Halfway through “Orange is the New Black” already? Nicely done. Take a breather and let’s go over the highlights of the first seven episodes.
Episode 1: Piper goes to Chicago
So, that’s what became of Piper after she bashed Pennsatucky’s face in at the end of last season’s finale — she got sent to solitary confinement. No word on how she’s been there, but it’s enough to start creating art out of her food on the walls, so it’s probably been awhile.
Next thing we know, she’s getting hauled off on a bus and then a plane, in handcuffs (really tight handcuffs, as the air marshal notes: “You must have really pissed off whoever put these on”) and being told absolutely zero information about where she’s headed. She befriends her seatmates, one of whom is panicking because she’s never been on a plane before; Piper also delivers a tearful monologue as she remembers her act of violence against Pennsatucky.
Then this evil announcement comes over the intercom: “Hello passengers, we want to thank you for flying with us today. We know you had a choice in your air travel — kidding! You have no choice at all, you’re prisoners. In case of a water landing we strongly suggest you do not try to swim to freedom; remember, it’s winter and hypothermia hurts. Enjoy our in-flight entertainment, which is staring off into space.”
Flashback time: This episode is dedicated to Piper, looking back at her moral complexities over time, including trying to sneak into an R-rated movie as a kid and seeing her father kissing another woman. Of course, when she told her mother what she saw, her mother pretended not to hear. A confused young Piper confided this to her grandmother, who gave her a speech that’s clearly stuck in her brain a long time.
“Sometimes it’s not about right and wrong,” Grandma told her.”It’s about making a choice that will cause the least amount of pain to others. Keeping things to yourself, sitting on information and feelings and living with your secret.” Piper looked horrified. “That sounds horrible.” Grandma agreed. “Oh, it is, dear.” Suddenly, so much about Piper is explained during that scene– including the fact that her brother Cal bursts into the room looking concerned: “I was trying to launch Whiskers up into outer space and now my room is kind of on fire?”
Back to Piper present day: She’s shipped to a prison in Chicago that makes Litchfield look like a day at the spa, given that she has scary new roommates who are furious that she accidentally killed their cockroach. (Roaches are more valuable than gold here, as they’re used to transport cigarettes.) Plus, there are male prisoners who aren’t afraid to be terrifying or demand her underwear in exchange for information. Anyway, most importantly: She spots her ex-girlfriend and the reason she’s in prison in the first place, Alex.
Putting aside the fact that Alex hates her for breaking her heart and choosing fiance Larry, Piper rushes over and demands to know what’s going on. First, Alex confesses that she’s not holding a grudge about what happened, and they share a Moment. Then Alex confirms: No, Piper did not kill Pennsatucky. She beat her up pretty good, but she’s alive. Piper almost dissolves into tears out of relief. Then: The reason they’re in Chicago is for a trial. Their former drug ring leader, Kubra Balik, has been extradited and both Alex and Piper are being called to testify.
The twist: “We cannot say that we knew Kubra,” says Alex. Piper looks stunned. “That means lying under oath.” Alex gives her a look of death and warns her that Kubra is probably going to be let go, and will be out for blood if they share his secrets. “There is no justice Piper, don’t you know that by now? So we will ie to protect ourselves or I will and I hope you do too,” she says.
Piper meets with her lawyer (Larry’s dad) who stresses that absolutely under no circumstances can Piper lie on the stand — the prosecutors are planning to send Kubra away for a long, long time, and lying is not an option. As Alex and Piper are driven in a van to court, Alex begs Piper to lie. “This is not the time to take the moral high ground,” she hisses.
So, Piper takes the stand and…she lies. She tells the prosecutors she can’t recall ever meeting Kubra because when she was in the drug ring, she could only pay attention to her beloved girlfriend, Alex.
Then, of course, the worst possible outcome happens: We don’t see exactly what happens when Alex takes the stand, but we do see the aftermath, when Piper is back behind bars and sees Alex. “Alex, I did what you said!” she exclaimed. But instead of a romantic reunion, she realizes Alex is on the other side of the cell, being escorted out. She’s free. “Everything just happened so fast, I had to tell the truth,” Alex says, as her lawyer tries to drag her away. “I’m sorry…” she trails off, as Piper starts screaming angrily. Too late — Alex is out of prison, and looks like Piper will be there for a long, long time.
Episode 2: Job Fair
…and then we’re back at Litchfield, and the whole gang is here. It’s Job Fair day, where an organization that specializes in “second chances” holds a contest where the inmates go “shopping” for interview clothes, and the best outfit gets a mock interview on stage in front of everyone. Taystee heard a rumor that the winner gets the hook-up for a job when they get out of prison, so she’s gunning for first place and easily wins the outfit competition. The woman in charge is all kinds of condescending, telling Black Cindy that her dress resembles “a large burlap muumuu.” Considering the woman told her to choose that outfit, Black Cindy is NOT pleased.
The others get a chance to take a job aptitude test. Nicky gets “professional athlete, park ranger or correctional officer” while Sister Ingalls (who, mind you, went from a nun’s habit to a prison uniform) gets “something in the fashion industry.” Meanwhile, Suzanne/Crazy Eyes just wants to work with round objects.
