Spoiler Alert: All of the spoilers. Major, earth-shattering, body-shaking spoilers for “Orange Is the New Black” Season 4. If you haven’t finished watching, turn back now. Or don’t. But don’t blame me. I warned you. I really warned you. Last chance. I mean it.
Fuck. Goddamn it. Fuck fuck fuck. They killed Poussey Washington. They really killed Poussey Washington.
“Orange Is the New Black” has always been social commentary masquerading as mass entertainment. It has been unapologetically sneaky in the way it lured unsuspecting viewers (read: white folks) in by pretending to tell the story of a WASPy blond-haired, blue-eyed woman named Piper who finds herself in the fish-out-of-water world of minimum-security prison. But then it has Trojan Horsed these very same viewers with stories about women of color, poor women, queer women, older women – really every type of woman that typically gets ignored by mainstream American television. This has always been the power of this show. It has told the stories we haven’t been told and made us better for them.
So now, this. This. Fuck. Goddamn it. Fuck fuck fuck. This is more than a gut punch. This is more than just heartbreak. This is soul-crushing storytelling. This is the kind of thing you just don’t get over.
I had stayed away from spoilers, as I try to do almost always. Because I believe stories work better that way, when you allow them to unfold unsure of anything but what you hope or dread may happen. So this season truly was a surprise to me. I had heard a few rumblings, a few veiled things. But nothing, nothing prepared me for this.
But then, even if we knew, how could we be ready for this. Fuck. Goddamn it. Fuck fuck fuck. I mean, we were kind of warned. We were told that Jenji Kohan was interested in delving into what was wrong, really wrong, with our prison industrial complex. The inequality. The corruption. The racism. The sexism. The general cruelty. The fact that all-too-often stick low-level drug offenders in jail for years. The fact that all-too-often allow the rich and – let’s face it – the white to skirt serious time. The fact that our prison systems have been turned into a for-profit business where the bottom line depends on turning inmates into dollar signs instead of human beings.
As we’ve been told these stories season after season after season – social commentary masquerading as mass entertainment. And because they’re good at what they’re doing, we’ve also fallen in love with these people. They’re not just inmates. They’re not just caricatures. They’re people. And in some cases, people we love very much.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again – I don’t think killing a lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender character automatically makes a show irredeemably bad. I would never demand a show keep all of its LGBT characters alive for the sake of them simply being alive. And yet. Fuck. Goddamn it. Fuck fuck fuck. And to have it happen this year, this year in particular. This year when we’ve lost so many already. When we’ve made such a point of demanding our stories end in something other than tragedy. This year we’ve finally broken through about the importance of ending the Bury Your Gays trope. This year of all years.
I know why they did it. I get it. I understand. I understand it had to be someone we all cared about. It had to be someone without reproach. It had to be someone whose death would devastate. Then by that metric it had to be Poussey Washington. She was always the smiling heart of this show. She was the good we hope to see in ourselves – kind, loyal, open, hopeful, talented, smart, sweet. So sweet. She was the wonder of discovery and the joy of simply living. Fuck. Goddamn it. Fuck fuck fuck.
And I understand why they chose Bayley. It had to be someone who was not just evil. Not just a racist. Not just a sadist. It had to be someone who was just inept. (Though, and this is important, this is not a justification for his actions – nor a cry for sympathy or leniency.) You see, the broad stoke villains exist still. But to make one of them the killer would have been too easy. It would have shifted focus from a bad system to a bad person. And the problem is this system is fundamentally flawed, period.
Poussey’s death meant something. It was for a reason, a real reason. It was for a cause. This was this show’s definitive statement about Black Lives Matter. She can’t breathe, oh my God, I can’t breathe. So it wasn’t to advance a straight character’s storyline. It wasn’t randomly from a stray bullet. It wasn’t to punish her because she was gay. Yet in other ways it also embodied the some of the most sickening characteristics of the trope. Poussey, finally in love. Poussey, on the cusp of success. Poussey, so thoroughly happy. And then brutally, instantly gone. Fuck. Goddamn it. Fuck fuck fuck.
My stomach ached all that night. I watched a happy movie, just to feel a little better before going to bed. But then I woke up and tossed and turned later that night. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I was angry. I was hurt. It still hurts.
So now we are left with this, these shambles. Will I keep watching this show? Yes, I will. Am I furious another queer woman has been killed off on television? Yes, I am. Do I mourn all those lost too soon because of the Dead Lesbian Syndrome? Yes, I do. Shall I keep fighting for our happy endings? Yes, always. Will I ever forget Poussey Washington? No, never. I will never forget Poussey Washington. I don’t think any of us will. And perhaps, in the end, that was the point.
Fuck. Goddamn it. Fuck fuck fuck.