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 8: “Appropriately Sized Pots”
Dear Orange Is the New Black fans: Do you have a wish list? You know: Events you’d particularly enjoy taking place, plots you think the show ought to explore, characters whose faces you’d like to see more onscreen? I sure do. For example, I really want to watch a bottle episode focused entirely on Maritza and Flaca. I want to know what landed Suzanne in Litchfield. I want to know how Taystee became an addict — we’ve seen her upbringing, but we still don’t know why she has to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings — and I want a flashback for not-so-recovering addict Leanne, whose massive dorkiness and attempts to disentangle herself from her toxic ex-BFF Pennsatucky have become more endearing by the episode.
And yet, there is one scene that was not on my wish list, nor that of any other reasonable person: One where Piper Chapman gets up and screams at all the black inmates about how it’s not fair to make fun of her white privilege.
Well, you can’t always get what you want. Due to Healy’s guilt over trying to have Piper killed last season, Piper’s attempts to get furlough so that she can see her dying grandmother have actually paid off. But until her 48 hours of freedom arrive, Piper has to deal with the growing resentment from everyone who was denied the same request. Sophia wanted to see her dying father, who had only just begun to accept her as trans. Poussey was stuck in Litchfield when her mother died. Daya even applied for “dying aunt” furlough last season, hoping to get an alibi for her pregnancy. Basically, it doesn’t matter which of your relatives is dead, dying, giving birth and/or being born: No one ever gets furlough. No one except Piper.
And, when the resentment peaks with Cindy suggesting Piper must have sucked Healy off, Piper grandstands about how she may be white, but she “loves [her] fucking grandmother”—whom, she points out helpfully, “is a whitey too, but she’s a person.”
On the one hand, Piper’s frustration is understandable. Healy granted her request thanks to his own pangs of conscience, not because she sucked up to him or played the system. She didn’t control that decision. In fact, she only did what everyone else did, which was to apply, knowing she wouldn’t get it. (Also, calling someone a whore while her favorite relative is dying is pretty out of line, just generally speaking.) On the other: Jesus Christ, Piper, learn to read a room.
Still, at least there are non-Piper-related things to focus on. For example, the show demonstrates its ability to adeptly bring almost-invisible characters to the forefront, as it does this episode with Miss Rosa. Think about what a flat, unimportant character Rosa was last season; she was basically a sight gag, “that one lady with cancer.” Yet over the course of a handful of episodes, we’ve learned that she’s a bank robber, that she’s dying — chemotherapy hasn’t worked, and Litchfield won’t pay for surgery — and that she’s sparked an unlikely friendship with a cancer-ridden teenager who sits next to her during her sessions at the hospital.
Rosa also gets one of the splashier flashback sequences this show has ever done: For her life story, OITNB throws all its attempts at social realism out the window and just gives us a 10-minute Tarantino movie. The young Rosa was a ridiculously beautiful and glamorous bank robber, who had a special sexy ritual for every heist — she always took a husband along, informing them that they had to “kiss before, kiss again after” for luck. This turned out to be a curse, with each man she married dying right before she gave them their “after” kiss. The whole thing is a pop of vintage outfits, hot actors, honest-to-goodness magic and thrilling bank heists. It feels like Lana Del Rey should have already ripped the whole thing off for a video.
Yet it works. This episode is so saturated with death — Piper planning for her grandmother’s, everyone sharing their stories about the people to whom they never got to say goodbye, the Golden Girls explaining why they’re ignored by the rest of the prison (“we remind everyone that they’re going to die”) — that it makes sense for us to see how the one actually dying woman in the story got a kick out of being alive. This time around, she works with her teen sidekick to pull one last job: picking a nurse’s pocket for a few bills.
And this time, he goes into remission immediately afterward, whereas Rosa knows she never will. It’s an oddly beautiful moment, in which Rosa seems to realize that, this time around, the curse is going to claim her instead — and she’s grateful, because she’s had her life, and she’d rather let this kid have his, to fuck up as he pleases.
Season 2, Episode 9: “40 Oz. Of Furlough”
Speaking of screwing up your life: Larry still exists! And Piper dated him! Which means that, because we’re following Piper outside of Litchfield on her furlough, we must watch Piper attempt to interact with him — sometimes (shudder) sexually — as she works to temporarily reintegrate herself into her normal family life.
This plot line does raise the question of how Orange Is the New Black will move forward, if and when Piper completes her sentence. (We still don’t know if her sentence has been extended after she lied at her trial, but it’s entirely possible that it could be dragged out for quite some time.) I’ve heard many people mention the possibility that Piper could simply leave the world of the show when she leaves Litchfield — that, once she’s introduced us to the prison and the other main characters, the writers could simply lift her out of the picture. I think Piper adds something to the show (even if it’s only a demonstration of “this is how you would probably react to having your privilege taken away,” aimed at privileged viewers) but I agree she could recede even farther into the background than she’s already done, without the show feeling vacant. Still, that doesn’t seem likely, given that the powers that be chose to foist Larry’s friend-banging escapades upon us for an entire episode.
