Our ongoing coverage of Netflix’s women-in-prison drama continues as issues of contraband, babies and solitary confinement take center stage.
Let’s bitch it out…We’re reviewing two episodes each Friday. We’ll be back next week with reviews of eps 10 & 11. But for now…
1×08: ‘Moscow Mule’
Episode eight focuses quite a bit on Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex’s (Laura Prepon) relationship. It’s been clear since the second episode that these two would work out their issues and address what happened in their relationship (and just maaaaybe get back together). The writers obviously want this to happen because they keep putting the two of them in situations that require them to interact.
‘Moscow Mule’ offers the most explicit example of this as the two work together to repair a damaged dryer. The broken appliance eventually becomes a parable of their relationship, facilitating a bit of open dialogue for the two to once again air their grievances about who is right and who was wronged. Plus the image of Prepon stuck in a dryer is pretty funny.
It all leads up to a big finish as Piper and Alex have a reconciliation of sorts. Shippers undoubtedly soared over the moon at the touch of their hands (at least until the next episode), but I found Piper’s confession that she’s not “somebody’s girlfriend” to be the true telling moment. After the betrayal of character in Larry’s (Jason Biggs) article, the person she confides in is Alex, which says a lot about how far they’ve come since the pilot.
Larry’s article is the other big development, and his impromptu party reinforces how lacklustre the ‘out of prison’ scenes are. Larry and Polly (Maria Dizzia) are clearly indicative of Piper’s “former” life: a more insulated, uninformed existence. Clearly parallels can be drawn between Piper’s admission to Alex and Larry’s confession that there’s something absent from his life, but his scenes feel increasingly judgmental. While Piper becomes more ingrained in her new life in prison, Larry remains stuck in a vapid, empty existence. Considering the highlight of Piper’s day is competing for a Twix bar, you would think that her scenes are less engaging and yet Larry’s story about Polly’s chaos-filled delivery seems inconsequential.
Perhaps this is simply because life in prison remains an unconventional story? All I know is that when we leave the prison, my interest in the show wanes.
- Baby mama drama also pops up in Diaz’s (Dascha Polanco) not-so-shocking discovery that she’s got more than just the flu. Guess we’ve got confirmation of how far her relationship with Bennett has progressed
- The other baby story is Maria’s (Jessica Pimentel) going into labour. The scene when she tells Diaz that she hopes her relationship with her child bears no resemblance to the one between Diaz and her mother is pretty direct, but the best part of this story is the mournful silence that greets Maria’s emptyhanded return from the hospital. Whether she lost the baby or it has simply been taken away from her is immaterial; the pain of a mother separated from her child is mirrored in all of the faces of the other prisoners. Gripping stuff
- The battle of wits between Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) continues to escalate. When Tricia (Madeline Brewer) relapses, Caputo (Nick Sandow) cracks the whip on Pornstache to find the provider. Red, meanwhile, exercises her “two strike” rule for junkies, using Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) as a messenger to effectively disown Tricia. This creates a perfect storm: Pornstache learns from a disgruntled Nichols how Red sneaks her contraband items in, and probably seeks to force her to smuggle in his own stock. This isn’t good news for anyone
- As far as flashback histories go, Red’s second in only eight episodes is a dud. Sure we now know how she made her mobster connections and gained the confidence to steer the ship, but this backstory lacks an essential hook. It also comes at the expense of other characters I’d rather learn more about
- Taystee (Danielle Brooks) wins her parole hearing, but what will we do without such a flamboyant character?!
- I didn’t mind Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) before, but now she seems to exist solely to create conflict. I’m increasingly inclined to hiss each time she appears on screen. Hopefully she won’t become more prominent a character in the remaining episodes
- Nichols (propositioning Alex): “Well I have been feeling a little stressed lately. Maybe if I stick my dick in your mouth?…what? Too hetero?”
- Pornstache (reassuring Joe that the mustache isn’t a gay thing): “It’s fucking all-beef.”
- Alex (when Healy asks if they were using the dryer to masturbate): “I’m more of a dishwasher kinda gal, sir”
- Larry (to Piper): “How did we go from not talking about kids to having a prison family?”
- Alex (describing her stint on constipation-inducing anti-depressives): “I would rather shit and cry than strain and nap all of the time.”
Well, if I didn’t like Pennsatucky in the last episode, I downright hate her in this episode.
