Episodes 4 and 5 of Orange is the New Black continue to take us on a little detour from Piper and her drama to focus on other girls from Litchfield we’ve gotten to know well, but of course have not seen into their pasts / how they got in. Lorna and Gloria’s flashbacks are not only massive detours from following more of Piper (she has very little development across the two episodes), but they also don’t delve as deep as childhood as we’ve seen thus far this season. However, we do study their psyches by watching their flashbacks, and we understand the complexities of who they are and how they behave. These two episodes, though totally fascinating, did run a little slow. Maybe because it’s expanding too much into the ensemble’s universe, maybe because the movement around Vee’s but inevitable topsy-turvy takeover is pretty slow, maybe it really is because less focus is on Piper. Let’s examine the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When we last left Lorna in episode 3, we discover (along with CO Fischer) that Lorna’s much-advertised fiance is marrying another woman. The introduction to this episode is an amazing cinematic introduction to let us know we’re finally going to get to learn more about her, and we start to see how thinly veiled (no pun intended) her strong facade is. It’s clear that the uncurling of the hair and checking her look in the mirror is totally part of her daily routine, but it’s amazing we see this on this day of all days – a different day, where her fragility starts to show through. The other brilliantly written thing about Lorna’s arc here is that there’s also a bit of a red herring in her flashback: we’re immediately introduced to the idea that Lorna’s running a credit card / mail scam, and we kind of see how wily and smart she is about it – keeping a written notebook of everything she ordered, her phone manner with the customer service to explain what “happened” to her shoe package. Even though she clearly has this teenage vision of love (the collage boards over her desk feel like a teenager’s cut outs from Tiger Beat or something like that – oh God, does that date me?) she’s got some smarts in her. We see her meet Christopher – very much fulfilling the idea of “love at first sight” – and we see her presumably pack her bags to go away on a long weekend. Before we even get the clincher, we see the emotions hit Lorna and send her into a psycho-emotional overdrive (prompted by none other than “Almost Paradise” on the radio) and she goes and stalks Christopher’s house. Lying in the tub in Christopher’s fiance’s veil, we discover that this isn’t her first jaunt at stalking Christopher: the relationship was totally fabricated! While they did meet that one time, everything else was a narrative Lorna created in her mind of the dream romance. Christopher’s testimony even mentions she called angrily, asking who would watch their fictitious dog. Her steadfast, certain smile in the courtroom no longer reads sweet and innocent – we immediately see the crazy. But of course, that was when her ability to put on that facade was at its strongest. Now, she’s withered away, buck naked in a bubble bath in his tub, rushing to run away unnoticed when she hears Christopher walk through the door. I love that she steals the teddy bear on the bed as a little momento. At movie night, Yoga Jones assures Lorna of the narrative she’s invented: yes, once they’re out of there, Lorna will finally be married to her dream man.
Although the other arc of this episode got a little silly, there was something brilliantly humorous about women discovering their sex organs over again in prison. And of course, the irony? It’s the transgender prisoner who designed her own lady parts who teaches the prisoners how to distinguish their “pee hole” from their “sex hole.” Beyond that, we get a nice introduction to Piper’s reintegration into the prison and a budding reconciliation with Red. Another fun fact in this episode? We learn Poussey is definitely crushing on Taystee… unrequited. This discovery is accompanied by the beginnings of Vee’s manipulations – Vee tells Taystee she needs to distance herself from Poussey to save her reputation once she’s out of prison. That’s putting a dent in a friendship for ya.
The most boring parts of the last few episodes is when we HAVE seen Larry and Polly. The only funny thing about them is when they joke about Piper hating deep dish and say it with such shock and concern upon discovering she’s in Chicago. Uh, yeah, because they serve deep dish in prison. Geez. The only thing we get out of this is Polly’s husband sort of kind of left her, and clearly there’s chemistry between them, which can maybe spell trouble when, in “Low Self Esteem City,” Piper and Larry finally reconnect, as Piper has a window of opportunity to get furlough and may need to stay at Larry’s.
Though I found Gloria’s story fascinating in “Low Self Esteem City,” this episode probably played slower than the last. “A Whole Other Hole” was far more focused – there were only a couple other additional storylines. It felt like there were so many things trying to be established, but at a snails’ pace. We get a taste of the race wars, started by Gloria and her crew, but further instigated by Vee and her clear desire to reclaim her control of the prison. We’re thrown back into Healy’s messed up, sad universe, where he has no friends and is clearly caught in a terrible green card marriage. Red is starting up her greenhouse project – we know there is an ulterior motive, but we’re getting there SO slowly. We remember Daya’s pregnant when Poussey trips her amidst the race wars (oh, what’s up Bennett?) And there’s also the lesbian bang-off, hilariously judged by Chang. There was almost too much stuff to keep track of beyond the race war, which plays directly into the Gloria story since we see where her foundation comes from. But it was hard to care about some of the other storylines – everything felt like it played out too long when we weren’t dealing directly with Vee vs. Gloria / Gloria’s flashback.
To touch on Gloria’s flashback, we get this fun sense of mysticism – a probable scam she and her aunt are running in her bodega. We also learn about her buying off food stamps and making money off what she’s charging extra to the government. More importantly, we understand she put herself in an abusive relationship with a man. Her tia definitely tries to protect Gloria, but she’s a little weaker in her flashback than we see her in the prison, and definitely easily won by someone’s charms who will plead for forgiveness. Even with a black eye and a fat lip, Gloria keeps giving this violent guy a chance. Of course, the moment she finally decides to stand up for herself (after the dude hits one of her kids) is when she gets arrested. It’s amazing because at first we think the tia privately called the police on domestic violence. We also see Gloria introduce her stash of food stamp scam cash (that her dude sees), but the police outside those doors are there for Gloria for “fraud” – the man they refused to refund in the beginning of the episode is the one that turns Gloria in, presumably for the prayer and cleaning services provided by the tia. We do get a moment of satisfaction when we watch karma at play – while Gloria’s man tries to steal her stash of cash, he gets locked into the back room, trips on one of the many prayer candles, and burns to death. The only unfortunate thing is – though Gloria now knows to stand up for her own and not give in, she is still vulnerable to the charms of someone pleading for a truce. Red immediately confronts Gloria and mysteriously hints, “You don’t know what you’ve done” after discovering Taystee and Watson (a severely underused character this season) have been reassigned to the kitchen (as per Vee’s deal).
I do hope this Vee arc in the prison does kick itself up a notch, and it’d also be good to see a little more Piper development. I’ve been enjoying watching her as the more hardened prisoner, especially in contrast to Soso, who is so obnoxiously naive about the whole experience. Till then…