Marlow: Now that we’ve recapped Episodes 1-6 of Orange Is the New Black’s second season, it’s time to tackle the second batch (minus the finale), Episodes 6-12. The first half gave us a glimpse into the backstories of Suzanne, a.k.a. the “garden rose” formerly known as “Crazy Eyes,” as well as that of Lorna “Fatal Attraction” Morello and Poussey, an army brat whose love affair with a busty German on a military base was cruelly cut short by the latter’s scary-strict father.
As for the second half of S2, Piper’s started up a prison newsletter—a puzzling subplot which doesn’t really go anywhere; the imposing Vee is starting to build her Stringer Bell-esque empire, smuggling tobacco in cans to the stock room (although we don’t really know how she does this); and, in a backstory that really failed to impress, we learn that Black Cindy was a terribly irresponsible TSA agent who stole iPads and other trinkets from people’s bags, and gave buff dudes very intense pat-downs. Meanwhile, Vee has begun to drive a wedge between Poussey and Taystee, alienating the former from “The Ghetto” after she witnesses them canoodling. This is the most heartbreaking part of the second half of the season. Poussey and Taystee’s relationship is, without question, the most tender, emotionally honest one on the show, and to see it be corrupted by the sinister Vee immediately elevates her from a somewhat questionable character to the show’s outright villain.
Kevin: Oh, the Poussey storyline! That arc was so hard to watch. The writers of OITNB always do a good job of reminding us that, though these girls are friends and do occasionally have fun, they are still in prison, and prison is bleak and hard and lonely. Still, it tortured my overly invested heart to see how lonely Poussey became when Taystee began pushing her away at the behest of Vee. Watching her drown her sorrows in hooch and then get beat up by Crazy Eyes in the showers was ghastly…but great television. I love how different characters and actors captured my attention—and my heart—this season than did last season, and it was such a pleasure to watch Samira Wiley really dig into and give life and depth to Poussey this season.
Marlow: Oh my god. I’m still recovering from the hit Vee put out on Poussey. That little glance Suzanne gives to Vee, seeking her approval on whether it’s OK to stop or keep pummeling poor little Poussey, was heartbreaking, and did such a fine job of capturing both Vee’s surrogate mother manipulation techniques, as well as Suzanne’s yearning for acceptance.
Kevin: But on that same note, I’m on the fence about how they decided to flesh out other characters during the second half of the season. Namely, Assistant Warden Natalie Figueroa. You see, last season and for the first half of this one, Figueroa was the perfect villain. Alysia Reiner played her so well as a badass bitch who was so deliciously despicable it was almost fun to watch, even as she screwed over each of our favorite characters.
But the attempts later in the season to humanize her and give a glimpse of the “why” behind some of her dastardly deeds—the hotel scene with her gay husband, the big breakdown scene in the office when her embezzlement scheme comes to a head—were, somehow, almost annoying to watch. I didn’t care why she was so mean. I enjoyed her as purely a villain, even if she was somewhat of caricature. Those attempts at giving her depth seemed silly and took away some of the fun. Don’t get me wrong, it was still gratifying to watch her comeuppance. But with so many characters I’m still dying to learn more about, it was disappointing and kind of unnecessary that it was her who got a “backstory” of sorts this season.
Marlow: Right. In addition to Black Cindy’s paper-thin backstory, that of the scam artist Figueroa, who is the reason why the phrase “resting bitch face” was invented, sought to humanize someone who, up until that point, was a delicious stock villain. Not everything on OITNB needs to be shades of gray, and to say the whole thing seemed far-fetched is an understatement. We’re supposed to believe that Figueroa was funneling millions out of the prison to finance her closeted gay husband’s political campaign, and that he not only knew but encouraged the scam? Another strange scenario involved Jimmy, a member of the “Golden Girls”—the elderly, cast-aside inmates—who’s suffering from a severe case of Alzheimer’s and is granted “compassionate release,” i.e. dumped at a bus stop. That wouldn’t happen. I also still don’t really buy Pornstache’s “love” for Daya. They had sex once in a dark closet and now he’s willing to torpedo his entire life/career for her? Unconvinced. And the Daya/Bennett storyline is really starting to wear thin as well.
Kevin: I soooo agree about the Daya/Bennett storyline. The big reveal, with Bennett finally confessing that he was the father to Caputo, could not have been less satisfying. There was nothing romantic or thrilling or even tense about it. After two seasons of milking that plot, Caputo reacting with, basically, an “ehh…” is all we get? So much ugh. And am I the only one who feels like Daya is having one of those Jessica Simpson pregnancies? It seems like she’s been pregnant forever.
Marlow: But the positives this season far outweighed the negatives. Miss Rosa, a character who we really didn’t give a damn about in Season 1, was given such a rich backstory—even if the accents (misdirection?) don’t really match up. Then there’s Piper’s time on furlough, and the laugh-out-loud blowjob scene between her and Larry in the bathroom of her parent’s house during her grandmother’s wake—with Larry coming clean about an affair while she’s going down on him (although he doesn’t tell her it’s with Polly). “Don’t defend your boner to me right now!” shrieks Piper. Also, we learn the dark history between Vee and Red, with Vee having put out a hit on Red when she refused to smuggle goods through her kitchen way back when. Seeing Kate Mulgrew and Lorraine Toussaint go head-to-head, two scenery-chewing forces of nature, is a real pleasure to watch. I also really loved the Sister Ingalls storyline—how she’s this rock star nun who grew to become more preoccupied with her own celebrity status than the “message.”
