Warning: This post contains spoilers for Orange is the New Black.
Orange is the New Black returned to us like a thief in the night at 3am this morning. (I don’t know what insomnia-riddled audience Netflix is trying to target with this scheduling.) It felt more like a mid-season summer premiere than an entirely new season, because it picked up exactly where we left off in season four. The boundaries between seasons four and five exist within the characters themselves and the state of Litchfield. From order to chaos and moral high ground to inhumanity, lines have been crossed in the women’s prison in season five. After only two episodes, I’m wondering if perhaps they’ve gone too far.
Here come the spoilers: The prisoners have taken over Litchfield and are holding the correctional officers hostage. We spent most of the fourth season watching this team of under-trained guards reign over the inmates with unnecessary force and cruelty. With the sudden shift of power, brought on by one of the guards own fascination with violence and control, a serious dose of revenge was in order, for both the viewers and the inmates.
What I did not expect was for the inmates to turn up the inhumanity so quickly. By the second episode, the guards are corralled into the chapel, stripped down to their underwear or nude. Encouraged by heckling inmates, Maria — who lives for a position of power — thinks that strip and cavity searches should be performed on the officers, despite an impassioned speech about being “better” than the guards now that the women control the prison.
Strip and cavity searches are already controversial in their own right. The boundaries between safety and human dignity are are pretty thin here. And in the event where there is no pretence of safety or security, stripping someone naked in front of a crowd and invading their body cavities is a form of sexual assault. That it was carried out and framed by OITNB as almost comical felt wrong. Revenge is a dish best served cold, but I don’t believe in any form of punishment or karma that utilises sexual assault. It’s a violation of humanity that is simply unacceptable.
Because Piper and Alex only exist to have sex and be examples of moral superiority in the show at this point, they are the only ones who voice any discomfort with this treatment. I’ve only watched the first two episodes of the show (sorry Netflix, but I like a good night’s rest) and I’m praying that this scene does not go unresolved. I’m hopeful that it will be part of the build up to the inmates realizing that subjecting the guards to the same inhumanity they experienced is not progress.