“Little Mustachioed S–t’’
Everyone out there has witnessed (or been in) a relationship like the Piper-Alex one – inherently destructive to one or more parties in it, but prolonged through sheer, unbridled and undefined passion and attraction. It’s disastrous, but it’s compelling. Like watching an airplane crash into a nuclear power plant, you can’t look away, but the fallout leaves everything a tremendous mess.
This incendiary infatuation between the two has been the cause of Piper’s imprisonment and the super-sized, tacked-on disaster at the courthouse in the beginning of season two. It’s bad news all around, and episode ten, “Little Mustachioed S–t’’, flashes back to the embryo of their relationship – the first sexual encounter between Alex and the sapphically-inexperienced Piper, a hookup that concludes with Alex’s then-girlfriend arriving home and kicking the tar out of the new woman. Alex has been a charlatan since their first meeting. Piper’s Jim Jones-level hooked on her, though, and even Piper’s angry reaction to being The Other Woman doesn’t stop them. Another random encounter between the two leads to a bathroom tryst and a “Billy Madison’’-style flaming bag of poo left on Piper’s doorstep from the embittered girlfriend. “Okay, a simple wrong would’ve done just fine…’’
In present-day Litchfield, Piper returns from her Colt .45-sponsored furlough to the anal exams of Litchfield. Her and Red seem to be best buddies now – though her lies about the state of Red’s progeny-run restaurant in New York will probably come back to bite her. She also gets some new information on the prison’s financial difficulties from the reporter investigating Litchfield – all the contracting money seems to have been pushed straight into the Figueroa-for-State-Senate campaign – and the poking around finally attracts the attention of Natalie’s hair. The big revelation in the episode, though, comes when Polly finally comes to visit Piper; all it takes is about thirty seconds of Polly’s hemming, hawing and “ums’’ for Piper to sniff out the affair. That leads to Piper beating up the walls of her cell like Jake LaMotta, opening up one of Alex’s letters and arranging for a flaming bag of crap to be left on Polly’s doorstep. “I guess I deserve that,’’ Polly sighs. I guess we can consider that friendship torpedoed.
Vee’s slow and steady takeover of the prison’s smuggling system has earned them some power, but few friends. The black gang gets cut-in-line privileges and extra food during meal-time; meanwhile, Crazy Eyes has morphed from Vee’s Tom Hagen to her Luca Brasi, dunking Rosa’s food in water when the cancer-stricken woman won’t get up from her table. Crazy Eyes’s transformation into this monster under Vee’s power has been sad; Poussey’s fall has been tragic. Her refusal to play ball with Vee and the rest of the gang leaves her friendless and depressed, pounding her self-made prison hooch in a sullen library corner like a just-dumped med student. She even takes a swing at Vee in the prison bathroom, in her intoxicated state; that brings about a brutal beating from Crazy Eyes, leaving Poussey broken and weeping on the floor. The black gang might have the power now, but for how much long? Vee’s strong-arm tactics are bound to alienate Black Cindy and / or Taystee at some point. Vee is also making a play for Red’s tunnel source, earning another juicy showdown between the two.
The prison guards have a blitzkrieg-like inspection of the prison, finally discovering the cigarettes in the tampon boxes – a revelation that sends Watson back to SHU. This inspection gives the demented Pornstache an opportunity to greet Daya, who’s having conflicting thoughts about the plan to turn Mendez in and blame him for her pregnancy. That raid also shows that Nicky did keep that packet of smack that the black contingent is trying to distribute. She comes close to taking it – you have to wonder how much from Natasha Lyonne’s own life she took for this scene – before deciding it to hand it over to Red.
Morello has a surprise encounter, as the guy she furtively stalked – and whose house she broke into – comes to visit her in prison, ranting about her break-in so loudly that he has to be escorted it. The scene leaves Morello weeping and, later, as Nicky comforts her, allows for some self-realization to creep in. A turning point for the once-delusional Morello? Despite her inherent craziness, it’s always been easy to root for her, a testament to Yael Stone’s remarkable skill as an actress. Maybe she’ll be the next one released.
