Besides bouncing characters off each other and giving us quick glimpses of inmates' lives on the outside, I was starting to get the feeling that Orange Is the New Black had coasted into a routine over the course of its last four episodes. A great and entertaining routine that gave other series a reason to be jealous, but a routine nonetheless, as the series stopped pushing boundaries like it had in the first three episodes or so. Things were comfortable, almost pleasant. But Orange Is the New Black's comedy is best when it's more black than orange, when it finds hope in times of bleakness, and when the worlds of privileged blondes are blown up.
So it was pretty awesome to see "Moscow Mule" and "F*cksgiving," the series' best pair of episodes since the early going, really kick Season 1 in the pants with a dose of change, terror, and giving in. Old friends became new friends, new friends became new enemies, and old enemies became even worse enemies. This was most apparent with Alex and Piper, so let's begin there.
The frigidness between them had started to melt once the back-and-forth and typical catty behavior of the blame game was through, and the boredom and confinement of prison had them talking about the past, their past. And then whoosh! A bunch of old memories came flooding back, carrying the driftwood of feelings long forgotten. It's completely unsurprising that the two were stripping each other naked by the end of "F*cksgiving" given their behavior in "Moscow Mule," but it was still deserving of an overexcited "ohhhhhhhhh girl!" As nice as Larry is, admit it, you wanted Piper and Alex to get back to experimenting. I know I did. The more off-balance Piper is, the more I want to watch this show.
But that hookup couldn't have happened if it wasn't for Healy's exhaustion with Piper. Though he was once Piper's only ally on the inside, he's now become her greatest foil through a combination of her own proactive behavior and his deep-seeded issues. I don't know what it is that's ticking beneath that gentle exterior, but he has some weird father-daughter (or more disgusting) complex that's fixated on Piper. Unless he's really a huge jerk, I don't know why Piper's circumvention
of his authority to open up the track would be enough for him to come
down so hard on her. Piper claims it's some weird sexual fetish, but I'm fully expecting to see Healy's backstory unfold with family issues that include a daughter (or wife) who was a lot like Piper, hence his initial instinct to protect her leading into his current wave of picking on her and punishing her.
Piper's time in SHU (Solitary Housing Confinement) was the stuff of mental-asylum nightmares, and a total backfire on Healy's attempt to slap the lesbian out of her. Before Piper went in, she teared up over Sophia just touching her hair, because she missed the contact another human being provides. Throwing her in a concrete box only exasperated that longing, and it erupted in desire for Alex once she got out. At least that was my take on it. Well, on part of it.
I'm sure what was happening on the outside with Larry didn't help matters either. Larry's always played the sidekick role on The Piper Show. She was the one making artisanal soaps and brokering deals with fancy stores that prison guards like Healy had never heard of, while Larry struggled to get his words read. But now, with Piper not present in his life (the occasional phone calls and visits don't count) his career is taking off and his friends are sending out Evites to celebrate. And worse yet for Piper, his career jolt was sparked because he wrote a piece about her, or at least someone he thought was her. Piper is happy for Larry because she's supposed to be, but she's also a self-centered person who only recognizes the self she knows as the one true Piper; she's not a student of the school of three selves (the person you think you are, the person other people think you are, and the person you actually are). Maybe in her mind, the rift that's formed since she's been apart from Larry has already started to crack open. Relationship issues only deepen with distance, and maybe she thinks Larry used her plight to get into the New York Times and drink white wine with stuffy NPR hosts while she ate mystery loaf for Thanksgiving.
Or maybe, there's a simpler answer, which is that Piper never stopped loving Alex.
Whatever the case, it's all entirely believable behavior on everyone's part because sometimes a f*cked-up situation just leads to more f*cked-up situations. And the repercussions of this one will be big. Healy answered Larry's request to explain why Piper was detained and probably told him the truth: because Piper was grinding on Alex. Guess how Larry is going to take that news? By getting on top of the first slut who lets him. And even though Piper got shoved into the SHU for nothing, Healy's explanation is now something because Piper made it true, retroactively, by getting it on with Alex.
Looking back, these two episodes were all about the pain and separation of prison, of how life on the inside can be so arresting that the desire to move it along results in rash decisions. Boredom and restraint are the worst things about prison. It's the long-distance college relationship all over again, and nine times out of 10, those end in disaster. This was just the next step in what's going to be a messy pothole for Piper and Larry.