At this point in the series there are two characters who are being painted in broad, caricature-style strokes: Penns and Pornstache. They both remain one-dimensional villains, appearing solely to stir up trouble (and crazy, in Penns’ case) which makes them inherently less interesting. Their motivations, if they have any, are so simple that it’s not compelling to watch them screw with the complex characters we genuinely want to spend time with. It’s like we’re all stuck doing time with these two like everyone else, only ours occurs voluntarily each time we tune into a new episode.
I’m curious to hear how people react to Healy’s (Michael Harney) over-reaction when he witnesses Piper and Alex dirty dancing at Taystee’s going away party. He’s always been upfront with his disdain for lesbians (going all the way back to 1×01 ‘I Wasn’t Ready’), he’s always clearly been interested in Piper and nearly every time we see him inside the prison he’s being put upon by the inmates. With all of this in mind, it’s not shocking that he snaps, though the punishment – sending Piper to SHU – hardly fits the crime.
What is more shocking to me than his actions is her dangerously frank, expletive-laden explosion when Healy visits her. Again, there’s a foundation for this kind of outburst (we saw something similar when she stood up for herself to Miss Claudette), but you would hope that Piper would have learned not to lip-off. Orange Is The New Black has done a really good job of reminding us that even though Piper has gotten the hang of most things, she’s still very much the vain, upper-middle class woman we see in the flashbacks. Like all of the other women in this prison, she isn’t suddenly a different person now that doing time. She’s just something in addition to who she used to be.
Alex, meanwhile, is left facing Pennsatucky’s religious wrath by herself, which means a stolen bed and, more troubling, broken glasses. One can only hope that all of these minor aggressions will pay off eventually and we’ll get to see Pennsatucky get her comeuppance. For now, however, our only satisfaction is seeing the intimacy we’ve watched build between Piper and Alex finally pay off when the girls make haste to the church for sexytime. Where things go from here is anyone’s guess, but Healy’s likely “tell all” phone call to Larry may put a swift end to the prison hook-up.
Enjoy it while it lasts, ladies!
- How sneaky is that flashback? Initially we’re led to believe that we’re learning more about Pennsatucky’s poor upbringing, which actually filled me with dread because I thought I would have to feel sorry for Penns crappy childhood. Lo and behold, though, the second iteration reveals that the poor girl with the rock star dad is none other than Alex! And while the long-awaited meeting with drunk/high dad isn’t everything she expects, now we know where her initial drug contact came from (Side Note: Phew, I can continue hating Penns!)
- A couple of strong supporting B-stories as Sophia (Laverne Cox) grapples with her wife’s decision to pursue something with a pastor and Diaz decides to keep the baby after a failed abortion cocktail and a mother/daughter talk. Both stories demonstrate the power of economy: we don’t spend a great deal of time on them, but the time we do is meaningful
- Taystee’s in-prison farewell is significantly warmer than her post-prison welcome. I’m sensing a Shawshank Redemption plotline in which Taystee struggles (and fails?) to adapt to the outside world and returns to the “safe” life of prison
- While we’ve been waiting for Piper and Alex to do it for quite some time now, the dark haired girl certainly does have a great relationship with Nichols. I like how Alex completely marks Nichols as a rich, white girl that she could have turned into a mule in her old smuggling days
- Just when I begin liking Larry again for trying to help Piper while she’s in SHU, he reverts back to arrogant self-promoter as soon as an opportunity presents itself at Thanksgiving dinner. Work with me, Larry – I want to like you!
- Another episode, another escalation between Red and Pornstache. He’s understandably quite unhappy when he finds out she flushed his shipment. More than ever I can’t see a situation where she doesn’t do what he demands. Let’s face it, folks, she has no cards left to play
- Finally, that person Piper talks to while in SHU: fictitious or real? No way someone would be in solitary for nine months – one year, right?
- Pennsatucky (to Alex): “They don’t allow gays on the rapture-bus” Alex: “There’s a bus?!”
- Alex (seeing Piper’s new hair): “You look like JonBenet Ramsey” Which is…kinda true
- Larry (when he’s told Piper is in solitary): “I need to speak to your manager…er…supervisor” So WASP-y
- Pornstache (ordering the women out of the kitchen): “You, too, Silent Bob”
Your turn: can Red turn her situation around? How will Diaz protect Bennett when she starts to show? Has Healy ruined Piper’s relationship with Larry (or has she done that herself by cheating)? Will Taystee end back up in prison? Sound off below
Orange Is The New Black S1 is available in its entirety on Netflix. *Please refrain from posting spoilers about upcoming episodes – we’ll get there shortly!