Our ongoing coverage of Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black reaches the halfway point as Piper (Taylor Schilling) seeks out comforting relationships, unintentionally winds up in a position of power she doesn’t desire and uses the system to get some exercise.
Let’s bitch it out…
1×06: ‘The WAC Pack’
My first reaction upon viewing ‘The WAC Pack’ is that the playing field is evening out. What I mean is that Piper, although definitely still the audience surrogate, no longer seems quite as integral to the proceedings. We’ve gotten familiar enough with the other characters that we go for several scenes without our favourite soap debutante as the politics in the prison become more clear.
We’ve talked a bit about the institutional racism that seems to divide the women, and it’s back front and centre here. Frankly it’s still a little shocking to me because I’m so used to seeing the PC, cleaned up variation of race relations that when Orange Is The New Black trots out the obvious stereotypes and misinformation, it’s a slap to the face. It’s helpful that the show isn’t condoning or condemning it – like many other things in prison, racism simply ‘is.’ That doesn’t mean it isn’t problematic, or the embodiment of a 1950s mentality, as Natasha Lyonne’s Nichols suggests, but the show is smart enough to acknowledge that this isn’t an afternoon special, either. In lesser hands this episode would have seen Piper run for office on a platform of equality and she would have united the races.
Instead the episode ends with the same factions voting in their preferred candidates – each from a distinct group with their own agenda and priorities. It will be fun to see whether this new development yields any actual impact, or if it will – as Healy (Michael Harney) suggests – simply offer the women the illusion of a voice. Who knows? Perhaps having Piper Chapman in office will make a difference, though in all likelihood it will simply make her more of a martyr than she was before.
- The episode is particularly difficult on Piper as she desperately tries to forgo personal connections. Both Polly (Maria Dizzia) and Alex (Laura Prepon) aren’t speaking to her, though by episode’s end she’s made up with the former and kinda speaking with the latter. There are emotional trust issues tied up in her relationship with both (as evidenced by the flashback at the party) but Piper’s time on the inside has clearly begun to make her feel cut-off
- The least interesting storyline of the episode is definitely Larry’s (Jason Biggs) article. Naturally writing about your convict fiancé is going to be a more interesting story to the population at large and while I think Piper is quick to lash out at him, it is awfully insensitive of him. I don’t think that will stop him from doing however. Blah
- Our backstory is courtesy of Nichols, though I’d say that this is the least informative flashback yet since we learn virtually about her. We knew she was a druggie and the reveal that she and her mother aren’t close is a little underwhelming. The only noteworthy piece is that Red (Kate Mulgrew) nursed her back to health after she began using in prison
- Also interesting is the continued development of Nichols and Alex as they once again bond on things they miss on the outside. For Nichols it’s using and cooking; for Alex it’s the feeling of power
- Poussey (Samira Wiley) and Taystee (Danielle Brooks) make a pretty solid team in terms of mocking white politicians. Perhaps if they get out on good behaviour they can do a variety show or something
- Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) is – naturally – sneaking illegal materials into the prison for inmates and he plenty unhappy when his side-venture is threatened by the vag-cell phone pic (that’s quite the way to open the episode!). Quick question: regarding the electric toothbrushes he discovers in Red’s kitchen, it’s obvious that they’re sex toys, but do you leave the bristles on or off (actually…don’t answer that!)
- Side note: I like the photoshopped picture of the vagina with the guns and mustache. It’s something you might see in the break room of a regular office…well…maybe not
- Diaz (Dascha Polanco) discovers that Bennett (Matt McGorry) has a fake leg when she gives him a bj. Umm…okay?
- Finally, attempts to sway fickle prison voters includes discounted weave work, fried chicken, Taco Tuesdays and water beds. Reflecting on Piper’s starvation experience in 1×02 ‘Tit Punch’ we know how important food is on the inside so that’s no big surprise. Sophia (Laverne Cox) should have known better than running on a platform of medical and political issues, though. You gotta know your audience, girl! These ladies want practical things
- Piper’s mom (when Piper suggests that she’s no different from the other inmates): “Darling, you were a debutante”
- Guard Wanda Bell (suggesting Pornstache is responsible for the vag-pic because of his mustache): “You know how guys with a mustache always seem like they just fingered a little girl?”
- Nichols (explaining how the voting process for WAC works): “Just pretend it’s the 1950s”
- Larry’s editor (reviewing the edging story): “It sounds like a recipe for blue balls. It’s gross”
1×07: ‘Blood Donut’
‘Blood Donut’ immediately addresses the outcome of ‘The WAC Pack’, but not in ways we might expect. I thought that there would be more lingering resentment against Piper because she won the election, but apart from Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning, whom I’m liking less and less) there’s basically no negative feedback. Chalk it up to another unconventional narrative direction for a show that seems determined to avoid taking the familiar path.
