Remember when this show made a real effort to lighten up the depressing matter of being prison? Sure, at first things were downright scary with the shower fungus, fashion-backward jumpsuits, and the dirty looks, but for the most part, Orange Is the New Black made a strong attempt to sell a kinder, gentler prison experience than what we knew from watching Oz and Half Baked (there's no Squirrel Master to protect Piper!). Piper found friends in unexpected places, the racial barriers that were present in the early episodes have dissolved, and dance parties have vastly outnumbered riots as of late.
But the show's mid-season portrayal of prison as more of a strict sleepaway camp for adults has been thrown out the window, particularly in these last four episodes, which have gotten R-E-A-L. And it's no coincidence that they're probably the four best episodes of OITNB we've seen so far. If the first half of Season 1 was designed to make us like these women by showing them in a positive light, the second half is designed to make us care for them by putting them in danger.
And does it get more dangerous than locking an abandoned drug addict in a utility closet with a bag full of pills? With such a big cast of expendable players (but players who could deliver an emotional sock to the jaw), and with all that can go wrong in a prison setting, it would've been irresponsible of us to think that no one would die in Season 1, and the early exit went to Trish, the cornrowed druggie whose relapse had gotten her her cast out of Red's white circle. I can't say I'm surprised, as that's the direction the show has been pushing her in (seeing Red reject Trish was just awful, and Trish always had a cloud of tragedy floating over her head), but the writers really stomp on our toes by making Trish the focus of flashbacks right before killing her off.
In an earlier review, I muttered something about how most of the flashbacks we'd seen on Orange Is the New Black had painted their subjects in a positive light, and I was hoping future flashbacks would show different, harder side of some of the inmates we've come to know. After all, not everyone can end up in jail because they're good people who made mistakes; these ladies be criminalz, not just wrong-place-wrong-timers. But with that said, Trish's couldn't have been more appropriately touching. Obviously we feel bad because she died and we wanted to see her go out on a positive note, but we also feel bad because we barely knew poor Trish and now we understand why Nicky was so eager to defend her. Trish was a good person, but she also happened to be a lost person who couldn't find her way back. And of all the stories we've seen so far, some of which have reached into Lifetime Movie of the Week territory (Claudette killing a man for revenge, for example), Trish's was the most grounded and real. There was no dramatic stretch; her story is playing out with different girls right now on thousands of street corners around the country. Heck, you might even know a Trish in real life.
The powerful thing about Trish's story is that before "Bora Bora Bora" I hadn't really felt much of an attachment to her. But now? I miss her so much that I get choked up just thinking about her. Is that healthy? Probably not, but it's more proof that Orange Is the New Black is telling the best character stories on television right now and making us feel things. And that's why we watch television in the first place, right?
Speaking of feelings, the emotional arc of Piper's revenge on Pennsatucky was Carrie-Matheson-level bipolar. I loved how several women got in on bringing her down—Boo, Watson, Alex, and Piper all played a role in inflating her ego and her false sense of potency, to the point where she floated so far off the planet that there was nowhere to go but down. And the payback was so damn perfect and delicious as everyone but Pennsatucky's flock laughed behind her back as she bared her meth teeth to summon the Lord's power to heal ailments that never existed.
But once again Orange Is the New Black swept our legs out from underneath us, and "down" ended up being a lot lower—like, dig a hole to China lower—than we, not to mention Piper, thought it could go. Turns out there's a worse place than the SHU, and it's the psych ward, which is maybe half-a-degree nicer than American Horror Story's Briarcliff Asylum. Even
Crazy Eyes Suzanne, who's done her share of time down there, wouldn't wish it on her worst enemy. And all of a sudden, there we were, feeling conflicted over seeing Pennsatucky locked in a cage or strapped to a table getting shot up with tranqs until we couldn't bear it anymore.
Piper couldn't handle it either, and took responsibility for setting Pennsatucky up (Piper got off easy, too: a couple weeks of nighttime janitorial duty). It wasn't clear to me whether that information made its way back to Pennsatucky, but this feud isn't over because A) Taryn Manning has been upped to series regular for Season 2, and B) Pennsatucky is like a rabid wolverine on crack and Hulk juice. Also, are we placing bets on whether Piper end up in the psych ward at some point?
And speaking of bets, it was a total lock that Piper would fall back in love with Alex—or, more accurately, that she'd admit to herself that she never fell out of it. "It's weird how normal this feels. I feel like I'm 23 and no time has passed," she said early in "Bora Bora Bora" while publicly canoodling with Alex. Prison is a perfect petri dish for growing regression, and Piper slipped back into her old feelings like they was some county-issued browns while Larry ignored her phone calls after hearing that Piper missed his Thanksgiving visit because she was being punished for lesbian activity. (Related: Woah. Healy. What's going on with him?)
