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Unpacking THAT Episode #OITNB

Season 4 Episode 12 of Orange is the New Black is an emotional --for lack of a better word-- doozy. I have never written a blog, or anything, about an episode of television before. That is how much this episode affected me. There was quite a bit going on, and I am still trying to process everything. I am sure that I will be thinking about this for a while. Essentially, I am exploring my emotional reactions and characters' privilege in the episode. Bare with me. This episode was jam-packed! If you haven't seen it, proceed with caution.



Late last night, I was trying to rush my companion and I to bed. It was late. I had summer school to teach. I was exhausted. However, we had already begun watching a new episode of Orange is the New Black (OITNB), and he wanted to finish the episode. I really didn't want to, but there was only like 10-15 minutes left.

As I curled under the blanket, I watched helplessly as a young cisgendered, privileged White male guard, Baxter Bayley (Alan Aisenberg), attempted to quell a situation with Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren (Uzo Aduba). I had been exposed to the spoilers already and was reasonably prepared for what was about to happen.

But I wasn't.

I watched helplessly as Poussey, played beautifully by Samira Wiley, told Bayley that he was hurting her. Then she started gasping. Suzanne was still in the midst of her mental breakdown, swinging violently to fight off a horrible memory: being forced to physically harm someone that she thought could have been her happily ever after. All the while, Poussey struggled to breathe. I am not sure if it was makeup, special effects or my own mind, but I saw Poussey's lips turn blue...

When someone took Warren away, Taystee broke the crowd to see Poussey's lifeless body. Danielle Brooks' grief was so heart-wrenchingly profound.

This was the first episode or visual thing ever, to trigger me to flashback to watching my own sister take her last breath. It was the second of silence after her breath stopped that the weight of realization, fear, sadness and defeat fell upon me and my family. Watching Taystee mourn her best friend, her sister, brought me back to the place where I lost mine. I say this only to commend Brooks' and Wiley's performances.

Now, the episode, the show and really...all of Western television is still problematic. Probably because --as a whole-- we refuse to acknowledge, challenge and change power structures that devalue women, PoCs, gender non-conforming persons and the LGBTQIA+ community. OITNB attempts to recognize privilege but still reinforces the White feminism that disregards Black women's pain, struggle and the intersectional discrimination that we face. The show strikes an amazing balance of problematic stereotypes and dialogue with just enough intellectualism to make it entertaining and addictive. It does a pretty good job at reproducing the inequalities in our society and putting it on display. #ArtImitatesLife

This episode attempted to humanize Baxter Bayley earlier on by painting him as some "dumb" kid. He worked at an ice cream stand where he'd give pretty girls free cones. Aw. He was fired due to this decision, but that didn't stop him from doing stupid things. He was later seen the in bed of a pick up truck egging houses with his friends. They even egged a woman who was part of a street-cleaning crew.

"I'm a f****** human being!" she yelled to them. Bayley's friends all laughed. But he didn't. This particular character is the embodiment of the #NotAllWhitePeople argument and hashtag. He was the one of his friends trying to change. He was the one who felt guilt and remorse about his actions. He was the only guard who didn't want to "hurt" the inmates. He was the only guard who "refused a handjob." Are we supposed to give this guy a cookie? Woo. You did the right thing a few times.

OITNB also grappled with the concept of prisoners' rights. This was illustrated by Flores' (Laura Gómez) hunger strike. at first, Flores refused to bathe in order to deter the guards from groping her. This of course angered the guards who told her to shower. When she declined to comply, she was forced to stand on a cafeteria table until she decided to shower. When she ended up standing on the table for two days, the guards began to worry. Eventually, her refusal sparked a movement among the prisoners. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially in light of Poussey's death.

This episode was very moving and thought-provoking. I am emotionally drained from this episode. I will actually be a taking a little break from the show...maybe I won't. I have to see how the rest of the season goes! Character development has been stellar this season. All in all, I was very impressed at the types of emotions this singular episode made me feel.

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