“Just Desserts” Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S7 E2 (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S7 E2: “Just Desserts”

OITNB Final Season Hero 1.jpg

Several years ago, I decided to do a deep-dive into the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black to help explain things that folks watching the show who don’t have a background including incarceration might not catch. Seven seasons later, I am still rolling.

Yes, I am not a woman, which is a huge weakness of the coverage. I do consult with friends who did time in women’s facilities and try to ensure accuracy.

Yes, I did time in a state and not a federal facility.  I try to consult with friends who did time in federal facilities and try to ensure accuracy.

If you haven’t been listening to the Decarceration Nation Podcast, last week’s guest was Thomas Abt, author of the book “Bleeding Out” and our next guest will be Eli Savit who is running as a progressive prosecutor here in Michigan in 2020.

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5. Nelson Mandela

It is good to see Maritza back after a long absence, but I do feel like she is acting a bit out of character in her return to society. 

Maritza always appeared shallow and ditzy while in reality she was always secretly very aware of her surroundings and was almost always a step ahead of the wolves. It was always an act she used to take advantage of marks. She always, always, always had  a plan. Even when it was a bad plan, it was a plan.

Now, she is acting like a total moron...partying at clubs, drinking, and sleeping with NBA players while on probation, just to feel normal again. 

Except that is not how she lived her normal life, I know this because we saw flashbacks in previous seasons.

For those who don’t know, you are usually not allowed to drink or even be around alcohol on parole much less be at nightclubs.

Anyway, eventually she is left with the opportunity to violate supervision by visiting her new NBA player boyfriend in California, makes the correct choice by staying home, goes to the club, and gets caught up in an ICE sweep (she somehow got in the club but forgot her id?).

She ends up in the same ICE detention facility where Blanca got shipped. Kind of frustrating, In previous seasons, she was sometimes cruel and outwardly shallow, but rarely stupid.

4. “Maintain the Status Quo”

After Daddy’s death, Fig gets fired by Linda and the search is on for a new warden.

Linda tells Hopper he is likely the new warden and asks for suggestions as to who should be the new head correctional officer.

Now, I may be crazy here, but I am pretty sure that even in a privately owned Federal facility, there has to be a better process of vetting wardens. But on Orange is the New Black, Linda does an interview and almost immediately, after one round of interviews, hires the new warden.

Once the new jobs are announced, three different parallel story lines open up:

  • Guy hustle - all of the male officers assume one of them will get the job and act increasingly sexist and idiotic. They are all terrible in their interviews.

  • Girl hustle - Ward finds out that she has been making, by far, the least of all of the correctional officers and decides to apply to be the head correctional officer. She is taking a class with Caputo in prison management on her off time and asks him how to influence Linda. She follows his advice exactly in the interview with Linda

  • Girl hustle part two - McCullough decides that she can’t trust the rest of the officers looking out for her. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that even when she has done everything she can to earn the trust and loyalty of teammates they always betray her in the end. So, she decides that instead of trying to move up through official channels she will take a different path (more on that in a second).

Okay, because she follows Caputo’s directions incredibly well, correctional officer Ward isn’t named the new head officer, she is named the new warden. .

Ward should, in theory, make for a much better warden than Fig did, but I suspect it is going to be a challenge.

One of the most interesting things I think this episode was trying to demonstrate is that faced with similar stressers, correctional officers often act exactly like the people incarcerated in prisons. In some ways, and I think this is pretty accurate, the correctional officers often end up being more corrupt than the prisoners (or directly contribute to the corruption of the people in prison).

3. Sometimes You Have To Take The Leap

After inadvertently killing Daddy, Daya is hiding out and seems traumatized. Maria even suggests that Daya lock up to avoid getting stabbed.

Locking up is a real thing, it just means that if you know you are in physical danger you ask the correctional officers to take you to solitary where you will be relatively safe, usually it also means you put in for a transfer to a different facility. The bad news is that there is a grapevine between prisons and often, depending on who you are in trouble with, that same trouble can follow you to the next facility.

Your best bet is to not get in debt, stay in your lane (stay out of trouble), and pay attention to your surroundings. If you are quiet and pay careful attention, you can usually see trouble coming and get out of the way.

Anyway, Adeola visits Daya and convinces Daya that the only way she can survive and thrive is to take over Daddy’s business and to do that she will have to convince the other girls from Daddy’s crew that they should be too afraid of her to make moves against her.

