Game of Thrones: An End of Season Recap

Or, as a friend once called it, “stabby castles.”

SPOILERS AHEAD
I recently wrote about the exciting potential of the early episodes of Game of Thrones season 6, and the second half of the season more than fulfilled the promise of the first half. The last two episodes in particular were each better than most full-length movies. (Also, we got confirmation of the most important of all fan theories: the one regarding Jon Snow’s parentage.) When I wrote about the first half of the season, I mentioned the surprising amount of female wish-fulfillment fantasy it contained; with the second half of the season, the dark side of that wish fulfillment became clear. We were given what we wanted—Sansa’s revenge on Ramsay Bolton, Arya’s on the Freys—only to feel how dark and morally murky our satisfaction with such scenes became. Continue reading “Game of Thrones: An End of Season Recap”

Game of Thrones: A View at Mid-season

Tuning into Game of Thrones tonight? Of course you are. Peep I.C.’s mid-season write-up before you do! You won’t regret it. It is known.

Warning: Spoilers for Season 6, Episodes 1-5 of Game of Thrones

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Throughout the first half of season 6, Game of Thrones has been giving its viewers what they want (with some exceptions: RIP Hodor).  The most obvious example is Jon Snow’s resurrection from the dead in Episode 2, an event all fans fully believed would happen while remaining very anxious that it might not.  This season has also briskly rearranged the chess board by wiping out some of the old guard: along with the death of Stannis Baratheon last season, Balon Greyjoy, Doran Tyrell, and Roose Bolton have all now met their demises.  Perhaps most importantly, however, Game of Thrones has positioned its female characters as the most powerful in the game.

In general, this season has emphasized women’s power; Entertainment Weekly pointed this out even before the season started, announcing that women would “rule” Season 6.  They were right, and it’s unfortunate for viewers like those at The Mary Sue that they gave up on the show last season.   From the minor to the major, female characters have been taking control, even having a “renaissance of the ‘Dames of Thrones,’” as Laura Bogart at A.V. Club puts it.  So far, we have seen Ellaria and the Sand Snakes seize power in Dorne through a quick and bloody coup.  Melisandre may have revealed vulnerability in her despair—and in the revelation of her true age—in the first episode, but by the second she had raised someone from the dead.  Cersei’s grief at her daughter’s death quickly sublimated itself into a return to her usual determined scheming, precariously aligned with the equally cunning Olenna Tyrell.  There’s a new red priestess who has managed to shake Varys’s self-assurance, something viewers haven’t seen before.  Meera and even Leaf of the Children of the Forest have had their moments of heroism.

Then there are the long-suffering Stark sisters and Brienne, who are all coming into their own.  I’ve written before about Sansa Stark’s potential as a heroine, and this season she is more than fulfilling that promise, as other viewers, including Casey Cipriani at Bustle, have recognized.  Some even declare her the best character on the show, and the one who has grown the most.  She has played a central role in three of this season’s most moving and emotionally rewarding moments so far.  The first was Sansa and Brienne exchanging their vows of loyalty as lady and knight.  (This followed a sequence so typical in most fantasy series but so rare and precious in this one, of a knight riding in at just the right minute to save a lady—in this case, Brienne rescuing Sansa from recapture by Ramsay Bolton.)  Finally, Sansa was out of the hands of sleazy or sadistic men, and instead had the protection of a fiercely loyal female knight in shining armor determined to protect her. 

A second deeply cathartic moment soon followed, with Sansa’s reunion with her (supposed) half-brother Jon, whom she urges to help her retake Winterfell from her former tormentor.  She even gets the chance, in another crucial scene in episode five, to confront Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish for putting her in the power of the Boltons.  She forces him to confront not just the emotional, but the physical pain she endured.  She emphasizes that some of that pain involved things “ladies don’t talk about,” but she is not ashamed to bring them up; the shame is all, rightly, Littlefinger’s.  While her lie to Jon about her meeting with Littlefinger suggests she may not have fully severed the latter’s puppet strings, she is undoubtedly becoming a force to be reckoned with.

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Photo via Twitter @TheDove_Stark

The show sets Sansa’s impressive and hard-earned courage alongside Arya Stark’s accelerated training as an assassin in Braavos and the return of her eyesight.  Arya has reached a cross-roads where she must decide what her identity will be from this point forward—will she remain Arya Stark, or become No One, as she must to serve the Many-Faced god?  Will she sacrifice her own moral judgment, and her own quest for vengeance?  While we have yet to learn the full significance of the choice, it seems clear that what she decides will have impact on the story as a whole.

While the entire season has been putting women front and center, nowhere is women’s power more emphasized than in Episode 4, perhaps the most compelling episode of the season so far.  This is the episode in which Sansa’s bravery and queenliness shine through, as she plans to return to the place she has just escaped, telling Jon Snow: “I want your help, but I’ll do it myself if I have to.”  In this same episode, Osha heroically sacrifices her life out of loyalty to the Starks, and Margery Tyrell and Yara Greyjoy (Asha in the books) reveal themselves to be more determined than their brothers to keep playing the dangerous game of thrones.  (Interestingly, though, Theon has never seemed more mature as a man than when he shows himself ready to support his sister’s authority in the face of those who mock the idea of a female ruler.)

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Photo via Twitter @Daenerys

And then, of course, there’s Daenerys. Men on the show are constantly underestimating Daenerys, and one of the pleasures for female viewers is seeing those men turned to cinders when they do so.  Dany spends the first three episodes of the season captive to the Dothraki warlords who verbally assault her and threaten her with rape.  At the end of Episode 4, they argue her fate amongst themselves, and are astonished when she dares to ask, “Don’t you want to know what I think?”  Naturally, she is told her voice means nothing, and when she suggests that only she is fit to lead the Dothraki, they respond with threats of brutal assault.  “Did you think we would serve you?” they sneer.  “You’re not going to serve.  You’re going to die,” she tells them, overturning all the torches and burning them all to the ground.  She, the blood of the dragon whom fire cannot harm, emerges unscathed.  All the Dothraki outside fall to their knees in awe and reverence.

Why is that scene so spine-tinglingly wonderful, even for someone who would happily dispense with much of the violence on this show?  I think it’s because Dany has been forced to put up with the kind of macho BS all women have to put up with, but especially when they dare to exert authority or just to use their voice in public.  Women who speak up for other women on the internet or other public forums are particularly often silenced by barrages of hateful and threatening comments, and sometimes by actual physical violence.  That’s what gives such sweetness to Dany’s being able to dismiss her captors as “small men,” and to turn their intended violence back on them.   She does so instead of attempting to flee with her would-be rescuers, Daario and Jorah, and without even the help of one of her dragons swooping in.  This is a specifically female brand of wish-fulfillment fantasy.  And that’s not something a Season 1 viewer would ever have expected from Game of Thrones.

In Defense of Sansa Stark (and other “good girls”)

I love Sansa Stark. Let me say at the outset that I do not intend to enter here into the broader debate about whether George R. R. Martin’s array of strong female characters are sufficient to help the books or show transcend their penchant for depicting violence against women (and, in the show’s case, objectifying female bodies). Nor do I intend to discuss the controversial scene of Sansa’s rape in the show’s last season. Plenty has been written on those subjects. Rather, I wish to use Sansa Stark as a way of thinking about patterns of female characterization more generally.

Sansa quite clearly does not resist gender roles; she’s conventionally feminine. She wants nothing more than to be a true lady to a handsome husband. Her template for life comes from the chivalric songs and stories she loves, and she is forced to face a brutal world to which that template is wholly inadequate…but she, in particular, illustrates the crucial importance of feminism for all women, because her story highlights the cruel toll patriarchal society exacts even on women who happily, graciously conform to gender norms.

