Netflix’s best series returns with a brand new season (all at once), which means it’s time to return to Litchfield prison and the wonderful women who live there.
Let’s bitch it out…
2×01: ‘Thirsty Bird’
The first episode of the season finds Piper (Taylor Schilling) isolated in solitary and then bundled away in the middle of the night, forced onto a bus and a plane so that she can testify in Chicago. It’s an unorthodox narrative decision to isolate Piper (for the most part) from the other cast members of the show, even as Piper;s jarring introduction to a new prison recalls the first episode of S1. In many ways it’s a great opportunity to ease viewers back into this world behind bars as Piper has to (re-)learn all of the rules of her new (temporary) home, though I can imagine some viewers feeling frustrated that we spend the hour with her and none of our other favourites (Side Note: Is Piper really anyone‘s favourite? I think Schilling does a great job as an audience surrogate, but I would much rather spend time with other members of the cast. I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion).
As a re-introduction to the series, ‘Thirsty Bird’ hits all of the right cues. It’s a testament to the series that the equivalent of an entirely new cast of inmates is introduced and gets us to invest in them in a single episode. I’ll confess that I’ve always had a soft spot for Lori Petty (and her so-called “molest me, daddy” voice) so I was quite excited to see her as Lolly, Piper’s companion on the plane. Even the women in Piper’s new cell and their fixation on training cockroaches (named Yoda and Ben Savage III) as cigarette mules is fun and unique. Orange Is The New Black excels at creating rich, complex and quirky characters that immediately capture our attention and ‘Thirsty Bird’ is no different in this regard.
The narrative only really advances Piper’s dilemma a little bit. It should surprise no one that Alex (Laura Prepon) ends up throwing Piper under the bus during the drug trial – the entire flashback structure is engineered to show us not only why Piper is risk-adverse, but also how easily manipulated she is by others. What keeps Alex’s betrayal interesting is that it doesn’t make Piper look stupid for believing her: Piper’s last minute decision to lie under oath (and likely incur the wrath of the court in the form of additional charges) is a legitimate dilemma. Alex does a good job of underlining what will happen to her if she goes against drug kingpin Cubra Bolic, even as Piper’s father-in-law advises her of the seriousness of the case. Piper finds herself between a rock and a hard place, the powerlessness of her situation underlined in an episode that reinforces time and again how little control she has over her life. First Piper is denied information about her destination, barely allowed to go to the bathroom, and upon arriving at Chicago, set upon by a new gang of women whose rules she doesn’t yet comprehend. As ‘Thirsty Bird’ continually reminds us, women in prison have very little agency. It’s no wonder that when they are afforded an opportunity to take control of their journey, they seize it, regardless of whether it’s a significant power play (as Alex’s move undoubtedly is) or small (Piper’s handing over her underwear for information). That’s just the reality of life behind bars.
- I read an interesting piece about the relevancy of the Bechdel Test last week on io9. The piece is a response to a recent analysis of Doctor Who, but I think it’s timely considering just how pro-feminist OITNB is. I particularly like how the series puts gender (and race) front and center without making it seem like it’s cramming issues down our throats. Consider the sexist discussion of the male guards about asses and bitches in the opening scene, as well as vulgar inmate on the plane who calls Piper “First Class” because she’s blonde and attractive (and, admittedly, seated near the front of the plane). This is commentary disguised as a statement of fact: women are (often sexualized) possessions for men and OITNB is unafraid of putting it front and center.
- I was particularly impressed with Schilling’s performance as she recounts her attack on Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) to Lolly on the plane. The very simple close-up and slow pan across her face mixed with Schilling’s delivery as she grapples with her emotions is one hell of a performance.
- Male guard (as they discuss women’s asses): “Can’t say bitches no more – it’s degrading.”
- Lolly (after Piper discusses her attack on Pennsatucky): “That’s some heavy shit”
- Piper (after learning the rap sheet of the man she’s given her underwear to): “He’s a hit man? Oh thank god, I thought he was a rapist.”
- Alex (to Piper, telling it like it is): “There is no justice, Piper. Don’t you know that by now?”
