Warning: Season Four Spoilers Ahead. Come back and read this when you’ve completed Season Four of Orange is the New Black.
If you’ve finished Season Four, or at least gotten one third of the way into it, you’ve noticed that the theme of veterans is a huge focus of the season. The prison hires veterans to work at the prison because they will receive extra funding. There’s even a comment made about how they will receive more money if the veterans have been injured in some way.
As the season goes on, the guards become crueler and crueler to the prisoners. Eventually, the warden explains that there is no more room in solitary confinement, so they have to be “creative” with the consequences. The guards take this as permission to do whatever they want to do, and end up torturing inmates. While one woman is forced to eat a live mouse (for a hunch that she was breaking the rules; the guard didn’t even have any proof!) another is denied sleep for days, and yet another is forced to stand on top of a table for a few days, and is only allowed to get down because the prison has an emergency.
However, there is one guard who acts as a foil to the cruel guards, and his name is Baxter Bayley. He is not a veteran, but was a mischievous, spoiled teen who threw eggs at people’s homes, and ironically, at the inmates of Litchfield. But, once he starts working at the prison, (after he’s scared straight by being arrested) he’s the most innocent guard. In fact, after one of the guards forces two inmates to have a “gladiator” type fight, he tells the warden the next day. He’s compared to a puppy, is told that he’s too happy to be working at a prison, and is even asked by Warden Caputo what he’s doing there because the prison “crushes anything good.” He clearly symbolizes the face of “good and innocence,” v. the other guards who are the face of “evil.”
But good and evil are not black and white, and in true Orange is the New Black style, the “good” prison guard commits the most heinous act. After the women stage a peaceful protest by standing on tables, things get violent when the guards start to take the inmates down off their pedestals. (You’ve got to love the symbolism of “the good guys” pulling the “criminals” off of a symbolic pedestal, (the table) so the writers can acknowledge that the inmates actually have stronger moral values than the guards) During the altercation, in a heartbreaking scene, Bayley accidentally crushes Poussey to death while protecting himself from Suzanne’s aggressive behavior. She is one of the most cheerful and sweet of the inmates, and he is the most innocent and good hearted COs. In that moment, both are killed…Poussey literally, and Bayley figuratively…an homage to the quote by the warden that the prison “crushes anything that is good.”
But this plot point only serves to delve deeper into the sadistic nature of the other guards. Bayley is thrown into a horrible depression, and is horrified. But the other guards couldn’t care less. When the warden questions them, they change the story, saying that Poussey was violent and that they had no choice. They refuse to even acknowledge the death, and even laugh about it. One of them drives Bayley home, and cautions him that he “just has to get over it.” He uses his experiences in Afghanistan as comparisons, saying that he killed innocent people but eventually moved past it because he had a long life ahead of him. Bayley can’t see beyond his tears. The other guard recognizes that it’s rough, but keeps saying it will all be fine in the end. This conversation cements the message that all of the negative characteristics of the guards are being blamed on their war experiences.
Bayley is wrecked. He is the only guard who is not a veteran.
This season, veterans were a big piece of the plot puzzle. But instead of letting these characters be understanding, brave, valiant and moral, they portrayed them as cruel, damaged, aggressive and terrifying. None of them have outside relationships, none of them have healthy lives, and they’re unapologetic, treating the inmates with no respect, and in fact, are downright cruel.
It’s almost like the writers were making a passive aggressive statement about the effects of war. That nothing good comes from it. That it ruins people. That it turns people into cruel beings, who revert back to predatory, animalistic tendencies. That they become unapologetic; that they can’t even distinguish the difference between right and wrong.
Maybe war had nothing to do with it. Maybe these people were just cruel to begin with. Maybe. But Orange is the New Black is blaming war. Maybe it’s a political statement.
Fortunately, very few veterans are actually like these characters. Some do suffer from PTSD, which means they may react in an unexpected way to a trigger, or may have nightmares, even during the day. These symptoms are not shown in the characters in “Orange is the New Black,” which leads me to believe that the writers are not making a statement about the effects of PTSD, but about war itself.