Like countless others, men and women alike, I have something of an obsession with Daenerys Targaryen, a central character in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, and in the HBO TV series based on it.  The long-awaited sixth book in the series is still being, well, long-awaited, but the show’s fifth season swept last September’s Emmys in record-breaking fashion, and its sixth season is set to start next month. Dany (more formally, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Khaleesi, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, etc.) is one of the most popular characters among readers and viewers of the series.  A Funko bobblehead of Dany sits on my desk; an image of her (often with a small dragon nestled on her shoulders) occasionally graces my computer as a screensaver.  Small but fierce, and determined to “take what is mine with fire and blood” she fits neatly into the expanding niche of strong female heroines finally claiming their place in popular culture.  Other fan favorites in the series similarly defy traditional gender roles: for example, Arya Stark, a feral tomboy who prefers swordplay to needlework, and Brienne of Tarth, a woman who is also Westeros’ noblest knight.

But I’m equally interested in another female character whose place in public perception has shifted over the course of the series (both books and show).  I love Sansa Stark.  Let me say at the outset that I do not intend to enter here into the broader debate about whether George R. R. Martin’s array of strong female characters are sufficient to help the books or show transcend their penchant for depicting violence against women (and, in the show’s case, objectifying female bodies).  Nor do I intend to discuss the controversial scene of Sansa’s rape in the show’s last season.  Plenty has been written on those subjects. Rather, I wish to use Sansa Stark as a way of thinking about patterns of female characterization more generally.

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Sansa quite clearly does not resist gender roles; she’s conventionally feminine.  She wants nothing more than to be a true lady to a handsome husband.  Her template for life comes from the chivalric songs and stories she loves, and she is forced to face a brutal world to which that template is wholly inadequate.  She’s compliant, gracious, well-mannered. A few years back, my friends who mentioned Sansa did so with slight distaste, pronouncing her “annoying.”  They had a point.  Sansa initially trusts people she shouldn’t, unwittingly betrays her father, and uses the word “tummy” like a four-year old.  But the dislike of her seems to me emblematic of a larger trend.  In a way, it’s as if we no longer know what to do with “good girls” in literature, TV, and film. The old idea of female virtue was so tied to sexual chastity that it seems archaic and irrelevant.  And we’ve quickly grown uncomfortable with heroines who aren’t rebellious. We demand that our heroines be, if not badass, at least feisty.  And I wonder if this might get in the way of our recognizing the full range of ways women can be strong.  Continue reading “In Defense of Sansa Stark (and other “good girls”)”

‘Master of None’ Succeeds In Its Sincerity (ft. Interviews with Actors Diane Mizota and Aaron Takahashi)

By Belinda Cai

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New Netflix series “Master of None” from Aziz Ansari. “Master of None” Twitter.

Whether you think it’s hilarious or just miss Tom Haverford, there’s no denying that Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” is important. I haven’t been able to peruse social media without seeing swathes of people and media outlets posting about the show since its release on Netflix a little over a week ago. Among them was actress Diane Mizota, one of my Facebook friends and someone I interviewed for my grad school capstone project about Asian-Americans in Hollywood. She claimed she couldn’t get enough of the show and especially liked the second episode that addressed immigrant parents.

Continue reading “‘Master of None’ Succeeds In Its Sincerity (ft. Interviews with Actors Diane Mizota and Aaron Takahashi)”

Weekly Link Roundup!

The Mindy Project Recap: Season 4 Episode 2 (“C is for Coward”)

In case you missed episode one’s recap: here ya go.

I guess Hulu is staking its claim closer to traditional TV formats than Netflix, because every time I pull up this Hulu Original, I’m surprised that it’s being released one episode at a time. Do you know how hard it is to be denied my episode binge, especially for something light and fluffy like TMP?

Some things to start us off:

  1. Mindy has so many cute pajama sets. Not surprising given her colorful wardrobe. But it is really amazing.
  2. Danny persistently swings between immensely likeable (see: Diamond Dan) and kind of terrible (see: this episode).

Here we go!

Mindy and Danny lie in bed, discussing potential baby names. Mindy muses that they’ll probably need a gender-neutral name, in case the baby’s trans—leading us to her use of the inventive pronoun “herm.” I get the sense that, true to character, Mindy’s interest in the baby’s potential trans identity is more of her trend-mongering than anything else. At least it came up on the show, if not in the most serious way.

Mindy leans over and says she’s horny, leading Danny to protest that he doesn’t want the baby to…feel his dick? I guess? I’m not a doctor and, ostensibly, Danny is an ob-gyn, so I suppose he knows what he’s talking about. But is that possible? Eh.

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When Danny keeps resisting, Mindy huffs that she doesn’t need him and that she’ll just draw her own erotica. In a kind of endearing moment, Danny watches in amusement as she takes out a notebook and starts nodding and making appreciative noises. “You’re just drawing 69 over and over.”

In the office, the show continues a schtick that no one really cares about: unlikeable Dr. Jeremy Reed (I actually had to look up his name for a second). TMP has a kind of uneven time giving its secondary characters (ie. not Mindy or Danny) screentime/personalities/jokes. It often feels a little belabored (har har see what I did there? no? ok.) Anyway, Dr. Reed is dating some woman and wants to take the office to dinner to show her he has friends. Whatever.

Meanwhile, Mindy and Morgan prepare for the Fertility Expo, where they will be trying to convince young women in their 20s to freeze their eggs. When they try their spiel on “young, millenial” Tamra, she pulls up a video by the Deslaurier midwives, who have made a winky political-spot type ad against “big fertility” treatments like in vitro/egg freezing/pills. As they walk through a serene nature spot, the brothers advocate for natural birth, aka “Paleo birth.” It’s very tongue in cheek and pretty well done.

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Mindy, Danny, and Morgan tour the luxe birthing suite that Mindy has booked for a “5 Day Knockout Cesarean.” While there, Mindy and Danny argue about whether or not she should use drugs, or whether she should try for a more natural procedure. Danny seems invested in some kind of “magic of childbirth” idea, which….is kind of not surprising, but very annoying all the same. Mindy is a doctor, of all things. She knows what she’s doing. Also there’s a little thing called bodily autonomy, hello?

After this meeting, Danny goes to see the Deslaurier midwives (betrayal!!) and talks with Brendan about possible ways to induce childbirth naturally (and there are weird power plays embedded in their interaction, of course). When Mindy gets home that night, Danny’s done it up big: tons of candles, a verrrry spicy arrabiatta (mmm), a stimulating massage, and, of course, an attempt at sex that gets derailed when Mindy discovers the copy of Paleo Birth Danny’s stashed under a couch cushion.
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They have a fight as Danny insists that the pain of childbirth can be a beautiful thing (ugh). He seems very convinced that this ability to withstand the pain naturally will be an indicator of the kind of mother Mindy will be. Finally, Mindy reminds him that she, too, is an ob/gyn and she knows that childbirth is basically a nightmare.

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Back in the office, Mindy and Morgan get ready to head down to the expo. Morgan is alternately a good friend and kind of inexplicable, both reminding Mindy that no man should tell her what to do with the baby, and then offering to keep the baby in by yelling at her stomach: “sit, boy! stay!”

Dr. Reed stops by Danny’s office to chat, then catches him admitting that he isn’t going to the Expo…so he’s free to go to dinner with Jeremy and his girlfriend. “Now Whitney will see what great friends I have! Yes!” This is sad, without purpose, untempered by humor. Whatever, Dr. Reed.

On the train to the Expo, Mindy tries in vain to get a seat, but her coworkers refuse to offer theirs up. Morgan spots the Deslauriers down the car and invites them to stand with them, despite Mindy’s hissed protest. “No Morgan, we hate them!” Brendan makes rude comments (“when did you have the baby, Mindy?”), as expected. Aaaand then Mindy starts having contractions. My nightmare.

