Jul 17, 2014

Impressions: 13 Lessons Learned From 'Orange Is The New Black', Season 2

I LOVE Orange Is The New Black with a fierce passion. It's got everything from fantastic storytelling to compelling characterization, and one-liners that will dress up anyone's sassafrassin' game. It's just an adventure to watch. When the second season premiered June 6th, the excitement I had couldn't be contained. Still I did something pretty lame as I didn't binge watch like I kept boasting I was going to do. I decided after watching the first episode that I wanted to let this season linger for at least a week. I was going to watch one or two episodes daily, peeling back the wrapper of each episode like I'm Charlie Bucket eating bite-sized pieces of a Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemellow-Delight Bar. Big mistake really, because I was growling for more, and trying to function throughout the following day became impossible. Sure I was able to digest the episodes better and not have everything blur into one glob of awesome, but I was just burnt toast the next day awaiting the 'what next'.

But *whoosh* I made it. I'm now completely finished with the season, and I'm coming up for air to deliver what I like to call ~ in-depth musing ~ as I laughed, gasped, fought the sky, and learned a lot of lessons --- 13 lessons really --- during this phenomenal  season. Hopefully by now, if you are a fan of the series like I, you're all caught up. If not, stop right now. Go to Netflix, find a bootleg site, I don't care, just go on and clear your schedule, kiss your kids, your spouse, and your Pillow Pet goodbye, and watch the season, and then come back here and let's go over what we've learned this season.

Lesson #1: Do NOT Trust The Vee

I heart Lorraine Toussaint forever and ever since her appearances as Shambala Green on Law & Order and when she starred in Any Day Now with Annie Potts, so I was super dee duper glad to see her acting being put to good use. Yet I didn't expect her entry would flip the whole dynamic of Lichtfield on its crazed head. Vee is a fantastic sociopath. She's manipulative, yes, but take that to 10th power, add in gobs of narcissism, predatoral business savvy, and a seedy grin and there is Vee, a black widow spider of slithery viciousness. It was chilling how she flip-flopped emotions as she went from groveling in fear of Gloria (Selenis Leyva) to plastering on a grin when she walked away. She also was an expert backstabber as her friendship with Red (Kate Mulgrew) led her to trick her not once, but twice, as the final knife twist had Vee going Full Metal Jacket on Red with a soap n' sock flail sending her to the hospital at season's end. It was terrible to see her seduce young children and then dispose of them once she had no use for them or got older (the flashback of her sleeping with and then killing one of her 'children' was down right cold). Also her underground drug railroad had potential to lead recovering addicts like Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) into dangerous downward spirals of relapse. Vee IS a cancerous virus that just kept on multiplying (more on that at Lesson #4).

Her driving riffs between the sisterhood that was Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Poussey (Samira Wiley), Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), and Janae (Vicky Jeudy) and isolating them from other relationships in the prison had me shaking my head as well, but there was an interesting generational dynamic that crept into this plotline. It is clear that racial segregation goes on in prisons, but Vee becomes uncomfortably militant, racially segregating things in the prison as if we were still drinking from separate fountains ("In my day, the Black women ran this prison") and she manipulates the naivety of sheep characters like Black Cindy and Janae into cringing 'race card' droppers ("What do you mean YOU people?"; "I'm not your token Black friend").

Still her worst offense was the mental abuse she rained on Suzanne/Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba), whose character had the most heartbreaking transition of the whole season. Aduba's acting was flat-out phenomenal as she played a character who had been isolated her whole life and then feebly nurtured by an adoptive mother who didn't know how to handle who she was, thus making Suzanne/Crazy Eyes unsure of who she was. Vee noticed this and pounced, gaining Suzanne's loyalty. While her nurturing her confidence in order to think of herself as a "garden rose" as opposed to Piper's "weed" seemed celebratory and a much needed boost to Suzanne's shattered confidence, Vee used this weakness, her mental incapacity, and her newly gained loyalty in Suzanne as a pawn to manipulate for her personal gains, to where Suzanne was unaware she was taking the rap for Vee's assaulting of Red. My late Granny is right: Not being in your right mind is the worst, because you can't even help yourself, which Suzanne clearly can't. When Suzanne is cleared of these charges, she's sobbing in her bunk, now fully realizing that Vee did her in. So after having her confidence built up, she is back to being shattered and fragile once more. A-W-F-U-L.

While Vee disgusted me, that's the brilliance of Toussaint's performance as it was riveting and yes, all the Emmy awards should be snatched by her. Of all the times we've had multidimensional sociopath White dudes in TV shows (AMC's Sunday night line-up for the last five years, anyone?) Vee snatched the game, set and matched it.

