Our ongoing coverage of Netflix’s ladies in prison drama continues as we head towards the finish line. We’ve got prison hook-ups, divine healing, death and…oh yeah, the best episode of the season to date.
Let’s bitch it out…Reminder: Every Friday we’re covering two episodes, so we’ll finally get to the final two episodes of the season next week!
1×10: ‘Bora Bora Bora’
Death comes to prison.
In many ways I’m a bit surprised that it has taken this long for Orange Is The New Black to explore the topic. While the series has generally shied away from “traditional” prison tropes, it’s a sad reality that there are suicides and murders on the inside (plus TV loves a good death to deliver an emotional wallop)
What a poor, sad end for Tricia (Madeline Brewer). The former homeless girl – and one of the youngest inmates – dies alone in a dark broom closet as a result of actions that can ultimately be traced back to Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber). After Tricia is released from SHU, she tries to use her sobriety to get back into Red’s good books, but the kitchen matron sticks to her two strikes rule. It’s not long before Pornstache comes calling for Tricia to pay off her debts by acting as a dealer for his newly acquired stash. Instead the young homeless teen succumbs to despair and ODs. What makes it more tragic is her sad story: how her pride held her to a higher standard than most street kids, but also kept her from accepting help from an old friend who might have provided her a way out (we assume. As usual we don’t actually see what landed Tricia in prison since stealing an under $20 necklace shouldn’t have done it).
The contrast between the Tricia in flashbacks and the one who ODs in the supply closet tugs on the heartstrings because we know that she finally recognized she needed Red’s help, but when she needed it most, it was too late.
Circling the ongoing battle between Pornstache and the head chef is Nichols (Natasha Lyonne). You could say that Nichols is the one who brought this all about, and – like Red – she blames herself after Tricia’s body is discovered. Red uses the tragic circumstances to bond them together, suggesting that Tricia’s death is the catalyst she needs to bring Pornstache down (with Nichols’ help) at any costs.
‘Bora Bora Bora’ is also notable for the escalation of another battle: Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) vs Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Laura Prepon). This storyline has been brewing for quite some time, fueled by Pennsatucky’s fervent belief that the newly reunited lovers are ungodly. It’s hardly a surprise that Alex and Piper use Pennsatucky’s religious belief against her. After seeing how gullible she is after Janae (Vicky Jeudy) pretends that she has been healed, Alex and Piper strategically employ other inmates – include Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) – to pretend she’s a miracle worker. The prank culminates when Piper cruelly sends Pennsatucky into the bathroom with a juvenile delinquent in a wheelchair, knowing that Pennsatucky’s belief would lead to a confrontation and big trouble.
I’d say that I think Piper crossed a line in doing so (including placing a not-quite-innocent teen in harms’ way), but I’ll freely admit that I laughed and cheered as Pennsatucky is sprayed in the face with Mace. Then again, I’m a bit sadistic…
- I liked that the “acting” inmates and Guard Wanda Bell (Catherine Curtin) use Piper’s skepticism against her when she refuses to go along with the ‘Scared Straight’ program, but I hate how predictable it is that Piper is the only one who manages to get through to the wheelchair girl. While I like Piper’s speech about being forced to confront who you are in prison (a rather pertinent topic given her recent actions), I HATE that once again this blond, entitled woman manages to do what other people can’t
- I love that Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) joins the program so that she can effectively threaten teens with Shakespeare. Hey, if it’s the only drama option you got…
- Speaking of mean-spirited antics, I’m curious to know if anyone found Nichols’ verbal tear-down of Morrello (Yael Stone) and her ‘fake fiance’ harsh. I know I’ve silently mocked Morello when she talks about her wedding, but to hear someone call her on it aloud is different, isn’t it?
