Okay, so I kinda blew through the second half of Orange is the New Black in a whirlwind frenzy. I mean, how could you not after the Valentine’s Day episode? So many things just built and built and built. Some things about the season weren’t perfect – due to the focus on the Vee storyline, I feel like other characters got compromised, became so one-dimensional. And the Larry-Polly-Piper thing is just so, blah. But so many of the ensemble characters have gotten a moment in the spotlight and I’ve grown to love them all so much more as a result, and they are more to me what Orange is the New Black is than just the Piper storyline. Yes, the show has truly evolved into a show about a world – Piper was our window into it, but she’s certainly not the ultimate driving force anymore. I’ll try to comment on a larger scale about the highlights here.
First, let me discuss the CO’s and the Litch staff. The only ones I ever really cared about previously were Caputo, Fig, Bennett, and Pornstache, if only because they were plugged as primary figures in establishing what the Litchfield universe was. But everyone else in orbit has been pulled in and it’s been a wonderful surprise. So much great writing has been spent on these little nuggets of moments with the other CO’s. The Wanda Bell-O’Neill romance is by far one of the funniest side stories of the series, evolving from the tiff at Valentine’s Day to full blown barely even hiding it PDA in the office. O’Neill playing the “banjolele” is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, as well as his proclamation that he set the furlough shpiel to the tune of Pokerface in his head so it’s easier to memorize. Bell’s obsession with the cough and squat is also a hilarious running joke. Bennett has become the grand disappointment for me – he only became interesting again at the finale, when he finally tries to own up to being the father of Daya’s baby. Other than that, he’s been truly pathetic. And I mean, yeah, Daya is on point about that – but more on that a little later. I’m glad we got to see more of Fig before we saw her go down – she’s clearly all about the showmanship and upholding a reputation, but she’s just as fragile as anyone. She hides a binge-eating habit (possibly bulimic if you consider the evidence found as Caputo and Piper went through her desk), she has a largely disappointing marriage, and she finds out on an important fundraising night that her husband is having an affair with his male campaign assistant. Despite these pathetic aspects, we still find room to despise her – she knows she’s screwing around with the prison funds to support her husband’s campaign, and she takes out the lack of control in the prison on Caputo instead of finding real solutions. She beams about taking pride in her job and being great at it, yet ignores a major conflict (the storm) and writes it off to the Litchfield crew to just “ride it out” with no assistance. Yipes! Now, I’ve read some criticisms on Caputo’s character – I don’t find him overtly manipulative or evil at all. He definitely comes across as the nobler staff member of Litchfield. Yet, as soon as he takes his seat in the assistant warden’s chair, we kind of see why Fig behaved with such emphasis on upholding a pretense. When it rains, it pours, and every major problem is thrown at Caputo the minute he steps up in his trial period as assistant warden, and he immediately is looking for ways to push out the problems so it doesn’t ruin his track record. Yes, he cancels the unnecessary inmate transfers, but he tells Bennett to keep his baby a secret, and he keeps repeating, “This can’t happen today!” Well, the biggest cliffhanger the season finale leaves us with is whether these events will threaten Caputo’s promotion, and it most likely will.
I will take a brief moment to say fare thee well (for now) to Pornstache, who, though despicable, I feel sorry for as they take him away to prison. He certainly went out with a bang – coming back, showing he’s actually kinda good at enforcing the rules, being weird and creepy about being in love with Daya, and doling out pregnancy advice as he’s carted off (Don’t eat tuna! Or soft cheese! So great) He was a well-played antagonist, but I’m also glad they didn’t linger on him unnecessarily too long, especially considering the worst adversary for Litch was a prisoner.
