Let’s just skip to the chase and call this the worst episode of Orange is the New Black, okay? Because it was. We don’t know if it was by design or if the writers are starting to get tired, but almost every character was seriously annoying in this episode. And to lead that brigade of annoying characters, here’s their queen, Piper, getting the spotlight. Again.
We don’t hate Piper the way so many OitNB fans seem to. Yes, she’s the pampered white lady amongst the exotic colored, and that’s a horribly boring and overdone trope (not to mention racist, if it’s handled incorrectly, as it so often is). But the fact of the matter is, this story starts and ends as Piper’s story, whether we want to accept that or not. Red didn’t write a memoir that got turned into a TV series, nor did Taystee, Suzanne, Flaca, Gloria, Nicky or Rosa. Piper Kernan wrote one, which allowed for the creation of this series with her doppelganger Piper Chapman at the center of it. We don’t see how that’s avoidable unless the creators simply shrug their shoulders and ditch the source material completely. They’re halfway there already, as anyone who’s read the book knows, but we doubt they’ll ditch it entirely. Piper makes too good and too convenient a hook for the viewer. And Taylor Schilling, when given the chance, gives one of the finer performances in a show full of fine performances. She’s given one of those chances here; to once again flesh out Piper both as a comic figure and a deeply irritating tragic one. We may not love the focus on her or the things they do with her, but that shot of her drinking a 40 and eating a burger while contemplating her life was one of the best wordless bits of acting on television in the last year.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Piper’s something of an asshole – and still seems to be completely unaware of that fact, even as the story has her facing up to a lot of unpleasant truths about herself. At her grandmother’s funeral, it’s extremely telling that her eulogy is essentially a story about how her grandmother glossed over her mistakes and told Piper that everything she does is fine and will work out for the best. Similarly, she’s faced with a whole room of people (including her own father) who still think of her as that perfect little girl and consider her current situation an unfortunate aberration on an otherwise perfect life. It’s not, of course. And Piper understands that very well now. But we question whether we needed to spend this much time on such a banal revelation as “I’m not the princess you thought I was, Daddy.”
Anyone who saw Piper beating all the teeth out of Pennsatucky’s head last season figured out already that Piper is not the Good Girl from a Fine Family her background wants her to be. We get it: rich, pretty white girl is no different from the thugs and criminals she’s incarcerated with. Except the story wants to have it both ways. If she’s no different from the other women in the Litch, then why does the story spend so much time depicting Piper’s parents, sibling, sibling’s girlfriend, grandmother, best friend, best friend’s husband, boyfriend, and boyfriend’s parents? One of the best things about season 2 of this show is that they took the focus off Piper and have allowed the central storyline of the season (Vee’s takeover) to progress entirely independent of her. We should be okay with letting her have this one episode, but nothing of interest happened (unless you consider Larry’s limp dick and the official end of a relationship that clearly already ended to be scintillating stuff) and no character revelations were forthcoming. Piper is lost. We knew that already.
Similarly, we got a flashback that should have been interesting but fell kind of flat. We knew that Vee and Red have known each other from a long time past, and we knew that there was some bad blood and that Red is scared of her (although she won’t admit it). We didn’t hate having the details filled in, but they weren’t particularly revelatory. The only thing the flashback accomplished was to contrast Red’s former cockiness with her current attempts to rebuild her family. Maybe we’re just cranky over the whole Piper business, but even the scene in the greenhouse annoyed us. It’s stretching credulity that they’d all even be allowed in there to congregate – at dinnertime, no less – and it snaps believability in two to have Red somehow cook a meal for them in there.
And why is Boo acting like such a dick all of the sudden? Simply because the story needs her to. That really bugs. It’s not that we ever considered Boo to be any sort of paragon of virtue or morality (a lot of her “flirting” comes awfully close to sexual assault), but this sudden need to get back at Red comes out of nowhere. We realize there are too many characters on this show for all of them to be fully fleshed out, but if you’re going to hang a plot point on Boo being upset with Red, then you need to explain how she got upset in the first place.
Also, that damn drain pipe is turning into the worst sort of MacGuffin. It sat there undiscovered for years, but now it seems that any time an inmate walks into that shed she discovers it within seconds.
In other news, Healy is seeing a therapist. A female therapist. As you can imagine, she gets called a cunt within the first 3 minutes of the session. But it’s hard to hate Healy too much, because, as damaged as he is, and as unaware as he is of how damaged he is, he keeps trying to do better, using whatever bits of information he can pick up along the way. It’s not a surprise that he’s terrible when it comes to talking about his feeling, but it’s a wonderful turn of character to have him take the basic idea of talking it out and applying it to the people he’s charged with helping. Like almost all of Healy’s attempts at betterment, it’s likely to be doomed to fail because his understanding of people (let alone therapeutic techniques) is so paper-thin, but it’s at least admirable that he’s trying. We kind of love the idea that Pennsatucky and Healy have both been spending this entire season paying for the sins they committed out in that prison yard in the snow and coming to some sort of understanding of their own shortcomings.
If there’s a theme to this season, that’s it: forming your own family, either because you don’t have one or you don’t have one that understands you. Healy and Pennsatucky don’t have one. Piper doesn’t have a family she fits in anymore. Daya and Bennett can’t figure out how to keep theirs together. Red needs her family around her as protection, and Vee needs hers to give her power. All of these ersatz families have slightly different (to very different) goals, which gives the entire season an ominous feel to it. Shit is going to go down. And soon.
Oh, and we haven’t mentioned Mendez’s return because he’s easily the worst written and worst performed character on the show. He’s so broadly played he makes Figueroa look like Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice.
[Photo credit: Linda Kallerus for Netflix]