Morgan tries to tell a joke about a banana and silverware on a date, to cover up the fact that Mindy is having contractions.
Morgan tries to tell a joke about a banana and silverware on a date, to cover up the fact that Mindy is having contractions.

Of course, a man falls onto the tracks while filming a viral video, forcing the train to a stop. Mindy, in a panic, yells, “WELL RUN HIM OVER ALREADY!” Bless you, Mindy. Never change.

Brendan Deslaurier announces that she’s going to have the baby on the subway. Of course, he uses this as an opportunity to make a general announcement to the train that, though his methods are usually for “younger and more athletic women,” Mindy is going to use the Paleo method.

Danny meets Dr. Reed outside a fancy restaurant, where Dr. Reed nervously informs Danny that he’s hired some improv actors to play the part of his friends.  While they talk, Dr. Reed drops some surprising insight: that Mindy is terrified, and when she’s terrified, she tends to pretend that the scary thing isn’t happening. Finally, the show takes a moment to acknowledge that he’s a character who’s been around for four seasons (and even slept with Mindy in season one), not just a one-off sad sack. Danny gets a text from Morgan saying they’re trapped on the train, and rushes off to see Mindy.

Brendan coaches Mindy to recite her "mantra," which is, hilariously, "save my money and spend his."
Brendan coaches Mindy to recite her “mantra,” which will help focus and soothe her.

On the train, Mindy panics as her contractions continue. “I just want my birthing suite and my playlist!” she cries (valid complaint, Mindy.) Duncan offers to play her something, which temporarily gets her hopes up—and in a surreal TV moment, he starts to play “I’ve been working on the railroad” while everyone else joins in and Mindy starts to cry.

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Danny gets an intense running montage as he races from the restaurant, breaks through the police barrier, and finally appears in the subway car alongside Mindy, who screams for drugs and tries to get Tamra to slap her unconscious by insulting Beyonce (after the slap: “That did nothing and I’ve betrayed Beyonce!” Mindy sobs.) Danny finally pulls through and redeems himself for the fuckery of his episode, slightly. He knows Mindy well, I’ll give him that, because his words of comfort are that she’s a “stone cold bitch” and stronger than anyone he knows. You’ve gotta know that to Mindy, being called a cold, strong bitch is a great compliment. He even, after looking around nervously to see if Annette is behind him or something, concedes that she’s even stronger than his ma. Words of love from Danny.

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Finally, Mindy and Danny (and Morgan) share a tender moment at the hospital. Mindy says she’s exhausted and asks Danny to name the baby. After a short pause, he suggests the name Leo. “Like Leonardo DiCaprio,” Mindy says, satisfied. “No, like Leonardo Da Vinci!” Danny protests. Of course. Morgan chimes in that the baby is “too small to be a Tookers baby,” which…lol.

And finally, we end on a nice sweet shot of the hospital window as the rest of the team comes in to offer their congratulations and see the baby.

The Mindy Project Recap: Season 4 Episode 1

The Mindy Project is one of those shows that I think a lot of people support in theory, but have trouble remembering when it comes time to actually watch something. There are a couple of reasons I can’t stan for the show completely (foremost being its deep commitment to the parade of plain white dudes…I realize this is a send-up of/homage to traditional rom-coms, which traditionally have featured Tom Hanks/Billy Crystal types, but can we get ONE love interest or major character who isn’t the most vanilla of vanilla scoops?) Continue reading “The Mindy Project Recap: Season 4 Episode 1”

Acro Collective Greatest Hits: Celebrating 100 Posts!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe that this little project has already reached 100 posts! Thank you so much for continuing to grow with us and for supporting this community of thought, discourse, and love.

To celebrate our first major milestone, I highlight some of our most popular and beloved posts, in case you missed them or feel like revisiting the ideas they present. Stick with us! We love having you, and the best is yet to come.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe that this little project has already reached 100 posts! Thank you so much for continuing to grow with us and for supporting this community of thought, discourse, and love.

To celebrate our first major milestone, I highlight some of our most popular and beloved posts, in case you missed them or feel like revisiting the ideas they present. Stick with us! We love having you, and the best is yet to come.

OITNB Season 3: Recap and Watch-Along [Episode 2]

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)


S3e2: Bed Bugs and Beyond

I could listen to Flaca talk for a loooong time. There’s something so soothing about it. In the opening scene of this episode, she rambles to a nurse about what she thinks are crabs on her arms, but the nurse quickly drops her arm when he realizes it’s actually….bedbugs.

While the hispanic inmates gather to tell cootie jokes, we see Red walking ponderously back to her old cell with Piper. Piper’s need for approval shines out from every pore and every follicle of her miraculously well-groomed eyebrows. “Red, you’re back!” she exclaims. Like a golden retriever, her eyes follow Red’s every move.

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But Red’s not having it, saying that she doesn’t give liars second chances. Now we’re taken back to the episode where Piper, briefly outside Litchfield for furlough or whatever it’s called, went to see Red’s store on her behalf and found it closed. Piper lied then, and said there was a line out the door, but Mr. Red’s horrible lying has ratted Piper out.

Piper is her usual crunchy white savior self. “You know,” she preens, “many cultures value a person’s dignity over the truth. In Korea, they actually call it kibun…I heard that on The World with Marco Werman.” Oh my gooooooood, Piper. Just…stop. I understand that her character is in some ways parodying a specific type of person but it’s still just as painful to be reminded that there are so many well-intentioned young white women going around saying things like that IRL.

Red rightly points out that Piper lied to save her own ass from Red’s potential anger. Piper stands up and petulantly insists, “I said what I said because I am a nice person and it felt right.” A truly incontrovertible argument, Piper. Everyone knows that those who insist on their own niceness are the truly nice ones, of course.

“Nice is for cowards and Democrats,” Red spits back. “You’re a selfish little person. You wanted me to like you. Now I like you less.”

MMMhmmm Red! Withhold that approval.

At the entrance to the prison, Bureaucrat Bennett signs in a visiting woman while weirdly overenunciating his words. She says, like the mother of a five year old would, “Oh, Bennett! You’re George’s friend!”

I’m with Bennett, who hesitates and asks, “…George?”

Of course, it’s this woman who “never could resist an accent” (OK, whatever) and who, with her Cuban ex-husband, gave the world Pornstache. I think I recognize this actress as Elizabeth Banks’ mom from 30 Rock. Maybe? Does she get every hot mom role?

Mama Pornstache and Aleida have an awkward grandmother’s meeting in the visitation room, where MP says things like, “hispanic women have amazing skin.” Aleida cuts right to the chase, asking what Daya’s baby will get from Mama Pornstache. MP wants to adopt Daya’s baby, apparently to save it from a life of being raised by Cesar.

“I’m up nights…haunted…” MP says, closing her eyes dramatically under the weight of her words.I can’t bear the thought of the baby ending up…like…”

I expected her to say Daya, aka in prison, which seems in keeping with the kind of distancing benevolence that MP has so far evinced. Instead, she says, “George.”

I agree that the world of the show (and the world in general) does not need more Pornstaches. But…you raised him, so why would it make sense for you to raise yet another baby in order to avoid future Pornstache-ness? Aleida has the same question for her. “So…you want to raise the baby so it don’t turn out like the bay you raised?”

MP brags about having raised three sons total, naming a dentist and an art historian as proof of her parenting ability. “So you raised two sadists and a homo,” Aleida cracks.

Aleida goes on to negotiate a stipend for herself and for Daya, if MP gets the child. The scene ends with Team Hot Grandmas staring each other down.

Back in the dorms, the women gather their bedding and clothes in a pile. Bad News Bennett wanders in to whisper loudly to Daya that Aleida is meeting with MP. Daya hilariously calls MP “Lady Pornstache,” like a character in the world’s worst historical romance. Daya then has to repeatedly reassure Bad News Bennett, for some reason, since he’s puffing and sighing like he’s just run a marathon. Why are you so upset, Bennett? This feels like a weird contest of manhood—like he doesn’t really care that much about how Daya feels, giving birth in prison, but he just doesn’t want his genes to “belong” to Pornstache.