- Diaz’s (Dascha Polanco) secret is out: Bennett (Matt McGorry) learns about her pregnancy early in the hour and from there on out, it’s operation desperation. The options for addressing this in a plausible way are rapidly dwindling, though at least Bennett isn’t a complete ass when he learns the truth
- Finally, we get a nice rom-com meet-cute when we learn how Piper and Larry (Jason Biggs) first met. Following Polly’s (Maria Dizzia) wedding – when Piper claims she will never settle for boring Chinese take-out when she can have adventure – she meets Larry. It’s cute, although Piper acts stoned in the aftermath of the dog attack and Larry’s Chinese take-out offer is so on the nose, it’s groan-worthy. Too coincidental!
- Piper (to Polly, about Pete, on her wedding day): “Well you never know, you may be saving that hole for marriage”
- Mama Diaz (when Bennett reveals he lost his leg in a hot tub related infection): “You should probably tell people you lost it in the war”
- One of Pennsatucky’s followers (when Janae mentions Harry Potter): “What are you talking about? Wizards are evil”
- Big Boo (mocking Pennsatucky’s healing ceremony): “Yeah, I’m filthy with filth”
- Piper (after bitching out the wheelchair girl): “Bitches got to learn”
1×11: ‘Tall Men With Feelings’
I’ll admit that while the last few episodes have been “okay”, I was beginning to wonder if I had overhyped Orange Is The New Black to myself. Then along comes ‘Tall Men With Feelings’, which may just be my favourite episode yet.
It doesn’t hurt that the entire episode is fraught with emotional resonance. The tragic death of Tricia continues to pay dividends as we get to see how grief – and the fall-out – affects the lives of our inmates. Nichols and Big Boo are the most affected, though Red’s display of disobedience when Pornstache tries to clean Tricia’s bunk is also touching (if ill-advised given her history with the guard). The resulting pseudo-memorial, complete with toilet hooch and copious amounts of sugary sweets, is a nice bonding experience (Side Note: I particularly like that Tricia’s death erases the racial boundaries for a few minutes as women from the Latino and black camps come by to pay their respects).
The highlight of the hour for me concerns the central love triangle of Alex, Larry and Piper. It’s clear early on that there’s trouble looming when Crazy Eyes and Piper strike up a casual, if cautious, friendship and Alex remarks that a foursome is too many people to handle. Clearly Alex and Piper are both feeling the weight of the perceived “cheating” (despite still taking comfort in each other’s arms).
There have been too many secrets that have come out in the last little while for some of these big ones not to see the light of day. Still when truths are spoken, it’s like an atom bomb in the lives of several people. After learning from Healy that Piper was sent to SHU for “lesbian tendencies”, Larry decides that the best way to address his issues is to air all of Piper’s dirty laundry on the radio. (Side Note: this is definitely one of those heavily forecast events that is only possible because Larry is white, middle-class and an author. Despite this, the result of his interview is powerful enough to overlook its convenience)
While it’s unfair of Piper to suggest that Larry’s stories may get her killed (and in fairness he did say they were “early” stories, so it’s not as though Piper currently feels this way about her fellow inmates), this is clearly the douche-iest of passive-aggressive responses. It’s also hella good drama. After the interview heard round the prison, Piper and Larry finally reconnect (after more than a week) and have it out on the phone.
What I like is that we witness their emotional fight and an equivalent example from Alex and Piper’s past. It’s important because it a) provides insight into both of Piper’s relationships (thereby giving them equal importance) and b) offers additional insight into how Piper works, which is helpful since she is our unofficial protagonist.
Both fights are extremely difficult to watch because they’re so emotionally naked and raw. In flashback Piper breaks up with Alex when Alex asks her to transport drugs to Budapest. Piper understandably flips, inquiring if she’s just another drug mule to Alex. She (correctly) states that being a drug dealer is ruining everything good in Alex’s life and Alex retorts with a mean-spirited comment that Piper knew what she was getting in for. The circumstances surrounding their break-up is clearly the content that drove their relationship in first few episodes of the season. It’s clear now why there was so much animosity between them (and to think that this is before Alex names Piper and gets her thrown in jail!)
