Spoilers will abound. Deal with it.
Abbie & I began Season 4 on the day it premiered – June 17th, 2016. We only got through the first five episodes before she had to drive home for sleep, but we LOVED and hated it all. It was astounding and squirm-inducing and hilarious and tragic and we did not want to stop at all. But we had to… I was going to wait for her until our next Friday date – I really was.
Friday, after she left, I ended up watching another episode.
And then in the wee hours of my Sunday night/Monday morning shift, I watched the remainder.
Episode 11 destroyed me.
And Episode 12 left me literally breathless.
…then the final shot of the season ended my life. Not literally. Yet, it felt like I was watching my best friend or something.
Anyway – when we left off in Season 3, Alex was about to be killed in the garden shed, almost all of the inmates had “escaped” into the lake, Poussey and Soso were holding hands romantically, Suzanne and Kukudio were still flirting adorably, Piper was probably doing something stupid, and all of the guards had walked out (well, most of them – the experienced ones). To make an already fucked up situation worse, the corporation (don’t get me started) that had taken control and effed the COs on pay/hours/benefits/unionizing sent a few busses filled with additional inmates to fill the prison. Yeah, adding bunkbeds to the existing cubes doubled the population (which I seem to recall was already between 200 and 250 women). Oh! And the celebrity chef, Judy King, is coming to self-surrender at Litchfield.
So it was a mess. Still, it was a great ending, because it left us hopeful and on an upswing in mood, but had several minor cliff-hangers (Alex? Nicky? Sophia?) and opened a whole mess of new possibilities and conflicts.
Season Four opened right where we left off and it was kind of perfect.
…that did not last.
Piper was feeling like a bad bitch after she screwed over Ruby Rose’s character – Stella – who had stolen her panty money. She had tatted herself with Stella’s jury-rigged device (an infinity symbol, officially ruining the only tattoo I had seriously considered, haha) and was walking like a gangsta. With an “a”, as she later pointed out.
That won’t last either.
We soon find out that Kukudio is at least as crazy as “Crazy Eyes” (really, sadly, more so because Suzanne is neurodivergent/atypical and so… innocent… naive… ugh, anyway – that’s another story). We find out that Soso wrote her own internal background story for Poussey that is utterly gross and racist (but they move past that). We find out that those additional prisoners are (like the one from the Chicago episode of Season 2) a special collection of violent, racist, power-hungry, addled bitches who are going to totally fuck up the dynamic of ‘not-so-bad’ criminals we know and love. We find out that the guards from max (in particular, Piscatella) are hard-asses and the group of military vets MCC hires are not well background-checked, nor are they entirely stable.
We find out that Judy King has a racist history, but does not seem to be ‘so bad’ these days and is a selfish coward. We find out that Cindy’s conversion is sincere and still continuing to progress. We find out that the Spanish girls are prejudiced against other Spanish girls when they come from different origins (i.e. Dominicans vs. Puerto Ricans vs. Mexicans vs. et cetera). We find out that Piper is in over her head – again. We find out that it is ABSOLUTELY possible for an upper-crust, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, skinny bisexual liberal yuppy do-gooder to ‘accidentally’ kickstart a race-war. We find out that virginal, innocent Suzanne (a total contrast to the girl Mr. Healy described as a ‘stud’ in season one, and who dry-humped Big Boo in the WAC episode), who wrote the sensational Time Hump Chronicles – a novella I would 100% love to read in real life – has never really been in love and does not know if it is okay to pursue insane Kukudio. We find out that Pennsatucky forgives Donuts, but Big Boo can’t deal with that and their adorable, unlikely friendship takes a swerve into the dumpster.
We find out how Sophia fared in SHU. We find out how fucked up MCC’s priorities are (spoiler alert, worse than we thought in Season 3). We find out how Stella is faring down the hill (badly, and on drugs again) and we see Nicols again (yay!). We find out about Mauritza. We find out about Bayley’s past. We see flashbacks to Soso’s past, she’s always been babbly and desperate for affection. We see Aleida outside Litchfield and we see Ruiz rise from snarky preggers in season 1, to mother desperate to get out in season 3, to kingpin of panties (and worse) in season 4. We also get to see Ruiz’s youthful indiscretions. And Flores (Blanca aka the crazy-haired one who sent pics of her hoo-hoo to Diablo and acts super-crazy a lot of the time). Lolly’s background (and the amazing performance of her younger self, by Christina Brucato) was revealed to us, and it is a lot of what I expected. We meet Abdullah (apparently, her name is Alison Abdullah), who wears a headscarf and conceals contraband in it rather brilliantly. We meet a bunch of new guards. We meet a bunch of new prisoners. We see things devolve… FAST.
