“The Big House” Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S7 E12 (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S7 E12: “The Big House”

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.

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.

I did time in a state and not a federal facility, another huge weakness.  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 my most recent guest was Marc Levin from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right On Crime. We discussed everything from solitary confinement to justice reinvestment and how to reduce mass incarceration. 

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5. “Your Presence Has Been Requested in the Attorney Visitation Room”

Taystee pinned all of her hopes on Suzanne’s recollection of events, recorded in her notebook. Obviously, this was not a strong legal strategy, and it should come as no surprise that the ACLU attorneys could not use this evidence alone to get Taystee a new trial. 

On the other hand, as I detailed last season, the ACLU would have had many tools to deploy in the original trial (including but not limited to indicting the testimony of multiple people’s motives for testifying and indicting the characterization of Desi Piscatella as victim based on the public evidence that he was literally torturing the women incarcerated at Litchfield. There would also have been an incredible amount of physical evidence complicating the prosecutor’s narrative (given how Desi actually died). 

But okay, there are tens of thousands of people in prison who received ineffective counsel and maybe even more who are doing long sentences at least partially for crimes they likely never committed. Taystee did not have a public defender or a shady attorney, she was represented by good attorneys. I very much get that they are trying to get us to the end of this show with multiple characters facing life (or near life) despite being largely innocent (Taystee, Suzanne) but the story arc that got us to that point left something to be desired IMHO.

Anyway, I love Taystee and hope that she can find new reasons to live and, of course, it was amazing to see Poussey “conversating” with Taystee again. 

I am one of the few people who felt it made sense, given the environment Piscatella created at the camp, for Poussey to become a casualty of that situation. That said, it is still great to see her back on the show for a few minutes. Poussey as a character represented, without a doubt, the very best of Orange Is the New Black.

One of the themes of this season has been detailing the ‘unintended consequences’ of the characters' actions (karma?). Taystee’s letter to Cindy’s daughter, for instance, was, to some extent, responsible for the ACLU attorney’s inability to find Cindy. 

Also sad to see Caputo giving up on the microloan project after just a few weeks of trying (sigh).

There wasn’t a lot to be happy about for Taystee this week, and we are running out of time, I guess it was good that Taystee got to eat some Storky’s?

4. “Breakfast For Dinner”

RIP Tiffany Doggett.

Doggett was probably the number one example of a character who we empathize deeply with despite her crime. Doggett literally marched into a faux abortion clinic and killed a nurse (and maybe others) simply because the nurse was <incredibly> rude to her.

But Doggett was so much more than her crime. We even learn why, when combined with a drug problem, she was a disaster waiting to happen (dynamite waiting to be exploded).

It is even easy to forget that Doggett started out as the number one villain on the show.

As much as I hated to see it, Tiffany's death was a microcosm of her life. 

After finally finding out why she had problems learning, and working her butt off to pass her GED test, another man let her down and forgot to get her special accommodations set up before the test. Of course, that man was Joel Luschek, who has specialized throughout the entire show in letting people down and living down to expectations. Luschek is the textbook example of a correctional officer in authority over people in prison despite the fact that he commits prosecutable crimes almost every day he comes to work.

Anyway, addicts turn to substance use when they are depressed or emotionally devastated. Prison does NOTHING to address addiction or trauma. OITNB did a great job this season of depicting the reality of prison programming (it is rare, haphazard, and rarely sustained over long periods of time). Drugs are very available in prison, and even when substances are not available, drying someone out inside does not address the underlying addiction. 

I guess what I am saying is that as sad as it was to watch, it is not surprising at all that an emotionally devastated Doggett would turn back to drugs. It is also no surprise that Daya’s stuff was not great. 

All of that said, it was incredibly sad. Doggett was, by far, the most interesting of the original meth-head clique on the show and she had become one of the most central characters, going all the way from villain to favorite. 

I knew many people in prison who were a lot like Doggett, this was a hard watch for me.