Meanwhile, Taystee actually kills it at the interview, doing research ahead of time and winning over Marisol, who just flirts with the interviewer. That makes the episode’s backstory even more heartbreaking, as it’s clear how intelligent Taystee is and that life never really dealt her a fair hand. She lived in group homes her whole life until she met Vee, a mysterious drug dealer who took Taystee under her wing and provided her a semblance of a family. It all ends badly as Taystee’s foster brother winds up dead (presumably because of a drug deal gone wrong) and, well, Taystee is sent to prison.
In other news, Red is still on the outs with everyone — her old group freezes her out because of the kitchen incident last season. (After losing her job as head chef to Gloria, she tried to mess with everyone by putting grease in the oven, but it wound up setting sweet Gina on fire.) Luckily, there’s a group of elderly ladies that welcomes her into their circle, to Red’s obvious reluctance.
Pennsatucky? She’s alive and well, although her teeth are more horrifying than usual thanks to Piper’s beatdown. She’s able to blackmail the pathetic counselor Healy for some new ones, though — after all, he witnessed the fight starting between her and Piper and did nothing to stop it. (Healy, notably on a “lesbian witchunt” last season, was mad at Piper for, among other things, hooking up with Alex.)
Another thread that’s picked up again: Reporter Andrew Nance, who writes for the City Post, heard Larry’s NPR interview last year about Litchfield cutting back on so many programs. However, Nance has done some research and discovered the prison received millions of dollars in state funding, and allocated the money toward projects that don’t exist (like a gym, for example). Natalie “Fig” Figueroa, the shady prison administrator who’s likely embezzling that money, meets with Andrew and tries to throw him off the scent by flirting with him and using vague terms like “shifting of funds is necessary” to help the prison and its inmates. It fails horribly as Andrew leaves even more suspicious than he did in the beginning, convinced there’s something sketchy going on.
Episode 3: The origin of Crazy Eyes
It’s the backstory we’ve all been waiting for: Suzanne, a.k.a. Crazy Eyes, the clearly gifted but mentally ill inmate who made Piper her “prison wife” last year.
As it’s revealed, Suzanne was adopted by a white family, and clearly had some behavioral issues even as a young child: We see her parents giving birth to a “miracle baby,” her younger sister. Suzanne starts to throw a tantrum in the hospital, but a kindly nurse calms her down and gives her the first glimpse of her famous hairstyle we all know and love.
We see she’s struggled to fit in her whole life. Her extremely loving parents try to help, sending her on playdates with her little sister, but the other parents aren’t pleased. Suzanne’s mother accuses another mother of not wanting Suzanne to join a sleepover because she’s black; the mother insists it’s because Suzanne is older than the other kids, but her expression is not convincing.
Suzanne’s little sister also tries to include her in group activities, but begs her not to act “weird”; and those pleas go unnoticed as Suzanne terrifies all the little kids at the sleepover with a scary story. Things get worse as Suzanne gets older; at her high school graduation, she’s supposed to perform, but freezes up and starts to have a breakdown.
Then, everything that happened in last season’s finale starts to make a lot more sense: We get a flashback to Suzanne breaking down on stage as she is too terrified to sing, and the mute inmate (Norma) had to step in. Then we see what happened right after: Ashamed, Suzanne ran out of the chapel, only to run into Maritza and Marisol in the hallway, who start making fun of her. Devastated, Suzanne goes outside — just in time to see Piper beating up Pennsatucky. She pulls Piper off and punches her in the face, leaving Piper bleeding on the ground beside Pennsatucky.
Back to present day: Piper’s back at Litchfield and reunites with everyone; when she sees Suzanne, she hugs and thanks her. Suzanne is shocked: Isn’t Piper mad that she was punched in the face? No, Piper says: Suzanne saved her, because it looked like she and Pennsatucky had been fighting each other. As a result, she escaped a harsh punishment.
Meanwhile, guess who’s also back at Litchfield and will be causing some trouble for Crazy Eyes in the future? Vee. That’s right, Taystee’s surrogate mother/drug dealer. This isn’t her first trip to Litchfield, either; she and Red even know each other. Vee wastes no time trying to assert her place, apologizing to Taystee for not being there for her when she got out prison the first time, and establishing herself as a new friend to Suzanne.
Sure enough, at the end of the episode, Vee is encouraging the other women to let Crazy Eyes play a game with them (they wouldn’t before, insisting she could only keep time), becoming essentially her prison mother. Suzanne looks devoted, and we really, really hope that Vee won’t take advantage of her new disciple. (Right.)
There’s also new inmate, Brook Soso — named after Brooke Shields or “the babbling kind” — who drives Piper crazy but ultimately reminds her of when she had just arrived at the Litch. She’s nice to her, but with reservations, because the girl is extremely annoying.
And foreshadowing episode four, Lorna gets some bad news: Her beloved fiance Christopher, the man who she has talked about incessantly since arriving in prison, is getting married to someone else. She has a complete meltdown as Nicky (her former lover) tries to comfort her, but she’s too devastated.
