Bob Dylan said we all gotta serve somebody, and episode seven reminds us that religion—and the act of worship—is a helluva drug. Whether you’re a young and impressionable tongue-tied girl in a cult, or a woman in a prison, looking for just about any good news to believe in, a single god-like figure can be irresistible. What’s great about Norma’s story is that we get to see her on both sides of this fence. She was one of a slew of women married to a false prophet in the ‘60s, and now at Litchfield she’s become this “miracle” worker of sorts. OITNB continues to do an excellent job of demarginalizing characters who, on any other show, wouldn’t stand out, and Norma’s narrative is more proof that this series isn’t interested in telling the typical stories.
Norma also poses an interesting philosophical or moral question—is it okay to pretend to be something you’re not, if that pretense gives people hope and makes them feel good? Norma’s “healing powers” have a positive effect on many of the inmates (we see Poussey, in her hour of loneliness, go and join the group at the end of episode eight), and we also see how she too is transformed. She carries her head a little higher, smiles a little more. Red may not approve, but it’s the first time Norma has mattered, especially standing next to her bossy and badass BFF. And since we later find out that Norma got tired of her faux prophet husband and killed his ass, she doesn’t seem as out of place alongside the likes of Red.
Meanwhile, Piper gets a once-in-a-lifetime idea. The inmates are being paid indentured servitude wages for making fancy Whispers panties, and she wants in on some of that cash. This story gets pretty entertaining, as Piper starts approaching various women for, uh, their panties (that scene with Dayanara was perfect). We also see how she and Alex start growing apart, as Piper learns that Alex isn’t really committed to this new business venture. She’s distracted with thoughts of the past, her mother’s death, and her relationship with the drug dealer that eventually resulted in her imprisonment.
There was one excellent scene in episode seven that I have to return to, because it highlights the effortless comedic talent of Adrienne C. Moore as Cindy Hayes. We simply do not talk about her enough, but she dominated the whole discussion about panty-sniffers, bronies and freaks—and put the cap on it when she threw those mis-sewn panties on her head and declared, “Whatever—this ‘bout to be a headband.” Don’t ever change Cindy. Don’t ever change.
“Tongue-Tied” also brought the kitchen drama to a head. Gloria finds herself overwhelmed trying to parent her child from behind bars and run her staff. Initially, she’s desperate to keep Red away from a leadership role, and likens her to “a Somali pirate, tryna get that ladder hooked.” In the end, she gives up the ghost because the stress and responsibility gets to be too much. This is… awfully convenient, but okay. I’ll go with it. And it felt great seeing Red whip that apron back on. It felt even better seeing how much she regretted this move when the meals changed from prison food to absolute crap. These new guys running the prison are beyond the worst. Morello can’t even eat anymore—and she really liked eating!
But the highlight of these episodes, for me, is Suzanne’s newfound writing celebrity. I mean, watching her become the J.K. Rowling or the George R. R. Martin of Litchfield is both hilarious and incredible. She’s trying desperately to hold on to her own creativity with her erotic space novel, The Time-Humping Chronicles, but the insane fan base is wearing on her. Suzanne has always been a favorite character of mine, so there’s something deeply satisfying about watching her become this in-demand writer. I always believed in you, Crazy Eyes.
At this point, my biggest critique of the series is based on the arguments that have always been made against OITNB—it’s never going to feel as realistic as it would have as a drama. We love the show for its humor, but things get a bit too cutesy at times. When we see the women playing MASH in the cafeteria, it’s a little strange and off-putting that the same dialogue could have been swapped out and used in a show about teenage girls at summer camp. On the one hand, that’s part of the idea—there’s a sisterhood (and an immaturity) here that we’re supposed to understand and/or relate to. And it’s true, even in that MASH scene, the women go on to talk about Piper’s upbringing and Morello and Daya laugh at all her ridiculous white privilege (a playroom). But it can be a bit too sugary sweet sometimes, even with all the foul language.
That being said, the corporate storyline, which is further unfolding in these episodes (with Danny trying to speak up for Caputo to his Dad, and totally failing), helps bring a realistic bent. We can’t fully understand the stories of these women without a greater understanding of the system responsible for their living environment. Although it’s a fictional series, we are getting some powerful information about for-profit prison institutions and how they turn inmates into victims without seemingly any rights. The board meeting scene was, in a way, terrifying. Books for the inmates? Job training? All laughable to the men and women running this prison from a physical space that is nowhere near these women, and from the mental and emotional space that is white privilege. And so, the cycle continues.
Stray Observations/Memorable quotes:
I loved Caputo’s explanation of Danny’s title, where the director of Human Activity = God/the Warden. That’s not terrifying at all.
“I got this letter I’m sendin’ to my guy Rodney, and umma need you to hocus pocus it. Now I hear he got this new girlfriend, Lesley, and I don’t need you to hex her or nothin’ like that. ‘Cause you know that would be crazy. Or would it?
You know what, umma need you to hex Lesley.”
“I can’t believe that’s a thing.”
“Every thing is a thing.”
“That’s the thing with the internet. Nobody’s a freak no more.”
“It’s erotically inclined.”
“Are you S.R. Warren? I want you to know that there wasn’t enough Rodcocker in the last episode.”
“I’m also on Team Rodcocker. But I like that dude you introduced in Chapter Three, who was made of vaseline. Oooh I don’t know why, but that shit was hot! But also tragic.” (Yes, I do believe Cindy is becoming a favorite of mine.)
Piper’s panty speech was ridiculous. And not in the good way; we just did not need it.
Daya has told the truth about the baby. This is gonna be big.
I appreciated that small storyline between Gloria and Sophia, regarding their sons. This season there has been an emphasis on motherhood and we see it as they both try (and fail in some ways) to protect their boys.
Alex’s stalker!!! The worst!!!
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor & a film critic at Paste, and a writer for Pink is the New Blog and Heart&Soul. This New York-based freelancer probably has more babies than you, but that’s okay; you can still be friends. She welcomes almost all follows on Twitter.