These old issues are contrasted with Piper’s current troubles with Larry. Her fiance is much more childish in his tactics, but no less heartfelt in his gutted reaction when Piper confesses that she’s still sleeping with Alex and that she loves her. Woh – emotional fireworks, people! I imagine that your determination of which break-up is more gut-wrenching depends on who you would rather see Piper with, but they’re both excessively well-executed.
Both are also incredibly insightful because they demonstrate how Piper displaces and negotiates blame (something Alex highlighted while trapped in the dryer back in 1×08 ‘Moscow Mule’). And while it would be easy to suggest that it is Piper who got herself into her current situation by succumbing to the temptation to be touched, it’s obvious that in these fights both parties are victims.
That’s what makes these confrontations so resonant. Like real, lived experiences, there’s a brutal honesty in the way Piper, Alex and Larry hurl accusations and barbs at each other. We hurt the ones we love the most, or abandon them when they need us most. Orange Is The New Black may know how to deliver gut-wrenching drama, but it isn’t doing so without earning these emotions. ‘Tall Men With Feelings’ is a great example of this and one of the best episodes in an already impressive freshman season.
- This is a stand-out episode for Laura Prepon, especially those dazed moments when Alex learns that her mother has died and Piper is still leaving. It’s all the more crushing to see this hit the news cycle this week! (It’s hearsay for now, so let’s hope it isn’t actually true)
- Too bad the healing unity surrounding Tricia’s death doesn’t extend to the guards, who are mostly dismissive of her death until Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) sets them straight. Between this scene and Pornstache’s drunken confession to Bennett in the bar, ‘Tall Men With Feelings’ is the closest we’ve come to seeing the guards’ perspectives in all of this
- I love how out-of-touch Pornstache’s drunken rant is. His petulant rant wondering why the inmates don’t ask about his life proves just how deluded he really is. Still, the conversation proves timely for Diaz. She uses the information to initiate Red’s plan to implicate Pornstache in a rape, thereby killing two birds (an alibi for her pregnancy and Red’s drug problems) with one stone. Too bad Pornstache is a responsible lover and wears a condom (yes, I really did just write that)
- Speaking of Diaz, how horrible is the look on her face when she realizes that her scheme didn’t work and she may have to meet Pornstache in the utility room again? And just like Piper learning Alex really did turn her in, you just know that the truth will come out at the worst time and in the most inconvenient manner possible. My guess: Bennett will hear about this dalliance – and likely not from Diaz. DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA
- Anyone else hoping that when Larry learns the other radio interviewee, Ben, hasn’t seen his husband in years it would make Larry realize how lucky he and Piper are? Ah wishful thinking
- Who got the worst end of the stick in that radio interview: Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst) or Crazy Eyes? I’d say Crazy Eyes, who is actually one of the most complicated characters on the show. Miss Claudette’s feelings shouldn’t be hurt for being painted in a perspective she subconsciously encourages (although, yes, I’m sure she expects Piper to see her in a different light)
- Speaking of complicated characters, ‘Tall Men With Feelings’ tries to make us feel sympathy for Pennsatucky when we see her trapped in Psych (which is apparently worse than SHU). Sorry, Orange Is The New Black, I’m not buying it. Crazy is crazy with that bitch, even if she probably didn’t deserve to be chained to a bed and drugged
- Piper (to Matt Peters’ Luschek, when he cracks a joke about Tricia): “You’re gross”
- Alex (when Piper shuts down her sexual come-ons): “Okay, you’re not in the mood for banter”
- Piper (to Alex): “Why do you always feel so inevitable to me?” This feels like ultimate backhanded romantic compliment. Quintessential Piper Chapman
And that’s it for this second-last review! What do you think of the recent revelations? Were you shocked that Tricia actually died? Whose reaction touched you the most? Did Larry just screw Piper into the ground with a whole ton of people? And did you feel anything for Pennsatucky when she was suffering in Psych? Sound off below and come back next Friday for the final review of the season!
Orange Is The New Black S1 is available in its entirety on Netflix. You’ve only got to wait one more week to contribute thoughts on the whole season, but for now please refrain from addressing the final two episodes.