In a shift from Orange Is The New Black’s first two seasons, we will be covering the show on a daily basis this year, with regular reviews posting at 7 p.m. Eastern on weekdays, and 1 p.m. on weekends. These reviews will be written without foreknowledge of what takes place in future episodes, and thus will feature no spoilers for later episodes. In the meantime, please be respectful of those moving at a slower pace and avoid spoiling or heavily alluding to future developments in the comments.

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A prison is a space of conflict. There’s no way around this, and there’s no way of stopping it—inevitability, there will be instances where people brought together by their run-ins with the law will have a disagreement, like with the UNO game that nearly turned violent earlier in the season. In “Don’t Make Me Come Back There,” we have a similar situation in which Black Cindy’s corn theft sparks tensions with Red, and potentially ignites a war between the two factions.

But central to the argument of the series is that this does not need to escalate into war. Managing a prison is a question of balance, which operates in two key ways. One is within the inmate population itself, as people like Taystee emerge to keep her people in check. Whereas last season saw Vee take over the black community in the prison and use them to wreak havoc, here Taystee is constantly keeping Black Cindy and Janae at bay, whether shushing with her eyes or in this case actively taking control of the corn situation to offer her deepest apologies. At movie night, Taystee realizes that she has become the mother of her group, a reframing of the series’ interest in motherhood as symbolic rather than literal. The season has not overly invested in Taystee’s place in the prison ecosystem, but if you start thinking back through the season you realize how much of a check and balance she has been compared to the inmates in her circle.

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The second form of balance, meanwhile, is the guards who establish a sense of order. And more than any other episode this season, “Don’t Make Me Come Back There” is an indictment of MCC’s management of the prison, albeit tied to a storyline that has not always clearly articulated management’s role in containing it. Sophia has always been in a seemingly comfortable place at Litchfield—while there was conflict, it came through a complicated medical system that was much less about Litchfield itself than it was about how the prison system more broadly understands and deals with transgender individuals. But Sophia has never faced any significant threat of violence in Litchfield to my recollection, which is why the recent events have been that much more shocking. When she entered into a conflict with Gloria, and their physical confrontation became a talking point, the antagonism increased exponentially. And all of a sudden, violent transphobic women emerged from the woodwork, and show up here to outright attack her. And, not shockingly, one of the new guards hasn’t had the proper training to deal with it, and runs off to Caputo instead of trying to contain the situation.

The episode makes the argument that this was bound to happen, and that might be true. But the speed at which the situation escalates is—not unlike Coates’ attack on Pennsatucky—a dramatic device designed to show the debilitating effect of MCC’s corporate structure as it pertains to the sheer instability of the prison environment. The show exaggerates both sides of the prison spectrum to do this, presenting an idealized “summer camp” feel in early parts of the season and then using the attack on Sophia as a reminder that this is still, at the end of the day, a prison. It’s a choice that artificially exaggerates conflicts like this one, but the horror it creates works effectively to pull the season and its themes together. The attack on Sophia is horrible, but it’s the realization that it’s one of the new guards that comes around the corner that turned my stomach. It’s the same feeling I had when Healy sends Soso to new MCC doctors for treatment, and it’s the same feeling I had when Daya’s pregnancy became complicated and I had no idea who was about to come out from the guard station to assist.

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It’s Maxwell, thank the gods, which means we can breathe a sigh of relief about Daya’s health and safety. The season has done a significant amount of work in rescuing Daya from her plot-prescribed circumstances, which went sour in season two when the show’s romantic ideas about her relationship with Bennett poisoned the well. As long as she was living in a fairy tale, she had no ability to conceptualize the future this baby would have, and that is incredibly important to her development as a character. But it does preview the way that actually giving birth clouds any sense of perspective—you don’t spend labor pondering the long-term viability of being this child’s mother, and you certainly aren’t thinking about how you will take care of a baby when it’s cradled in your arms for the first time. We saw this in “Mother’s Day,” when Aleida—whose life would go on and become darker with each passing year thereafter—is cradling Daya, and we see it again here as Daya holds her baby girl.

