Despite the hordes of new inmates crowding the halls and bunks of Litchfield Penitentiary in this season of Orange Is the New Black, there is a palpable absence — especially in the prison salon. Where is Sophia Burset and her beautifully coiffed wigs? If you can't quite recall what goes down with Sophia during season three, you're not alone. Here's a refresher:
In the beginning of season three, Sophia and Gloria Mendoza bond over having teenage sons, as the two boys have begun hanging out together. Tensions soon mount between the mama bears, however, when they learn that Gloria's son is "a bad influence" on Sophia's son . . . and then everything escalates when Gloria discovers that the reverse is true: Sophia's son is actually the troublemaker.
Of course, at the root of all this is the shared helplessness of two incarcerated mums who feel like they can't adequately parent from the inside and who fear that their sons will end up in trouble because of it. In their frustration, the women turn on each other: Sophia shoves Gloria into a wall, and soon afterward, transphobic rumours about Sophia start swirling. This leads to Sophia being assaulted in her own salon — a hate crime that should result in punishment for the bigoted perpetrators. Instead, Sophia is sent to the SHU, reportedly "for her own protection." The orders come from MCC, and as usual, hapless Caputo can do nothing about it.
Although Sophia has made strides toward being accepted by many of her fellow inmates, it becomes painfully clear how fragile that acceptance is when these same people turn on Sophia for being a trans person. And the fact that she is sent into isolation following her violent attack is symbolic of so many struggles that trans people face on a regular basis. Rather than keeping this victim with the rest of the prison population, which might force others to get to know a trans person as a human being, she is erased from the community altogether and the entire topic of trans people is literally out of sight, out of mind.
Spoilers lie below, so only continue reading if you've watched season four!
Season four brings the relief of knowing that Sophia is still alive (though she's ferociously desperate to get out of the SHU), yet Sophia's storyline is very light, which is a shame because Sophia is delightful, and positive representations of trans people on TV are scarce overall. Orange Is the New Black is beautifully poised to serve up scathing commentary on current social and political issues (the flashback scene set in the Walmart-type superstore where a customer breezes past Suzanne with an assault rifle is eerily timely, despite having been filmed months ago). Not that this show should be responsible for depicting all underrepresented voices at all times, but Sophia's perspective is too unique and important to lose. Here's hoping she finds some redemption in season five.