Lesson #2: Piper Is Insufferable Still --- But She Needs To Be

I'm not one of those who wishes Piper (Taylor Schilling) a lifetime of walking on Lego blocks, and yes she is the Trojan Horse to introduce every other character, but that's exactly as it should be. Piper is quite the Cher Horowitz --- a glazed doughnut of naivety who is used to seeing life through a rose-colored lens. Piper soaks up everyone she comes across and eerily attaches her findings as if it's an anthropological search for building what she thinks is her true self. Her clarity moment was beating the snaggle teeth out of Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) last season, and bit by bit she's discovering who she really is, and this season was all about her seeing how much of her life prior to prison was a complete sham. Thus, she makes the perfect character to instill the show's theme of prison being the forcible hand to remove the fabricated mask, revealing a person's true character. This is why everyone saying that there is less Piper action this season is baffling to me. She's in almost every episode, and yes, her screen time may be short (and tedious), but I think this year they've made the most of her time to where it feels like we're getting light shined on the full prism of Piper, as she's finally blended into the whole that is Litchfield.

Piper has never learned to be by herself, to fight for herself, or to see anything outside of herself, she's always had her snobbish parents, Larry (Jason Biggs), Alex (Laura Prepon), and even Polly (Maria Dizzia) to use as crutches to stave off her fear of being alone and for sugar coating realities. Piper is learning that she is the only person who knows how to live her life. I was quite pleased when she sat alone after her grandmother's funeral, chowing down on a cheeseburger and a 40, with New York's skyline shimmering at her back. That image showed Piper has turned her back on that glittery caricature that was her past life, and possibly could be looking ahead to (finally) being honest with herself. Time in prison, if anything, is her coming-of-age. True, she does shed her white woman tears as usual, as her speech after being haggled for her furlough being accepted was her most embarrassing supremacy boo-hoo yet, and yes, her and Alex's toxic relationship does make the stomach churn sour because of how they ping-pong dangerously in love with each other. Still we need Piper to be insufferable, we need our main characters to be insufferable sometimes, because it brings humanizing complexity to the fold, and if anything Piper was much more humanized this season than in the last. Improvement for sure.

Lesson #3: 'Sex-Ed With Sophia' Needs To Be A Thing

Not really a lesson, but a demand. I'd drop lots of nickels and dimes into a Kickstarter to get Sophia's (Laverne Cox) love below smarts to be a web series because we all need to learn some sexual anatomy and who better to teach it than someone who has experienced both sides of the coin?

Lesson #4: Don't Fear The Reaper

OITNB is fantastic once again at bringing forward characters that we didn't think that much about in the first season, and then driving them up into the front of the line for them to step on the soapbox. Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) is the example, as I grew to love her as much as I have unconditional love for Poussey, Nicky, and Red. She was bad ass on all fronts. She wasn't sugar coating turds when it came to cancer and her life, and her pithy one-liners and interactions with Morello (Yael Stone) (that Toy Story assessment was hilarious) and the young boy who she did chemo with made me smile so wide. Also who doesn't love a '70s/early '80s bank robbing background? All you needed were sunglasses, Farrah Fawcett hair flips, and a gun. Bang-bang-glam. Her offing Vee was something I weirdly suspected as this season has been nothing but small things widening bigger pictures. Sure it's a tied little bow on plot, but metaphorical in that Vee was the cancerous cell placed in Litchfield, and Rosa was the one to ultimately 'cure' it. Sweet sweet vindication. Nobody needs to be rude to Miss Rosa!

Lesson #5: Reading Is Fundamental --- Even Behind Bars

Journalist Mary Schmich said that "reading is a discount ticket to everywhere" and for the characters of OITNB that statement couldn't be truer. Reading for a lot of people is escapism whether it be from reality and/or personal self. The continuous motif of inmates reading is one of OITNB's glistening little character building nuggets as if you look closely at the books the ladies of Litchfield read they explain the characters reading them, their storylines, and sometimes their possible fates. I'm such a nerd for little motifs and character builds like this thus I adore that OITNB throws in these little details. Oh and Lesson #5.1: Books of Orange Is The New Black is also one of the best Tumblrs ever.

