Welcome to the Litchfield turf wars. Although the beef between Gloria and Vee originally began brewing back in “Hugs Can Be Deceiving,”–when the latter gave the former a pack of stale cigarettes in exchange for a cake—“Low Self-Esteem City” marks the point where things really jump off.
The turf in question is the bathroom shared by the black inmates, referred to as “The Ghetto,” which Gloria and her girls march into after their quarters, also known as “Spanish Harlem,” started spewing out caca (I’ll give you hint. It rhymes with twit). You can just about guess how that went: death stares are given, insults are exchanged and Cindy and Flacca almost come to blows before a C.O. breaks it up. Cindy gets a shot (think of it as write up) after mistakenly playing the “sister” card with the black officer, while Gloria and her girls get dibs on the bathroom.
Things escalate when, after getting their shoes stolen and tied together by Taystee and Cinday, Gloria laces their food with salt.
“They fuckin’ with us this way ’cause they know our people’s predisposition for hypertension,” Poussey rants. Fears about high blood pressure aside, Janae, who had no part in the fracas, is pissed, and trips Daya in retaliation. Bennett, who unlike Janae knows Daya’s with child, hems her up before taking away her commissary.
All this culminates in a meeting in the ladies’ room between Gloria and Vee. Gloria immediately goes into beast mode, but Vee already has a trick up her sleeve. She plays desperate and scared, looking like a deer in the headlights as she dupes Gloria into moving Flores and Sanchez off custodial duty and into the kitchen, with Taystee and Watson taking their place alongside Cindy. It doesn’t dawn on Gloria that she’s been conned until Red storms into the kitchen and makes it plain that moving Flores and Sanchez to the kitchen also meant ceding some of her power to the enemy.
“Low Self-Esteem City” also delves into Gloria’s backstory, showing she was once the owner of a struggling corner store, trading food stamps for cash while her tia Lourdes performs spiritual cleanses with candles and herbs in the backroom. Gloria is similar to Red in that her strong, no-nonsense self only came into being after she landed in the Litch. The flashbacks reveal a vulnerable woman in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Arturo. Like many abused women, Gloria is in denial about the lasting impacts of the abuse—he’s never hurt her boys, she tells Lourdes—and trapped in the cycle of leaving then going back.
She finally decides to leave Arturo and flee to Florida after he pushes one of her sons; unfortunately, an unsatisfied customer tipped off the police to her fraud scheme, and she’s carted off to jail. Arturo also peeps her food stamp money hiding spot and almost makes off with the stash. Almost because, in a bit of delicious irony, the self-locking door he installed traps him inside the back room after he tips over Lourdes’ candles, burning him to a crisp. Blame it on the orishas.
The episode also gave Healy his first major chunk of screen time this season, showing him at his worst while also inspiring some empathy. Let’s deal with the worst first. At the office, he shoots down Piper’s request to go see her ailing grandmother, snarkily comparing it to the Loch Ness monster (“it’s much discussed but seldom seen”) before dismissing her. He’s not much better at home. He and wife Katya are still having issues, and though he’s managed to learn some Russian, he’s still controlling and prone to angry, hurtful outbursts.
The two have a spat over Katya wanting to have a girls’ night out with Ulya (hey, it’s Tony Soprano’s old mistress Svetlana! Girl how you been!), during which he berates her for not speaking English and not having a job. He apologizes, and admirably tries to patch things up by inviting Ulya to go out with them.
“Your friends are my friends. My friends are your friends,” he tells Katya in Russian, before she coldly reminds him he has no friends.
Healy heads to the bar, where he spots Caputo playing bass in his band Side Boob (yes, Side Boob is their real name). The two sip beer while Healy drops about a thousand F-bombs praising a song he thinks is about mine workers, but according to Caputo is actually metaphor for a bandmate’s vasectomy. Side Boob’s certainly not lacking in subject matter. But I digress. The two bond over trashing penny-pincher Figueroa and her senate candidate husband, which leads to Caputo asking who, besides him, gives even half a crap about the welfare of the women at Litchfield.
Healy lightly mocks his earnestness at first, before confessing he liked taking his concerns to the warden because, ya know, at least he was a dude.
“I hate talking to women about women’s issues. It’s creepy.” It’s a short statement, but one that reveals so much about the character and his inability to relate to women, be it Katya or the inmates under his supervision, on any level. True to his personality it takes a man—in this case, Caputo—to lead him off the well worn path of misogynistic douchebaggery (at least for the time being) and fill out Piper’s furlough application.
The impromptu guys’ night out clearly meant more to Healy than Caputo; while he’s all glib and business-like the next day, Healy truly believes he’s made a new friend, gushing about Side Boob and calling Caputo Capu-dawg. The scene is laughable but also sad as it snaps into focus just how lonely Healy is. It also makes you wonder how long his new attitude will last once he realizes he his bromance with Caputo is one-sided.
Piper seems to have gotten some of her humanity back, as news of her grandmother’s sickness has her opening up to Red and then Larry. Larry tells her he misses her, and she talks about wanting to depend on someone, and this would all be lovely, were it not for the fact Larry’s one more play date from sleeping with Polly. Throw in the fact that if Piper does get her furlough, she’ll be shacking up at chez Larry, and things are about to get complicated.
–Nicky and Big Boo’s Bang Off continues, with Boo scoring five while Nicky strikes out big time with Fisher. Fisher also seems to have taken Nicky’s spiel about monitoring phone calls to heart, as she informs Caputo of her muy bueno Spanish-speaking abilities.
— Big Boo: “A boob in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
–Nicky: “Well it’s only the bush that counts.”
“It’s hate speech. It’s not meant to be accurate. It’s meant to be hateful.”
“I’m like Icarus. Who’s wings melted before he could fuck the sun.”
“Segregation. Awesome. Separate but way shittier.”
Catch more recaps by Kevin Clarkston of other hit shows over at the butlerway.com