What I’m trying to tell you is that we may be stuck with Larry literally forever. So let’s cover his intrusion into the plot quickly and mercifully. Piper misses her grandmother’s death, and decides to use her furlough as a vacation and/or chance to flirt with Larry. (It’s a little bit like watching someone flirt with a carton of spoiled milk: You get what they’re doing, just not why they’re doing it. Also, you do, inevitably, wonder how they can stand the smell.) After being sidetracked into doing less-welcome family and wake duty — along with a quick detour, in which brother Cal actually derails his own grandmother’s funeral to throw a surprise wedding for himself and his fiancé — Piper gets disastrously drunk and attempts to give Larry a blow job. (Again: Carton of spoiled milk. You can put your mouth there, but I can’t imagine coming away healthier or happier from the experience.) At this point, Larry tells Piper that he slept with “someone else,” mercifully neglecting to mention that he destroyed a family in the process, and that the family belonged to her best friend. She is very sad, for some reason none of us will ever understand, and affirms that “this is really over.”
Oh, Piper. How I wish I could believe you.
Meanwhile, back in the ongoing argument for the show working perfectly well without Piper: The black-market war is heating up. Caputo is under pressure from Fig to find the source of the smuggled goods, and therefore suspects Red. Red is cashing in her favors from Gloria and getting her to store product in the kitchen, so despite her best intentions of staying clean, Gloria is getting dirty. And, of course, her alliance with Red is drawing the ire of Vee.
I’ve heard people complain that this second season of OITNB is “slow” compared to the first, but I don’t think it’s slow, precisely. The main arc — the war over the underground economy — is rocketing along at a pretty brisk pace. But so far, it keeps developing largely off-screen, requiring us to keep an internal score-sheet of who owes whom what, and we’re never allowed to know the end strategy of any of the main players.
We do, at least, get three important bits of information: First, Vee is escalating from selling cigarettes to selling heroin, and when Poussey objects, Taystee essentially tells her to shut up or get out of the way. Second, Red’s time with the Golden Girls wasn’t just a humble exile: Those women were all transferred over from Maximum Security, if you’ll recall, meaning that they’re all violent offenders. At least one of them castrated her husband with a butcher knife — “and it wasn’t even sharp” — which is information she gladly reveals when terrorizing Gloria’s kitchen crew into handing over food to Red. So Red hasn’t just been hanging out with old ladies; she’s been getting enforcers. And this is necessary, because, finally, we learn that the last time Vee and Red struggled over control of the black market — way back when Red put the kitchen under the control of the Russian mafia — Vee had her brutally beaten. Red still kept the kitchen and control of Litchfield, but now we know that this is an old fight, in a new year, and that the stakes are higher than we were led to believe.
More bad news: Pornstache is back from his “leave,” and ready to start terrorizing the inmates again. Alas, his return pushes puppy-dog-eyed Bennett one step further in his transformation into a full-blown villain. All season long, Daya’s pregnancy has been eating away at his ability to be an ethical or even rational CO. He’s been paying her friends off with smuggled goods for fear of blackmail, menacing people with SHU whenever they threaten Daya or seem likely to expose him, and basically proving that, no matter how honorable his intentions, guards cannot have sex with inmates without becoming corrupt. (Which is why there are many, many laws against it.)
In this episode, Bennett hits his personal nadir. He has a meltdown about his insecurity about Pornstache’s affair with Daya: In order to prove that he’s “tough” enough to hold down the fort without Pornstache serving as muscle, he screams and throws things at inmates. When that both gets him in trouble and fails to remove Pornstache from the prison, he frames Pornstache for his own crime, telling Caputo that Daya is pregnant, so that the prison will have to formally report that she was raped — by Pornstache, naturally, since Bennett’s own illegal affair with Daya is still a secret. Then, Bennett hopes, Pornstache will be sent to prison, where he can’t steal Bennett’s girlfriend.
The systems at Litchfield have always been corrupt. But corruption spreads, as we see in this episode. A single cover-up leads to a full-scale framing; putting one addictive drug into the prison (Vee’s cigarettes) leads to another (her heroin); any problem in the system will spread and create new problems as it goes. For example: Big Boo is on the take with Vee, and Red didn’t bother to figure that out before rudely, half-heartedly inviting Boo back into her own smuggling operation. Boo, feeling offended, tells Vee about Red’s sewer pipeline. The once-small problem of the struggle for control keeps getting bigger — and, the last time Vee tried to solve this particular problem, she left Red’s blood on the floor.
Jude Ellison Sady Doyle is an In These Times contributing writer. They are the author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. You can follow them on Twitter at @sadydoyle.