Well…dayum. “It Was The Change” and “We Have Manners. We’re Polite,” the final two of episodes of what has been a superb second season, crammed a hell of a lot of pathos, plot and perverse glee in their hours (or in the case of the finale, 90 minutes), including—but not limited to—the falls of Vee and Figueroa, Caputo’s rise to power, and tying up loose ends like Soso/Sister Inamagall’s hunger strike and Daya and Bennett’s pregnancy conundrum.
What’s amazing about watching both episodes is neither feels bloated or rushed (of course the latter’s longer running time helped in that regard) as “It Was The Change” pushes long simmering conflicts to a boiling point and “We Have Manners. We’re Polite,” seamlessly weaves various arcs together to bring things to a satisfying conclusion.
The fallout from the Golden Girls’ botched stabbing (which I also botched by naming the victim as Janae—but in my defense her hair was styled very Vee-like in that episode) has resulted not in all-out war, but in all-consuming tension. Red knows Vee won’t let bygones be bygones, so she first attempts a peace offering, but falls back on the Golden Girls’ advice to bluff that the shanking was a warning shot when Vee calls BS. Their renewed beef plays out against the backdrop of Hurricane Wanda, which knocks out the power and, due to Fig’s embezzling ways, leaves the prison flooded and without generators. We’re talking communal piss buckets folks.
A panicked Red ambushes Vee from behind, nearly choking her out with a piece of saran wrap, but stops herself, because, you know, she has a conscience. Unfortunately, she forgets Vee doesn’t, buying her crap about calling a truce and paying dearly when Vee pops her with a lock in a sock the next day. And if you were still unsure how to feel about her before, watching Vee heartlessly manipulate Suzanne into believing she beat up Red will surely put into you into the hate camp. Like any good sociopath, Vee is arrogant and narcissistic enough to believe she can control everyone and everything around her. But she miscalculates the strength of her hold on Taystee; what she labels a “time out” (casting her out of the group after Poussey a.k.a “the little broomstick”, ruins some of her tobacco stash), Taystee sees as the eye-opening final straw, and becomes the catalyst for her to mend her relationship with Poussey.
From there it’s basically downhill for Ms. Parker, as Watson and Black Cindy come out of the haze to join Poussey and Taystee in telling the SIS suits that Vee is the real culprit. Being that Watson and Cindy already fingered Suzanne—and because they’re inmates—they get dismissed, until Healy shows up with a kind of interdepartmental time sheet (one doctored by Luschek) proving Suzanne’s innocence. Vee knows the gig is up and escapes through Red’s smuggle tunnel. In the end however, it’s not the cops or whatever saintly curse Gloria and Norma cook up, but a cruising Rosa, going for one last glorious joy ride thanks to Morello, who does Vee in, running her over for the crime of being rude. Remember kids: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar .
The other powerful female to meet her demise, at least professionally, was one Natalie Figueroa. Unlike Vee though, the show hasn’t done nearly as much work making her a well-rounded, nuanced villain. It’s not for lack of trying; there’s her closeted gay husband, whom she catches kissing an aide in midst of working her ass off (and getting said ass pinched) for him at a political fundraiser. Then there’s her desire for motherhood and misguided belief true prison reform comes through changing the laws, not changing things on the ground level. But the show has pushed the uber-biatch button on the character so many times it’s hard to feel anything beyond Caputo’s shocked sentiment of “you’re wearing slacks?” when he finds her slumped down on her office floor.
And what was up with the desperation blow job she gave Caputo? It’s not that I don’t believe Fig is above using sex to get ahead, but the whole thing came across as a desire to humiliate rather than humanize her. I guess you could filed it under some kind strange, psychosexual karmic retribution for her “just between us girls” convo with Daya a few episodes back, but that’s a stretch. It also didn’t do any favors for Caputo. The man is not without his flaws, but informing Fig he’d already turned over her files after she finished “the job?” Taking “the job” in the first place? That’s a Pornstache move. Thankfully, Fig gets once last scene—she’s not going to the big house ’cause the warden wants to avoid a scandal—where she tells Caputo the job will beat the idealism out of him. It doesn’t entirely wash the WTF taste out of my mouth, but it’s better than nothing.
And what of Piper? Well, as I said in the season premiere, Piper is still Piper. Though she does the right thing in exposing Fig, it’s primarily so she can get her transfer canceled. And though I completely understood her anger at Larry and Polly coming to visit her to get her “blessing” for their unholy alliance, Polly’s “love isn’t planned” spiel inspired her to narc on Alex’s plan to skip town so she’d be back in jail with her. While it’s possible she also did it to keep her out of harm’s way, watching Piper pore over the stack of Alex’s letters like a lovesick tween doesn’t give much weight to that argument. It’s a supremely selfish, fucked up thing to do, but it fits these two’s pattern of lovin’ and screwin’ each other over.
In fact, for as much as things changed, they’ve also stayed the same. Fig may be out, but the frustration and uselessness she felt are already seeping into Caputo, who growls “it’s my second day” after one spent dealing with protesting nuns, two escapees and a C.O.’s confession of impregnating an inmate. Vee may be out of the picture, but pieces of her—specifically, the heroin Boo and Nicky take and hide in the laundry room—are still there, waiting to wreak havoc on the prison. And back door wheeling and dealing are what set Suzanne free and ended the hunger strike, not entrusting the system to care of these women or administer justice. It’s not the most optimistic stance on prison, but it certainly feels honest and true to life.
All in all, it’s been a fabulous season of Orange Is The New Black, one where the show expanded its universe, introducing new faces while giving more depth to familiar ones, as well as covering the familiar intersections of race, gender, sexuality and class with substance and subversive style.
See ya’ next June!
–So now that Polly and Larry have informed everyone that they’re together, is this the last we’ll see of them? Fingers crossed! Not that I hate the actors, but until Piper’s out for good, I don’t see how they fit into the show or what happens next.
–It would have been nice if Sophia would have had a larger presence this season. Being that Laverne Cox’s profile has raised considerably since the season two began, this might change once next summer rolls around.
–Uzo Abuda has to get an Emmy nomination for this episode; her performance was just the right mix of humor and (near) tragedy. That last shot of her clutching the packet of Uno cards, bawling her eyes out was gut-wrenching. Even if her tears were spilling over a despicable, conniving woman who reduced her to nothing more than an attack dog.
–Ditto Emmy-wise for Lorraine Toussaint’s turn as Vee. She wore that role like a second skin.
–Who else could’ve watched O’Neill serenading the nuns with songs about his tortured Catholic upbringing for at least a half hour?
–Speaking of music, who else is surprise’s Soso’s 90′s alt-rock sing-a-long didn’t include “You Oughta Know,” “Violet” or “Criminal?”
–”O’Neill, scatter the nuns!”
–Some might think the final shot of Rosa-transforming-into-young-Rosa was a bit much, but not me. IMO, we’re seeing Rosa as she is seeing herself: healthy, young, wild and going out in a blaze of glory.