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“Don’t Make Me Come Back There” becomes Aleida’s story more than Daya’s, which is fitting given the way Gloria and Sophia’s battle has foregrounded the challenge of being the mother rather than having to deal with your own. “Mommy Issues” have resonated throughout the series, and throughout television more broadly, but the season has pushed back against this. It is generally accepted that, ideally speaking, a mother’s role is to support their children unconditionally, and I don’t necessarily think Orange Is The New Black contradicts this. However, while we could look to Pennsatucky as an example of how a person can be negatively impacted when their mother’s worldview corrupts this particular role, in the case of Gloria and Sophia the season has been invested in the other side of this symbiotic relationship. We have come to understand what complicates their capacity to be a “perfect” mother to their children, and the ways in which personal struggles—whether being in prison, or Sophia’s deeper issues navigating life as a transgender parent—manifest in this crucial dynamic.

Ruiz’s trauma with her daughter and Yadriel in “Mother’s Day” reemerges here with greater clarity, as Ruiz diagnoses the real issue: it’s not that her daughter needs her, it’s that she needs her daughter. And Aleida becomes the perfect character to explore this, as she grapples with the fact that her daughter no longer wants anything to do with her. She tries to help Daya through the late stages of her pregnancy, but she is rebuffed for having tried to use said pregnancy for her own gain. She saw Daya’s pregnancy as a financial opportunity, and she has been meddling in her daughter’s affairs ever since Daya arrived in season one. But it has always been tough to think about Aleida needing Daya, because that’s not how we typically think of motherhood working.

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And yet Aleida’s flashbacks here are all about understanding bad parenting as a sign of insecurity and fear as opposed to neglect. Aleida does not outright neglect Daya here—she sees an opportunity for her to go to a summer camp with a program for inner city kids, and she goes against the advice of a friend who thinks it will alert social services. She takes Daya to the camp more or less against her will, and struggles to leave her there, feeling that she is abandoning her child. But when she arrives at the end of camp, Daya is much more independent. She doesn’t need her mother anymore. She has been exploring her artistic side, making friendships, and imagining an entirely new world for herself that has nothing to do with Aleida, and that Aleida does not understand. And Aleida resents it. She throws out the artwork the second they get home, and she more or less forces her daughter to deny she had any fun, and that she would have rather been home watching Judge Judy with her mother instead. It is selfish, and it is debilitative, but it is also starkly human, with Elizabeth Rodriguez drawing out the dramatic stakes of what in retrospect was likely a small moment in a much longer, more tortured mother-daughter dynamic between the two characters.

The birth of Daya’s daughter is a larger moment, and long overdue. It suffers somewhat from just how long it has been dragged out—it feels like Daya has been pregnant for years instead of nine months. This also is clearly not the clean break the episode wants it to be. Aleida calling Delia to say that the baby died during childbirth is a lie, one that we’re meant to see as a selfless act—she gives us the money that Delia was going to bring them, and pushes away the option that would rid her of the responsibility of a grandchild. However, she is also making a decision for her daughter without consulting her, and prioritizing her desire for a “do-over” over Daya’s own feelings about this baby. It’s a premature move that continues to govern her daughter’s life, a different philosophy of mothering but nonetheless taking a similarly complicated form. But that’s how motherhood (and parenthood) works—there will never be an action or a reaction that will create the perfect balance of mother and daughter, requiring constant upkeep particularly when both mother and daughter are behind bars.

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That idea of balance is an impossible feat, but it’s also part of what makes us human. Litchfield is off-balance as a whole with MCC’s arrival, leading to various flareups and interpersonal squabbles, but it also echoes in those inmates who are struggling with their own sense of balance regardless of MCC’s influence. The mental health situation in Litchfield has been backgrounded since Pennsatucky first went to Psych, but it reemerges here. For Pennsatucky, Boo’s plan for revenge is meant to rebalance the scales—they’re not going to kill Coates, but they are going to drug and then sodomize him as punishment. But when Pennsatucky actually goes to complete the deed, she relents because this doesn’t solve her issue. She isn’t angry—she’s simply sad, a deeper issue of mental health that has less to do with retribution and more to do with understanding how you continue to survive in the wake of an attack like the one she experienced (and the life that led up to it). As much as we might want to see Coates violated with the broomstick, it doesn’t balance anything, making it a hollow solution to the root issue here.

This is what Taystee has been trying to say to Poussey about her use of alcohol to mask her depression all season long, but she’s struggled to find an alternative. Even as Taystee sees a way to help solve Red’s dinner problem by giving away Poussey’s hooch as a peace offering, Poussey has more stored in the library. It seems she’s headed down the dark path, but the episode veers back to Soso, who was sent deep into the instability of the MCC beast with a negligent doctor who left her alone in a room with drug samples.

