Netflix released the second season of Orange Is the New Black in the wee hours of Friday morning. We're tackling the episodes in small chunks, the better to binge responsibly. CLICK HERE for episodes 1-4.
Low Self Esteem City
Very Important Prisoner: Season two continues its run of having zero non-Piper flashback overlap with season one, this time focusing on Gloria Mendoza, Latina den mother and current captain of the kitchen.
Flashback: Gloria’s backstory is one of the more tragic ones (they all are to an extent, of course); she’s a single mom with an abusive boyfriend, trying to run her little quick-stop convenience store. She gets sent to prison for running a food-stamps scam from behind the counter, but the important stuff is how she has to put up with this monster of a boyfriend to keep her kids safe. She's pinched for fraud, but her sister's candle-lighting Santeria-type curses may well have had the last laugh, trapping bad boyfriend in a burning candle fire.
Back at Litch, Gloria needs to find a way to negotiate a peace with Vee before these blacks-vs-Latinas skirmishes end up hurting one of her girls, particularly once Watson trips Daya (still pregnant, recall) in the cafeteria.
Overall Impressions: Vee is very clearly playing a long game. After pitting her girls against the Latinas over shared bathroom space, Vee pretends to be all meek and cowering when Gloria confronts her. She offers Gloria the good bathroom for the Latinas in exchange for getting Taystee and Watson transferred to custodial duty. Only Red seems to realize just how severely Gloria got played, even if no one quite knows how Vee is playing it. What little is clear: Vee seems like much more of the reign-in-hell type, as opposed to serving in heaven. The unfolding of this season so far has been watching the little moments where the Litch inmates might have come together in some approximation of friendship or at least cooperation, but Vee doesn’t want that. Vee can’t own friendship and cooperation. She can own chaos and retribution, though.
Odds and Ends: Nicky and Boo draw up rules for a bang contest, to see who can score more tail. The Litch cast of characters are assigned point values (guards are worth 10; poor Piper is a mere 3), and Boo begins tallying a lot of low scores while Nicky sets her sights on a 10-pointer Fischer. Also Piper’s mom and brother visit and, via a very weird guessing game that makes us really wonder about WASPs, they tell her that her grandma is dying.
You Also Have A Pizza
Very Important Prisoner: This is primarily Poussey's episode, but Valentine's Day brings out the best (and more importantly, the worst) in a lot of prisoners. There's baby drama between Daya and Bennett, and a particularly sad turn of events for Jimmy, one of the elderly inmates.
Flashback: Whereas many times the show uses flashbacks to show how a character made the decisions that ended them up in prison, Poussey's backstory is a different beast. The tale of her life at an Army base in Germany sets up her life before prison in direct conflict to Taystee's. As a young woman, Poussey falls in love with a German girl, whose father (the general) walks in on them having sex and forces Poussey's family to be transferred back to the States. When Poussey tries to confront the girl's father with a gun, her own dad rushes in to stop, protect and defend her.
Taystee's backstory was about finding parenthood in Vee, something that Poussey always had. But as Vee drives Taystee away from Poussey in Litchfield, Poussey is bound to encounter something familiar: a parental figure breaking up a friendship, or a love.
Overall impressions: "You Also Have a Pizza" does a lot of work setting up some of the main conflicts of the rest of the season. Red gets her mojo back and begins distributing contraband products among the inmates to win back loyalty. Healy strikes up a friendship with Pennsatucky. Jimmy, in an addled state and under no supervision, wanders away from Litchfield. It also features some sweet, standalone moments up some sweet moments. The best? Suzanne and Morello bonding after Suzanne finds the invitation to Christopher's wedding. We see, once again, how sweet Suzanne can be, even as she falls even deeper under the spell of Vee.
But the most heartbreaking element of the episode was the dissolution of the friendship between Taystee and Poussey. "You Also Have a Pizza" emphasizes how bonds in prison go beyond just friendship. The people in there are your family, or perhaps even your lovers (Maritza and Flaca test out kissing one another). Poussey and Taystee's bond threatens Vee whose goal is to have women be unequivocally loyal to her. "Taystee will never love you," Vee hisses.
Odds and ends: Piper starts an investigative journalism career, and Larry kisses Piper's friend Polly.
Very Important Prisoner: This episode spreads things out pretty evenly across a whole bunch of prisoners. Piper’s starting her newsletter (with help from Flaca, Morello, and Daya); Black Cindy momentarily rebels from under Vee’s thumb, but Vee gets her back in line; the new C.O. quota for shots (infraction citations) has Bennett on a particular hair trigger when the Latina girls start harassing him for giving Daya preferential treatment.
Flashback: This episode reveals Black Cindy’s backstory. Not so much the cause of her current incarceration (we’re told she’s been in and out of prison a good bit, so it’s not a leap to imagine her doing something illegal in her job at TSA; or maybe just drug dealing), but in her stilted attempts to get to know her daughter, who’s being raised by Cindy’s mom as her own. Cindy is young and irresponsible and ultimately when her mom puts her feet to the fire about stepping up and being a mother, Cindy backs off.
Overall Impressions: Again, lots of smaller moments, but they’re good ones. Nicky has a sweet little attempted heart-to-heart with Poussey, who is so obviously hurting over being iced out by Taystee. Nicky offers advice for how to deal with crushes on straight friends, one lesbian to another, but Poussey’s not entirely ready to hear it.
Red’s operation is back up, though she’s more than a little vexed by the news that Vee’s crew is running cigarettes (complete with a science-fair worthy lighter made from a battery and gum wrappers). She and Gloria come to a tentative agreement to cooperate for now.
Odds and Ends: Larry and Polly end up having sex, and Maria Dizzia is great and all, but who on God’s green Earth gives a shit? The episode ends with the sad denoument to Jimmy’s story, as she’d proved to be beyond the care capabilities of the prison system. She’s given “compassionate release,” which ultimately adds up to “sent out into the world, alone and defenseless, to probably die.” It’s … not that uplifting.
Appropriately Sized Pots
Very Important Prisoner: Rosa is the focus of the episode, but it also spends a lot of time on Piper and her furlough.
Flashback: Rosa's flashback takes us far back in time to when she was a young, hotheaded bank robber, who has a penchant for losing her lovers. Though her first stick-up goes poorly and her lover is shot, she develops a taste for the trade, and is eventually felled by her eagerness to rob, after she attempts to hold up a bank by herself.
Overall impressions: Rosa's storyline exists outside of the central conflicts of the season, but allows the show to do what it has always done best: explore how prison treats its most vulnerable, and how people don't lose their humanity despite being locked up. Her backstory feels a little rote what with everyone wearing their Dog Day Afternoon finest, but her present-day interactions with a young cancer patient give that back story weight. Prison doesn't exactly change a person—Rosa can still case a joint with the best of them, and still craves the scent of money—but it also doesn't mean a person is compassionless. She fears that her curse has carried through when she sees the boy crying with his mother, only he's going into remission. Rosa, meanwhile, denied proper treatment by the DOC, probably won't have that outcome.
Back at Litchfield, Piper is once again a pariah for having been granted furlough, particularly drawing the ire of the black inmates, who (probably rightly) think she's only getting it because she is white. In a moment that says more about how much Suzanne has changed than how much Piper has, Suzanne throws her pie at Piper this time, not for her.
Odds and ends: Fischer is fired; Brooke Soso is forced to take a shower; Pornstache is back.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.