Instead ‘Blood Donut’ explores just what constitutes power in the prison system. As in, if you want to get something done, how do you get what you want? Piper learns pretty quickly what we all knew from the beginning: the WAC is a bunch of bull. The titular donuts symbolically represent this lesson as Healy bribes the four WAC representatives. Taystee more or less reiterates the purpose of the committee: it’s a plum job that Piper should just shut up and enjoy.
Of course, that’s easier said than done when the woman that you’re kinda responsible for sending to solitary returns. It’s been a few episodes since we’ve seen Watson (Vicky Jeudy) – 1×04 ‘Imaginary Enemies’ to be exact – so it’s nice to round out her lack of screentime by exploring her back-story. I’ll admit that this is my least favourite of the flashbacks thus far, if only because it feels overly simplistic – Watson’s formidable running never gets her the boy so she robs a Money Mart with the first one who pays her any attention. It’s not that this isn’t realistic (we’ve all met people who do stupid things for someone simply because they were so desperate to please them), but here it’s a one-note element. Unlike other flashbacks, which provided shading and depth to these women, this flashback paints Watson in a very shallow light. The fact that her actions are seemingly driven solely by a desire for male attention reduces her motivations to the flimsiest, most shallow of all of the people we’ve met thus far.
What worked significantly better is how Watson has translated her pain and insecurity into aggression. Her aggressive demeanour comes out most forcefully in her confrontation with Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman). I like this tense scene because it reveals something about both women; Jones’ attempt to connect with Watson and Watson’s savage interrogation of her origins offers insight into how they tick. I especially appreciate that their confrontation didn’t devolve into a more traditional catfight after Jones slaps Watson. Orange Is The New Black knows when to go for the explosive moments, but the writers also know when to hold back and let a quiet moment unfold. The show is developing quite an arsenal of emotional beats.
Bracketing Watson’s story is Piper’s education in prison politics. After the WAC proves to be a bust, she exercises other options to advance her cause to reopen the track. This includes trading Healy the bathroom vag-phone (for empty promises) and eventually using the shared history with new guard Fischer (Lauren Lapkus) to catch Caputo’s (Nick Sandow) money-conscious ear. Understanding how the prison staff power plays work is clearly going to be an advantage moving forward, though Healy seems outmatched by Caputo.
- Since I’m no big fan of Pennsatucky, the scene in which she bad-mouths Piper in front of Alex and gets a dirty talking to is a full blown “hells yeah!” moment. The other confrontation in the episode proves how Alex’s intelligence. She realizes that a religious bigot like Pennsatucky is far more intimidated by a sacrilegious sex act than the threat of physical violence (Bonus: it gives her the power that she was craving last episode!). Hopefully this episode will keep the mousy little twerp quiet for an episode or two
- The salon conversation between Poussey, Sophia and Taystee about black best friends in white girl movies is pretty hilarious. It also makes you realize that Regina King really does own all of those roles! Also, I love that Taystee did end up going with the Viola Davis do’ for her hearing. I’m guessing (and hoping) that Taystee’s inability to stop swearing will hurt her parole. Side Note: Her inability to eloquently discuss her time in prison feels “off” considering her white WASP impression last episode
- The battle between Pornstache and Red is heating up. She may have hidden all the luxury kitchen ingredients in an attempt to gain the upper hand, but I can’t see how she’ll be able to defer Pornstache’s demands for long. He holds all of the cards, though I certainly wouldn’t want Red to come after me
- Larry’s schtick in the bar is tired. So not only is he going ahead with his felonious fiancé column in the Times, he’s whining about his situation to a hot bartender (in between complimenting her ass)? Ugh…mark this down as another dirtbag role for Jason Biggs
- WAC requests include: doubling up on pillows, premium hot sauce, 50 Shades of Grey for the library, better clinic hours, access to legal counseling, opening the track, and revisiting the closed GED. Hmmm…there seems to be a bit of a split focus in these demands
- Finally, what’s stranger: Big Boo randomly has access to a dog or Healy has a Ukranian mail-order bride?
- Big Boo (to Watson, who stands with her arms outstretched): “Hey Kate Winslet, see any icebergs?”
- Red (to Miss Claudette): “Anything off the books lives like Anne Frank now”
- Taystee’s friend (mocking her suggestion of college): “What you gonna major in: ebonics?”
- Figueroa (when Caputo asks about the straw in her coffee): “I just had my teeth bleached”
Your turn: how do you feel about the show at the halfway point in the season? Did you find Watson’s flashback too simplistic? Was Nichols’ too brief? Is Piper getting the hang of prison life? Is Larry becoming more unlikable? Sound off below
Orange Is The New Black S1 is available in its entirety on Netflix. *Please refrain from posting comments about upcoming episodes