I’ve heard from more than one “Orange is the New Black” fan that episode 8—“You Also Have a Pizza”—was their favorite episode of the show. The episode takes place on and around Valentine’s Day, and love is the episode’s definite theme; the hour is intercut with brief, “Office”-style talking head shots of the different prisoners giving their thoughts on the world’s most powerful emotion. An episode like this tugs at the heartstrings a bit, kind of like the best “Office” moments, when I think about it. There is all sorts of love seen in this episode. A long-term relationship just about over and one on the precipice of beginning, hookups and heartbreak, crazy exes … it’s a ride, this one, and it all feels real. That’s probably why people reacted so strongly to this one.
It’s love that drives this episode’s flashback. “Hey There Delilah” brings us all the way back to 2006 (ye gods, that was eight years ago) where Poussey is living in Germany, the Deutsch-fluent daughter of an Army serviceman. She’s head-over-heels for the daughter of a terrifying German soldier, illustrated by one of the most explicit (and technically fascinating) lesbian scenes this side of “The L Word.” Unfortunately, that terrifying soldier catches the couple in throes of passion and pulls enough strings to get Poussey’s family sent back to America. Poussey comes thisclose to shooting the homphobic father before her own dad—understanding and accepting, the opposite of the German soldier—stops her. It’s a sad little story, giving some insight into why she clung so closely to Taystee’s friendship.
There’s the first real face-to-face interaction between Larry and Piper, the one-time couple now mired in their weird self-created limbo. He visits on Florence Henderson’s birthday, which was, apparently, a cause for “Naked Brady Bunch” day way back when she was out and non-incarcerated. I’ve got to spend the rest of the episode trying not to think about “naked” and “Florence Henderson.” Larry’s got a motive for the visit—his journalistic ambitions are taking over, and he asks Piper to be his Deep Throat inside Litchfield to investigate the corruption inside its walls. She doesn’t take it well, but the effort seems to invigorate Larry, who finally makes his first move on Polly, impulsively kissing her during a visit. He’s interrupted by the return of her idiot husband (who is unaware of the kiss) before they can get any resolution. Polly didn’t exactly shoot him down. I’m still sticking with episode seven for this first hook-up.
Piper manages to sum up the feelings of the entire single world in one sentence (“This stupid f---ing holiday!”) before she reconsiders Larry’s journalistic proposition. She queries a typically non-committal Luschek about the prison’s situation before her poking around earns the attention of Healy. Piper makes up the idea of a prison newsletter to cover for her questions; those talking head interludes are shown to be responses to a question Piper asked for the publication.
The big, broad strokes of the two vets battling for control of the prison are revealed. Red’s is straight out of “The Great Escape.” Her son is doing his best Bronson, passing in contraband to her through a tunnel underneath the greenhouse. In the custodial wing, the black contingent is just about to riot over their work when Vee reveals her plan. She’s been smuggling in tobacco shipped in cleaning supply containers; the cigarettes they’ll roll will get them the currency to start controlling the prison. Boy, tobacco has some kind of hold over people.
In more couples news, the Latinas take to blackmailing Bennett for leg-smuggled contraband, using the knowledge of Daya’s pregnancy against him. The couple sneaks away for a little rendezvous at the prison Valentine’s Day party, a shindig that looks a lot more fun than any dance I ever went too in middle school. Their romantic time is interrupted, though, by the revelation that Pornstache (a.k.a. Mendez) had sent Daya a Valentine’s Day card. Love can break down prison walls.
It’s an eventful dance. Flaca and Maritza share a brief, easily-dismissed kiss, Morello reveals she’s still obsessed with her stalkee, and the Nichols—Big Boo sex game ends in a cheerful makeup between the two, calling it a tie. It’s so busy, in fact, that neither the prisoners or the guards notice that Jimmy (the dementia-wracked old woman) has walked out into the night.
Speaking of love foiled, poor Caputo. The Duke Silver of Litchfield was over-the-moon excited about Fischer’s interest in seeing his bar band play, even offering to rearrange the schedule so she could attend. The guy read it all wrong. Man, we’ve all been there. Fischer shows up at the gig with the rest of the buffoonish guards, turning date into “work get-together” in one horrifying instant. It gets worse when Caputo spies Luschek, who’s lazier than your average Adam Sandler movie (and twice as dumb), hitting on a willing Fischer. The mournful shot of Caputo crumpling up the “reserved” paper on the seats he’d wanted to save for the two sure captures that heart-ripping emotion all guys go through in those situations. All that in a show about women in prison. At least something positive comes out of his evening, as Caputo discovers Jimmy, sitting and rocking out at the bar where he is playing. Some guards are going to be in a whole heap of trouble.