Healy’s shrink sessions aren’t going so well, and the mental-health support group he starts alongside Pennsatuckey also fails to spark much interest among the prisoners. Also failing? Soso’s hunger strike. The girl’s got guts, if not much social sense. At least she gets Yoga Jones to join in with her. Also, Sophia’s son finally comes to visit her; Laverne Cox hasn’t been around much this season, so every scene she’s in is a real bonus.
Elsewhere in the prison, Caputo takes some delight in informing Figueroa of Mendez’s complicity, asking, simply, for permission to fire the pompous guard. Mendez is lead away screaming, dispensing parenting advice as he’s brought to jail. The last we’ll see of him, right? Though, those glances exchanged between Bennett and Daya certainly point towards her having plenty of second thoughts about condemning the weasely little guard to jail. The truth about the real father must come out sometime soon, right?
“Take a Break From Your Values’’
A storm is on its way in Episode 11, “Take a Break From Your Values’’ – metaphorically and literally, as an ominous news report warns of a hurricane barreling its way towards Litchfield. Inside, the sense of doom is rising as the millibars are dropping, as Vee’s stranglehold on the prison’s control starts to get much darker. The freeze-out of Poussey is starting to ripple out – she’s starting to get that caged-animal, anything-goes look in her eyes after the loss of her friends, and Taystee is starting to waver on Vee’s actions. Crazy Eyes remains loyal, even joining Healy’s support group to keep an eye on Poussey’s chats, but the rest of Vee’s gang looks shaky, to say the least.
Red’s “Golden Girls’’ gang is ready for a rumble, angry over the takeover of the smuggling operation. It’s important to remember just how terrifying this crew is – they’re the lifers who have been in there for assaults, robberies, etc. They’re basically the “Wild Geese’’ of the prison, a whole cast of terrifying veterans. Without Red’s knowledge, they decide to shank Vee – an attack that backfires on them in the worst way, when their aging assassin stabs the wrong black inmate. I shudder at what Vee’s violent response might take the form of.
This week’s flashback looks at the history of Sister Ingalls, presented here as a radical combination of Abbie Hoffman and Maria Von Trapp, a nun swept up in the flower-power, no-nukes world from the 1960s. Instead of singing, protesting becomes her niche in the world, annoying her abbey with her actions – and her marketing efforts (her “Nun Shall Pass’’ book was a hilarious touch). It’s not a surprise that she’s finally kicked out of the church after an arrest.
Soso’s hunger strike, meant to protest the prison conditions, seems to reinvigorate her, prompting a blow-up at Caputo about the “compassionate release’’ disaster and sending her activist-marketing brain into overdrive. The storm drowns out any press coverage, though, and eventually, Ingalls is the only one left – the rest succumbing to health reasons or tempted by the guards’ offer of Little Caesar’s pizza. They couldn’t have held out for something local and / or better? Poor choices. Any attention to the hunger strike the press might have had is drowned out by the storm, and poor Sister Ingalls is left weakened and sickly, the only one left. Caputo has her put into the infirmary with a feeding tube, to her protests; it’s a freakish, “Requiem for a Dream’’-way to end the episode. Is her courage going to gain her any attention at all?
Figueroa, ever the publicity hound, looks to exploit the Mendez story for her own husband’s publicity campaign – she’s gotten exponentially ruthless each season. She even makes mention of the prison’s actual warden, who we haven’t seen yet. We must get a glimpse of him sometime, right? I bet him and the mayor from “Parks and Recreation’’ pal around. Figueroa shuts down the paper and takes away the art supplies like a scorned kindergarten teacher, but at least it looks like the showers are starting to get fixed.
In the extended Chapman universe, Piper’s newspaper efforts (which includes a hilarious picture of guard O’Neill as a Civil War reenactor) draw the vengeful eyes of Figueroa, angered at the publication of Soso’s hunger strike demands – an insert that Healy whiffed on. She also finds time for the first telephone conversation with Alex, marooned in a Henry Hill-like existence in Queens. It’s not exactly the most emotional conversation, particularly when it’s found out that the drug lord, Kubra, has been released, and must be targeting her. It’s been impossible to avoid the news that Prepon will be back for season three; just spitballing, but it seems like this must be the path to get her back to Litchfield. Maybe she knowingly violates parole for protection? If she heads back to Litchfield, though, she might not see Piper at all. Figueroa has struck, transferring Piper to a facility in Virginia – ostensibly for overcrowding reasons, but in reality, in retribution for the newspaper and the interaction with the reporter.
