You see a flaccid penis in the first 15 minutes of Orange is the New Black. It’s limp and covered in blood—the opposite of the usual (rare) depiction of male genitalia on-screen, which is hard cocks and muscled specimens. It epitomizes what this season is about: flipping the script of gendered violence.
This season is a thought experiment in radical feminist revenge. Previous seasons have seen sexual assault, torture, murder against women who can’t defend themselves. This season channels all that hurt and rage into fantastical vengeance. Every awful thing done to the prisoners, they do to their male captors (and one female who is equally punished for her part).
These 13 episodes take place during a three-day prison riot. The riot flips the power to the inmates. The inmates take the guards hostage, seven men and one woman, and subject them to every degrading punishment they themselves received. It feels almost like a dream. The show isn’t prescribing action. It’s basking in the satisfaction of getting righteous revenge without consequences.
The season wastes no time getting there. As the inmate Sophia (Laverne Cox) cuts the pants of a guard to treat his gunshot wound, she reaches his upper thigh and his limp penis and balls fall out (the guard was going commando). He’s bloody and crying; the scissors are dangerously close to his package. Sophia politely smirks as she asks him to move it so she can continue. The exchange is respectful on the surface but underneath it’s all public humiliation. It’s his ignominious due for his part in the violent power structure of the prison, including when he forced two female inmates to fight until they were hospitalized in season four.
Full frontal male nudity on TV is an issue of gender equality. The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof recently told TVLine he is “passionate” about showing more “dongs” on networks that allow nudity. In the name of equality. We see female breasts and vulvas all the time yet we still hesitate to present male bodies in similarly vulnerable fashions. As though a penis is more precious than female parts.
In response, this scene dives straight into the issue and surfaces with the gold medal of penis shots. Not only is his package in one of the most vulnerable positions it could possibly be in, it is treated with the derision more often saved for female nudity. On top of that, Sophia is a trans woman who was recently released from solitary confinement after being unjustly imprisoned for her gender identity. This is her personal revenge fantasy, to have one of her captors equally demeaned for his sexual parts.
As the riot continues, the inmates organize into military-like factions. The racial “tribes” remain but they find themselves often unified over a visceral desire for revenge.
They take all the guards hostage and strip them down. They forcibly anal search one, after mocking his naked body. Some in the audience, like Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), object and walk out. But she was in the minority. Many cheered or at least silently observed as the guard was brutally violated, providing revenge for the arbitrary cavity searches the guards forced on the female prisoners.
The revenge comes in all forms and not all are violent or evil. The show has always danced between whimsy and tragedy and freely mixes moods during the riot. In one scene, meth head duo Angie and Leanne force the guards (still in their underwear) to put on a talent show. To “make the guards feel real bad about themselves,” says Angie. The humiliation continues.
One sings to moderate appreciation, another tries to rap and fails. The guard dubbed “the hot one” performs a striptease. And it is good. Heck, it is great. It rivals Magic Mike for sheer sexiness. He gets close to Leanne and performs a lap dance that put Channing Tatum to shame. True, he does it under duress. But that doesn’t change the fact that the sex-starved hetero female prisoners are presented male entertainment for their pleasure. A revenge fantasy that is more “fantasy” than revenge.
But then later, the same guard has to defecate. Badly. But he is in a room with the other guards only has a bucket at his disposal. He, like many people, is psychologically unable to do number one or two with people around. He begs the inmates to let him out and use the restroom in privacy. They refuse. They control all aspects of the guards bodies in the same demeaning ways that the guards controlled the women’s bodies.
It may not be morally correct and probably does not help the public image of the “feminist agenda.” But that isn’t the point. The show isn’t trying to do either. It’s acting out all the ways one could imagine getting revenge on the patriarchy. Movies and TV play out all kinds of horrible scenarios in the name of art. Horrible scenes of sexual assault, murder, torture — anything and everything awful a human can do has been onscreen at least once.
This is no different. It’s not a script for political action. It’s catharsis.