By the time you read this, I’ll be at an airport—I had the bright idea that visiting swampy Washington D.C. in June was a good idea—and I can only hope that I don’t encounter a TSA agent half as horrendous as Black Cindy was. She’s the focus of the seventh episode, “Comic Sans”; we see the younger Cindy in action at the Pittsburgh airport—stealing stuff from luggage, helping herself to drinks from the convenience stores, and outright molesting handsome passengers during pat-downs. She’s the very definition of irresponsible at her job, and that same negligence extends to her family life; Cindy drops a pilfered iPad off to her sister as a present, and then leaves the little girl in her car as she goes off to party and get high with friends. The big twist revealed in this episode? The “sister” is actually Cindy’s biological daughter, left to be raised by the more responsible mother. Yeah. As far as flashbacks goes, this wasn’t exactly the most compelling one.
The black contingent at Litchfield starts to put their money-making plan into action, rolling cigarettes and charging a book of stamps a pack. It’s pretty fascinating stuff, actually, watching how the black market in the prison develops. There’s even a neat way to make lighters detailed—apparently, all you need is a AA battery and a strip of foil. Something to come in handy if I ever end up in the clink.
Caputo’s patience is wearing thinner and thinner with his staff after the dementia-stricken Jimmy walked out of the prison—fortuitously, right into his bar band’s jam. He orders more punishments doled out. Elsewhere in prison management, we get the first look at the loathsome Figueroa’s family life, and it opens it up to just the slightest bit of sympathy for her. Her husband, the aspiring state senator, is shooting furtive glances at a very handsome and very male campaign aide, all while the Natalie is complaining about her sexual unfulfillment. As someone who lived in New Jersey during Jim McGreevey’s reign, I can pretty much guarantee that this doesn’t have a happy ending for the family. Oh, and two of the guards—Bell, the stern female, and O’Neill, the heavyset one—are shown to be dating. She calls him her “panda,” and now I just see Pablo Sandoval every time I think of O’Neill.
Piper’s hesitant to serve as the newspaper reporter’s deep throat, but her own journalism endeavor—the prison paper—seems to be taking off. She’s even developed a nice little staff, with Daya serving as the cartoonist and Morello penning a beauty column. This writing thing seems to suit her (hints at the eventual “Orange is the New Black” author’s track?) and it gives Piper some daily happiness. There’s also a rather hilarious smash at Comic Sans when that sad little font is brought up for the prison newspaper. Man, Dan Gilbert must absolutely hate this episode. Speaking of great smashes, Flaca throws out her hatred for whiny modern indie rock after she flicks through the iPod Bennett has smuggled her in. “It’s full of Fleet Foxes and s--t!” she moans. I love Flaca. Smiths fan and whiny indie-rock hater. Piper also shows her compassionate side when she helps the aged Jimmy cut up her pork chop, and is appropriately shocked and devastated when she witnesses the dementia-stricken woman hauled away to be dropped off on the street. She’s no longer the burden or the responsibility of the state anymore. “Compassionate release,” it’s called, and it’s very real.
The biggest news in what was, frankly, kind of a bland episode (especially after episode six’s greatness)? I AM NOSTRADAMUS. For both of these entries now, I’ve been predicting that episode seven was the the point where Larry and Polly would hook up, and that’s exactly what happened, damn it. This is almost as amazing as when I predicted that t.a.T.u. would appear at the 2014 Olympic opening ceremonies all the way back in 2010. I’m psychic about the most useless things. After one passionate fling, though, Pete comes to visit Larry, miffed at Polly’s sudden change in attitude, yet completely in the dark about the reasons why. What’s going to happen when the other partners find out about this new love affair? At least has some great taste in beer—he’s pounding Stone IPAs when he comes to visit. There’s one redeeming quality about the now-cuckolded idiot.
Episode eight, “Appropriately Sized Pots,” flashes back all the way to the 1970’s, with a much-much younger actress playing the currently cancer-stricken inmate Rosa, in her bank-robbing prime. On her first heist, the nervous Rosa’s first husband dies in her arms after he catches a stray bullet. By the next flashback, Rosa has steeled herself into a modern-day Bonnie Parker, and married another member of the bank-robbing gang, Andy—who expires from a heart attack after they pull off another heist. Marrying Rosa is the exact opposite of acquiring a rabbit’s foot. She doesn’t marry the third and final member of the gang, Don—they’re just a regular couple. He doesn’t die, but she does get busted after an impulsive robbery attempt.