Things are happier, if a bit painful, in Larry’s world. Him and Polly finally have a sitdown to admit things to the boorish Pete, who – in keeping with character – initially think it’s a proposition for a threesome. He socks Larry once the realization sets in, leaving him with a pretty good shiner but a nice reset on his life. Now, it appears he’s got a girl and a kid all of a sudden. They’re an adorable couple. Let’s hope the show keeps up with them, even if it means running parallel to the main, prison plot. I could use a bit of mild, hey-who-left-the-door-open domestic comedy-drama in the show.
“It Was the Change’’
That metaphorical and literal storm hits in the penultimate episode of the season, “It Was the Change.’’ Things fall apart left and right in this one, starting with the prison itself – under the threat of a flood, thanks to the hurricane barreling down on them. The aftermath of the botched assassination attempt has fallen on Red and her gang; any advantage they could have ever had is gone. “You want to assassinate someone? Vision is a basic requirement,’’ Red snarls, on point. They attempt – furtively – to spin the assassination attempt as a warning to Vee, to no avail. She goes ahead and takes over their tunnel.
In a year of gripping new television characters, Lorraine Toussaint’s Vee Parker tops the list (right up there with Oberyn Martell). She’s been positively diabolical all season, and this episode flashes back to prove to us that this is nothing new. We rejoin her gang, along with a younger Taystee, as the kingpin Vee gets her first dose of onrushing mortality, personally and professionally. She’s astonished at the onset of menopause, and then surprised by one of her proteges / foster sons, RJ, who’s starting his own side business. As we’ve seen throughout her year in the prison, power is Vee’s drug – and she’ll do just about anything to hold on to it. She sleeps with RJ (some very disturbing Oedipal themes here), and then arranges for one of her police informants to murder him.
Poussey’s been the only one of the black contingent to realize exactly what Vee was, but Vee’s strategic networking has left her a drunken wreck (I have to wonder just what prison hooch tastes like). In an inebriated rage, Poussey destroys the hidden tobacco stash; Vee’s anger at the destruction falls on Taystee, and she cuts her out of the group, barely batting an eye at the move. It’s a heartless move by Vee, and it’s hard to see how it could be the right one – she’s just plain running out of manpower now.
The oncoming storm sends all the prisoners scurrying into the cafeteria to avoid the threat of flood, leading to a tide of fascinating events – especially when the lights go out, thanks to some empty-generator incompetence from Figueroa’s leadership. Soso leads a sing-along to a bunch of 1990s songs (Lisa Loeb and Meredith Brooks, taking me right back to middle school), and Pennsatucky gets more doses of Healy’s misogyny, hearing all about a Glenn Beck-level paranoid feminist / lesbian plot to strip men of their place in society. Big Boo, of course, takes delight in the b.s. when Pennsatucky comes to ask her about the feminist conspiracy, setting up some epic pranks. The Daya and Bennett relationship de-thaws when they start bantering about baby names, but goes right back into the red when a storm-prompted freak-out by Daya ends up with her doing jumping jacks under the eye of Bennet’s unsympathetic fellow guard. In the midst of the rain and the storm, Red makes a desperate move, attempting to strangle Vee to death with a length of plastic wrap. She’s not exactly Lorne Malvo. Her murder ambitions end with the two veterans lying exhausted on the ground, Vee putting on that same sympathetic mood that lead to Mendoza’s strategic screw-up earlier in the year. Red falls for it too. This can’t end well.
Figueroa’s not there in the middle of the storm, of course – she’s off at a swanky fundraiser (apparently at a place somewhere in the state that’s not affected by the weather) with the prison accountant in tow, having deflected his inquiries into the state’s finances by using his Giants fandom to bribe him with an invitation to the party. Apparently, Tiki Barber is a big supporter of the Figueroa for State Senate campaign. Clearly, there are few football fans among the writing staff – most Giants fans are more likely to throw a shrimp cocktail at Tiki than to fawn over him at a party. But I digress from football and that horrible, horrible team that caused me so much pain in 2007 and 2011. Seriously, how did Manning make that pass to Manningham? God … anyways, the party’s ruined when Figueroa catches her politician husband in a sweaty lip-lock with that same handsome male aide from before. Tough year for fictional upstate New York politicians. First, Betty Draper’s husband basically disappears from “Mad Men,’’ and now Jason Figueroa is caught pulling a Jim McGreevey. Rough times in the Empire State.