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Then he changes the subject with the ever-romantic, “I don’t usually get to see this much of you at once,” since Daya is in her bra and underwear. Thanks, bedbugs, you make everything so much more romantic. Also, B.N.B, there’s a reason why guards like you don’t normally get to see inmates in their bras and underwear. Please stop acting like you’re Romeo. There’s something really disturbing about the composition of this scene, to me, with Daya’s vulnerability and exposed belly next to Bennett, who’s fully clothed and sports a shiny pair of handcuffs on his belt.

Daya doesn’t think about this though, and there is something sweet about the way she asks, “You like it?”

Oop, Caputo interrupts to make an announcement about the new paper uniforms. He comes over to Daya to tell her about the one maternity-sized paper uniform. As she leaves, Caputo takes the opportunity to breathe hot breath all over Stoic Bennett, warning him yet again to stay away from the inmates. Bennett whines, “BUT LADY PORNSTACHE IS HERE…” and Caputo cuts him off to say he doesn’t care, and neither should Bennett. “This is not 3 Men and a Baby…you [and Pornstache] are two morons, and a ward of the state.” It feels weird, how much I can dislike Caputo and yet find him sensible…at times.

Ohhh, ok! Now we’ve been dropped into an Army Bennett flashback, He strides around looking purposeful and shouting acronyms, like a proper Army Bennett, looking like a little action figure. Now’s the time to remember that Army Bennett, who tells his unamused sergeant that he’s “ready to get into the shit” (charming, Army Bennett), actually lost his leg to a hot-tub infection and not combat. Lying about that was what made him seem so vulnerable and lovable to Daya in the first place, right?

Army Bennett action figure, ooh shiny
Army Bennett action figure, ooh shiny

I’m a little confused what we’re supposed to get from this flashback. Sympathy? more dislike? ~*deep understanding*~?

The sergeant coins the fabulous jeer, “John Wayne McCain” to describe Overeager Bennett. I’m starting to see what this is going to be about. The sergeant reprimands Bennett for his eagerness to do the job of the “camel cowboys” who are, I assume, supposed to be Afghan soldiers (the set is very…Vaguely Middle Eastern ™ but they have Afghanistan Army arm patches in some scenes). Are we supposed to draw a pat conclusion about Bennett’s ability to connect with the people he should distance himself from—the people under his command, so to speak? Has OITNB inadvertently written into itself a critique of the way America conducts its interminable wars in the Middle East, by tracing a parallel between the American prison system and the hierarchy of dependency and see-sawing support of American foreign policy? Probably not, but damn it’s tempting to see that.

Back in Litchfield, CO Wanda looks over the cafeteria full of half-naked inmates and proclaims the situation a “cluster-knuckle.” “Could this be our fault,” she asks her…boyfriend (?), Fat Good Natured Security Guard. Apparently they brought in a mystery couch from the curb. For what? Fat Good Natured Sex? I guess we’ll never know.

An older white lady tries to sit with Janae, Cindy, Suzanne, and Taystee, and is unceremoniously shooed away. Poussey comes to sit down instead, wearing a necklace of garlic cloves. She defends the “magic” of Gloria and Norma. Cindy realizes that not only does the garlic necklace come from the hispanic contingent of the prison, so does the food, and she starts to spit it out. Suzanne jumps in to say (quite sensibly) that it’s just extra protein. When Taystee points out that Cindy hasn’t showered in 3 days and is scratching herself, Suzanne also offers this: “Poor personal hygiene can be a sign of depression.” Sometimes I love the way they write her lines. So sensible.

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In the middle of all this, Pennsatucky calmly sits down at their table. “You’re discriminating me,” she says, winking, to Suzanne. Suzanne immediately agrees. Cindy asserts that even if Rosa Parks were to try to sit with them, they’d kick her out if she had bedbugs.

And THEN OH MY GOD Pennsatucky sneers something about Vee being their “big-haired mammy” and “taking Satan’s three-pronged penis up her butt.” WHY. Jesus. Suzanne freaks out, grabbing her potato to smash it into Pennsatucky’s disrespectful face. Taystee quickly holds Suzanne back as CO Wanda comes over to threaten them for causing trouble. Potato her at a future time, Suzanne.

Over at another table, Piper teases Alex about “secretly loving this” situation of half-naked inmates. The show is really taking Piper off the sympathy of the audience, I guess. Even a casual observer should have been able to tell that Alex was miserable and really struggling—Piper, remember that scene in the chapel where you told Alex it was “the system”? But P’s need for approval trumps all, I guess. “Give mama a smile,” she says, sounding like every gross man who has ever ignored a woman’s lack of desire to smile for his own gratification (ladies, you know what I’m talking about. This random dude in a coffee shop once demanded I smile while I was getting cream for my coffee.)

Alex tries to voice her fear of Kubra, who’s probably waiting for her to get out of jail so he can kill her. To Piper’s platitude about survival, Alex responds that she does indeed survive, like a cockroach. Piper points out that it might be her spirit animal. What kind of girlfriend says your spirit animal is a fucking cockroach? That is literally one of the worst ones you could have chosen, Piper. Is this your first time playing this game? Or interacting with another person? One who’s hurting?

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When Alex points out how fucked up it is to say your lover’s spirit animal is a cockroach, Piper rattles off a list of reasons why cockroaches are “bad bitches” (cringe): they mated in space. They live in tight colonies because they love being touched. They can carry cigarettes. Each reason she gives highlights her own priorities: thinking about how to survive in the prison economy (the cigarettes), pursuing her own comfort (touch). Alex just gets up and leaves.

Nicky and Big Boo watch from the window as an inmate is released early, probably someone in for a minor drug offense. Nicky points out that their “smack scheme” is no minor offense.

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In the kitchen, Gloria and Aleida prepare itch remedies for the girls who’ve been bitten up. Conspiracy Bennett stalks past, and Aleida hurries over to talk to him. So much Bennett plotline is really boring, honestly. I feel like he forfeited his right to our attention over his moral dilemma when he decided to have sex (and unprotected, at that) with an inmate in the first place.

In the storage room, Daya and Conspiracy Bennett corner Aleida to ask about her meeting with MP. CB starts freaking out, while Aleida says, “Your job is to listen right now.” Very sensible advice, Aleida. Aleida invokes Daya’s year in foster care as a reminder of what could happen to the baby if left unprovided for. Bennett chimes in with a “That’s not going to happen,” though it’s unclear what he plans to do about it since his hands are tied, anyway. When Daya says he should let Aleida finish, he gives her such a betrayed look. Stop being so dramatic, CB.

Aleida holds out her trump card—that with MP, Daya’s baby can have her own bedroom. “Did you ever spend the night in a room by yourself?” she asks Daya. Bennett looks on, uncomprehending. This is clearly a moment in which the economies of Daya and Bennett strongly diverge. Daya’s calculation includes that which Bennett, from his position of privilege, either takes for granted or assumes on blind belief.

To make this point even clearer, Aleida points out that the baby would have clean towels. “Daya and I are happy,” Bennett insists. “You don’t need clean towels for that…right?” Aleida and Daya just look at him. This is why I don’t buy Romantic Bennett at all. There’s no attempt, that we’ve seen, for him to understand where Daya is coming from, or the way she thinks, despite Conspiracy Bennett’s professed love for her.

NOW WE CUT TO A SCENE THAT NO ONE ASKED FOR: a shirtless Army Bennett, in flashback, dancing to “Hollaback Girl” while one of the Afghan soldiers films the Americans.