- Alex (after Piper reminds her Alex once told her nothing bad would happen): “How long have you been holding on to that one?”
2×02: ‘Looks Blue, Tastes Red’
The second episode is seemingly taking place at the same time as the premiere and is the first episode of the series not to feature Taylor Schilling. Much like ‘Thirsty Bird’, this episode offers a reintroduction of sorts to Litchfield, although in this case there’s a great deal less hand-holding. I’d forgotten the specifics about a few storylines, including Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) ousting from the kitchen (it wasn’t until her meeting with her son that I remembered why she was poor and on the outs). ‘Looks Blue, Tastes Red’ proves that Orange Is The New Black doesn’t care about reminding us about what happened last season – if we can’t remember, then we’ll just have to catch up on our own.
Anchoring the second episode is fan favourite Taystee (Danielle Brooks). In flashbacks we learn about her desperation for family and how it affected her childhood growing up in foster homes. It wasn’t until she finally accepted the advancements of local drug dealer, Vee (Lorraine Touissaint, making a strong impression) that Taystee finally understood the possibilities of family – something she’s managed to replicate among Litchfield’s black population and a major reason she returned to prison in S1. There’s a recurring theme of motherhood throughout the episode, which also finds Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) and Mama Diaz (Elizabeth Rodriguez) trying to one-up each other in their efforts to help Diaz (Dascha Polanco) through a challenge in her pregnancy. Ultimately, however, it’s Taystee’s attempt to once again capitalize on her potential – something Vee both encouraged and dissuaded her against – that carries ‘Looks Blue, Tastes Red’. The Dress For Success mock job fair may be a sham concocted by Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) to cover her financial indiscretions, but that doesn’t make it less of a beacon of hope for Taystee’s post-prison ambitions. Alas not all mothers are good and Figueroa crushes that dream fairly quickly when she reveals that there is no job at the end of the rainbow. It’s telling that Figueroa’s casually dismissive rant about “you people” wanting rewards is immediately followed by Taystee laying eyes on Vee at the back of the church: one bad mother has given way to another. “Oh shit” is right.
- Like Figueroa, Healey (Michael Harney) learns that everything is prison is measurable by favours and goods. He foolishly believes that he can intimidate Pennsatucky into silence about his involvement in Piper’s attack. Turns out the hillbilly meth-head considers the price of silence differently and by the end of the episode she’s on a date with a new pair of teeth.
- Episode two also features the return of – ugh – Larry (Jason Biggs) and Polly (Maria Dizzia), two characters I would be happy never to see again. Just let them sleep together and get it over with, since that’s clearly where this D-level plot is headed. Barf.
- Finally, I love the montage of various inmates discussing their job preferences and recommendations. My favourites include Nichols’ (Natasha Lyonne) incredulous reaction to the suggestion she become a corrections officer and Sister Ingall’s (Beth Fowler) similarly puzzled response to her proposed fashion job. Less surprising are Poussey’s (Samira Wiley) hope for a job that requires her to do nothing on a beach and Big Boo’s (Lea DeLaria) desire to be a softball umpire so that she can “get laid.” Lol
- Larry’s dad (after Larry inquires why they’re at a gay bath house): “I had a Groupon”
- Polly (to Larry): “Take this child before I drown it in my tears and sweat”
- Red (to one of the other old women who jokingly claims she’s 23): “She looks rough for twenty-three”
What’s your take on the first two episodes? Did Piper’s solo jaunt to Chicago entertain you or did you miss the other women? Were you surprised Alex screwed her over? Did you like Vee’s introduction via Taystee’s flashbacks? Are you disappointed Pennsatucky is still alive? And who’s dirtier: Healey or Figueroa? Sound off below, but *please note*: since the entire season is now available, please refrain from commenting on future episodes and spoiling the viewing experience of others.
Orange Is The New Black is now available in its entirety on Netflix. Our coverage continues next Wednesday with a review of episodes 3-4. If you’re binging, however, come back Friday for TVAngie’s take on the first half of the season.