Spoiler alert: If you care what happens on “Orange Is the New Black,” but, unlike me, you did not spend your weekend binge-watching the new season, stop reading. Netflix and chill.
But just so you know, somebody who should still be alive is dead, and it nearly killed me.
I’ve been a mess since my mom took her final breaths a couple of weeks ago. Escaping into Jenji Kohan’s dark comedy about women in prison felt right. The last time I watched, the women were splashing around in a lake. It felt like a rebirth, a baptism party.
And I wanted to feel that lightness again, to see where this new start would take them. I knew there would be hard times. I hadn’t forgotten how they callously sent Sophia to solitary confinement in the previous season. I will never shake the rape of Pennsatucky by a prison guard. I knew that we couldn’t have all laughter and no tears.
I just didn’t expect Season 4 of “Orange” to break open my emotional armor and stomp all over my feelings. It’s the most brilliantly and brutally written season thus far. Prison industrial complex, racism, classism, rape, addiction, abuse, heartache, mental illness, redemption — it’s all there, packed into 13 gut-twisting episodes.
We dig deeper into the backstories of Blanca, Soso, Crazy Eyes, Healy, Lolly and Maritza. We watch friends become enemies, the powerful become weak, the underdogs become top dogs, innocence stolen and Piper (Taylor Schilling) go full Piper.
But nothing prepares you for — seriously stop reading if you’re avoiding spoilers — the death of Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley).
The women are standing on top of tables, peacefully protesting and demanding that a sadistic C.O. resign, when guards are ordered to remove them. Poussey, teeny tiny Poussey, tries to calm down Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba). For doing so, she is thrown to the ground by Bayley, the young moral compass among these corrupt guards. We get to know Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) this season, see how his wayward youth led to him becoming a guard with a heart at Litchfield Correctional Facility.
This is a guy we like with his knee in the back of a woman we love.
And then Crazy Eyes, in the midst of a mental breakdown, attacks him. As he fights her off, he’s still kneeling on Poussey’s back, his hand on her neck. He is so caught up in his battle with Crazy Eyes, he forgets Poussey is under him. She dies, lying face down, gasping for air underneath the weight of Bayley and the corrupt system.
And I sobbed the kind of cry that fills up the entire living room. It was loud and ragged and it took minutes for me to calm myself down. Images of Poussey and my mama scrambled in my mind. I know they are not the same person. I guess grief just sneak-attacks us. I’ll learn more in counseling.
But even Samira Wiley — who will join FXX’s “You’re the Worst” in August — has the feels over her character’s death.
“I don’t know if I have the emotional strength to stop on the street and talk about me being dead,” she told Vulture.
Her character is one of the few you could imagine having a life outside of those walls. Poussey was doing time for a nonviolent offense: trespassing and intent to distribute (less than half an ounce of marijuana). She was multilingual, a military brat who loved to read and laugh. And after struggling with loneliness and depression, she finally found love with her girlfriend Soso. She even earned a job with the celebrity chef who was serving a small sentence.
Now she’s gone. And Litchfield is covering up the injustice. The poignant storyline gives a nod to #BlackLivesMatter and unintentionally intersects with Orlando’s homegrown terrorist attack, launched directly at the LGBTQ community. Poussey is a proud black lesbian. We see this beautiful flashback of her dancing and laughing in a drag queen bar. You watch it and think about how clubs are supposed to be a safe space for fun and freedom.
It was hard to feel all of my feelings and not admit to myself that I knew better than to watch this season. It’s a show about prison. And I can always watch something else, but I have to learn to cope. There is no escaping grief.