Lesson # 6: The Spice Girls Were Right, Friendship Never Ends

With Vee enacting her deviltry, the concept of friendship (aka "families") was a small part of a larger whole of the nerve system that is Litchfield. Lots of friendships were put in strains this season. Pennsatucky lost her circle of meth head friends after gaining new teeth and having sense knocked into her (literally) by Piper. Through the season she had to carve her way out of the crazy she spewed and finding redemption and a confidant in none other than sad sack guard, Healy (Michael J. Harney). Newcomer inmate Soso (Kimiko Glenn) was a hapless Bambi in search of friendship, clinging to Piper at first, then finding, slightly, a circle of followers with her inspired, though fleeting, hunger strike.

Red had the task to rebuild her family after trust issues were in the balance. Her latching up with the Golden Girls of Litchfield wasn't all cheesecake and chatter, but about her learning to revive herself again by nurturing a greenhouse garden, and finding a new route to conduct contraband business thanks to a discovered man hole. She also ended up expanding her family circle, which led to her ousting out the bad weeds (Big Boo is really the worst). The plotline, to me, was very Secret Garden-esque, even right down to Red asking prison administrator, Caputo (Nick Sandow) for a "bit of earth".

Still Poussey and Taystee's bond proved that there is much responsibility when it comes to friendships, how much sacrifice, and trust that go into them, and if you're willing to fight for all of that even when shit gets rough. Poussey and Taystee's whole dynamic reminded me of Carson McCullers' theme in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, how in a two person relationship, one always loves the other more than the other, and how excruciating that can be for the 'lover'. Poussey and Taystee are the best of besties at Litchfield, but Poussey has showed in sorrowful eyes and disappointed frowns that she loves Taystee beyond friendship, and Taystee's rebuffs are slashes at her heart for the most part. In the first season we adored their union because of all their quote-worthy clowning, but this season that friendship was tested when Vee clawed into it, and Poussey rose to the occasion as the hero and as the one truly invested in a friendship that Taystee really had little idea of how precious it was.

Poussey stood her ground, stuck to her morals (okay getting drunk off of florescent light hooch almost got her killed), and saved her friend from falling too deep into Vee's trap. Still what makes her an awesome friend is how she let Taystee back in after all the verbal junk and physical abuse that was thrown on her. I know, it was despicable how Taystee allowed Suzanne to beat up on her (gawd, that scene was tough to watch), but we all know that Taystee was being manipulated by her evil surrogate mother. I wanted Taystee to grovel to Poussey, to have Poussey make her pay for mistreating her, but that's not friendship, that's not forgiveness, that not how Poussey rolls. True, Poussey loves Taystee in more of a romantic fashion, but her hugging and forgiving Taystee in the library proved that she understands and wants Taystee to understand that friendship is a selfless gift, and that it doesn't need to be tossed when that gift is damaged and needs some mending. Of all the friendship bonds in the series, if I had the choice of who to trust and ride with, it'd be Poussey every damn time.

Lesson #7: 'Compassionate Release' Is The Stuff Of Sadists

While OITNB as a TV series is a dramatized-unauthorized biography version of what prison life is really like, it still has some gravels of truth. I truly believe there are prison wardens like Figeroua (Alysia Reiner) with smug grins that ooze slime and who only care about the prison on the surface and how it makes them look --- not how the prisoners are being treated. I had some slight sympathy for Fig when her less than idyllic life as the wife of a burgeoning political candidate was shattered by infidelity, but it was for a millisecond as for the bulk of the season she is all about turning blind eyes, having an icebox for a heart, and getting miffed over green eyeshadow.

The prison plumbing was exposed this season as a bubbling cesspool of fail, and its image enacted a domino collapse of abuses of power where rats run amok, backup generators are just for show, a shot quota is initiated, and abuse of the solitary confinement is enacted. Dismantling Piper's upstarted newsletter was another form of not allowing the prisoners a voice in their situation. But nothing matches the treatment enacted on elderly inmate Jimmy's (Pat Squire) "compassionate release" as it was heartbreaking to watch as a woman is practically dumped out into the street because she's a 'problem' nobody wants to look at and solve anymore. While the jury is out on accuracy, those scenes were the ice cold water splash to the realities of how the mentally ill and elderly are treated in a prison setting --- and it doesn't get any realer than hearing her pleading and confused sobs as she's carted way to an unknown future.

Lesson #8: Pornstache Is Still Insufferable --- But He Needs To Be

Enough said. Why do I adore this asshat so much? He's a rapey douche, and yet, next to Vee, Fig, and even Healy, he's a Care Bear. Okay the Care Bear with the slimy stare, but when he rode up in the Porsche all decked out like it's 1985 and strutted in like the demented Foghorn Leghorn that he is --- I smiled. Mostly because everything had been so sinister at this point that some kind, any kind of buffoonery was welcomed, as Pornstache makes even the wacked shot system a comedic stand-up routine as he gives them out to people for even eating Cheetos.  It's a shame that his time was super brief, because Pablo Schreiber plays him to the utmost prick-fection (and have you seen him out of the Pornstache garb? Meow.)

