Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t seen Orange is the New Black, Season 2, Eps. 1-3.
“You live on the slippery slope kid, and for some reason, you can’t stop doing rain dances.”
Orange is the New Black chose to debut its second season with an almost two-part type reintroduction. The first hour was spent entirely with Piper, a risky move considering many view her as a time suck already and value the other colorful characters much more deeply. But the second episode completely revolved around those characters with no sight of Piper. Thankfully and unsurprisingly, both episodes worked wonderfully.
The first episode, “Thirsty Bird,” was a great callback to the pilot. In fact, it was almost identical in structure; Piper was sent to a new prison, she had to learn a new game with a new set of players as quickly as possible and in the end she realized her former lover and accomplice was in there with her.
But this was a different Piper than the one who surrendered herself to Litchfield last year. New Piper has already learned to play one prison game. New Piper understood how to deal with authority. And New Piper thought she was a murderer. A thought that, while terrifying to her, also gave her a sense of security in dealing with these new, threatening women.
A little of Piper can go a long way, especially when New Piper still has Old Piper’s habit of never knowing when to shut up. But spending the entire episode telling her story was still fulfilling. Taylor Schilling really got to flex her acting muscles and deliver a performance worthy of its own special episode.
And since the episode ended with Alex once again screwing Piper over (although this time I do believe that wasn’t her intention), it proves that New Piper also shares Old Piper’s uncanny ability to fuck up her life in the worst way possible. She spent her whole life playing by the rules and then the moment she abandons her morals and lies to protect someone she loves, she ends up worse off than before. Girl can’t catch a break.
But as entertaining as “Thirsty Bird” was, the season’s second episode, “Looks Blue, Tastes Red,” proved that Orange is the New Black thrives most when it’s telling the complicated and often heartbreaking stories of the deeply varying woman who inhabit it.
While the flashbacks to Piper’s childhood felt a bit forced and on the nose with the plot of the present storyline, the flashbacks of Taystee and Suzanne’s childhoods were as riveting and poignant as any from last season.
There is a recurring theme on Orange is the New Black, that was helpfully verbalized in the season opener, of outside forces leading these women down dangerous paths. Yes, all of these women made their own choices, but with each bit of backstory we see how limited and confusing those choices were.
In Taystee’s case she was a bright if overbearing child who couldn’t find a family. So, when a maternal figure offered her a makeshift family she was more than primed to accept it. Unfortunately, that maternal figure, Vee, was a heroin dealer and clearly the reason Taystee ended up in prison.
The saddest part of Taystee’s story is that given a decent shot she could have been highly successful. She learns quickly and more importantly, she loves to learn. She seeks out new information and experiences simply for the joy of knowing something new. But the tragedy is that winning the Mock Job Fair and $10 extra dollars in her commissary is the closest to success she’ll probably ever get.
Suzanne, who’s tragic backstory was revealed in the third episode, “Hugs can be Deceiving,” had somewhat similar family issues. Also an orphan, Suzanne was adopted by a white family who clearly didn’t know how to deal with her hair or her mental issues. I don’t doubt that her parents loved her, they were just ill equipped to deal with her and apparently unwilling to seek the help they needed.
But the deeply disturbing twist to Suzanne’s mommy issues was the revelation that during Piper’s beatdown of Pennsatucky, Suzanne came across them, mistook Piper for her mother and punched her in the face. Piper was grateful because thanks to Suzanne the fight looked fair enough to keep both her and Pennsatucky in minimum security. But, if Suzanne associates Piper with her mother (and there certainly is a resemblance) what does that say about her aggressive pursuit of Piper last season?
But Suzanne’s story was just another in a long line of storylines ushered in by a new potential matriarch.
Vee, who pulled an Alex and showed up in Litchfield at the end of the episode, ushered in what looks to be a major theme of the season: motherhood. From Aledia and Gloria fighting over who gets to unclog Daya’s bowls to Red getting a visit from her son and even Polly and her undone nursing bra, the idea of motherhood was overflowing from the episode.
Vee has her shtick down cold. By mimicking the role of a mother she is able to win the affections and loyalty of the lost souls around her. She did it was Taystee years ago and now she’s doing it with Suzanne and the rest of the black inmates.
The fact that Vee is rallying the black inmates is important because the other theme Vee ushered in was racial tension in the quest for dominancy over the prison.
Vee made it clear that she used to run Litchfield back in the day and she is clearly unhappy with how it has faired in her absence. Its clear that she and Red will be battling it out over the season for who gets to run the show. Red certainly had her time, but Vee came in at the exact moment Red lost her power and within days Vee established a crew with nothing more than cake and some stale cigarettes.
But Red is a tough old broad. Mendez brought her down a bit, but she ultimately won out. Will Vee be a worthier match? And will Gloria throw her hat in the ring, too? She caught on quick to Vee’s game and was none to thrilled. She already controls the kitchen, which puts her a step ahead of both Red and Vee.
It’s going to be an interesting season and, knowing my lack of self control, one that will be over far too quickly.
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