I spent the first half of the season lamenting the vibe of that had been thrown off by the additional of all these new faces and stories.
I spent the second half of the season riveted at the way things unfolded in a way that at once managed to feel complete and rapid-fire, but not too rushed.
I spent the final two episodes of the season literally breathless.
Look, I feel like I know why they crammed in new people and stories the way they did. The sardine-like feel of the cast and the plot increases the whole theme of overcrowding in the prison itself and helped ram home the shitty nature of For Profit prisons in America.
And I feel like I understand why they did what they did with the passive resistance and then the ‘shocking’ death that resulted. The phrase “can’t…breathe…” was all too poignant considering the tragic deaths that have resulted in custody in the past few years. I don’t like it. I hate the Bury Your Gays trope that exists and is apparently so common that hardly anyone blinks an eye when ‘teh gayz’ are killed in various TV shows and films.
But I don’t like it.
I really don’t like it.
Poussey was my favorite character.
Yes, Samira Wiley is drop-dead beautiful and that helps. The radiant smile and contagious laughter, also. But Poussey herself was such a beacon of goodness and light. She was unequivocally righteous. She knew right from wrong and was never afraid to stand-up for it. She fell into darkness when she drank too much, but she was never malicious or cruel (okay, a few sniping comments to Taystee when she felt betrayed and was trying to get laid to prove to herself that she wasn’t really in love with her straight bestie). She could have been me – and maybe that’s my pseudo-educated white privilege talking here – and I really found myself identifying with her.
So her senseless, stupid, useless death at the clueless hands of baby-face Baxter Bayley during the passive resistance movement is just so much worse.
Yes, Jenji and crew decided to kill off yet another queer character. A black queer character. They’ve managed to, in one fell swoop: decrease representation of queers, woc, queer woc, and educated stereotype-breaking woc; kill off one of the most popular characters; alienate proponents of #BlackLivesMatter and similar movements by appropriating rather than truly forwarding the sentiments; and break my little nubby heart.
That the final episode, even as they left her body in the cafeteria for hours – or a whole day by the end – and the corporation proved how evil it is (well, now its inhumanity and lack of empathy and drive for the almighty dollar makes it evil, as well as its individual members even when they’re well-meaning cogs), killed me by focusing on Poussey herself. They tried to villify her, but realized they couldn’t, and tried to villify Bayley, who was not really a villain. Then, closing ranks just as police departments do around the country on the daily, Caputo was forced to blame her death on HER and stand-beside his officer.
They did not even SAY. HER. NAME in the broadcast.
They did not acknowledge her aside from mentioning that an inmate ‘died’.
And it incensed me. As it was intended to.
So I get whey they went with Poussey – a ‘nice’ non-threatening black girl with positive attributes all of us white people can really get mad about. Why they chose her instead of Watson, who was also a ‘nice’ girl who wasn’t ‘bad’ but just made a mistake to lose her scholarship, because she was too much an an ‘angry black woman’. Or instead of Taystee, who fills that minstrel-show role people expect to see, is more comic relief, and is the sort of ‘urban, low income’ stereotype people expect to get killed by cops (even accidentally). Or even Black Cindy.
What is my take-away? What is my wrap-up?
I’m not done processing yet.
I’m going to re-watch, re-think, re-feel… and I’ll let you know.
I’m going to try and recover from the death of this beautiful creature (the fictional one, not the actress), because it broke my heart.
//Update: I’ve been a bad ally. I spoke without listening. I argued without understanding. And so even though I’m going to let this post stand, I have to add an addendum that I am listening and I am going to stop adding my voice where it does not belong. I too often try to see both sides of an issue. \\
Note: Image is “Poussey” by (evinmin98) from Tumblr