What made this storyline work so well was OITNB's brilliant use and timing of flashbacks to check in on Piper's relationships with both Larry and Alex. We saw how each one grew and how they were both very real, even though Alex's flashback was dominated by tragedy and a fight and Larry's was focused on awkward introductions and nurturing. Alex and Piper's relationship was and is one of those fiery, tumultuous affairs where the hots are surface-of-the-sun blazing and the colds are the-other-side-of-Pluto frigid. Larry and Piper's relationship, however, offers a a pajama-pants-and-Chinese-food type of comfort. And now we're in the middle with Piper, wondering which way to go.
In trying to have both Alex and Larry, surprise! Piper may have blown up both relationships. The ending of "Tall Men With Feelings," all 11 or 12 minutes of it, was blistering, as Larry's radio appearance encapsulated everything this show is about. In fact, it's my favorite sequence of the series so far. Hearing an outsider's perspective provided a great example of how people can become so disconnected from each other (Larry called Piper's inmate friends "criminals," which they are, but they've outgrown that label in our minds). It also illustrated how inmates can lose touch with the outside world, yet also find their way through painful times. And the devastation caused by Larry's words—Claudette and Crazy Eyes did not hear good news—to so much of what Piper had built up was a great example of the dangers of poor communication. Most of what Larry had said did happen, at least in Piper's eyes, but the information was outdated and had been reduced to toxic sludge. Toxic sludge that contaminated Piper's environment.
But all the carnage fell right on Piper's head. Larry said, "Suppose, theoretically that someone she loved, someone she had history with, someone who
could understand her life in there in a way that I'll never be able to, it
would be devastating to think that person could give her something I can't. It
would be way worse than sex. It would be... it would be a betrayal." To which Piper could only say, "He knows." It's not so much a case of the outside world affecting what happens inside the prison as it is Piper's thoughts bouncing back in her face. And when Larry asked Piper if she loved Alex and Piper said yes, Larry's next move was to hurt Piper telling her that Alex had named her in the case. SO BRUTAL. And so damn perfect. The collapse at the end of "Tall Men With Feelings" reminded me a lot of the ending of the very first episode, when things went horribly wrong for Piper so fast. Incredible writing, incredible pacing, and so awesomely timed. I loved it.
– Hey look! Larry is watching Weeds, also from Jenji Kohan. AND the scene on his screen was one of my favorites, when (paraphrasing) Doug and Andy were sitting in the living room on either side of a table and Doug asked Lupita the housekeeper, "Hey Lupita, what do you call the thing between the asshole and the dick?" And she says, "The coffee table."
– These double-episode reviews are getting to be so long and these episodes are so dense that I don't get to cover everything I want to, but I would like to say that the Red/Mendez rivalry that's been slow-cooking is almost ready to boil. And it's starting to involve outsiders, like Daya and Bennett. I have no idea where it's going to go, but it's so rich with potential that I wouldn't be surprised about anything that happens.
– One question about the Daya-Mendez fake-rape plan: Wouldn't a doctor be able to tell she was pregnant before the rape occurred if she went to the doctor immediately after the alleged incident? I've never been pregnant before, but that's my understanding of how the miracle of life works. Or was the point just to have Daya make sure the "rape" was in the record book?
– Gosh, how good was Jason Biggs at the end of "Tall Men With Feelings" when he was laying into Piper on the phone? Really good. I officially do not hate Jason Biggs any more.
– How smart was bringing in the Scared Straight program when Piper was dealing with her own issues of being straight? And do you think Larry finally scared her into being straight with him, from both a sexual and honesty standpoint?
– Suzanne to Piper: "How come everyone calls me Crazy Eyes?" That may be the series' single most gut-punching line of dialogue to date. Absolutely painful.
– Morello's clinic on stupid just before she and Nicky got into a spat was amazing. Enchiladas in Spain, Bora Bora Bora, giving Red an olive, calling someone a Judas Priest.
– More Morello: The idea that her wedding and boyfriend are completely made-up makes SO much sense now, but I'd never considered it before. It's also a lot more understandable than I could've imagined; when you're stuck in prison, you need hope. If you have to make up that hope, then so be it.
– Orange Is the New Black "Tit Punch"/"Lesbian Denied" Review: Love and Lunch (S01E02 / S01E03)
– Orange Is the New Black "Wac Pac"/"Blood Donut" Review: Political Animals (S01E06 / S01E07)
– Orange Is the New Black "Moscow Mule"/"F*cksgiving" Review: The SHU Doesn't Fit (S01E08 / S01E09)
AIRED ON 6/17/2016
Season 4 : Episode 13