Orange is the New Black 2×02 & 2×03: Shall we go to jail? | Gotta Watch It!

Orange is the New Black 2×02 & 2×03: Shall we go to jail?

pipe-pennsatucky

Covering the second and third episodes of the second season, we finally get back to the girls at Litchfield Federal Penitentiary after our brief sojourn to Chicago, and we have a lot of catching up to do.  How is Red dealing with the fallout from alienating her prison family?  Who is this complicating new person in Taystee’s life?  What political shenanigans is Warden Figueroa possibly up to?  Answer all of these questions and more, as we continue to explore the lives and loves of the women in minimum security.

2×02, “Looks Blue, Tastes Red”: Our first Piper-less episode of the season gets us back to the prison as life goes on without her much as it did with her present.  Our central plot here finds the women in a competition to obtain a job interview with a representative from Phillip Morris, while Pennsyltucky cuts a deal with Healy promising to ignore his turning a blind eye to her beat-down in exchange for a new set of chompers to replace the ones that Piper scattered about the rec yard.  Red is a disheveled mess, wallowing in her pariah status until the elderly inmates shout “One of us!  One of us!” and bring her into their fold, but I smell something crafty cooking up, as Red has never been one to give up scheming.  The Latinas still dominate the kitchen, and Daya is having some pregnancy-related bowel trouble, so her mom and Gloria fight over who makes the best homebrew laxative.  Taystee wins the job interview competition, but slimy ol’ Figueroa shuts her down when she asks if there’s anything to come of this, because slimy lady is slimy.  And then Vee shows up, and stuff gets real.  Oh, and we catch up with Larry, who is helping out frazzled Polly with her baby while her husband is being a stupid hipster in Alaska.

2×03, “Hugs Can Be Deceiving”: Piper’s back in the Litch, accompanied by annoying hippie yap-dog, Brook Soso, a new inmate really not cut out for prison, though I have trouble thinking of something she would be suited for.  Vee starts working angles to quickly gain the trust (and leadership) of the Black women’s coalition, while we learn that she’s old friends with Red from a previous stint in Litchfield.  NPR is putting together an exposé on administrative malfeasance in the prison industry, and Larry is too eager to lend his assistance to their cause.  Pennsyltucky comes back from the hospital to find her clique fractured and rejecting her, and we find out that Suzanne is the reason that Piper didn’t end up killing ‘Tucky in that fight, but for a really unsettling reason.

source: Netflix

source: Netflix

One of the great things about this show is that almost every character, good, bad, or otherwise, is exceedingly interesting and complex, and the show has a yen to explore all of them in turn.  The fact that Piper’s absence in the second episode doesn’t have any impact on the narrative momentum speaks volumes to how well this show works as an ensemble; Chapman has always been our window into this world, but we’ve seen through that window long enough to not require her constant presence, and that bodes well for both the program’s adaptability and potential longevity.  If Piper’s story was suddenly resolved by season’s end, I would still want to stick around to see what happens to characters like Red, Suzanne, Pousey, Nicky, and Lorna.  In that same spirit, I found Taystee’s flashback equal parts intriguing and saddening, as I’ve always felt that the girls on the show not named Piper Chapman have much more relatable histories in terms of their commonality to the prison dynamic.  Taystee (nee Tasha Jefferson) is shaped so much by her past as a foster child, bouncing around house to house without ever finding a true family dynamic, that she doesn’t just get taken in by the manipulative and opportunistic drug-dealer, Vee, she begs and pleads to be folded into her inner circle and find some semblance of validation and acceptance.  Vee provides all this, of course, but at cost that we quickly see burden young Taystee down into a codependent dynamic where her new family is both the cause of her heartache and also her only safe refuge.  Now that Vee is back in her life, I expect this manipulation and guilting to only worsen and cause some serious cracks, and I only hope that Taystee can come out on the other side still whole.

source: Netflix

source: Netflix

While these first few episodes are largely focused on power vacuums stemming from Red’s deposing from the kitchen/smuggling ring, Pennsyltucky being kicked out of the laundry circle, and Vee’s insinuation into a leadership role, I feel like there’s a meta-arch forming for the season with regard to the systematic corruption within the prison industrial complex.  Warden Figueroa is openly contemptuous of the plight of her charges, which has the unfortunate effect of putting nauseating characters like Healy and Caputo in a more redemptive and positive light, their incompetence and occasional vile debasement shining brighter than the outright criminal neglect being offered by their superior; the difference being that regardless of anything else, Healy and Caputo still see the inmates as people, while Figueroa sees them as little more than troublesome political tools to wield to her personal advantage.  It all works to remind the audience that at some level in the hierarchy, the disempowered will always become bargaining chips and their lives are dictated by forces outside of control; when those forces take the shape of malignant slimebuckets like Figueroa, the likelihood of abuse and further disenfranchisement approaches absolute.  This show never fails to fascinate and entertain me, but then I’ll suddenly remember all the existing inequity that it comments on, and then I get kind of angry.  Which I think is what it’s trying to do, so kudos, I reckon.

Atomika D.

is a writer and critic of TV and film since 2006, an alumnus of NYFA’s school of celluloid direction and production, and she once ate seven burritos on a dare. It was not pleasant. Read all about it on Tumblr.

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