Elsewhere, "Moscow Mule" was our first revisit of a flashback as we checked in with Red as she climbed the ladder of the Russian mafia. In "Tit Punch," we saw her try (and fail) to crack the Real Housewives of Little Russia, because her husband wanted an in with the mobsters. But here she was dropping knowledge about criminal enterprising and relegating her husband to the role of gofer. Great! Okay! But again, we're flashbackin' just for flashbackin's sake, like Nicky's mostly empty flashbacks in "WAC Pack."
In "F*cksgiving," we traveled all the way back to Alex's childhood as the poor kid who everyone made fun of, and traced it all the way up to her first involvement in the drug trade. Along the way, we met her deadbeat, hard-partying, aging rock-star dad and she met a huge disappointment. It fit her character well—poor girl with daddy issues grows up to be a lesbian entrepreneur—and it instantly gave us a story to be interested in because Alex, as Piper's antagonist AND lover, is the second "she said" in their "she said, she said" story. Knowing more about her should help us uncover some truths about their relationship, both romantic and professional.
I don't know why, but I always expect a lot out of the flashbacks. I figure if they're going to be included, they'd better be meaty. Alex's was. But Red's, this time, was as light as a Piroshki wrapper. Clearly there's a lot more story to tell and it will probably unfold over time, but the pace of them needs to pick up to feel substantial. We can't just make a little baby step once or twice a season. In contrast, the flashbacks we saw for Sophia, Claudette, Daya, and Watson all felt complete and self-contained. But that's probably because we won't be revisiting their lives on the outside as often as we do with the main characters. Of course, I'm just thinking out loud here; are the differing "depths" of the flashbacks bugging you at all?
Anyway, maybe that won't even matter. Orange Is the New Black has put itself in position for a thrilling four-episode run to finish the season, and what's important is what's happening now. How will Larry react? How long will this Piper-Alex rekindling last? When will Pennsatucky get what she deserves?
– Orange Is the New Black survived for a while without a straight-up villain, but Pennsatucky has really established herself as the asshole of the prison. The series has gone out of its way to show the nice sides of everyone but not her. She's a methhead religious freak bully. Even if she does get a backstory, I don't see how it could excuse who she is today. Is everyone else excited to see Alex beat the snot out of her?
– More proof that Piper fails to see her imperfections: She actually WANTED to be pregnant going into prison.
– Taystee and Poussey's friendship is so much fun to watch. But how will Taystee's release from prison affect Poussey? We're about to learn the harsh reality of what happens when one person is left behind. Though given recent casting announcements, I'm not sure it will stay that way for long.
– Was there any better way to show the differences between life on the outside and life on the inside than by comparing two pregnancies? Polly popped out her kiddo, and it was joyous! Then the Latina inmate had hers, and she rolled back into prison looking glum as a plum. I assume the system took her baby. Super sad.
– Mendez continues to be a joy to watch, even though he's pure evil now. His beef with Red after she flushed his drugs isn't going to go anywhere good, and even though he's the guard with the gun, I would never bet against Red. You know the saying: Never pee in a old Russian lady's gravy.
– I also loved listening to Mendez and Caputo's 'stache chat. Mustaches are "Fucking cunt-ramming awesome!" according to Mendez.
– Luschek, the prison employee who runs the electric shop, has also established himself as one of my favorite characters. "When I arrived, the blonde was screaming and the hot one was stuck inside."
– It's ironic that Piper claimed she's "not a story at a cocktail party" when she found out that Larry wrote about her prison experience for the NYT; real-life Piper wrote a damn book about the same thing!
– Haha Crazy Eyes and her white parents. Oh man, so good. More Crazy Eyes PLEASE.
– Who do you think was on the other side of the vent with Piper in the SHU? Someone we'll meet later? Someone imaginary?
– Orange Is the New Black still has some inconsistencies in its cafeteria scenes. There was a lot of buildup to establishing people sitting "with their own," but in one of the late scenes in "F*cksgiving," who was sitting at the same table? Nicky, Yoga Jones, Ingalls, Boo, Poussey, Sophia, Watson, and Alex. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Sorry to nitpick! I'm obviously obsessed with how cafeteria dynamics connected to race relations in prison.
– 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)