Netflix released the second season of Orange Is the New Black in the wee hours last Friday morning. We've been tackling the episodes in small chunks, the better to binge responsibly. CLICK HERE for episodes 1-4. CLICK HERE for episodes 5-8.
40 OZ of Furlough
Very Important Prisoner: Though the episode devotes flashbacks to show the relationship between Vee and Red, the episode mainly belongs to Piper, who gets a chance to leave prison behind for furlough.
Flashback: We're taken back to an earlier era of Litchfield when both Vee and Red were new inmates (and with different hair). Vee began, it seemed, as an ally to the nervous Red, instructing her to use her connections to make life better for herself. But when Red's importing business is successful, Vee turns on her, and has her lackeys beat her up.
Overall impressions: This episode does, for the most part, belong to Piper's experiences in the outside world. As one might predict, things do not go so smoothly for Piper out of prison. After all, she's there to mourn her grandmother, and things with Larry are tense. Piper's father tells her why he doesn't come to visit her in prison, Larry ultimately admits that he slept with someone else, and after all of that she doesn't even get to go to The Spotted Pig (which, for what it's worth, is a really good choice for a furlough meal).
What Piper learns in her time on the outside is nothing really new: prison changes people and you can't really go back home. But the resigned melancholy that pervades the end of the episode elevates her resignation to her situation. Piper leaves her brother's wedding/grandmother's funeral to go to Red's market, only to find it closed down. She then gets a burger from Storky's—where Taystee worked—and grabs a 40 instead of cheap champagne. She's absorbed everyone else's experiences and finds herself in the exact same place.
Odds and ends: Pornstache is back terrorizing people, including Brook Soso who is beginning her hunger strike. His return creates more tension between Daya and Bennett, the latter of whom thinks that they should tell Caputo that Pornstache is the father, to get him out of their lives. Red wins her family back, save for Big Boo who betrays her to Vee. Speaking of Vee, she's dealing harder stuff now, and we see Taystee give Nicky a packet of heroin. First one's free, et cetera.
Little Mustachioed Shit
Very Important Prisoners: After more than half a season spent settling into the general Litch ensemble, Piper has now spent two episodes as the focal point. After the previous episode's furlough, during which time Larry told her he cheated with someone she knows, Piper both considers reconnecting with Alex and passive-aggressively sleuthing for the identity of Larry's affair (hi, Polly!). Also, Poussey gets trumped out of Vee's little posse, first dumped by Taystee and then beat down by Crazy Eyes in a chilling bookend to last episode's Red flashback. Finally, Vee finds Red's secret passageway in the greenhouse.
Flashback: We get to see the early stages of Piper and Alex's relationship, including Alex's flexible way with the truth, and a rather spirited girlfriend of Alex's who didn't take kindly to Piper being in her bed.
Overall Impressions: Lots happening in this one! Besides Piper and the Vee/Red feud, we're beginning to see that the conditions at Litchfield are becoming more and more pressing. Brook and Yoga embark on a hunger strike; Healy takes his lessons from therapy and starts a group meeting (that for now just consists of Pennsatucky). Figueroa finds out about Piper and company's newsletter and is not at all happy. And in the biggest development, Bennett tells Caputo that Pornstache is the father of Daya's baby, and Pornstache is, by episode's end, canned and also arrested.
Odds and Ends: Vee and her crew are mean to Rosa, in case you were wondering who to root against. Sofia plays a nice game of cards with her visiting son. Nicky stares at her little baggie of heroin (gifted by Taystee) for about half the episode, until she brings it to Red and asks her to dispose of it, and Red is so proud of her, and everything is very nice for a moment. In many ways, however, the episode belongs to Morello, who gets a visit from her "fiancé," who has only come to tell her he knows she broke into his home, and if she does it again, he'll kill her. Morello has zero ability to cope when he puts her on blast in front of the other prisoners. It's awful, but it does lead to a wonderful little scene where Nicky tells Morello that she loves her, even if no one else does.
Take a Break from Your Values
Very Important Prisoner: This episode, kind of a place-holder before everything comes to a head in the final two, focuses way more on groups than individual prisoners. Sister Ingalls joins the food-strikers and immediately begins taking charge. Red and Nicky find out that Boo was the rat, so they trump her out of the family. But the major solo player this week is Figueroa, who's experienced some deepening this season, what with her gay husband running for state senator and her increasingly strained efforts to hold things together at Litch. She an antagonist, sure, but like everybody else on this show, her badness has a few dimensions to it. She stomps into the ward and tries to squash the hunger strike; she's much more successful in arranging for Piper to be transferred to Virginia.
