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In S04.E10, Orange Is The New Black Deals With Isolation

As life gets lonely for some inmates, others find help falling out of the most unexpected places.

Hard as it is to believe, the single most important moment in "Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull" isn't when the dated flip phone falls out of the sneezing nun's vagina. It's not the accidental exhumation of Alex's would-be hitman in the community garden, nor is it the near race riot at movie night (though, for the record, The Wiz is a questionable screening choice, even if Fig's old VHS tapes aren't exactly the Criterion Collection). The actual most significant moment is much smaller than any of those mini-explosions, though it does happen as Diana Ross eases on down the road. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Episode 10 opens with Aleida's release, as she's gifting her few remaining prison possessions -- her nail kit, thermals, and good hat -- to Daya and Gloria. There's an excitement -- and an unspoken fear, too -- which is not exactly helped along by CO McCullough's story of an earlier release; that poor women was discharged without a ride, got picked up for hitchhiking/solicitation, and wound up in jail hours after leaving prison. So it's a good thing Aleida has a friend picking her up, even if that friend turns out not to be a friend, but Margarita, her boyfriend Cesar's baby momma.

As Aleida fantasizes about taking a shower and walking across all five boroughs to visit her various kids, Flores is still standing on her isolated cafeteria table, though standing might not be the technical word; she's actually slouching and peeing while upright. It's disgusting, but somehow not as gross as Piscatella's assertion that he supports the (unfortunately super-hot) guard who put her up there in the first place. Yet both of these actions provoke significant reactions: Daya seeks to fill the vacuum Aleida left by hanging out with Maria's gang, while Piper attempts to reason with Piscatella over Flores's punishment. Neither of these efforts ends well, and the two only end up more isolated for having undertaken them. It's a feeling McCullough herself can relate to, as she realizes that voicing her concerns about the uber-creeper CO Humps who made Maritza swallow a baby mouse would turn the other new veteran COs against her.

But while those women could each use a friend, Red is busy doing her best to isolate Nicky from hers, intimidating her drug buddies into leaving her high and dry. Which brings us to the joint Nicky bums off Luscheck, and to movie night.
"Do you ever feel like a man without a country?" Doggett asks, as she walks up to Coates.

"All the time," he replies.

And all of a sudden, the seemingly isolated storylines fall back to fill in the bigger picture.

You'd be forgiven for missing it -- Doggett and Coates are world-class mumblers -- but that's the genius of Jenji Kohan. She takes these seemingly unrelated plot points and weaves them together to make a tapestry; each and every action within the ecosystem of Litchfield has reverberating effects, even if they're not apparent at first. Kohan even does this with storylines involving the feelings of mental isolation. Nothing is ever black and white here, and while it's easy to wallow in the isolation, help often comes from the most unexpected places, when it's least expected.

Down at max, Sister Ingalls's phone gives Caputo the assist he desperately needs in order to correct Sophia's situation. That's little comfort to the Sister herself -- it's not like the warden can just share his plans to leak classified information -- but Caputo, with a huge assist from Danny, is able to leverage the evidence to get Sophia transferred back to minimum security. It's a partial win, even if it does cause as much distress as it solves.

The story of the phone up the nun's vagina does more than deliver one of our favorites back to yard: it highlights how emotional isolation can lead to drastic measures. There's no singular big bad, no overly dramatic falling out -- just a chain of causes and reactions with no end in sight. That's something Suzanne learns the (semi-)hard way in the broom closet with Kukudio, and something that poor Lolly tries to ward off by adjusting the amount of tinfoil in her time machine. It's perhaps the singular lesson of Litchfield: that each cause can and will often have an unintended effect. And without the ability to control free will, it's easy to feel like a man without a country.

The succinctness of this two-line exchange between Doggett and Coates (and yes, it feels very weird to be praising something involving Coates) is an important key to understanding the emotions underlying everyone's actions. It's not like things necessarily improve outside of prison either -- Aleida ends up on the baby mama's couch after she discovers that her sister stole her money -- but as Aleida recognizes as she comforts Margarita's baby, though her situation sucks, help might be closer than she, or any of the others, thinks.

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