Back in the present day, the once-dashing bank robber now only has weeks to live, stricken to wheelchair. Her chemo treatments, though, allow her to make a connection with that same young skater guy from the Morello-episode, intrigued by her robbery stories and united in their misery over their sickness. They work together to lift the wallet of a miserable nurse, with Rosa breaking down the people around her like something from a “Sherlock” episode, giving her one final, exciting bit of thrilling glory, as well as a nice little stash of cash. “I’m the brains,” she says to the miffed kid as she pockets the big chunk of bills from the wallet. Later, she almost breaks down when she sees that same kid in a tearful hug with his mother, fearing that that aura of bad luck has continued. Thankfully, it’s the exact opposite of bad news—his cancer is in remission. It hasn’t been a particularly happy life in prison for Rosa, but it’s nice to see a bit of sunshine come into it before her sickly end.
Things are starting to fracture in prison management, as Figueroa rages against the flood of contraband that has suddenly popped up in Litchfield. As these things go, Caputo transfers the wrath onto his subordinates, particularly poor Fischer—who apparently is in full-on dating Luschek. Ugh, he’s just the worst. You just want to whack Fischer over the head with a baton. A guy pounding coffee with schnapps first thing in the morning? That’s the reddest of red flags.
Soso is working down in the laundry with the rest of the meth-head gang, and apparently her personal hygiene is even worse than her self-awareness. “You smell like a f--king turtle tank!” a pissed-off Pennsatucky eventually screams at her, after the rest of the meth-heads dance around the subject. Her stench gets so bad the guards eventually force her to shower; she falls apart in tears as they force her to strip down. There’s some type of terrible backstory here, one that I’d expect to be addressed in her flashback episode (whenever that comes up).
Caputo, the gardening fanatic, is all over Red’s greenhouse, coming perilously close to discovering her secret—first as a happy green-thumber, and later, as a raging prison employee smashing flower pots to search for contraband. The increased pressure on him from Figueroa—and lack of any clue as to where the contraband is coming in from—finally causes a victim. Fischer takes the exact wrong moment to complain about the new punishment-happy rules that the guards are under, and Caputo fires her. What a turnaround from those puppy-dog eyes he once had.
She’s devastated, but a random chapel encounter with Nicky perks her up. “Getting canned from this soul-sucking pit is the best thing that ever happened to you,” Nichols, wise beyond her years, tells Fischer. Meanwhile, Luschek can only respond with a gorgeously apathetic “lame.” God bless you, Fischer. May you escape Litchfield for a nice job and a nice man somewhere else. Fischer’s replacement? Well, think of the exact opposite in personality. Yep. It’s Pornstache (or Mendez, in reality), back off suspension and with the hint of a mullet. He and Frank the Tank would really get along. Oh no. Things are about to a lot more a--holey in Litchfield.
The power struggle between Vee and Red is inching closer to a showdown. They’re both making their moves, with Vee continuing her cigarette distribution throughout the prison and Red cozying up to Mendoza. Piper’s newspaper is slowly getting off the ground, but she gets some much better news. Thanks to Healy’s string-pulling, she’s getting out on furlough to see her dying grandmother. What should be good news for Piper, though, turns her into the target of jealous rage for the rest of the prisoners—earning her plenty of evil glances and eventually an “Animal House”-style head full of food from Crazy Eyes. It gets so bad that she even goes back to Healy to try to cancel her furlough; Healy, rightfully, tells her to appreciate the chance to say goodbye. Sadly, it’s too late. When Piper finally reaches her parents to inform them about her furlough, her mom lets her know that her grandmother had passed away.
What a hammer blow to close the episode, and it sets up the key story for the #9. “40 Oz. to Furlough” (as a big Sublime fan back in middle school, I appreciate this title) finds Piper using that furlough to attend to her grandmother’s services, and contrasts that tidy suburban life she once had with the new prison one she is rapidly growing into. She’s picked up for furlough by her goofy, green-living brother Cal and is immediately thrust into an awkward encounter with Larry, who hurriedly explains away Polly’s absence. That affair must have continued, right? Piper wants to go out and take advantage of her weekend. “Do not ruin this for me by being a p---y!” she yells at Larry when he hesitates; Cal reminds her that she has something more important to do.
The emotions flow like the booze at her grandmother’s wake. There’s a darkly hilarious scene of Piper answering questions about her incarceration at the receiving line. She confronts her still in-denial father about his refusal to come see her in jail, and then relishes in the comforts of normal existence—crisp vegetables, white wine. The wake also provides an opportunity to drive a stake into the Larry—Piper relationship once and for all, as he stops a drunken bathroom hookup to admit that he’d slept with someone else. Biggs has actually been very good this season, and if this tearful goodbye in the bathroom is the last we’ll see of him, I’ll actually kind of miss his presence. I doubt that the Larry—Polly thing is going to completely disappear, though.