3. “It Doesn't Last Forever”

One of the real messages from this episode, explained from multiple perspectives, was that the stigma of your crime or of incarceration is temporal. 

As I continue to live down my own crime and incarceration, I would suggest that people do earn opportunities again, but at any moment the shaming and naming can return. In other words, the social stigma never fully goes away but it does change. The all-encompassing nature of the shaming certainly doesn’t last forever but it does come ebb and flow.

One small anecdote, a few years ago an organization chose literally to have anything to do with my work but just a few weeks ago they invited me to a huge event and prominently featured my work. Beth is right, it does change, but the stigma can also be really unpredictable and ever-changing.

I have grown very fond of the interactions between Fig and Caputo. If you had told me six seasons ago that Fig would become one of my favorite characters, I would never have believed it...but, she absolutely has become one of my favorite characters. 

I am not sure if she ever was fully accountable or paid an appropriate price for all of the terrible things she did in the first several seasons (although she has been working pretty hard to make up for things this season) but she is still a hoot and I am so glad the writer’s filled out her character and made her into a human being (instead of a caricature).

2. “You Made Me Look Forward to Coming to this Horrible Place”

Has anyone else noticed that the writers have managed to make “will Alex and Piper stay together’ question central to yet another season of Orange Is the New Black. Is there really no other storyline possible for Piper and Alex? 

I guess we just have to roll with it.

Frankly, after what Alex did to McCullough I am not sure I care that much anymore (if I ever did). Obviously, what McCullough is doing to Vause is equally gross and vindictive, but in a sense, it is just desserts (hard to argue Alex didn’t bring this one herself). 

I do feel awful for McCullough who is a deeply traumatized and broken character who seems incapable of processing her pain. In my experience, this is exactly how people become toxic. I am impressed by how the show has built her character to becoming fully believable. I can only hope something good happens in her fictional future (she needs a really good therapist at the very least).

On the other hand, I think the writers did a really bad job on Daya's set up of Aleida. Aleida has always been savvier than Daya, there is just no way that Aleida would fall right into such an obvious trap, especially when she totally knows Daya was looking for opportunities to take her drug operation down.

Sure, it is possible that they had Hopper assigned to supervise Aleida as she cleaned SHU, but that just makes the play seem more obvious and Aleida isn’t stupid (she has always been a hustler, and clever).

It just doesn’t make sense for Aleida to fall for a ploy this obvious.

1. “We Are Giving All Three Of You Five Extra Years”

Gloria might have ended up being the moral center of the show.

I love that despite the looming and real consequences, she took responsibility for bringing the cell phone to the kitchen. 

As annoying, obvious, and emotionally manipulative as Maria is, it would have been wrong to make Maria and Flacca take the fall for her phone. 

And yes, there all kinds of crazy penalties for having cell phones in prison (in South Carolina, for instance, you can get two years in solitary for being found with a cell phone). I have explained at length why I think this is crazy but it is also a very real thing. This is part of why I have suggested all year that it is INSANE to have almost every single incarcerated character walking around using cell phones like they were walking around in New York City. 

Yes, there are cell phones in prison but people in prison are incredibly protective of them. People do not just hand them around or use them carelessly. Two years in SHU or a five-year sentencing enhancement is no joke and people in prison are not stupid. 

I will talk more about Nicky and Red next week, but I do want to tip my cap to several of the women on the show for amazing acting performances in this episode (watch Lorna’s face when she goes from trying to process what Nicky is saying to dissociation to anger, for example).

Okay, next week is the last recap.

Holy cow, this has been a long journey...I think I might use a different format for the last recap. 

As bizarre as it is, I actually am feeling nostalgia and sadness.

Don’t forget, after I finish the last recap, I am going to write a final piece about Piper Kerman’s book Orange Is the New Black, and then, I will be done.

Thanks so much for sticking with me for 90 episodes (so far). 

Unlocking The Gates



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

I am 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.

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