Flashback: We get a look at Sister Ingalls' history as a protester. But it's not just social justice that characterizes her story but self-aggrandizement. Sister Ingalls was something of a celebrity rabble-rouser, and the attention went to her head, to the point where the Church stopped supporting her. Hence her reluctance to get back into the protest game at Litch. But once she does, old habits (no pun intended, honest) die hard.
Overall Impressions: Lotta setup, very little payoff. Sister Ingalls' story is illuminating, and it was probably important for us to see how maddeningly awful LeeAnn and Angie would be to have on your hunger strike team. Not very much happens. Oh, except at the very end , when Taslitz decides to do Red a solid and stab Vee to death. Only she ends up stabbing some other frizzy-haired black inmate instead. That's gonna be super awkward for Taslitz to explain away, racism-wie.
Odds and Ends: Red gets pretty crazy before she learns the rat was Boo, putting the fear of God into Freida and even suspecting Norma for a moment. And we're not kidding about Angie and LeeAnn. Time to adapt Piper's plan for Soso and stick them in a bag and drown them in the river.
It Was the Change
Very Important Prisoner: This is essentially an ensemble episode, with everyone in Litchfield forced to come together thanks to a storm. That said, the episode uses its flashback to show just how evil Vee is.
Flashback: Vee is revealed to be truly a monster. She was actually responsible for the death of the young man Taystee mourned in the second episode. A police officer Vee has in her pocket tells her that the man, her employee, is trying to strike out on his own. Vee proceeds to seduce him and then send him out, leaving the police officer to frame him and shoot him.
Overall impressions: As the series nears its end the show abandons the hope that Vee is anything other than a pure villain. She is ruthless, at times for the sake of being ruthless. She abandons Taystee after Poussey destroys the tobacco supply. After Red tries to strangle her the two queen bees of Litchfield declare a seemingly genuine truce. "You keep yours, I'll keep mine, alright?" Vee says. "We've got enough fucking hell in here already." All good, right? Well, all good until Vee goes to the gardening shed and brutally beats Red.
The episode emphasizes how a crisis makes odd couplings and brings people together. Pennsatucky hangs out with Big Boo, for instance. Morello comforts Rosa. Vee, however, stands alone. Taystee and Poussey reunite. For a show that prides itself on showing everyone's humanity, Vee is the evil exception.
Odds and Ends: Figueroa once again shows little care for conditions at Litchfield while at a benefit for her wannabe state senator husband, who it turns out is having an affair with another man. Piper meanwhile learns she and some other inmates are being transferred. She uses the blackout, however, as an opportunity to dig into Figueroa's files and expose how she has been embezzling money. When the lights go back on, Piper is caught by Caputo.
We Have Manners. We're Polite.
Very Important Prisoner: The movie-length finale is really an ensemble piece, mainly centered around the investigation over Red's beating. We also spend time with Piper as she confronts Alex in person.
Flashbacks: None, save for a moment at the very end when Rosa, given the chance to die her way, turns back into her old self.
Overall impressions: Vee commits what is perhaps her ultimate evil act: setting up Crazy Eyes to take the fall for Red's beating. It's a vicious, over-the-top move, and she gets a vicious, over-the-top ending, escaping from Litchfield via Red's tunnel only to be struck with a car by Rosa who is also making her getaway. It's an unsympathetic, nutty end to Vee, and somewhat unsatisfying. Sure, she got her comeuppance, but Lorraine Toussaint's nuanced performance in earlier episodes gave way to pure villainy in order to give the show an unequivocal big bad.
Elsewhere, the episode plays with our opinions of the Litchfield officials, often seen as the antagonists of the show. Caputo had every right to use the information Piper got to frame Figueroa, but he takes a turn for the creepier than usual, accepting a blow job from the Figueroa, even though he has already condemned her. Despite all the ways in which she has proved herself a terrible person, it's hard not to feel bad on some level for Figueroa in her desperation. Meanwhile, Healy, so frequently the most unsavory of the officials, saves the day, exonerating Suzanne.
Odds and ends: There are some lovely moments between Sister Ingalls and Red, both hospitalized, but the subplot with the protesting nuns doesn't add much to the episode, which is, in some ways, overcrowded. Bennett's confession to Caputo that Daya's baby is his should have been a big moment, but feels secondary.
What it sets up for next season: Piper gets Polly and Larry to rat on Alex, who is planning to skip town for fear of retaliation on Kubra, so Alex is probably coming back to Litchfield. Nicky will likely confront her addiction even further after stealing Vee's stash of heroin to frame Vee. Now that Vee's gone, that heroin is just sitting there, with only Nicky (and Boo, fine) knowing where it is.