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The soldier, named Farzad, starts to film one of the women soldiers instead, and the sergeant angrily stops him, saying that the point is the men dancing. Army Bennett comes by to reassure Farzad. “You did good, you did good,” he says, nodding at Farzad, who looks like a happy puppy. Farzad explains that the other Afghan soldiers are upset because the American soldiers are acting gay, dancing to Gwen Stefani.

Back in the present, Soso does laundry and intones, “We’re stuck in our own spin cycle.” Wise Soso. Nicky and Luschek arrive with fans. Pennsatucky’s former posse (I keep forgetting their names) warn Nicky to keep away from their “soggy boxes,” truly an inventively unappealing name for a vagina.

Luschek, realizing that the guards’ uniforms are just as susceptible to bedbugs as the inmates’ clothes were (is this a hidden ~**~*metaphor*~**~??!), treats us to a very jiggly, pale strip scene. While handing his jeans to Angie to wash, he quickly pulls out his baggie of weed—to the inmates’ side-eye.

In the bathroom, Cindy sprays her whole body, including her crotch and face, with chemical disinfectant to ward off bedbugs. As Taystee points out, this is “the Titanic of bad ideas” as Cindy is “steering out of the way of bedbugs, and CRASHING into an iceberg of chemical burns and shit.”

Suzanne comes out of a toilet stall she’s been cleaning, and Taystee also gives her some helpful advice: that she can’t lose her shit every time someone talks about Vee.

“Did you hear that slattern? …Look, that business about a tri-penis, unacceptable,” Suzanne argues. That’s not incorrect, Suzanne. AND Suzanne throws in a great pun for good measure, because she loves us, saying, “That WARRANTS/WARREN-S a severe response.” Get it? get it?? I do appreciate how Cindy and Taystee work to protect Suzanne, in many ways, from getting herself thrown into psych.

Alex wanders in, coughing, and stops Taystee from spraying herself with “Lybol” disinfectant. Followed shortly by Piper. “When did our bathroom become gentrified??” Cindy asks, pointing to them. Lines like this remind me why I watch this show, sometimes.

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Alex clashes with the black CO (what is her name, OITNB?? Tell us!), when the CO tells her to leave the bathroom. Alex is clearly cracking under the strain of being back, and she goes on a mini-rant about the bedbugs and cockroaches swarming over Litchfield. Piper steps in to stop the CO from sending Alex to seg, earning herself a shot but successfully warding off a stint in SHU.

Out on the lawn, Daya reaches into the electrical box near her usual meeting spot with Romantic Bennett and pulls out a chewing tobacco tin that says “Open Me.” Inside is a ring made of a silver gum wrapper—and when she turns around, Romantic Bennett is kneeling at her feet. He gives a little speech about their future together and proposes. Daya agrees, and they kiss. I just know this couple is going to suffer—Romantic Bennett’s proposal sketched out a life with no particulars, just HAPPINESS. Kids! Think it through!

Over by the van, Nicky approaches Luschek and rather un-suavely brings up the subject of “candy.” Luschek’s slowness is supposed to be the joke, I guess, but I just don’t care enough about this forced subplot. Why are Nicky and Big Boo cooking up this “candy,” seeing as it could add 10 years in max for them both? What’s their motivation?

Luschek starts dragging her to Caputo’s office, but then stops and says he’s fucking with her. He then agrees to sell it for 80%.

Poussey comes into the kitchen with an egg that she slept with and prayed over, hoping that it would absorb her problems. Gloria takes it and puts it back with the other eggs, to be cooked at breakfast.

Gloria reveals that she cooks all of the eggs she gives to people as magic charms and walks away, but Norma comes around and breaks the egg for Poussey, earning herself (and us, thanks Norma!) a glorious Poussey smile.

In the cafeteria, Alex and Piper eat together as Alex jokes about being “literally garbage” in her trash-bag uniform substitute. “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown,” Alex says. Red pops her head in to say, in a dash of pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing (or is it some kind of post-shadowing?) that Piper will think of the right lie.

Piper talks about ignorance as the shield of her happiest time in Litchfield, but Alex points out that for her, revealing everything about themselves and “still deciding that we like each other? THAT is an amazing thing.” Piper looks tortured. Ok, she looks up and now LITERALLY a single tear is trickling down her cheek, cliche to end all cliches.

I think this scene is supposed to involve a big emotional payoff but I can’t remember what Piper did, or even what Alex did, or the many unnecessary twists and turns that their *whirlwind romance* or whatever has involved.

Piper reveals that she was the one to rat out Alex to her probation officer. For what, I don’t remember—maybe for having a gun? To protect herself from their old drug boss? Piper tearfully tries to argue that she was doing it to protect Alex, who was in danger.

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Alex points out how fucked up this mind game is, and how Piper’s decision to unload the truth on Alex, and get Alex to stop blaming herself and start blaming Piper, is just another play to keep control of their increasingly complicated relationship. “You were having a nervous breakdown,” Piper starts saying. Alex cuts her off—”Which wasn’t hot for you, was it?” It’s harsh, I guess. But where’s the lie?

In the library, the exterminator tells Caputo that the books need to be burnt. Poussey and Taystee are working in the library, and Poussey defends Rats of NIMH against the exterminator’s recommendation of, well, extermination. Taystee, pointing out that the prison will never replace the books if they’re burnt, argues that what the exterminator thinks is a bedbug in the binding is just a muffin crumb. And then she FUCKING EATS IT to prove her point, because Taystee is a hero and a savior of books.

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Awkward Bennett shows up at Cesar’s house to take up Cesar’s invitation to his house most literally. With no warning. So rude. But Cesar is excited to hear that Bennett has proposed to Daya, but is suitably unimpressed with Awkward Bennett’s gum wrapper ring.

Caputo is meeting with another old white man, whose name is apparently Mitch. He has a rolling suitcase and wears a sweater vest—that is literally all I know about him at this point. Oh, and he really liked Fig, Caputo’s predecessor. Mitch is not going to give Caputo new mattresses because these new mattresses will just be thrown away in two months. Ohhhh shit. Caputo realizes, along with us viewers, that Litchfield is being closed down. Fucking Mitch, he’s loving this. He reassures Caputo that he will still have a job, but it seems like all the other staff are being laid off.

Back at Cesar’s, Cesar gets into a heated argument with Aleida’s son, who won’t eat his fries.Cesar, of course, does the reasonable thing and points a gun in the boy’s face. After he eats one fry, he’s dismissed. Awkward Bennett watches all of this go down in nervous silence, and then the scene cuts back to Afghanistan. Army Bennett’s squad is playing a video game in their tent. Outside, Farzad is seen arguing with his fellow Afghan soldiers—only Bennett notices them approaching the tents. Er…



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Farzad screams that they have a grenade, and one of the soldiers shoots him in a panic. The grenade rolls into the tent. Bennett, who’s ordered to kick it out, flings himself into a corner and closes his eyes. His young friend, another American soldier, throws his own body onto the grenade instead.

Cut to Healy, because we can’t have nice things and must look at his face once in a while. He’s watching a youtube video of a dog farting, because of course. Red comes in to ask him to add her lawyer to her visitation list, and to have her husband taken off. I guess they’re getting a divorce. Healy makes her sit because he’s just such.a.good.counselor. Healy then gives her some platitudes about avoiding absolutes when speaking emotionally, and marriage being a two way street, and blah blah blah. I know where this is heading, and it makes me tired. Don’t worry, Healy. We haven’t forgotten your disastrously stupid Russian mail-order bride who, surprise surprise, didn’t automatically love you just for buying her.

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Also, surprise surprise, Healy starts to accuse Red of “trivializing a man’s emotions.” The manhood! It’s so fragile! The only real surprise in this scene is that Red actually looks somewhat chastised by this outburst. Come on, Red. Where’s the fire?

In the laundry room, Nicky and Boo find their stash is missing—because we’re not allowed to just let this storyline lie.

