’ lines means choosing to play the role of protector, to accept responsibility for their actions. With Daya’s baby coming into the world, Aleida decides to let go of her deal with Pornstache’s mother and, in choosing to follow her daughter’s actual wishes, tells another lie. She tries to become a better mother by way of continuing to make morally questionable choices. And for Piper, adopting the role of panty kingpin in a fuller capacity means further separating herself from former loved ones and finding herself without a safety net. As the season comes to a close, the characters are bound to consider their ability to reconcile their moral and practical decisions—what they want and what they can actually have in this environment.
Episode 13: Trust No Bitch
Written by: Jim Danger Gray and Jenji Kohan
Directed by: Phil Abraham
“Okay, Pipes, while I’m really proud of how evil prison has made you, I think you’re overestimating your villain index. You’re still transitioning, you know? You’re not Walter White yet; you’re Walter White Ink.” – Cal.
Less happens in the final episode of Season 3 than in the other twelve. These writers have devoted these ninety minutes more to wrapping up themes than to tying up plot lines. From the start of the season, practically the entire featured prison population has grappled with opposing needs: how to identify as women and prisoners, how to be mothers and daughters, how to live in the world inside the prison and the outside world. The authority figures at Litchfield have been dealt equally harsh blows as the prison has become privatized and the usual definitions of security, training, and power have come under scrutiny. The emphasis on faith has been unequivocal, and we’ve watched these characters question—out loud—the importance of belief all season long. The fact that the last thirteen-ish minutes of Episode 13 take place in relative silence allows for a remarkably poignant, yet open-ended, response to the characters’ ongoing questions of faith.
Season 1 ended with Piper beating down Pennsatucky, dressed as an angel, and Season 2 with the mowing down of Vee, a godlike character who abused her maternal power over others. In contrast, no main character defeats any other at the end of Season 3. With the exception of Stella, turned in by Piper in a way that underscores the tattoo she gave her (“Trust No Bitch”) and serves only to reinforce Piper’s independence, most of the cast finishes the season by coming to terms with individual challenges. The “Trust No Bitch” idea solidifies the reality of Piper’s situation in particular, as she decides to accept both that she can’t trust others and that she herself doesn’t want to inspire trust in others. For the whole ensemble, moreover, the question of whether to trust or be trusted, to allow others in or to keep them out, comes to a head in this finale.
Black Cindy sheds serious emotion during her request for a true conversion to Judaism, in a scene as down to earth as it is transcendent. This season, in Cindy’s quest for a new religion, she’s decided that she needs “her people,” and the ultimate cleansing she experiences here serves the conclusion—or starting point—of a very personal journey. The episode involves a number of flashbacks of younger versions of the characters. We see Cindy as a child being punished for a minor religious indiscretion; in contrast, a teenage Big Boo triumphantly determines that there’s nothing to believe in after electrocuting herself and seeing nothing. For Boo, shedding religious ties is a source of relief, whereas Cindy, now at Litchfield, has decided she needs to try Judaism out before deciding where she really fits in her belief system. Just asking for the chance to be “in it,” and learn more, provides a tearful moment of honesty.
For Poussey and Soso, the episode serves as a sort of junction at which two lonely characters can meet. Poussey, having drowned her loneliness in her prison-made alcohol and felt disappointed in the lack of escape provided by the Norma faith, seems to have found a new sense of purpose after discovering Soso in the library following an attempt at suicide. Soso, having been ousted more outwardly by Leanne’s group, has been drifting on her own for so long, and has had her depression belittled by Healy as a “mental problem,” that when Poussey takes her hand in the lake it’s almost as if she’s being welcomed back in a kind way into a harsh world she’d almost chosen to leave. For these two, escapism hasn’t worked, and finding a slim sense of reality, even outside the gates of their ordinary existence, proves quite welcome.
The “Norma toast” incident serves as a nice turning point here, showing just how desperate Leanne is to hold on to her system of belief and those following both it and her. Norma herself shrugs off her seeming likeliness in the toast, later silently pointing the way out of her dorm when Leanne refuses to accept Norma’s own beliefs. The group of believers began following Norma because of her obvious adherence to behavior based on kindness, and the group gradually dispersed as those leading the charge—namely, Leanne—ignored Norma’s own pleas in order to treat others unkindly. By finally standing up for herself and showing Leanne the doorway, Norma chooses to stay in her own small world, silent but not unheard, practicing her own beliefs. When Red sits down by Norma at the lake toward the end of the episode, it’s as if she’s welcoming Norma back home, to a place where she can be comforted by her own actions, not by a posse leeching off of them.
