Marlow Stern and Kevin Fallon dive into the first six episodes of OITNB’s thrilling second season, including a terrifying new villain, the backstories of Crazy Eyes and Poussey, and much more. [Warning: Spoilers!]
Marlow: Now that it’s been almost a week, let’s unpack the first six episodes of Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black. The premiere, directed by Jodie Foster, really sets the tone for the entire season—a much darker one than the first. A terrified Piper is whisked away in the dead of night extraordinary rendition-style (presumably for killing Pennsatucky), placed on the OITNB version of Con Air, replete with a woman outfitted with a mask for spitting—an amalgam of the gagged-and-bagged Nazi and Steve Buscemi’s Garland Greene in the aforementioned Nic Cage guilty pleasure—as well as Lori Petty (!), and transferred to a max prison in Chicago to testify in the trial of Alex Vause’s drug boss, Kubra Balik.
While I missed all the other Litchfield ladies, the Piper-centric premiere did a good job of setting the stage for the rest of the season—which basically sees Piper observe the prison turf war from the sidelines (more on that later). Since we knew going into S2 that Laura Prepon would only be in three episodes due to a “scheduling conflict,” the premiere was also, it seems, designed to move Vause out of the way by setting her free—while Piper perjures herself, claiming she’s never met Balik. We’ll see if that move comes back to bite Piper in the ass. Also, someone needs to ask Jenji Kohan how they trained beetles to transport cigarettes on their backs (if those were real beetles).
Kevin: It was a really strange and, ultimately, great choice for the premiere to be this little bottle episode, focusing solely on the dynamic between Piper and Alex and making us wait one more hour to revisit the rest of the Litchfield inmates we’ve waited so long to see. The last scene of the premiere, with Alex being freed and Piper realizing that she perjured herself, was so freaking stressful, in the best way. I couldn’t press play on the next episode fast enough. (My name is Kevin, and I have a binging problem.)
As pitch-perfect as Taylor Schilling’s performance as Piper was in the premiere, it was still a relief that she didn’t figure nearly as prominently in the next batch of episodes. Ever since the first season set up that backstory-as-week structure for the show, we’ve been dying to see our favorite characters’ histories fleshed out and the actresses get their big showcase episodes. It was so much fun, then, to see more of Taystee’s backstory in the second episode, considering what a breakout Danielle Brooks was last season. The unexpected bonus was the introduction to Lorraine Toussaint’s Vee, though, the mysterious new prisoner who figures heavily into Taystee’s past.
Toussaint is just so, so good as Vee. She’s absolutely terrifying, with the menacing, calculated way she tries to ingratiate herself to the inmates when you know she’s up to no good—all with just the right amount of chilling deviousness in her eyes. No lie, I had several nightmares about her. She’s like the monster under the bed, only I loved her performance so much that I perversely kept crawling under the bed to visit with the monster. I couldn’t wait for all my favorite characters to come back this season, but it turns out it’s this new one I’ve loved the most.
Marlow: Toussaint is so menacing. She’s like a cross between Lady Macbeth, Nurse Ratched, and Stringer Bell from The Wire; a calculating villainess whose perpetually calm demeanor will make the hair stand on the back of your neck. While the Daya constipation thread seemed unnecessary, the backstories of Taystee and Suzanne (a.k.a. “Crazy Eyes”) really shed light on two of the standout characters on OITNB, played by Danielle Brooks and Uzo Aduba, respectively. First off, we knew the casting director of Orange Is the New Black was a genius, but the young girls they found to play young Taystee and young Suzanne (a.k.a. “Crazy Eyes”) were so spot-on. And we understand how the misunderstood (yet wildly intelligent) orphan Taystee fell under the spell of Vee after being shunned by a coterie of white parents at the Black Adoption Festival, which provides fine context to the Litchfield mock job fair, which Taystee wins thinking it’ll land her a job on the outside: “They’re gonna hook me up with a real job,” she says. “I’m gonna be like an assistant to Judge Joe Brown or one of those TV judges, or maybe even Judy”—a pipe dream which the vile Figueroa subsequently craps all over.
We also see how Suzanne’s outsider status and emotional problems were exacerbated by her white adoptive mother who, while her heart was in the right place, really forced Suzanne’s assimilation to her white surroundings, further alienating her. And we see how Suzanne saw a reflection of her mother in Piper, another blond WASP with solid intentions whose execution is all kinds of wrong, leading to the revelation that it was Suzanne who punched out Piper during the Pennsatucky showdown. All of this clears the path for the wicked Vee to weasel her way in and serve as Taystee and Suzanne’s Prison Mom.
Kevin: I was so happy to see more of Crazy Eyes’ backstory. She’s such an interesting character and Uzo Aduba’s performance is such a brilliant combination of unique and weird and beautiful. But we still don’t know what crime she committed to land in jail! I’m dyinggg to know. (On that note, I think it’s genius of the writers to only hint at the crimes these characters commit but never actually tell us what charges they were prosecuted on. Could you imagine the insufferable Internet trolls running calculation on what each character’s sentence should be if we actually knew what crimes they committed and then start griping about characters being in jail too long based on their crimes. This is still just TV, people!)
