Hey 3.5 readers.
BQB here with another installment of “Writing Choices.”
If you’re like me, you look forward to OITNB’s return in June every year on Netflix. It’s been a guilty pleasure for me for a long time now. Hard to believe the fifth season started streaming yesterday.
I have only watched the first episode of the fifth season so I can’t give you any new spoilers and would appreciate you not giving me any.
That’s ok because I actually want to talk about the last episode of Season 4.
Police shootings and/or fatalities in police custody have been in the news a lot lately in the past few years. This topic is often polarizing. One side usually says something like, “There’s no excuse when people die in police custody so throw the cops in jail!” and then the other side is all like, “You have no idea how hard it is to be a police officer, what with the split second, life or death decisions that they have to make every day. You could never do it yourself so stop being so hard on the police.”
Is it possible that there are times when an accident happens and no one is at fault?
Case in point, and LOOK AWAY BECAUSE A BIG SPOILER IS COMING, at the end of Season 4, dies while being pinned to the floor by CO Bayley. We’re never really given a clear explanation as to how the death happened. Basically, he holds her down and after a short time, she’s not moving or breathing anymore.
Tragic. Sad. The public demands someone to blame. The company that oversees the prison immediately wants a scapegoat to present to the public. At first, they demand Warden Caputo get on TV and portray Poussey in a negative light, that she was a bad egg, out of control, etc.
Caputo won’t do that so then the company shifts gears and demands that Caputo throw Bayley under the bus. They find an old photo of Bayley dressed up as Rambo for Halloween and want to portray him as some kind of violent, militaristic nut job.
Caputo refuses to do that either. Instead, he goes on TV and gives his take – that the prison is overcrowded, understaffed, and that a young officer who was barely trained was thrown into a situation he had no idea what to do with and a tragic accident happened.
Caputo’s explanation satisfies no one, especially a public that tends to see issues as black and white and demands that a villain be strung up anytime something goes wrong, but he is convinced he made the right call.
In a flashback episode, we see CO Bayley and Poussey at an earlier time, before they ended up at Litchfield as an officer and an inmate, respectively. Bayley is a recent high school graduate and a total doofus who has just been fired from an ice cream parlor job for giving free ice cream to girls he likes. Poussey is young and care free as well.
Bayley and his buddies and Poussey and her friends go on an outing to New York City. In one fleeting scene, Bayley and Poussey pass each other on the street, neither noticing the other because they had yet to meet and had no reason to recognize each other but the point was clear – life may seem great now but you never know when it will take a turn for the worse. You’re out there today, trying to live your life, trying to make the most of it but then, wham, it could all come crashing down in an instant.
But the other meaning behind this scene – they were both young, dumb kids. Poussey was doing her best until she made a mistake that landed her in prison. Bayley was trying to do his best, getting a job at a prison in the hopes of supporting himself, restraining an inmate as he was ordered to do except he did it wrong…life is good, until you screw up, and then it isn’t.
Poussey never set out to become a convict. Bayley’s life long dream wasn’t to kill someone. Somehow, shitty things just happen and shitty results happen.
Overall, I felt Season 4 of OITNB handled this very polarizing issue in a way that was fair to all sides. Perhaps there are times when a tragedy happens and there isn’t someone who can be clearly pointed to as the villain.