In the yard, Caputo watches the mattresses burn with a defeated look. He starts to toss books into the fire too, saying, “Doesn’t matter.”

The camera pans over the various inmates trying to arrange their beds for the night without mattresses. Soso prattles about leaves she found that might work, and looks over to see Chang sleeping upright because of course, we can’t resist a weird-old-mystic-Chinese-lady trope for good measure, can we, OITNB?

Piper confesses to Red that she got in trouble with Alex for telling the truth, and that she can’t do right no matter if she lies or tells the truth. “Stop trying to mold the real world into the one inside your pointy blonde head,” Red counsels. Wise Red. Piper sits up as she breathes, “Maybe I AM manipulative….you just described my mother.” Must we do this, OITNB? Must we sit through Piper’s self-awakening and a tired trope about becoming like one’s mother? I would much rather have an episode where Poussey and Taystee read Rats of NIMH with Suzanne.

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We get an extra dose of Awkward Bennett for good measure. Cesar advises that Bennett get a side piece to help him with raising Daya’s baby, then offers Daya’s old crib to Bennett to use for the baby. Awkward Bennett is so awkward it’s a little painful to look at him. Is he having a moving revelation about his coming glory as a father? Somehow I doubt it.

In the hallway, Piper and Alex look at each other. Piper dramatically tears the police tape away from the closed library, and Alex follows her in. Without saying a word, Alex slaps her in the face. Then they start having sex, just to drive home the fact that Piper is manipulative and this is an unhealthy relationship. Poor Alex. I mean, Piper looks good at going down on someone, but still. Wasn’t the whole point of her struggle with Piper to avoid being used for a quick physical gratification?

At the very end of the episode, we see Conflicted Bennett crying in his pickup, because his life is a country music song. He drives off, and the camera tilts down to reveal that he’s left the crib Cesar gave him at the side of the road because SYMBOLISM. But also, RUDENESS. I mean that’s a perfectly good crib and Cesar did say it had been used by all of Aleida’s babies, and would be used again. Why waste it just because you want to be All Dramatic, Bennett??

I'm sighing too, Dramatic Bennett. I'm sighing too.
I’m sighing too, Dramatic Bennett. I’m sighing too.

OITNB Season 3: Recap and Watch-Along [Episode 1]

I watched this so you don’t have to. Spoilers ahead, obviously….

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)


S3E1: “Mother’s Day”

Damn, this theme song is still so good. No matter how much my initial enthusiasm for this show has waned, this theme still stirs something in me.

The episode starts with Pennsatucky driving a van somewhere with two prison guards, a white woman (Wanda something?) and a black woman. The first joke of the season is out the gate, ladies and gentlemen: Pennsatucky says “Crack is for coloreds,” prompting a stare from the black prison guard. Realizing she’s made a mistake, Penn amends it to: “African Americans. Crack is for African Americans.” I file this away for a roundtable discussion of the future. Is this joke analogous to the way the show talks about race???, my pseudo-academic brain insists. Quiet, brain.

The three quickly recap for viewers the way bald Miss Rosa drove the old van into a quarry. EXPOSITION. Penn tells a dumb punny joke about being bald, having bawled, and getting balled. “My momma taught me that, isn’t that wild? My momma taught me so many things.”

Dear viewers, it’s been announced. We’re 3 minutes in. This episode is about Motherhood.

Now: flashback to Mama Pennsatucky forcing Baby Pennsatucky to chug a giant glass bottle of Mountain Dew before a welfare meeting. Mama uses this Baby Penn’s hyperactivity to ask for supplemental welfare.

Cut back to Pennsatucky and the guards. They’re shopping in what looks like a dollar store. Penn states confidently that one of her aborted/lost babies might have been another Tim Tebow. I have nothing to say about this reference. Is it about Christian hypocrisy? Is it a nod to football fans? I’ll never know or care enough to find out.

Wanda the guard loads up the cart with a mishmash of party supplies from the sale aisle—mostly leftovers from Cinco de Mayo. It’s summer at the ladies’ prison funtime camp. We’re about to have a mother’s day party of some kind, I’m going to guess.

Back at Litchfield, Red saunters into the room with all the older ladies: respirator Anita and Sister Ingalls. It’s also Rosa’s old room, so her bed has been turned into a mini shrine. The fat dude guard who’s not Luschek (Scott? Brad? something like that…) assigns Red to Rosa’s bunk. Red dismantles the shrine, saying that the women shouldn’t commemorate Rosa in a place she hated. Red offers the women painkillers she’s been hiding in her mouth, which Anita rejects.

THEN SUDDENLY THE PERSON ON THE TOP BUNK ROLLS OVER TO TAKE THE PROFFERED PAINKILLERS AND HOLY SHIT IT’S ALEX.

At least, I think that’s the reaction we’re supposed to have, judging by the music. She has an artfully black and blue bruise on her eye. Her roll toward the other women was suitably dramatic. To be honest, I can’t remember shit about Alex’s plotline. I guess it’s supposed to be a surprise that she’s back in Litchfield.

Cut to: Caputo walking with a new CO outside by the field. He explains the Mother’s Day Visitation Fair to her. I think we’re supposed to feel sympathetic to Caputo, who “got caught in a shitstorm but put up a sturdy umbrella,” (the new CO’s words, not mine…) in season 2. The thing is, I can’t look at him or that little wisp of hair on the crown of his head without thinking about Fig being blackmailed into giving him head. And the term “beer can.” And then I have to take a break to throw up.

He complains about shortstaffed by “Madame Shit-Storm”’s departure. “What’d you hear about me?” new CO asks him, with a little lift of her chin.

“That you’re smart, and you’re qualified, and…you said yes.”

God, this is boring. Is this how Caputo flirts?

“These are complicated ladies in a complicated place,” Caputo says. How sensitive, insightful, and brilliant he is. New CO nods but she’s probably really thinking about how good her cheekbones look in this natural light.

Taystee helpfully announces herself and her expository function in this scene by yelling out, “Yo! Mr. Caputo! That your girlfriend? I had a feeling you had a thing for the darker berries.” This prompts Caputo to introduce Counselor Rogers (new CO gets a name! yay). Taystee asks about Mr. Healy (old sad sack counselor who wanted to bone Piper her first day in prison, remember?). Caputo tells her Healy’s still around. OH THANK GOD WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT HIM.

Taystee: “This is gonna get interestin’.” Oh, Taystee. You are so much better than this poor excuse for viewer stand-in. But thank you for assuring us that this will be interesting. It was good to see you. Taystee gets in a parting-shot “massa” joke and is gone.

Oh look it’s Serious Bennett! Serious Bennett walks with his hands behind his back and puffs out his chest. He furrows his brow to make it clear that he’s sensitive and thoughtful. He wants to tell Caputo some boring story about lights being out in one of the dorms. Caputo, probably for Counselor Rogers’ benefit, reprimands Bennett for calling the inmates “girls” and corrects him with “inmates” and “women.”

“Or electricians,” CO Rogers chimes in. Bennett pouts at her seriously.

POUTY BENNETT IS POUTY
POUTY BENNETT IS POUTY

“Officer Bennett…is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” Caputo asks. Like how you abused your CO position, however “romantically”, and got an inmate pregnant because you didn’t like the feel of condoms? No? No? OK, bye, Serious Bennett.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Gloria is doing “Catholic-plus” magic on an inmate by rolling an egg over her body. The egg cracks, prompting the inmate to leave in a panic so that…Poussey can walk in! Oh, Poussey. How we have missed you. This show will always have value to me, no matter what it does or says, because it introduced the world to Samira Wiley.

Gloria and Poussey talk about Poussey’s alcohol brewing side business, and the fact that Poussey wants to set up a games booth for the visiting kids. “It’s y’all’s day,” P tells Gloria. “It must be hard as fuck bein’ in here when you got kids on the outside.”

