There is a scene in this episode that captures the whole of season three in a single exchange. In it, Gloria seeks solace with Sister Ingalls in an attempt to confess her sins and receive absolution for her part in Sophia’s solitary confinement. But Sister Ingalls has no absolution to give, not just because she’s Sophia’s friend, but because she too did nothing to keep Sophia from her fate. Gloria blames prison for bringing this out in them, exacerbating the worst, most selfish parts of themselves and Sister Ingalls agrees. It is Litchfield, yes, but these are things that were inside them all along.
She goes on to say when we fail, God forgives us, but she’s not sure people can ever really forgive each other or themselves. This is the heart of not just season three, but the whole of the series: How much must we watch out for others at the expense of ourselves? And when we fail, when others fail us, can we forgive them? Can we forgive ourselves?
There are no easy answers. It is, to crib Black Cindy’s Judaism conversion speech, something you have to figure out on your own. One question raised over many of these episodes is how much does a person have to give before it’s O.K. to just look out for themselves. Though he fought the law throughout the season, for example, Caputo finally stopped fighting the good fight for Litchfield and took a promotion that only benefited him, resulting in the walkout of the senior prison guards. The audience should be disgusted at him for giving in, but how can we fault him for bailing on a battle sure to be lost.
Then there are the situations where you do the right thing, only to put someone else in harm’s way. Aleida went over Daya’s head in the previous episode and ensured that the baby would go to Cesar and not get adopted by George Mendez’s mother. But the finale sees Cesar’s apartment raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration and all of the children, including Daya’s daughter, given over to protective care.
Big Boo and Pennsatucky come up with a supposedly foolproof plan to get the latter off of van duty with her rapist, but the fake seizure puts another innocent woman, in this case Maritza, in the path of a predator. If you try your best to do a good thing and make the correct decision, is it all negated if you bring harm on someone else? I don’t know the answer to that and neither does “Orange is the New Black” but it’s more than happy to delve into in the uncertainty.
Perhaps most interesting is Piper and her transformation throughout these 13 episodes. Too often coming off as hapless and casually whiny in previous seasons, Piper has found her purpose in her illegal panty-selling business. She is at turns ruthless and clueless, but always learning and not afraid to be unlikable in order to ensure the project is a success. It curiously ruins her relationship with Alex, despite the fact it had always proved impervious to greater threats, and it forces Piper into situations where she must be vengeful, whether its punishing Flaca for her disloyalty or framing Stella and getting her sent to max for stealing her money. Vicious crime lord Piper is the most interesting Piper the show has ever seen and it’s curious that the more that Piper embraces this role, the more she seems freer than she’s ever been.
But nothing the show has ever done can compare to the last 15 minutes of this episode. After being taken to task by Poussey over Soso’s suicide attempt, Norma has disbanded her group of followers and is walking the yard feeling despondent. She notices that, in the midst of construction, the men in charge of repairing the hole in the yard fence have left a large passage open to the nearby lake. After processing this for a moment, Norma takes off at a gallop and soon all of the inmates in the yard follow her lead. The fence repairmen bolt at the first sign of trouble and the lack of staff means that they prisoners are unstoppable.
What follows is pure joy as the inmates take advantage of their moment in the sun (and sand). Conversation is limited. Instead, the inmates use another language — they hold hands, hug and kiss, all the the types of physical expression that are frowned upon inside prison walls. There’s moment after moment of reconciliation, as though the lake were a baptismal font, washing away grudges instead of sins. Gloria and Flaca forgive each other and Red and Norma make peace. Aleida seems to take the miracle as a sign to wordlessly hug her daughter.
The lake also serves as a safe space for new relationships to blossom. Suzanne and her admirer finally connect in their own weird way (playing fetch with a turtle) and Soso and Poussey connect in the aftermath of the former’s suicide attempt. On any other show such rapid-fire romantic entanglements would seem forced, particularly when coupled with Healy and Red’s flirtation, Morello’s marriage, and Piper and Stella’s fling. But Litchfield is a singularly horrible place and who is the audience to begrudge anyone trying to face it with someone by their side?
But what makes the moment at the lake all the more meaningful is how it seamlessly transitions to the construction of new bunks within Litchfield, specifically, bunk beds. Where once two inmates shared a space, there will soon be four and when Red tells Gloria and Aleida earlier in the episode they had received double rations for some reason, we finally understand why. The best day that the current inmates of Litchfield prison have had in quite some time is about to become the worst, as an already crowded prison population is on the verge of doubling. Scored to the strangely moving tune of “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner, used earlier in the episode as Morello’s wedding vows, the moment crystallizes the inescapable duality of life: There will be joy. It will come from the least expected places. But strife will follow. Maybe sooner than you think.