Unfortunately, this requires Daya to make a show of strength. One of the girls, a girl I have never seen before this episode (reminds me a bit of an away team member on Star Trek) talks smack to Daya and Adeola throws her off the top tier of the unit.

Message sent.

Meanwhile, Alex gets Nicky to help her enter the Correctional Officer locker room in an attempt to put Hellman’s drugs back in his locker. I have absolutely NO idea how this helps Alex. Hellman already told her she has to sell the drugs despite the risk and he seems to give exactly zero damns about her getting caught. 

How in the world would returning the drugs to his locker get her off the hook? Is she thinking he will get caught with the drugs? What if he doesn’t and he finds out she was setting him up? This just makes zero sense to me. Alex’s plan only puts her at more, not less, risk and seems doomed to both fail and piss Hellman off even more.

Not surprisingly, CO McCullough walks in on Alex while she is trying to put the drugs back in Hellman’s locker. McCullough, at first, thinks about turning Alex in, but ultimately decides that, instead of trying to push for being promoted, that she will make Alex work for her instead.

Alex asks how in the world she is supposed to get Hellman to accept this new arrangement (and just accept that Alex is selling his drugs for someone else) and McCullough just tells her to figure it out (what?). 

Also, how in the world is McCullough planning to re-up? 

It really irks me when OITNB invests in hastily written and poorly thought out plot lines (as you probably know by now). The show sometimes relies way too much on our good will towards the characters IMHO.

2. “I Could Really Use a Distraction”

It is a small thing, but during the phone conversation between Alex and Piper, Piper asks Alex to tell her what the problem is. Given the nature of what Alex is going through and Piper’s own experiences in prison, they would know that the phones are monitored (they even had episodes about one of the correctional officers monitoring the phones during previous seasons). 

Piper has always let her privilege drive her but she would know better than to ask Alex to explain what she is facing on the phone (or at least not without using some kind of coded language). 

The rest of the conversation was funny, and you could certainly see how getting Piper off on one of her stream-of-consciousness rants might be a welcome distraction (robot dogs to take care of them when they are old?).

1. “Special Brain”

One of the most heartbreaking elements of the entire series has been Suzanne’s simplistic belief that the system is fundamentally just...so, she believes, therefore, that everything that has happened to her must also have been just.

Finally, seeing what happened to Taystee has removed the scales from Suzanne’s eyes.

Susanne has a conversation with Doggett and later with her Mom which help her finally realize that because she has no intent to commit a crime, she probably should not have been held legally responsible for a criminal act.

I have long suggested that liberty should never be suspended cheaply, and that if you are going to deprive someone of their liberty, you should be damn sure that incarceration is always the last and never the first response.

Because of her challenges, it might not be safe for Suzanne to be on her own, but it is also not right - at all - to put her in prison. Unfortunately,  there are real Suzanne’s in our jails and prisons and we, out of moral laziness - most often treat mental illness in this country through incarceration. Just look at this headline “America’s Largest Mental Hospital is a Jail” in reference to the Cook County Jail. 

I have shared the story many times of meeting people in the mental health wing of the Macomb County jail here in Michigan who had been in solitary for over a year as a form of treatment. 

This is all done in our name and done because we don’t demand humane treatment of people in our jails and our prisons.

We are just starting a process here in Michigan of discussing what can be done to improve our pretrial incarceration, I am hopeful that we will come to better solutions here in my home state and eventually across the country. And let me also mention that diversion, by itself is not enough, we also need to make sure that mental health treatment and CARE are a priority for those left behind in our prisons and jails.

Suzanne is a stand-in for a lot of real and living human beings who are currently buried in terrible conditions in jails and prisons throughout this country. We all need to DEMAND that these things are no longer done in our name.

Sadly, at the end of the episode, Suzanne’s willingness to take a shot (a disciplinary action), suggests that unless someone intervenes soon, this could end in tragedy for Suzanne, one of the sweetest and best characters in the history of the show. I will have my fingers crossed that something good happens for her before the finale.

Unlocking The Gates

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New recaps will come out once a week (usually on Sunday mornings).

Lots has happened since last season, I am now a policy analyst at Safe and Just Michigan, a consultant with #cut50, and still the host of a podcast. I am still a member of a Criminal Justice Reform organization called Nation Outside (The Voice of the Formerly Incarcerated) but I am not speaking for Nation Outside in any official capacity.

Leave comments, let us know what you thought! We will answer any questions you have (that are civil).