Anyway, as excited I was to see Crazy Eyes’ backstory, I was over the moon to see Morello’s. Like, clap-my-hands-together-in-schoolgirl-like-glee over the moon to see it. I looooooove Morello. I love how warm she is. I love how blindly optimistic she manages to be, without turning into a caricature. She’s the first inmate we ever met at Litchfield, when she picks up Piper in the van, and I’ve had a soft spot for her and her over-the-top and weirdly soothing New Yawk accent ever since. I couldn’t wait for her showcase, and boy was it juicy.
Morello’s backstory reveals what I think we always suspected, but were a little bit afraid of: The true love she’s been bragging about with her supposed fiancé Christopher (I could listen to Yael Stone sing-song say that name all day) was made up. They only went on one date, and then Morello began stalking him. I was screaming at my computer screen when Morello stole the prison van to go break into Christopher’s house—I didn’t think I’d be able to take it if my beloved Morello got caught and was sent to the SHU—and then I was weeping at my computer screen when she was in the veil, lying in Christopher’s tub. Am I too invested in Morello, and in Yael Stone’s superb performance? Maybe. But I have no apologies for the audible squeals I unknowingly squeak out whenever I see her on screen.
Marlow: How great was that scene where we first learn that Morello is Fatal Attraction-y when she breaks down sobbing on the phone and says, “You don’t go Jessica Simpson when you’ve got Rihanna!?” Stone is indeed superb in that role, accent and all. I still can’t believe she’s Australian.
There are so many scenes to enjoy in the first six episodes of Season 2. Larry’s father accidentally taking him to a gay bathhouse on a Groupon. Vee’s manipulation of Suzanne, telling her, “At the end of the day, you are a garden rose… and that bitch [Piper] is a weed.” The competition between Nicky and Big Boo over who can have sex with the most inmates, with Nicky proclaiming, “I am a sexual Steve Jobs, and that bitch [Susan the prison guard] is worth 10 points.” I also enjoyed how Nicky keeps a diary of her sexual conquests—similar to how another ex-druggie, Tricia, kept a diary of all the things she’s stolen with the hope of one day paying everyone back.
The one thing I really didn’t get—and maybe this is just because I’m a guy—was the “three-hole conundrum,” and how many of the inmates were unfamiliar with the female anatomy. While I really enjoyed seeing Burset point to a hand-drawn diagram and explain the vagina to her fellow inmates, is that really something people don’t know? That bit went over my head. But let’s talk about how excellent Gloria’s and Poussey’s backstories were. Wow.
Kevin: Oh my god, Poussey’s backstory. The sex scene in Poussey’s backstory. I was not prepared for that! Wow. And Gloria’s big episode is a perfect example of why I love this show so much. You see, I guess I always liked Gloria, in that, she was just there and I never really thought anything about her either way so, by default, I liked her. But then they give her this great backstory episode that included that showdown with Vee at the end of it and all of a sudden she’s one of my favorite characters.
The ensemble on this show is so deep that you’d think it would be impossible to become invested in them all, but the writers and actors do such a wonderful job in humanizing each of them, no matter how supporting or fringe, so that when we’re surprised with a big showcase, like Gloria’s, we’re totally on board and blown away with it. And it bears mentioning again: Selenis Levya is so intense and so, just, scary when she confronts Vee in the showers. It was one of my favorite scenes from the first half of the season, just because I wasn’t expecting to be so blown away by it.
But, let’s be honest, I’m more of a tenderhearted fellow, and I can only take so much intensity. So if I’m going to pick my be-all, end-all favorite scene from the first half of the season, I have to choose one from the Valentine’s Day party. It was when Crazy Eyes saw how sad and heartbroken Morello was at the party, the reality starting to set in that Christopher and her will never be together. Crazy Eyes sits down with her and gives her a pep talk and a hug. Guys, I don’t think I’ve never loved a TV moment more. My heart practically exploded. My two favorite characters sharing such a sweet moment—I’ve never said “aww” so loudly.
There’s so much to be distracted by on Orange Is the New Back—the backstories, the prison politics, the quirky one-liners—but the true brilliance of it is that, at its core, it’s just a show about humanity, and how these women relate to one another.
Marlow: Leyva’s performance really blew me away. Gloria has been such a badass the entire series—killer glare, neck tattoo, and all—but with her backstory, she proved just as adept at playing a bruised, battered, and desperate woman. And that showdown between Vee and Gloria was one of the most mesmerizing sequences ever on OITNB. Poussey’s military brat backstory really shed light on arguably my favorite OITNB character—an only child raised by her father whose German love affair was cut short by her strict military Dad—and explains her distrust of authority (in the form of Vee), as well as the strong bond she shares with Taystee. All of these women are—excuse the cliché—looking for love in all the wrong places. I can’t wait for Season 3, when we finally discover what Suzanne and Poussey did to land in Litchfield…
Tune in next week for our recap of Episodes 7-12 of Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black.