Okay, so first off I guess I should give a spoiler warning because I’m sure I won’t be able to stop myself.
When I started watching season four of Orange is the New Black I read a few reviews that mentioned how the first few episodes are slow, but the pay off was worth it. I was very, very skeptical.
But oh my god were they right.
The first half of the season didn’t feel like anything terribly new or special to me. The drama was building up, but it was unclear how far off the mountain it would finish. In retrospect I can appreciate the slow build. Mind you, I don’t think it was perfect, but it did seem to work out in the end.
Let’s start with Piper. She starts off trying to assert that she’s a “big deal” and a “gangsta”. She quickly realizes most people don’t seem to like her or have any faith in her abilities. When Maria starts stepping into Piper’s panties business territory, she makes a judgement call that backfires horribly. Piper convinces the horrible Capt. Piscatella that there is gang activity going around (and manages to inadvertatly create a White Power gang), and plants evidence against Maria. Her thought process was Maria would get in trouble, but then everything would go back to normal and all the peeps on the block would remember what a bad-ass she is.
Instead Maria gets time added to her sentence and decides she might as well turn her crew into a legitimate gang. To her (small) credit Piper does realize immediately that’s she’s screwed Maria over and things are going to get bad. Unfortunately, there’s nothing she can really do about it. She hides behind her Neo-Nazi “friends” for protection and leaves her bunk-mate, Hapakuka, to fend for herself in the mist of escalating violence.
So Piper gets betrayed by Hapakuka and Maria’s crew brand her with a swastika. On one hand I feel horrible for her, on the other, you reap what you sow.
And part of what she has reaped onto the prison is giving the guards an excuse to discriminate and therefore rile up the preexisting racial tension. Well that and creating a Neo-Nazi group however accidentally. I’m not going to rehash the whole entire season, but Piper’s arc I thought was well done in how banal it seemed in the start and spirals totally out of control.
I kept expecting things to get “better” and the bad correctional officers to get their comeuppance. But that didn’t happen. Things just got worse, and then started taking a trip down the seven layers of hell. As the season was building up to its climatic final episodes the hopelessness of the situation was palatable. There was to be no white knight, no savior, no deus ex machina.
The reviews had said the last two episodes were the emotional high point, but I was still unprepared. There was something magical about everyone standing up together against these horrible guards, about all the differences being put aside for even a moment. Of Red, tired figuratively and literally, managing to stand up on the table with them.
And then it went down another of Dante’s layers and a character I had found so positive and light emitting that she annoyed me, met a fate she, and really no one, deserves. Poussey died in a way all too familiar these days, hitting far too close to home. it’s impossible to not remember Eric Garner dying over cigarettes. Of the cops who have committed horrible crimes and received a slap on the wrist, if that, because society figures the victim “deserved it”.
I wasn’t even a Poussey fangirl, but I still cried. It still felt like I had lost something. That is talented writing. Her death was senseless and undeserved, and she was a stand-in for all the other senseless deaths that seem to be plaguing black society at the hands of its alleged protectors. It felt like a harsh look at the state of the U.S. and it’s a damn depressing view.