Fraud is among the more popular crimes committed by the ladies of Litchfield. (Well, that and drug-related offenses. But those don’t work as well as a metaphor, so let’s just go with fraud.)
Ahem. As I was saying: Many of OITNB’s main characters are frauds in the eyes of the federal government. And as we’ve gradually been discovering all season, the deception doesn’t stop there: Tons of these women are still pretending to be something they’re not even after getting sent to prison (or going to work there). Daya’s pretending to be a rape victim; Fig’s pretending to be a compassionate prison advocate; Morello, until very recently, was pretending to be happily engaged. Even Litchfield’s two top dogs are accused of being nothing better than bluffing phonies in episode 11: Poussey speculates that Vee came back to prison because on the outside, she’s “too weak for anybody to take serious” – a “pedophile without the sex” who commands respect from kids but can’t get it from anyone actually powerful. And Boo says something similar to Vee’s nemesis, laughing that Red’s a “f—ing joke” whose attempts at intimidation are laughable, given her crew of “half-price garbage pail kids” and an empire that rests on a foundation of candy and skincare products.
Both of those characterizations likely contain at least a grain of truth – but don’t expect either Red or Vee to have a Morello-esque epiphany anytime soon. They’ve been playing the role of “scary HBIC” for so long (and, to be fair, to relatively great success) that trying to change their spots at this point would be an unpleasant shock to their systems – one that might prove fatal.
Which brings us to Sister Ingalls, the subject of this hour’s flashbacks. Actually, hold up: We should probably strike the “Sister” part. Like everyone listed above, Litchfield’s benevolent beatifier has been living a lie – before being sent to prison, she was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
Why? It’s not for a particularly sexy reason; Ingalls didn’t have a steamy, forbidden relationship with a clergyman (or woman), or embezzle funds from the church, or get caught singing in the abbey. Instead, she gets booted for violating the cardinal virtue of humility.
Shortly after beginning her noviceship, a young Sister Ingalls feels confused, out of focus and bemused; though her fellow nuns keep going on and on about how Jesus speaks to them, her own conversations with her lord and savior feel decidedly one-sided. Before her crisis of faith can lead to Ingalls taking drastic measures, though, she discovers something else to channel her energies into: anti-Vietnam activism. Perhaps Jesus isn’t paying attention to her – but the movement is, and her status as a woman of God makes her even more laudable among the activists.
At first, this is only a small facet of activism’s appeal; as one of Ingalls’s pals points out, “We have no jobs, no husbands. If we don’t fight to make the world a better place, who will?” (Also: A woman cannot live on prayer alone. Also also: Who’d turn down the chance to ride around with a cute hippie in one of those sweet old Volkswagens?) As time goes on, however, Sister Ingalls gradually starts acting out for all the wrong reasons. When a rival nun gets arrested nine times, she resolves to be put into police custody 14 times; when that same rival douses a nuclear facility with a quart of blood, Ingalls brings two quarts to her next nuclear facility. She can’t protest without considering first how to do it in the most photogenic way possible; she even writes a cheesy, jokey memoir called Nun Shall Pass, in which she privileges her own moral instincts above God’s and writes lustily about a Nicaraguan revolutionary named Carlos. No wonder the church threw her out with the old holy water before she landed in Litchfield.
The ex-nun says that she may be let back into the church if she shows contrition in prison… but given what happens in this hour, it’s tough to say whether that’s really going to be a possibility. Once again, Ingalls joins an activist cause with good intentions: For Jimmy’s sake, she falls in with Brook’s hunger strike, demanding changes to the way Litchfield cares for its elder inmates. Once again, though, she ends up more concerned with how the protest looks – trying to get media outlets to cover it, letting Leanne and Angie give up easily because their presence confuses the strike’s message – than what it’s actually trying to accomplish.
At the end of the episode, though, something happens to the former Sister – maybe thanks to hunger-induced delusion, maybe thanks to a genuine change of heart. Caputo convinces Yoga Jones and Brook to stop striking; they come to deliver the news to Ingalls. Yet even though the strike is formally over – and, just as importantly, nobody on the outside knows or cares it was ever happening in the first place – Ingalls chooses to soldier on. Has she learned some modicum of selflessness in prison after all? Maybe not, given the hordes of inmates cheering her on as she’s finally wheeled to medical seg. Once there, she tries to speak to Jesus once more… and finds no answer. Geez. Way harsh, God.
NEXT: Meanwhile, at Safe Space…