Chapman is still dealing with her transfer, sitting around pondering her future after Litchfield – as established in the 40 oz. episode, this sure seems like a more comfortable home than any other one she’s ever had. The condition of the prison – and the condition of Diaz, the young-mother prisoner who will also be transferred, away from her family, sparks her to make a covert attempt to investigate Figueroa’s files. She sneaks in and almost gets away with it, before the lights go on and she’s discovered by Caputo. They have to form a Dwight Schrute-type alliance, don’t they? Caputo hates Figueroa even more than Chapman does.
There’s no way that Vee was going to let that assassination attempt go, of course, so it’s not really that much of a surprise when she shows up in the greenhouse the day after the storm to get the jump on Red. She delivers another beatdown, leaving Red’s physical fate in doubt as the episode ends. So, we’ve got the fallout of another attack and a completely fractured prison as we head into the finale, with Figueroa’s malfeasance on the verge of being exposed. Now, that’s how you set up the end of a season.
“We Have Manners, We’re Polite’’
Season two’s finale, “We Have Manners, We’re Polite,’’ is the length of a feature film and more accomplished than most, a fitting coda to a triumphant sophomore season. Red, as it turns out, has been kicked 3/4th of the way to death by Vee for the second time in her life – she’s alive, but bedridden in the infirmary. She’s next to Sister Ingalls, still on her hunger strike and still with the feeding tube in her arm, giving plenty of opportunity for the two to discuss life. There’s even a particularly funny discussion on their sexual habits, including an answer to a question I’d always wondered about nuns. I’ll let you all just watch it.
The beating has garnered the attention by two officials, who sit down for a series of interviews with the prisoners – all of them blaming either Vee or Crazy Eyes for the assault, as a bed-stricken Red refuses to name her attacker. Vee’s been a master manipulator all season, knowing just what buttons to push with the different prisoners; here, she plays into Crazy Eyes’s love for her, tricking her into thinking that she was the one that had smashed up Red, an assertion helped out by Crazy Eyes’s off-the-walls interrogation by the two members of the prison brash. The Littlefinger of the prison strikes again.
Chapman is locked up in isolation, punishment for her break-in into the warden’s offices. She’s not in there long, as she quickly convinces Caputo of the importance of the documents she had taken, bartering for the cancellation of her transfer. More evidence that Litchfield is as comfortable a home as she’s ever had. Chapman’s treasure finally gives Caputo the ammunition needed to take down Figueroa, who’s already a mess thanks to her husband’s indiscretion. There’s a ton of scumbag in Caputo, too, and he gratefully accepts Figueroa’s desperate offer of oral favors in return for his silence – only to admit that he’d already given the evidence to the warden. “Good luck with your noble intentions,’’ Figueroa hisses at him as he leaves. “This place will beat them out of you, quick.’’
Caputo’s the new guy in charge at the prison, and he quickly makes efforts to be the complete opposite of his predecessor. He ends Sister Ingalls’ hunger strike – and the presence of the supportive nuns outside the prison gates – with promises of reform and a bran muffin and cancels all of the transfers, allowing for some smiles to come to Diaz’s face. Caputo’s also giddy enough with his new power to approach Bennett about a more important gig in Litchfield; the prospect of promotion brings the Daya / Bennett relationship to a head, and the guard finally decides to tell the truth about the baby’s parentage. Caputo shuts the truth down, but that budding prison-management friendship looks to be over before it even really started. That truth (and a likely Pornstache return) is something to look forward too in season three.
Speaking of friendships being demolished, Healy’s “safe place’’ support group implodes, as does his relationship with Pennsatucky. On the other end of the spectrum, Poussey and Taystee – the latter, now out of Vee’s gang – have a tearful reconciliation. They’re a powerful little bloc against Vee’s influence, which is clearly starting to wane in the prison; Nicky and Morello, angry over Red’s assault, confront Vee in the cafeteria. Even Black Cindy and Watson have their doubts, and the Crazy Eyes ploy pushes them over the edge and out of her gang.