The simplest illustration of finding freedom in one’s own beliefs may be the interaction between Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and newcomer Maureen (Emily Althaus). Although Suzanne was discouraged when her writing was banned from drama class and later felt pressured to appease the new fan base around her, she seems finally ready to accept the idea of a true admirer—someone who cares less about indulging in her creations and more about her personal qualities. Shied off by the invitation to join Maureen in the janitor’s closet a few episodes earlier, Suzanne seems more amenable now to playing a game of turtle fetch and enjoying a genuine sense of playfulness. The pressure’s gone in this context, and, if anything, Suzanne represents the lightness the entire prison has lacked. At the lake, in the absence of oppression or authority, much of the cast of prisoners sheds enough layers to be able to refocus their beliefs.
When the prisoners make a run for it in the episode’s final stretch, there’s a sense of freedom instead of wrongdoing. Workers left the fence open, new bunk installation meant prisoners weren’t allowed inside, and management issues caused the officers to go on strike. An unmanned prison yard means that everyone at the lake is equally drenched or naked, equally free, and equally clear of—or full of—responsibility. The lake doesn’t represent a true release, as everyone understands that this is but a brief respite before being confined for the rest of her sentence. Still, the scene serves as a great equalizer, allowing characters to reconnect in a new environment, outside of the mind warp of being behind bars.
Piper and Alex are noticeably absent from these final few scenes, Alex realizing she’s been targeted by one of Kubra’s men who has posed as an untrained guard, and Piper tattooing herself in the dark of the chapel, without Stella and without anyone. These two are poised to continue dealing with ongoing issues of trust involving themselves and others, and their sense of distance from the rest of the group in this episode is no accident. Piper, having embraced her darker, more business-oriented side, is not in any position to start placing her trust in others; she’s become much more self-reliant and even stopped caring if others see her as a cliche. Alex, meanwhile, has spent most of the season losing trust in staples of reliability like Piper and prison itself. For her, unlike Piper, this wasn’t her choice. With safety stripped from her an, ties of trust cut by others, it’s no surprise Alex is kept away now from the freedom of the lake.
Those taking off their shoes and splashing around in those final thirteen minutes make a point of accepting (non-verbally, in many cases) their own and others’ positive energy. Are they right to embrace the water, the sun, the trust, unlike Piper, hardened and alone? As the final scene comes to a close, new busloads of prisoners step out into the prison yard, ready to join the familiar group in new overpopulated bunks. The very systemic imbalances that allowed for this day of freedom also condemn the regular group to the inviteable return to the crowded, sterile, dark realities of a privatized Litchfield. For some characters, like Poussey and Soso, making the most of this hour helps them turn over a new leaf after a season of self-medicated loneliness. For others, like Cindy and Pennsatucky, the experience serves as a bookend to an ongoing journey, allowing them to change the direction of their gaze and providing fuel for the road ahead.
Yet for Piper, choosing to experience this sort of temporary freedom would be contradictory to her ongoing effort to depersonalize her prison experience. As she forces others to recognize that she herself is stone cold, powerful, and untrustworthy, she purposely keeps her distance from the sense of beliefs others have found this season, choosing to look ahead with glass eyes and verbally refusing physical contact. Looking ahead to Season 4, her behavior may better prepare her for the new surge in the prison population, but it won’t do anything to endear her to familiar faces.
Season 3 serves as a reminder for the entire cast of characters that everyone is part of an ensemble and one has to forge alliances based both on strategy and on faith in order to find the way forward. In Piper’s case, that has led to a decision to forgo faith in the interest of strategy. For Leanne, having built a faith group on practical strategy alone, being shown the exit by Norma means she needs to reconsider what she actually believes in after practicality has left the equation. For everyone involved, the episode provides a catharsis—through water, through pain, through vengeance, through birth. Accepting roles (like mother, daughter, friend, or leader) means reinforcing one’s own beliefs and choosing how to relate to others. The season’s final episode, and particularly its silent exploration of the temporary freedom of the lake, provides a beautiful conduit for those choices.
In a show that often loudly exposes the nitty-gritty of a stark and unjust indoor existence, a sunny, silent, and universal scene like this one feels like the right kind of transition to the prison’s next chapter. For these moments, the ensemble is physically removed from the day-to-day—not just by escaping through stories or beliefs, but by actually taking the time to interact with one another when the draperies of normality are removed.