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Soso’s story this season has been heartbreaking. We didn’t leave last season loving Soso—she was, objectively, an annoying presence. But this season she sobered up regarding what prison was going to be like, and then was punished for not knowing exactly how to fit into the Litchfield community. She had a glimmer of hope when Berdie became her counselor, but then as things escalated with Leanne—in what we can chalk up to a basic prison misunderstanding that neither managed particularly well—Berdie disappears. She’s forced to go back to Healy, and she’s forced to admit that drugs might be her best option. But when she spots the drug samples just lying there, they represent another option, one provided to her because of a medical system incapable of understanding the delicate handling necessary with prisoners in crisis situations.

They understand Sophia’s situation when she threatens to turn it into a lawsuit, but their response is still throwing her in solitary for her own protection. It’s the easiest way to create balance—removing the problem without addressing its root cause, pretending that the problem is just going to go away. But there are so many causes at this point that it’s hard to imagine how this doesn’t escalate further. Piper and Stella might have convinced Bayley to ignore his sense of stress, but that business is going down in flames; Caputo might be close to helping the guards form a union, but the hole in the fence is a reminder that he has to deal with the struggles of balancing Litchfield that existed even before MCC came in and blew everything wide open. While a parent whose kids are misbehaving in the backseat has the capacity of turning the car around, there is no turning around the situation at Litchfield, and eventually this car is going to run out of road.

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And it’s tough to find balance when you’re careening off a cliff.

Stray observations

  • The show can’t get away with too many callbacks to season one, but I thought they did a lovely job reigniting Sophia and Sister Ingalls’ friendship, which made Sophia’s final walk that much more powerful knowing where she found the courage. Gloria’s guilt is real here, and so I’m hoping we see the characters rally around Sophia before this is done.
  • Stella’s getting out on Tuesday, which is…I don’t entirely know what this is supposed to do. Is it supposed to throw Piper off-balance after she decided to pursue a relationship? Is it supposed to return us to Piper and Alex as each other’s form of sanity in Litchfield? Again, the show builds a legible and productive theme, and then feels like it strands this storyline out on its own, unable to gather much purpose.
  • Felonious Spunk is an amazing name for Piper’s panty business, and while I don’t necessarily know if we needed two full scenes of Cal and his wife running the operation, I do appreciate the idea that Piper’s criminal enterprise is crumbling from both ends.
  • And speaking of Felonious Spunk, how is this not a real website I can visit? Netflix’s contempt for the show’s transmedia potential—Time Hump Chronicles e-book, anyone?—is getting more and more frustrating.
  • I’m with Taystee on Black Cindy being reckless (and overusing slavery as a rhetorical device, even when it’s only a placeholder for Hitler), but watching her sneak by Freida all cartoon-like into the garden was just delightful.
  • I don’t know how Piper gets off on framing her enterprise in the context of the American Dream when Boo’s plan to use dog sedatives to fake a seizure, get a vacation to the hospital, and then feel up some nurses is in the same episode. Get a grip, Piper.
  • “Someone named her kid after pants?”—I admittedly had to look up Jordache, but I always appreciate when the show has a character make a reference without over-explaining it. That’s the joy of comedy in the internet age.
  • There remains something admirable about the show’s insistence on giving Healy a shred of human decency in episodes where he also willfully ignores MCC’s mismanagement, but this Red stuff is still infuriating to me. This is all your fault, Black Cindy!
  • “Kind of like The New Testament, am I right?”—okay, I take it back, Black Cindy. And comparing the New Testament to Time Hump Chronicles fan fiction is definitely going to do well for you in your conversion. Go with that.
  • If I had known that Pennsatucky was going to so explicitly discuss her response to Coates’ attack in the terms of anger and sadness, I would have saved my “Seriously, Inside Out is reshaping my entire way of interpreting emotions in both television and my daily life” opener for this review. But seriously, if you haven’t seen Inside Out, it’s been profound the way it’s at least temporarily reshaped my worldview. Highly recommended.
  • There’s a line in my notes that I feel I need to share, because it’s such a wonderful insight into how my brain works: “The start of the vacuum sealing process sounds like the start of The Legion of Doom’s theme song.” Nice to know that one comes up from long-term memory every now and then.

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