Healy’s been one of the more despicable characters this season, revealing himself as a violent, profane homophobe and misogynist, but the last episode offers him a bit of redemption. Crazy Eyes’s tics and neuroses start to break down when he finally talks to her about the assault, convincing him of her innocence and Vee’s guilt. He scrambles to fake work papers with Luschek, getting Crazy Eyes off the hook.
Piper has two very different visits in prison. One is from a terrified Alex, ready to skip town over Kubra’s looming presence; the other, from Larry and Polly, wanting her blessing over their budding relationship. She reacts predictably enough, but eventually accepts their relationship – for a price. The two tell Alex’s parole officer she’s skipping out on her bail, and the P.O. visits just in time to catch an armed and paranoid Alex, presumably with enough stuff on her to send her right back to jail and right back to Piper. A fascinating reversal on their earlier circumstances. We already know that Laura Prepon is coming back for the entirety of the third season, so this new / old Alex-Piper relationship is presumably going to be the big focus in June 2014. Man, that seems like such a long time away…
With all the prison turned against Vee, it doesn’t take too long before she falls. Nicky pilfers the rest of Vee’s stash, and the rest of her gang confronts and turns against her. She’s as defiant as Denzel at the end of “Training Day,’’ not even giving an inch in the face of her former compatriots’ anger. There’s nothing left for her at Litchfield, though – not with all of her power stripped away. She heads out of the prison through Red’s tunnel.
Remember, from a few episodes ago, when the cancer-stricken Rosa had her seat taken away and food ruined by the gang and Vee, then at height of her prison-spanning power? Boy, does that come back to bite her. Earlier, Rosa found out she only has a few weeks left, with the chemotherapy failing her – so when Morello gives her the opportunity to go for a joyride in the prison van and go out on her terms, she takes it. It’s nice to see her speeding down the New York roads, happy for one last time in her life. What’s nicer is what she does with that freedom, particularly when she sees a hitchhiking Vee standing on the side of the road. With just a little turn of the wheel, Rosa puts a fantastically violent end to Vee’s villainous reign, smashing her with the van and sending her cartwheeling to her death. Good riddance. That’ll show her to mess with lunchtime. Rosa keeps driving, to the sound of “Don’t Fear the Reaper’’ on the radio. You have to wonder where that influence comes from – “Saturday Night Live’’ or “The Stand?’’
Either way, it was a particularly satisfying ending to the second season of “Orange is the New Black.’’ Did it take the leap into true greatness? I sure think so. It’s time to start mentioning this right up there with “Mad Men’’ and “House of Cards’’ and “Game of Thrones’’ and all the other great drama shows that television has turned out recently. This second season was a flawless, fascinating masterpiece of television drama, and the wait for next year’s release is going to be particularly excruciating. Hopefully, I’ll be back with more recaps for you when it rolls around!
Some final thoughts, as I realize it’s only 11 months until June 2014, a mere drop in the ocean of time, when you think about it:
– Just a tremendous Laura Prepon impression from Nicky. Natasha Lyonne to host SNL, please.
– Oh, some Emmy predictions. It’s a lock for a best drama nomination, and I’d expect a best actress nom for Schilling and supporting nods for Lyonne and Toussaint. I doubt it will win Best Drama (I’ll bet that goes to “Breaking Bad’’), but Schilling and Lyonne will have real shots.
– From a friend: “I just realized that Laura Prepon has been in two shows with a character named Red.’’ Lightbulb. I’d love to see a showdown between Red Foreman from “That 70’s Show’’ and OITNB’s Red. Copious amounts of dumbassery tossed around.
– Fun fact – Pornstache is played by Paolo Schreiber, who is Liev Schreiber’s half brother. You can kind of see the resemblance, can’t you?
– “Menses madness.’’ I’d never heard of that term, and I’ve lived with female roommates for the last four years. Trendsetter!
– “Ass clowns’’ from Nicky – nice reference to “Office Space.’’
– Here’s the season three evidence from Laura Prepon.
– One final BuzzFeed link all about the show this season. It’s been fun, everyone! Look out for some more recaps for me this summer – “Extant’’ is up next, I believe, and hopefully, there will be others.