“Don’t forget to call your mother tomorrow,” Gloria tells P. This can only mean one thing…

“My mom’s passed,” P reveals, looking a bit like a sad, lonely puppy. Y u do dis to me, OITNB.

And then, because we can’t linger on that sad/sweet moment, apparently, Blanca (the crazy Hispanic woman) is called into the shot to tell a strange and meandering story about her old goldfish “Tequila.” Ok, OITNB.

Cut to: Luschek and Piper in the grass outside, wiring what looks like a cardboard windmill for mini-golf. They’re talking about ways they would commit suicide, and Piper says, “pills.”

“Figures,” Luschek says. “Pills are expensive. But you don’t even think about that.”

Piper fires back that she makes eleven cents an hour in prison, and that when she gets out, she won’t have a job or prospects. This is kind of a hard sell to me because…well, she’s still white and pretty, no? Her parents are still lawyers, or whatever. She still has that college degree. Not saying it’ll be easy, but why is this conversation happening around Piper? Maybe I’m cranky because she bores me. It’s also weird to me that Luschek is the one lecturing her about waking up to the “real world.” He seems to do all right by himself. COs make a decent living, don’t they?

Luschek is chock full of economical ways to kill oneself. (“At a shooting range, you don’t have to pay until you leave.”) Piper insists that they change the subject, so Luschek informs her that “the hot one” is back. Of course, this means Alex. “The Bettie Page of Litchfield,” Luschek offers. Another gem: “And to be honest, she looked a little rough. It sucks when hot chicks start to cool down.” Damn, this show is really good at making me dislike the characters.

Meanwhile, Sophia is in the salon while a long line of women, winding down the hallway, waits outside. “If you don’t have children comin’ today, please come back another time.”

Maria, waiting in another chair, asks for her hair to be the same length as the last time her baby saw her. “It’s called object permanence,” she tells us. I have a real affection for Maria and her baby daddy, at this point. He dresses that baby in the cutest outfits for their visits with Maria. That’s love.

Morello sits in Sophia’s hairdressing chair and asks for a “no. 7,” excitedly chattering about her four kids who are coming to visit. Maria looks over like…this bitch…

“Show me your stomach,” Sophia says. “Mother of four, twins no less.”

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Morello, no surprise, evades the question, and Sophia tells her to get out of the salon. Morello, in desperation, pleads that “dollin’ up’s the only way I got to feel better.” Sophia looks over thoughtfully. I guess a transgender woman doing her transitioning while in prison would know a little something about that, honey.

Sophia and Morello talk about the strangeness of Mother’s Day when Sophia’s son isn’t sure how to treat Sophia—like a father? Like a mother? Cut to a flashback of Sophia in her previous life as a man, rubbing her wife’s feet and singing as they wait for their son to be born.

In the laundry room, Angie (Pennsatucky’s dark-haired friend, right?) tells Leanne that Nicky is always in the laundry room because she’s obsessed with “getting” Angie after the “lesbian-off” with Big Boo from the previous season. Let’s just forget that happened, why don’t we? There’s something really messed up about treating the high rate of sexual abuse and coercion in prison as a kind of game between voracious lesbians. Anyway, there’s gotta be a reason why Nicky’s actually in the laundry room…

aaaand it’s that she’s looking at some drugs drying in the air vent.

Cut to baby Nicky baking muffins for her WASP mom on mother’s day, while her nanny helps and encourages her. WASP momma can’t be bothered, blathering about going to an alcohol-fueled brunch to pretend that they like Nicky’s grandma. Hell is brunch at the Four Seasons, I guess. Baby Nicky is really adorable. “She didn’t read my card,” baby Nicky whispers. I’d read your card, cutie!

Back in the present, Morello and Nicky go through the lunch line and Nicky flirts with Morello, noticing her new look. Piper grumbles but discovers Alex walking through the door of the cafeteria. They hug, and Piper asks why she’s back. I…also need a refresher. These ladies leave, letting the camera pan to the black women: Cindy, Poussey, Taystee, Suzanne/Crazy Eyes, and Janae. They discuss Gloria’s magic and whether or not she really put a hex on Vee, killing her. Crazy Eyes insists that Vee is fine, leading Cindy to warn her that if she throws anything on her tray, they will dog-pile Crazy Eyes until she’s flat. Which is kind of a hilarious and loving punishment to imagine.

Janae asks Poussey why she’s dabbling in “voodoo magic.” Taystee intervenes with a warning we can all get behind: “Mess with the evil forces, you’ll be out like Cedric Diggory.” Poussey and Taystee simultaneously intone, “Harry Potter…” when Janae asks who Cedric is. I love P and T’s friendship. I hope that this season we get another taste of their game where they imitate white women at yoga or a cupcake shop or wherever white women in TV shows hang out.

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Flashback to Poussey’s mom reading Calvin and Hobbes aloud with a pre-teen Poussey. I’M NOT READY FOR THESE FEELS, DAMN IT. Is Poussey trying to use black magic to bring her mom back from the dead? I don’t really blame you, Poussey. But remember the Deathly Hallows and its cautionary tale. I know you know.

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In the dorms, Aleida and Daya talk about Daya’s “first mother’s day” and feeling like a mother because your baby gives you pain and trouble. “At least get me a card or something. Draw me one of your weird pictures,” Aleida says. You leave Daya’s amateur anime alone, Aleida. She drew herself in a bomber jacket with a bionic arm, for god’s sake. She’s doing fine.

While looking through Daya’s mail, Aleida discovers a letter from Pornstache’s mom, who believes that she’s Daya’s baby’s grandmother. Aleida pressures Daya to see Mama Pornstache because there might be money in it.

Nicky and Big Boo are making a clown costume and whispering about how to sell the drugs Nicky’s been cooking in the laundry room. I’m a little confused about Nicky’s casual relationship to drugs in this season, given how seriously Red held her to a clean standard, and how strong we were told Nicky’s addiction was. Isn’t the basis of Red’s “family” tie to Nicky the pain and suffering they struggled through as Nicky went off drugs, at Red’s insistence? Where did all that suffering go? Now Nicky can just casually sell drugs in her spare time?

Cut to: Gina and other ladies sitting under the full moon, passing around an invisible ball of blue energy in their monthly witches’ coven meeting. Freida and Red are in the greenhouse, discussing how the “witch ladies” get to have their night walks because Caputo’s reign is so much gentler, and that people are getting out early! This doesn’t bode well.

Red pours concrete into the old smuggling tunnel in the greenhouse, cutting off Nicky and Big Boo’s sell route. Red carves “RIP V” into the concrete. “Life is complicated,” she says. Yes, Red. Yes it is.

Meanwhile, Healy is in Caputo’s office whining about CO Rogers being hired. He insists he’s “got it covered” but that if Rogers has to stay, “she can have all the blacks and the crazies.” EW GO AWAY HEALY. He then falls back on that old racist standard, “she’s got a weird smell.” When is this gross old man going to be dispatched in some entertaining and satisfying way? I’m waiting, show writers.

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Flashback to baby Healy trying to give his insane mom breakfast as she draws on the wall with lipstick and smashes vases on the wall. I guess I’m supposed to feel some sympathy but mainly I’m thinking about how satisfying it would be to smash a vase against a wall.

Piper and Alex share a romantic moment in the chapel, talking about their mothers and their disappointment in their imprisoned daughters. Memorable line from Alex about her mother: “She’s probably looking down right now….vomiting…angel dust…” Alex is understandably frustrated and upset about being back in prison, while Piper cracks a lame joke about living in Queens and how that makes prison seem much more attractive. Whatever, Chapman.

