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OITNB delves into the systems that keep life in prison running—and, at times, dancing. (Jessica Miglio / Netflix)

Orange is the New Black, Season 2, Episodes 6 and 7: A Prison Underground in Crisis

Is Litchfield’s infrastructural decline a metaphor for what’s to come? 

BY Sady Doyle

If last season was mostly about introducing viewers to the basics of life in prison, this season is about the systems that keep that life running.

Note: In order to keep up with the pace of your personal binge-watching, we’ll now be covering two OITNB episodes in every recap. We hope to continue to fill the recaps themselves with plentiful tangents and asides. Enjoy! 

Season 2, Episode 6: “And You Also Have A Pizza” 

Say, here’s a question: Remember when Daya’s plot line was actually a compelling part of this show? She used to be a conflicted daughter making peace with a toxic mother, a sexually exploited pawn in a prison-wide power play, a girl so desperate for love that she could believe she’d found it with a guy who controlled every aspect of her life, an avatar for the many incarcerated women who are trying to have healthy pregnancies in a dehumanizing and neglectful system; basically, a main character, as conflicted and three-dimensional as anyone else. And, while she’s not the only character to be sidelined this season—in this episode, Sophia is shown discussing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with Soso, and doing absolutely nothing else—Daya has entered, by far, the most aggravating holding pattern. She has exactly three conversations: The conversation where she accuses Bennett of not loving her enough, the conversation where she makes up with Bennett and apologizes for being “hormonal,” and the conversation where she tells Bennett that she wants to inform the administration about her pregnancy, while he pleads with her to be quiet, which leads (of course) to the conversation where she accuses Bennett of not loving her enough. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

Anyway: This is the Valentine’s Day episode, so we get to see Daya have all three of those conversations. Yippee. 

But, thank goodness, there are other things on offer. For one, we finally get a sense of Vee’s long game when it’s revealed that she’s making cigarettes, with which she hopes to take over the prison's underground economy. For another, we get to see Suzanne put on a highly entertaining puppet show with an apparently British mop. 

And then, of course, there’s the Poussey backstory. We learn that Poussey has always been a thwarted romantic, whether it’s her current quest to protect Taystee from Vee, or her doomed teenage love affair with the daughter of a homophobic officer on the German military base where her father was stationed. The affair, once discovered, results in Poussey’s family being transferred elsewhere, and we get to hear Samira Wiley a) say the phrase “spectacular tits” in German—it’s spektakuläre titten, apparently, and I am faintly disappointed that it’s not one long, hilarious word—and b) do some more of the noble, beautiful suffering she’s so good at. It’s a little frustrating that Poussey’s sexuality, which was literally invisible last season, is now being expressed solely through doomed or one-sided affections: It feels like a way of making the character queer without actually giving her a love life, much like the off-screen sexcapades and on-screen creepiness that have come to characterize Big Boo. Still, the end of her relationship with the German girl—in which she nearly pulls a gun on the homophobic dad, and is only stopped by her own father—does set a precedent for believing that Poussey will go to great extremes for the people she cares about, whether or not it’s safe or even sane.

In related news: Did you know that Larry still exists? Well, he does. (Also, the real-life Larry Smith just wrote an essay for Medium explaining how he differs from the fictional Larry Bloom. That’s right: Even Larry doesn’t want to be associated with Larry.) Normally, I do not stoop to discussing Larry’s existence in these recaps, but in this episode, he visits Piper in prison, trying to rekindle their relationship so that he can use her to steal the Post reporter’s story about embezzlement at Litchfield. It’s refreshing to see Larry steal material from people he’s not sleeping with, but Piper screams at him nevertheless. And, after being screamed at, Larry goes home, thinks about his life, and decides that from this day forward, he must always maintain firm journalistic ethics, lest he harm his budding career or, worse, the people he cares about. Ha, just kidding! Larry goes home and makes out with Piper’s best friend to make himself feel important. Classic Larry! Let us never discuss him again, until and unless he interferes with the main plot line. 