At the funeral, Piper’s wacky brother shows that he’s not the only Chapman to rebel against their uptight existence, turning the funeral into a full-on party after he calls up his equally-wacky girlfriend to get married, with his grandmother’s coffin at his elbow. It’s strange and resourceful and undoubtedly touching. With the spectacle of her brother and his new bride’s first dance at the funeral / wedding, it takes a conversation with another one of the nondescript older couples at Piper’s table for her to realize just how out-of-sorts she is in this life—and probably always was. She heads out from the funeral, visiting the now-closed restaurant of Red’s sons (something to remember for the future) and heading out to one of those liquor-stocked NYC convenience stores I’m always so jealous of when I visit. The second to last scene of the episode finds her eschewing a bottle of white wine in the store for a forty of Colt .45, sitting and drinking with New York City behind her. It’s a striking image. Her old life really and truly is gone, and she seems content—even comfortable—in her new one. Losing everything she thought was important seems to be liberating her.
The relationship between Vee and Red, the two old veterans now on a collision course for control of the prison, has always been cloaked in mystery. This episode’s flashback clears up a lot of the backstory. The two were prisoners together many moons ago, and Vee took the fresh-fish Red underneath her wing, encouraging her to use her smuggling connections on the outside before violently turning on her and stealing the trade. Vee’s always been ruthless and cunning, and her current plans for the prison are getting all the more diabolical; there are hints that she’s starting to import something much, much stronger than cigarettes into the prison. She’d fit so well into the world of “The Wire,” wouldn’t she?
Red’s no wilting flower in the greenhouse, though. She employs the Golden Girls to great effect. Like Bill Belichick, she knows just how to use the veterans, sending them to intimidate the Latinas into getting the rest of the kitchen contraband. It’s all part of a plan to get her old gang back together, the same one that was fractured after the kitchen fire. A happy family dinner in the greenhouse seems to patch things up between Red and her former friends, but it also reveals the secret tunnel to Big Boo—who immediately swaps the information on to Vee for a cut of her profits. I dread to see the blood that’s going to come out of this confrontation.
Healy’s gone “Sopranos,” getting himself a shrink (played by Dierdre Lovejoy, the fine actress who played Rhonda Pearlman on “The Wire”), ostensibly to deal with his anger issues. He drops the c-word about thirty seconds into their first session, so it’ll be quite a long road. It seems to have one positive benefit, as he schedules some random talk sessions with the violent Pennsatucky—a prisoner who he does have a bit of a connection with—on a weekly basis.
We get a look inside the prison’s AA meetings, helmed by Rosa and featuring a heartfelt (and intriguing) talk from ex-junkie Nichols on her addiction and the history of heroin. A brief aside about how great Natasha Lyonne is—she’s been extraordinary, Emmy-worthy, even, over the last two seasons. All this after it really looked like she could have gone the Amy Winehouse route. She always was a super-talented actress (watch “Slums of Beverly Hills” for proof), and it’s nice to see her blossom, finally. It comes down to art-imitating-life in the show, too, as she’s slipped a packet of heroin from Taystee—now completely in Vee’s camp.
Pornstache blows his way back into the prison like a hurricane, to the clash of guitars on the soundtrack and rain of punishment tickets. He’s been ordered to stay away from Daya, but his presence—obviously—makes Bennett angsty. After Caputo suggests that Pornstache might provide the drill instructor-like presence that could whip the prison into shape, Bennett starts to adopt some of his mustachioed comrade’s worst habits. A discarded cigarette in the hallway leads to a massive tantrum from Bennett, one so brutal that Pornstache, of all people, has to stop him. After being chewed out by Caputo, he finally gives up the fact that Daya is pregnant—but blames it on Mendez. How long can this deception last?
Other thoughts, as I still chuckle over Soso’s “d-list Burt Reynolds” burn:
- That song from Episode Nine is Tom Waits’s (as if there was any doubt) “Come on Up the House.”
- Loved the mention of the “Ferris Bueller Day Off” theory from Soso. I believe it!
- Matt McGorry (Bennett) is—like me—an Emerson alum, it turns out, and an old classmate of several of my friends who attended it for undergrad. Small world.
- The actress who plays Morello, Yael Stone, is actually Australian. Mind is blown.
- Great “Love is” reference from Figueroa. My roommate from college used to cut out those stupid cartoons every morning and paste them on my computer. They really are disturbing.
- “The thing about reality is that it’s still there waiting for you the next morning.” One of the best lines about addiction and recovery I’ve ever heard. Good job, OITNB writers.
- Vee’s reading “The Fault in Our Stars,” just like half of America, it seems. Is that going to be one of the movies like “A Walk to Remember,” which I’ll watch on TNT for some reason and suddenly the room will get all sorts of dusty?Michael Nadeau is a freelance writer living in Somerville. He can be reached at Mnadeau989@gmail.com or@ElDu on Twitter.