Kevin: Listen, I love me a good sassy Sister—there is no more perfect film in my opinion than Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit—so I was totally up for learning more about Sister Ingalls’ rebellious past. Her deciding to join Soso’s hunger strike is actually what finally got me on board with that whole plot. I always understood the purpose of introducing Soso—Piper’s frustration over Soso’s naiveté helped illustrate that Piper is now resigned and settled to life as a prisoner—but found the character to be positively insufferable. But as the season wore on and her grating nerve wore down, I actually really warmed up to her. She quickly became one of my favorite characters, and, accordingly, I ended up finding the hunger strike to be very endearing—especially since it finally gave my beloved Yoga Jones something to do.
Marlow: I also found Soso really grating at first, but like you said, that was the intention. She’s that person who transforms every conversation into a treatise on the terrible state of humanity; the female version of the “Don’t tase me, bro!” guy. But she grows on you. You begin to realize that, despite her myriad flaws, and her chatterbox persona, she’s really one of the only people who’s being at all proactive in criticizing the crappy conditions of Litchfield.
Kevin: This final stretch of episodes, however, was all about the towering performances from Kate Mulgrew and Lorraine Toussaint as Red and Vee faced off against each other, and I was loving every second of it.
Marlow: Me too. I think people really take Kate Mulgrew’s ferocious performance on the show for granted. Millennials don’t realize that she is not Russian (see: Star Trek: Voyager) and looks very different outside of OITNB—similar to how people are shocked when they realize Yael Stone, the actress who so convincingly plays Morello, is an Aussie. If Mulgrew isn’t nominated for an Emmy, well, that’d be a damn shame.
There’s a lot of jockeying for position and crew assembling/disassembling in Season 2, but it really does all start to come to a head in Episode 12 with the blackout. Vee makes a tragic error in casting out Taystee and letting her realign with Poussey, because those two together can take on anything (Cue Celine Dion: “The power of loooooove!”). Ep. 12 also treated us to Soso leading all the Litchfield gals in a sing-along of Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” and, in one of the season’s most hilarious sequences, Pennsatucky asking Big Boo to explain the “gay agenda to take over the world” to her, with Big Boo replying in kind: “When you’re done [having sex with the men] you’ve gotta toss ’em away like trash. The whole point of this thing is chicks digging each other and begin in charge.”
But can we talk about that incestuous sex scene between Vee and her “adopted” son, R.J.? That was, without question, the creepiest scene all season.
Kevin: So, so icky. SO ICKY. I’m still not over how icky that scene was. At first, Vee walks in to R.J.’s apartment wearing that freaking fabulous cheetah-print coat and I was all excited for the flashback scene, because Toussaint had such a devious smile on her face. Then they started making out, and it was horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. But also, I think it was a bit necessary. Vee is a sociopath, as Lorraine Toussaint told me. (Did that sound pretentious? I hope so, because I’m really feeling braggy about that interview I did with her.) Toussaint did a remarkable job bringing warmth and relatability to a sociopath by making Vee so maternal at various points in the season. But scenes like this—creepy as all hell scenes that show just how ruthless she is—were so effective in reminding us that Vee isn’t warm or maternal or relatable. She’s a monster.
Marlow: That scene…is still haunting me a week-plus later.
Kevin: But maybe calling her a monster is too harsh, because there really was something there, deep inside of Vee, that had you really rooting for her. When Red tried to choke her to death with the plastic bag, Vee’s flippant reaction to it, mocking Red for trying to “kill a person so you can smuggle mascara,” was so humorous and humane that you thought for a second that these two might have turned a corner and were going to skip off into the sunset. (Or, in this case, the power outage slumber party.) But then that big bang that ended the penultimate episode happened. What a monumental cliffhanger to get us excited for the last episode. And what a monumental reminder of what a monster Vee really is.
Marlow: Vee is a total monster. The whole R.J. seduction sequence was an example of her masterful manipulation skills—the way she saunters into his apartment in her cleavage-baring, cheetah-print duds. The young fella’s expecting a gun to the head and instead gets served up a healthy dose of mascara and lipstick. “You always were my favorite…ever since you were a little boy,” she purrs. “But you’re a man now…A man who loves his Mama.” And of course, the sex was all part of Vee’s master plan to disarm her protégé, only to have her corrupt cop pal put a hit on him moments later. She is the mother from hell; a demented cross between Cersei and Tywin Lannister. She appeals to your compassionate side and takes your head in her arms, but she’s only doing it to get closer to your neck so she can snap it—or, in the case of Red, thwack you in the head with a tube sock filled with a padlock. What a cliffhanger.
Tune in next week for our recap of the Season 2 finale of Orange Is the New Black, as well as our thoughts on where the series is headed in Season 3.