 

Season 2, Episode 7: “Appropriately Sized Pots” 

And so, at long last, the underground economy at Litchfield is back in full swing: Red has uncovered a sewer pipeline in her greenhouse, which she can use to move makeup and other goodies just as easily as she could use the shipments from Neptune Produce when she worked the kitchen. Vee has transformed her warehouse crew into a dedicated factory, with her girls rolling cigarettes, stowing them away in tampon applicators, and selling them for stamps. (Well, everyone except Suzanne, who apparently has “other talents.” And Big Boo is also on the take, since she guards the door to the warehouse, but she’s not an essential part of Vee’s operation.) Red’s business in snacks, makeup and other odds and ends unavailable in Litchfield has always been enough to give her substantial power—but Vee’s business creates addicts, and demands higher prices, so they’re in place for a stand-off. Gloria is the only clique leader who’s trying to keep clean, refusing to let “black market bullshit” taint her control of the kitchen, but she’s also picked her side in the war, getting Red to grow cilantro for her cooking. Meanwhile, Poussey, not wanting to be separated from Taystee, has swallowed her distaste for Vee in order to join the cigarette business. 

Yet Vee’s operation has a hole in it: Namely, Cindy, who’s been ignoring Vee’s orders and trading cigs for favors rather than stamps. This is where we finally get a glimpse at Cindy’s backstory, and—sorry!—it outdoes even Gloria’s in terms of disappointment. The fun thing about Cindy in season one was her hidden depth: She was into astrology, played the piano, and was apparently the daughter of a preacher, all of which combined to give her a sort of Tori Amos vibe that I, for one, was eager to explore. She was also smart enough to get really, really into Kwanzaa just in time to get some constitutionally guaranteed time off work. Yet her backstory drops the depth and just gives us a Cindy who’s fun-loving and “irresponsible”: She abuses her power as a TSA agent in order to bully and grope travelers, shoplifts from the airport, steals from the passengers’ luggage and sticks her mom with the responsibility of raising her daughter, who believes Cindy is her “big sister,” and whom Cindy can’t keep track of for more than an hour at a time without wandering off to get stoned with her friends. It all allows for Vee to give a deep-seeming speech about how Cindy’s irresponsible class-clowning means she’s “given up on herself,” but it doesn’t line up with anything we’ve previously learned about the character. (For example, we see Cindy’s mom and daughter, but that preacher Dad? Not that important, apparently, because he never shows up!) It’s like they forgot which character they were writing for and inserted a generic backstory to fill the time.

Speaking of generic: Here’s Piper Chapman! She’s now working with the Post reporter directly, under the pretense of writing a “newsletter.” (That newsletter’s staff: Daya on comics, Morello on beauty tips, the always-wonderful Flaca writing an advice column—and giving much-needed font and grammar advice—and Piper, um, being Piper, doing vaguely reportorial things in order to uncover the money trail at Litchfield.)

Due to her grief about her grandmother’s impending death, Piper has also made a connection with Jimmy, the Golden Girl with Alzheimer’s who wandered out of Litchfield through the sewer line last episode. Caputo, having apprehended her at a nearby bar where his band was playing a gig, has decided to assign Jimmy a personal guard to keep track of her at all times, and to crack down by creating a “shot quota,” requiring each guard to hand out five disciplinary warnings per week to the inmates whether they’re warranted or not. But unfortunately, Jimmy’s dementia has progressed so far that the guards simply can't give her enough care; when they get distracted, she manages to wander off, jump off the chapel’s pulpit and break her arm. So, she’s subjected to “compassionate release” — being put in a prison van and driven to the nearest bus station, where she will almost certainly die. 

If last season was mostly about introducing viewers to the basics of life in prison, this season is about the systems that keep that life running. The flooding in the bathrooms, which kicked off the grand power struggle we’re seeing now in the black market, is really an extended metaphor for the rot and decay of those systems. Whether it’s the underground economy or the official finances, every part of Litchfield’s infrastructure is currently in crisis. Jimmy is the person who’s most obviously being killed by the failure of the system, but all of those systems are failing, and the resulting instability is going to claim several more people before it even comes close to being fixed.

Sady Doyle is an In These Times Staff Writer. She also contributes regularly to Rookie Magazine, and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. She's the winner of the first Women's Media Center Social Media Award. She's interested in women in pop culture, women creating pop culture, reproductive rights, and women's relationship to the Internet and the Left. You can follow her on Twitter at @sadydoyle, or e-mail her at sady inthesetimes.com.

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