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'Orange Is the New Black' Season 6, Episode 1 Recap: 'Who Knows Better Than I'

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Editor's Note

The following contains spoilers for season six of “Orange Is the New Black.”

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

If you’ve struggled with self-harm or have attempted suicide — and plan on watching the newest season of “Orange Is the New Black” — beware. Within the first five minutes, there’s a scene that features self-harm. If you’re still sensitive to triggers, feel free to skip it — or, at the very least, watch with a supportive person.

The season opens up with Suzanne — also known as “Crazy Eyes” — stuck in a small cell by herself.  She’s talking to herself, which isn’t entirely new, but we see she’s really disconnected from reality. She makes her bed and asks whoever she’s talking to if she can watch TV. When she gets the approval she’s looking for, she sits down in front of her window and begins “watching.”

In her hallucinations, a host of familiar characters entertain her. Nicky is a dog playing the piano, and Dayanara does a dramatic dance that seems to represent sexual assault. Frieda is a magician, and this is where the self-harm comes in. (It starts at about 4:00.)

Frieda, a tough older woman we get to know in previous seasons, holds up a king of hearts and calls him the “suicide king,” because it looks like he’s stabbing himself in the head with a knife. She then takes the card and slices up her arms. It shows red. Cards come flying out of the cuts.

In the same episode, only a few minutes later, we see that Frieda had actually attempted suicide in her cell. At around 8:25, we see her crouched down in her cell with blood on her arms.

Some took to Twitter to warn each other about the potential self-harm triggers.

Besides the self-harm imagery, as I’m watching Suzanne flip through all these “TV shows,” I wonder how someone who’s experienced hallucinations would feel about it. To me, it seems a little silly and over the top. I don’t think they’re making fun of it, but it definitely seems unrealistic.

Two police officers come in and take Suzanne out of her cell. She’s being questioned by a man about the riot, but she isn’t making any sense. Her lawyer hands the man who’s questioning her a note from her doctor, explaining why Suzanne shouldn’t be in isolation considering her mental health struggles.

The man questioning Suzanne doesn’t get it and calls her behavior an act. While this is happening, Suzanne sees images of her mom, who’s trying to calm her down. This clearly helps her, but she still isn’t “with it” enough to answer the man’s questions.

Another thing we learn in this episode: Apparently the guards at the maximum-security prison have a messed up game called “Fantasy Inmate.” They do some kind of draft, and the inmate’s behavior gets them points. Apparently, a suicide is worth 14 points, a suicide attempt is worth seven.

We also see the guards being abusive multiple times in this episode. They beat up inmates and, at one point, make two of the inmates kiss.

Cool, the guards seem really sweet here.

Suzanne finally gets a psych evaluation, but she can’t pay attention. She’s not answering the doctor’s questions because she’s too focused on her hallucination (which is, humorously, the other inmates doing the Cha-Cha Slide). Again, I wonder how people who’ve been there feel this is being represented.

Eventually, a hallucination of her mom encourages Suzanne to advocate for herself. This is my favorite scene in the season so far. She tells the doctor:

I need my medication! I’m not crazy, I just need my medication. I’ve been off it for too long and I’m reacting to that. Please, I’m not crazy. I am chemically imbalanced. I don’t need to be institutionalized if I’m properly medicated.

Another funny/not funny moment is when Frieda, the woman who attempted suicide, is bound to a “suicide chair” so she can’t hurt herself. This is their “protocol” — make sure the inmate doesn’t hurt themselves, without actually changing anything about their situation.

“Orange Is the New Black” has always dealt with mental health themes, so if you’re sensitive to self-harm, suicide or physical assault, there’s nothing wrong with skipping the scenes mentioned above.

Our rating: 

Although this wasn’t a bad start to the new season, offering some suicide/self-harm resources before or after the episode would have been a nice gesture. Especially if you’re not expecting it, it’s hard to see someone cutting their wrists. As a “progressive” show, I feel “Orange Is the New Black” has a responsibility to its audience. I’ve been annoyed by how much “trauma drama” has been included in previous seasons, so we’ll see where this new one goes.

Discussion Question:

If you’ve experienced hallucinations, how do you feel about how Suzanne’s experience is portrayed? Let us know in the comments below.

Originally published: July 30, 2018
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