The Vee vs. Red rivalry really takes off after Valentine’s Day, with Red establishing her trade route, and Vee setting up her system and using fear and manipulation to get her girls in line. Poussey really shines here this season as the one who sees reason, as does Nicky later on when she throws in her punch in the fight back hiding the heroin. Poussey is so not drinking the Kool-Aid, and it turns her friends into uglier, one-dimensional versions of themselves. Vee surrounded herself with very young, naive loyalists who revel in pride and glory and become bullies, even bullying Rosa. Poussey catches wind first of Vee upping the ante from tobacco to drugs, and Nicky gives Red the fuel to fight the good fight to take down Vee. Gloria is a wonderful middle-woman caught in between, strong enough not to be pulled into either woman’s orbit, but smart enough to see that Vee is totally out of her mind. My only problem here is the turning point for Vee and her followers – it felt like in the last 2 episodes it had to happen so fast and the switch turned off, like someone ended a hypnotism on Black Cindy, Watson, and Taystee. I’m glad at least Taystee had some time to be ostracized first so she was able to come to sooner, but after the environment of fear Vee established, it’s crazy how quickly Black Cindy and Watson change their tune. I mean, Watson knew Vee wasn’t going to speak out for her when she was brought to SHU – so the fear was kinda built in. How does that shut off so quickly? Anyway, at the very least, the girls were smart enough to realize that if they all were against Vee, Vee’s got no more backup. Bam. And what did Vee teach Red so horrifically so many years ago? We see the difference between Vee and Red in how they react here – at least Red tried to stand her ground. Vee instead chose to run away. At the end, I wondered who would finally do in Vee, because it had to happen. I’m so happy it was Rosa – I had read a comment online about how Rosa was previously perceived as weak, and by Rosa hitting Vee, it gives her that leg up to prove she’s not. It was a totally perfect moment for Rosa to really feel powerful and free. Of course, question is – is Vee really dead? Will they find a way to write her back in, or will season 3 bear a new adversary?
The last major arc I’ll go into detail with is the Piper storyline, because it’s just naturally given precedence. I’m actually pretty pleased with how they treated re-integrating Alex back into their universe. We’d think she got off scot-free, but Alex lives in fear basically in house arrest in Queens. Piper’s feelings as she interacts with Alex definitely show a lot of confusion – she’s happy, they continue to click, but she’s still resentful and angry, as she has every right to be. Given that Piper was willing to pull a vengeful move like have her new sister-in-law Neri plant a bag of poop on Polly’s door for sleeping with Larry, it’s fitting and not surprising that prison Piper would pull a similar move and use Alex’s confession against her, asking Polly to tip off Alex’s parole officer about her carrying a gun and wanting to skip town. The absolute worst part of this storyline is the Polly-Larry thing, and Larry is definitely a gross, weird human being. I did love the furlough scenes – and I loved that Piper was put in her place for trying to make up for white privilege (yeah, try to apologize for it – this isn’t the crowd that will feel any more sorry for you), and I loved seeing Piper’s brother. It was great to see Piper also confront the Waspy friends of her parents, who are all probably thinking the same thing, and even say so: the prison you isn’t you, and you’ll be back to your “old” self in no time. Piper’s personal journey at Litch has definitely been the up and down of figuring out who she really is – the prison her, or the outside world her. She came to a moment of acceptance of the prison version of herself, but after Alex, she comes to a sort of despondent conclusion that she’s not sure she’s happy with that either. She knows she can never be the same, but if not, then who is she? I’ll hope that the Polly-Larry stuff dies down next season, but seeing as how Polly is Piper’s bff, prob not. Sigh.
Lastly, all the backstories that were revealed at the end of the season were really amazing, and for some, I wish we got more. Black Cindy as the TSA guard was great, but I wish there was more to it. Yes, we get she’s immature and can’t even take care of her own child, but it leaves off so quickly. Rosa is so badass, and it makes us even happier and prouder to see her take a moment of glory, first with the robbing of the nurse, and then, of course, with Lorna’s version of compassionate release, giving her the prison van to run away. I’m also so glad we got to see more of Sister Ingalls and her activism past, and it paired up nicely with Soso’s hunger strike. Soso was initially to me so silly and idealistic, but she definitely hardened a bit and actually showed some value, especially once Sister Ingalls took a stand. Other side stories I was glad to see play out was Sophia finally having a moment with her son in prison (even though it’s just a card game, that’s a huge step), and Maria and her quiet boyfriend and baby were such a great running joke it made me so genuinely happy for them when Maria’s transfer was canceled and the boyfriend was running at the mouth. The ensemble of this show is so well developed that it’s kept the remaining of these episodes flowing so well.
As a sign off, I really hope the Daya-Bennett relationship is written better, and maybe with more real conflict next season. I mean, I guess hormones can explain Daya’s on again, off again attitude toward Bennett, but it just got silly. I want real stakes for them, besides Daya’s weird moral compass on Pornstache going to jail and thinking Bennett owning up to the baby is a good idea for them. I guess we’ll see what turns out when she gives birth.
Overall, this season was a constellation of shining stars from all unexpected places, I probably didn’t even get a chance to cover them all. But it leaves a lot to be excited for in season 3, since change is definitely a-coming to Litchfield after that hell of a first day on the job for Caputo.