Though underused this season, I was glad that he had time to sass Bennett (Matt McGorry) out and even calm him down after a really pathetic outburst. As much as Bennett and Daya (Dascha Polanco) seemed cute in the first season, I'm sick of them both and their high school soap operatic love affair. Bennett is tissue paper and Daya dips in and out of fantasy Barbie Dreamhouse Land, and I kept rolling my eyes at their shared doofiness. I thought it was ironic that Daya was looking for a man to stand up and say that he loves her out and proud --- and it ends up being the 'little mustachioed shit'. Even though it's been sorta-kinda-confirmed that Pornstache won't be back next season, I still feel their janky love triangle isn't done yet.

Lesson #9: You Are Your Hair When You're In Prison

Hair was another motif I enjoyed seeing this season as when some shit went down, the hair was the first to go...as it often tends to do. After being stripped of her powers last season, Red's hair dimmed down to a dull carrot, and when she joins up with the Golden Girls, she is forced to embrace her grey, her age, and her ability to be tossed in the background, something that Red was accustomed to when prior to prison, and a place she doesn't want to go back to again. Yet, when she views Vee, she needed to take it to the second fierce level and become the Heat Miser of Litchfield (Suzanne was on the nose about that assessment) and with that splash of color, her thirst for power became re-quenched.

Vee also played the hairdresser to her troop, and controlled them thus, as Taystee went from a free-flowing curls to tightly woven cornrows and Suzanne unwound her signature Bantu knots --- a trait that was so intricately associated to her --- and they were mutated by Vee's poweress into weeping willow plaits. In turn, the more power Vee enacted, the wilder her mane of hair became. Pennsatucky, whose season-long reincarnation was jolted anew by new teeth and her transition leads her to befriending Big Boo (Lea DeLaria), someone she thumped Bible quotes about in the beginning. Her whacking off her long hair for a short shag cut notes even further enlightenment for Litchfield's newly reformed "patron saint".

Lesson #10: Delicately Eating A Penis Cookie Is Not An Option
...especially when Bennett walks in. Hard to narrow it down on what was the most hilarious scenario this season, but this scene made laugh till I couldn't breathe for five full minutes, thus it wins. Poor poor Fischer (Lauren Lapkus).

Lesson #11: It's Okay To Admit Being Crazy In Love

Holy moly Fatal Attraction! Morello's backstory was possibly my favorite twist this whole season because it just came out of nowhere. Morello always gave me a Jami Gertz in 1992's Jersey Girl vibe (yes, there was one made before the other one, and its the only one, you hear me, the only one that matters in my little world). She is a little manic pixie, but a somewhat endearing dreamer, who has a warm disposition and says cutesy things. I often wondered how in hell did she get in jail? Smile at someone wrong? Well, yeah, technically. Layering is what makes character development so damn good with OITNB as Morello's character is peeled back to a real cunning underneath this season. She often waxed poetic about getting married to a "Christopher". During the first season, I believed that Christopher either didn't exist or there was one and he really did break-up with her once she went to jail and Morello was just tripping. Nope, curve ball --- she's batshit crazy wazy. There was a Christopher but Christopher barely knew her, and after one disastrous date Christopher let go, but Morello didn't. She then stalked Christopher which led to her attempting to murder him and his fiancee by foiling them with a car bomb. Jeebus.

Shades of Morello's true self are shown in her flashback story, as she enters into a chaotic household of loafing men, unsupervised babies, and just complete disorganization. When Morello goes into her room, it's sanctuary quiet and neat, decorated as if she was a teeny-bopper. Something as simple as a setting told me all I need to know about Morello --- her perfectionism, her always putting on appearances --- it chilled me as much as the smirk and delusional statements she made in the courtroom when she's being charged for attempted murder.

Morello takes her obsession past the prison walls this season as while out driving Rosa for her weekly hospital visit she leaves her post and breaks into Christopher's home, going full-blown Ophelia in the bathtub decked out in Christopher's fiancee's wedding veil. All of this build-up was done so tip-toe quiet that this story just creeps up on you and when Christopher, later on realizing the break-in was done by Morello, confronts her in prison, you end up feeling a smidgen of sympathy for Morello, and its parts humanizing and weird when she's repenting and sobbing her eyes out to a comforting Nicky. Considering that I have been stalked before (and its about as serious as shown here), dammit to OITNB for making me care for someone of this caliber of crazy.

