With the recent release of OITNB’s fifth season, the internet can’t get enough of the ladies of Litchfield. Take a look back at these five, heart-wrenching, moving, and thought-provoking episodes of what is arguably Netflix’s most diverse drama. (Warning: this article contains spoilers for seasons 1-5.)
1. Season 3, Episode 13: Trust No Bitch
When a hole in the prison fence allows the inmates to have some fun at a nearby lake, the prisoners are finally able to relax and see each other in a new light. Several grudges are let go, and some new friendships are formed – despite the differences in culture and the stress of new prison management. Most satisfyingly of all, Cindy (now Tovah) completes her Tvilah, or immersion in natural water to finally become officially Jewish. What started as the comic relief of Cindy claiming she was Jewish to receive kosher meals morphed into her journey of studying Judaism and discovering the beauty of the religion. OITNB’s writers crafted a wonderful explanation of what Judaism means to many, accurately represented many aspects of the conversion process, and gave viewers a better understanding of how this religion can be healing.
2. Season 2, Episode 8: Appropriately Sized Pots
Rosa, a prisoner with cancer, is given a poignant and tragic story in this installment in the series. During her chemotherapy treatments, she befriends a teenage boy who also has cancer. They plot to steal a nurses’ wallet, giving Rosa another taste of her past in bank-robbing. What makes the episode particularly touching are the flashbacks — it’s revealed that every love interest Rosa had died in her arms during their robberies — causing her to have a fear of attachment. But the curse is broken in this episode — Yusef, her teenage friend, is discovered to be in remission. This episode reminds the viewer that although the characters are criminals, they are multi-faceted and their actions are responses to events in their lives — actions that anyone could end up taking.
3. Season 4, Episode 11: People Persons
Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren began the series as a comic relief character – a little sad, but primarily amusing. As the series progresses, we see her struggle with her childlike state of mind through heartbreaking flashbacks of her childhood. Watching Suzanne through the seasons, viewers clamored to discover the final piece of her tragic puzzle of a life – and this episode granted it. Suzanne was working as a store greeter and befriended many of her customers. In particular, she got along well with children – and when she saw one of the children playing in a park, she invited him back to her home to play. Her innocent play date led to the boy becoming scared and attempting to escape, leading to his fall off her balcony. The revelation of Suzanne’s crime also touches on how mental health is treated both in and out of our prison system.
4. Season 5, Episode 5: Sing It, White Effie
This episode tackles the issues of voices of color being drowned out by white voices and whitewashing in OITNB’s standard thought-provoking manner. The inmates realize that sending Judy King out to the press to make a statement regarding the truth behind Poussey’s death and the prisoner’s demands for their rights might get the public to finally hear them. Janae is vocal about the prisoners who actually experienced unfair treatment being the ones to make the demands and for the black inmates to make the statement about Poussey. She repeatedly states that they should not need white people to speak for them and that they should tell their own story. It’s revealed in flashbacks that as a child, she was heartbroken by a rich, primarily white school choosing Dreamgirls as their musical, complete with a cast of white girls wearing Afros. Eventually, Taystee speaks up for the prisoners and makes her own statement, doing her fellow inmates proud.
5. Season 4, Episode 12: The Animals
In this episode, one of the most heartbreaking in the series, Poussey is accidentally killed by a guard during a peaceful protest. Poussey was a sweet, lovable woman who didn’t deserve the painful death she received. This episode demonstrates how even peaceful protests are not taken seriously by authorities, the lack of appropriate training law enforcement officers have, and how even when accidents happen, minorities and prisoners are still blamed for things that were not their fault. “The Animals” brings in elements of the Black Lives Matter movement and focuses heavily on the mistreatment of minorities in prisons and how media can twist the public’s opinion on an event. If you have never really thought of BLM or the #SayHerName movement, this episode will likely invoke sympathy in you, and inspire you to take a stand for equality.