Piper then proceeds to literally shut Alex up by kissing her. “It wasn’t your fault,” Piper soothes. Maybe she’s talking to herself, here. Alex fires back, “Of course it was my fault! No one put that gun in my hand.” I’m not sure what gun Alex is talking about here, but…if I have to choose between these two white ladies, Alex seems infinitely more sympathetic at this moment.

Ever so earnestly, Piper leans in to whisper, “It wasn’t you! …It was the system.”

THE SYSTEM IS WATCHING.
THE SYSTEM IS WATCHING.

I can’t take this seriously at all. That Piper, whose storyline so far has revolved around being the one who is in prison “against all odds,” should be the one to spout a platitude about “the system” is just…ridiculous. How about Taystee being back in prison, in season one, because of the system? Where was the show’s revelation about the system then? Like yes, let’s talk about the system and incarceration of women and other very important themes that this show addresses. OITNB does create an opportunity for dialogue and thought by highlighting women of color and the prison state. But these words, “it was the system,” just…should not be so easily available to Piper. What authorizes her to critique the system in such an empty and ultimately thoughtless way? You can almost see the wheels in her head turning as she gropes in the dark for something comforting to tell Alex. Even Alex refuses to buy it totally, though this would be one way toward self-absolvement.

“At least we’re in it together,” Piper says, satisfied. Her selfishness in this moment, as her partner is clearly cracking under the strain of being back, is kind of hard to stomach. I guess that’s the point. Show writers, are we turning the Piper ship around? Are we making her totally unlikeable? Like completely?

Cut to: the COs struggling to contain an excited crowd of children about to enter the prison to see their mothers. Serious Bennett is unpleasantly surprised to see Cesar, Aleida’s boyfriend, who talks openly about the fact that Bennett is Daya’s baby daddy. Cesar, who is either oblivious or takes a malicious pleasure in Bennett’s discomfort, invites him over to their house later. Bennett just manages to look constipated. Now that Larry is gone, is Bennett obligated to take over the role of mildly attractive, insistently well-intentioned douchenozzle?

Montage shots of the inmates with their kids, sitting in the grass, playing mini golf, petting puppies, and generally frolicking. Suzanne plays with a kite in the hallway, getting ready to go outside. Healy comes up and stops her, because he hates fun and wants everyone to be as sad sack and gross as he is. We’re forced to watch Suzanne stare longingly at the field of children having fun because GODDAMN IT OITNB. I am reminded again how good Udo Azuba is as an actress. She looks so vulnerable and subdued—even the slightest lift of her eyelids into those signature crazy eyes is full of pathos. She has the power to turn me into a cheesy film-review writer.

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Soso supervises the breaking of the chili-pepper pinata, but the kids can’t have sticks in the prison yard. Fat good-natured security guard says they can work out their anger on the pinata. “Hey, kid, your mother is in prison,” he tells a young black boy. Thanks, FG-NSG. Maybe you’re not that G-N after all.

Flaca’s face-painting for the kids. One little girl looks terrified at the eye makeup Flaca’s put on her, leading to one of my favorite lines from this ep: “NooOoo, you look really good! You could like, leave here and go straight to a My Chemical Romance concert and be the balls.” Yes, Flaca. Yes.

Cindy taunts kids as they play a glorified version of beer pong, and she and Taystee agree that they’re done with mother figures (no surprise, given how messed up theirs were.) Poussey looks like a kicked puppy again. Stahp, show. Pls.

Yoga Jones makes an appearance, playing Simon Says with the kids. Some random redhead inmate I don’t recognize takes some cocaine out of her baby’s diaper and does it. Gina and Norma play duck duck goose. This happens:

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Gloria speaks with her younger son, teasing him about growing a moustache. It’s very sweet.

Poussey stops Norma on her way to the port-a-potty to ask about the “juju” she does with Gloria, and how it works. I have a bad feeling about this.

Daya, Aleida, and Aleida’s kids are hanging out on a picnic blanket in the sun when Bennett shows up. He’s so awkward that it hurts. “How come computers are so smart? It’s because they listen to their motherboards,” he says. Oh my god, Bennett. Please stop. Aleida looks away. We see Caputo in the background, watching with disgust, and then grabs Bennett as he leaves for a man-to-man chat about how Bennett should keep secrets swept under the rug where they belong. Caputo helpfully points out how he could have had any inmate he wanted, as a CO. Caputo makes his point in a particularly gross way (involving the phrase, “personal pussy smorgasbord”). But at least he points out the very unromantic aspect of Bennett’s relationship with Daya: its unavoidable power dynamic. Drawing a parallel between the two men is at least helpful in pointing out that the only real difference is Bennett’s cute face.

Sophia sits doing crafts with her son, talking about his mom’s new boyfriend, the pastor. As they talk about shaving and how to do it properly, her son’s curt “ew” is a reminder that he isn’t comfortable with her identity yet, and may never be. But they have a redeeming moment in which they bond over how stupid the pastor’s “wait until marriage” advice is re: girls. Sophia gives her son some advice about exploiting girls’ insecurities as flirting practice. “You really want to be a lady in a world where men do that?” Her son asks.

“God help me, I do,” Sophia answers. A very self-aware, but ultimately kind of effective moment.

Meanwhile, the kids are still ineffectually pummeling the pinata. CO Wanda, fed up, flicks out her nightstick and smashes it open. The kids rush forward, only to discover that the pinata is empty. “Oh my god,” Soso intones, “This is such a metaphor for their lives.”

Aleida, sitting in the field with Daya as the kids play, goes over how awful it is to be a mother. “It’s not all bad…it just ruins your life, is all.”

Flashback to Aleida in the hospital with baby Daya. In the present, one of Aleida’s kids is discovered missing.

Red, surrounded by her husband and grown sons in the visitation room, talks about shutting down the smuggling business and getting back to her life, to the future. “Who’s minding the store?” she asks, suddenly suspicious. Her husband is such a bad liar.

In a corner of the field, Pennsatucky’s made little popsicle-stick crosses with her baby’s names on them. She prays that their unbaptized souls be considered for entry into heaven, because she was “wicked” and had them aborted. Big Boo, in what must be the world’s most terrifying clown costume, comes up to give Penn some weird comfort based on…Freakonomics, of all things. In this strange economy of life, Big Boo argues that the passing of Roe v. Wade prevented the birth, and therefore incarceration, of a whole generation of criminals.

Boo as a happy clown/ angel of death
Boo as a happy clown/ angel of death

Penn’s babies would have been doomed to a life of criminality had they been born—and thus she actually did them a favor by aborting them. I don’t know if I agree with this argument’s viability as an argument—its calculus seems a little cold. But it’s Big Boo’s way of helping, I guess. “Maybe you should stop punishing yourself,” she suggests. I can get behind that.

In the dorms, Aleida sneaks around whispering for Lucy, her missing child—and, of course, takes a moment to stuff Daya’s card from Mama Pornstache into her pants waistband. The buzzer goes off and Aleida has to drop to the floor, discovering….Lucy, hiding nonchalantly under the bed.

In the field, the inmates drop to the floor, leaving a bunch of bewildered children standing. In the episode’s most gut-wrenching scene, some of the children get on the ground with their mothers, asking, “What’s happening?” Your mother’s agency as a human is being denied, kid. Your mother’s being reminded of how tenuous her authority as a mother can be in a place that treats her like an asset to be contained.

We see Maria handing her baby off to Yads, her baby-daddy. “I don’t want her seein’ her mother in prison, thinkin’ this is normal,” Yads says. Baby Maria won’t be back to see her mother this season, I’m guessing. Maria breaks down in tears, cursing.

We get a sweet acoustic accompaniment to images of the inmates cleaning up the debris of the Mother’s Day visitation. And finally, we end with Poussey picking up a discarded newspaper that has the EXACT Calvin and Hobbes comic she read aloud with her mom in the flashback. It feels pat, but I’m a sucker, so now I’m crying ugly tears and I guess I’ll see you next time.

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