Lesson #12: Even In A Women's Prison You Can't Escape The He-Man Woman Haters Club

Misogyny is always put on blast by OITNB and this season unloads various telescopic looks at how men handle, mistreat, and fumble towards understanding women. Of course, Larry is such a waste that it amazes me how Polly and Piper are attracted to his ass, and him trying to engage Piper to do his journalistic dirty work for a friend is another faucet of glimmering doucheiness from him along with his unfaithfulness. I gave a round of applause when he got punched by Polly's husband once it was discovered him and Polly are having an affair. Mostly I applauded wildly because Jason Biggs is a dreadful human being, (and it's scary how Biggs and Larry are one in the same) but Larry is such a narcissistic asswipe that it's hard to root for him.

Caputo is probably the only tolerable male on the whole show, and this season he tones down his usual mustache stroking and gets to putting on his cape saving the day in some parts. Okay, so he plays in a band called Sideboob, has creepy masturbation sessions, looks like a skeevy gay Edge who terrorizes kids in a Chuck E. Cheese ballpit, and yeah, he pretty much terminates Fischer's job because she didn't pick up on his lousy advances, but at least he cares about running the prison properly and looking out for the women and their safety. Still I don't know if him swapping warden spots (and other things...) with Fig later on was more so for him or for the prisoners best interest, but at least to me, he seems to give a damn.

Healy. Lawd. Personally, I love his character in the sense that he's being exposed as the heavily ignored Nice Guy (c) figure. He says he's a good person, says he loves women, but he's a boldface liar as his passive-aggressiveness (a noted trait among "nice guys") is showing bold. He feels like he's owed women's attention and loves to be authoritative about it, which is why his 'Safe Place' and 'Feelings Jar' methods don't work, and why his Russian wife smells through the bullshit of a high school production of Our Town being a "hot date". Healy is pretty much the Robin Thicke of Litchfield.

Ironically, he is surrounded by women. Even his psychiatrist is a woman. It's quite hilarious.When he thinks he's found a bosom buddy in Caputo, he discovers that even he is supporting women, and still Healy doesn't get it. His creep meter goes up and down all season. Him finding a middle ground with Pennsatucky was kind of unexpected and sweet (even though he became possessive with that relationship as well), and him helping Suzanne out the muckery Vee spun showed he still cares about doing the right thing. Still you have to do some spelunking to find his empathy for women as his smeary thought that lesbians having an agenda is laughable and I get the feeling that when Healy thinks of "Italian Restaurant" he's really thinking "Ci Ci's Pizza".

Lesson #13: Trust In The Power Of The Litchfield Craft 

Gloria's backstory was shed some light on this season and how awesome is it that she was hooding-that-vooding? And how perfect was it used as revenge against her abusive boyfriend? As a San Antonioan, I know full well that you do NOT play with Latina craft, you just don't. La-la-la let's not talk about it anymore. Someone else who doesn't play is the silent but deadly Norma (Annie Golden --- whose punk rock past has got to be my favorite 'Before They Were On OITNB' bio of the entire cast). She showed herself as the DIY Diva Of Litchfield, as in her loyalty to Red, she was mulching apple seeds into a Simply Arsenic juice for Vee. I especially loved it when Gloria and Norma join forces and really grease the wheels to Vee's demise. It was just splendid. I'd love it if Gloria and Norma would release a craft cookbook, I mean, if Sister Ingalls can scribe a book, why not?

Bonus - Quotes That I Will Be Putting In The Lexicon:

  • "That's some bullshit, shit to the bull."
  • "You smell like a fucking turtle tank"
  • "Because at the end of the day you are a garden rose, and that bitch is a weed"
  • "Great we'll challenge them to a sudoku contest"
  • "Yeah well, I'd give my left tit for a pina colada and a smoke but you don't see that on the menu, right?"
  • "Crazy dude who believes in aliens?"/"Tom Cruise!"
  • "I'm Edward Pizza-hands"
  • "He's a hitman? Oh I thought he was a rapist, I'm so relieved!"
  • "It's about kids with cancer. I don't know why the sick fuck wanted to write about this."
  • "Scatter the nuns!"
  • "Am I in a fucking M. Night Shama-Llama-Llama movie or is that inmate wearing green eyeshadow?"
  • "If a cow breaks me out of prison, that's the day I'll stop eating meat"
  • "Dad, why did you take us to a gay spa?"/ "Well...you know it's clean and the facilities are...I had a Groupon."
  • "Jesus saw that"

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