Episode 4: The deal with Christopher
Because the most interesting part of this episode was Lorna’s disturbing backstory, let’s go over quickly what we learned about the rest of the characters: Big Boo and Nicky are having a contest to see who can sleep with the most women in the prison, assigning points to each. (Piper’s annoyed by the fact she’s only a three.) Taystee’s best friend Poussey makes contraband alcoholic beverages out of Kool Aid, old fruit, ketchup and moldy bread that taste like “vomit wine coolers.”She declines to go into business selling it with Vee, something Vee does not like at all.
And though she’s in hot water from allowing drugs in the kitchen last season (even though disgusting C.O. Mendez framed her) Red convinces deputy prison administrator Caputo to let her start a garden in the old greenhouse/woodshed. Translation: She realizes she can start funneling contraband goods in, thanks to an easy access sewer system in the ground. Oh, and Larry and Polly — Piper’s best friend — start bonding even more, as Polly’s husband Pete is on a mysterious business trip and left Polly alone with their new baby. Hope that’s not leading where we assume it’s leading.
Now, the most compelling part: The origins of Christopher, the man Lorna has been obsessed with from the moment we first saw her on the show. Flash back to Lorna’s house in Jersey, where she appears to live with her entire family, and is running some sort of mail scam — she orders expensive products and claims that they’ve been lost, and asks for a refund. Somehow this works, from designer dresses to Prada shoes.
She’s at the post office where we finally see the mysterious Christopher — they have a meet cute, bumping into each other while Lorna’s arms are filled with packages. They flirt, and Christopher asks her to get a cup of coffee. A few months later, Lorna’s excitedly packing for their romantic weekend in Atlantic City, telling her sister that Christopher is definitely The One.
Interrupt to present day: Lorna, driver of the prison van, is transporting Officer Fischer and Rosa to the hospital for Rosa’s cancer treatment; Officer Fischer tells Lorna to go park in the garage and they’ll see her in three hours. Lorna, still destroyed over the news she got in last episode that Christopher is marrying someone else (on their wedding date!) sneaks out and drives to Christopher’s house, where she proceeds to break in. She steals a Save the Date, tries on his bride’s veil and then gets in the bathtub. Um, what?
All explained in the next flashback: Lorna’s in court, and the plaintiff is…Christopher? Yeah…turns out he got a restraining order because after their coffee date, Lorna proceeded to stalk him when he said he wasn’t interested in pursuing things further. As in phone calls, messages, texts, e-mails, breaking into his house, threatening him. Following him and his new girlfriend, Angela, to Atlantic City. Putting a homemade explosive device underneath Angela’s car. That kind of thing.
Even court, Lorna gazes at Christopher adoringly. “They’re twisting the whole story,” she whispers to her lawyer, batting her eyelashes at Christopher. “He’s so dramatic.” So that’s…all kinds of disturbing.
Episode 5: Bathroom wars
Did we know Litchfield had segregated bathrooms? Well, they do — and when Gloria Mendoza’s crew’s bathroom floods with sewage, they had to the bathroom where Vee’s group is waiting: And it almost starts a giant fight that continues throughout the whole episode, until Vee approaches Mendoza with a peace offering: She wants Mendoza’s help in getting some of her girls custodial jobs. Why would someone, like Taystee for example, want to move from the library to maintenance? We’re not sure, but Vee has a mysterious plan that likely will end badly.
Anyway , we do get Mendoza’s backstory, another really sad one: A mom with four kids, she was in an abusive relationship. She also ran a drug store where sold candles for extra money, but also had a scam involving food stamps to make some extra cash. When she finally gets the courage to run away from her boyfriend, it’s too late — the cops show up and arrest her for the scam. Odd ending: Her boyfriend breaks into the store to steal her cash (which she told her mom to use to help the kids), and ends up getting burned to death in a fire when he knocks a candle down.
Elsewhere, Nicky and Big Boo are still having a contest to see who can sleep with the most women, and Nicky sets her sights on the prize: Officer Susan Fischer, the nicest guard out there. Obviously, it does not work, even when Nicki lays down the super-smooth line that Fischer should join her sometime in one of the areas that doesn’t have a camera. What it does do is inspire Fischer to ask about the cameras, and then offer to monitor the inmates’ phone calls since there seems to be a real lack of security going on. So that should result in some interesting information.
Also: More of Healy’s sad, sad life. His mail order bride wife hates him, and he doesn’t have any friends. By chance, he stops by a bar after work and happens to see Caputo rocking out in a band. They bond at the bar over their terrible boss, Fig. Healy is so happy to have a friend that he pushes through Piper’s request to get out of prison for three days to go visit her dying grandmother. (Seriously, can’t Piper just blackmail him like Pennsatucky did for new teeth? After all, he didn’t even try to intervene when Pennsatucky was trying to kill her.)
Episode 6: Valentine’s Day
It’s Valentine’s Day, which means there’s going to be a party — though everyone is in various stages of bad moods and loneliness. Speaking of which, we learn more about Poussey, Taystee’s best friend — who might actually be sort of in love with Taystee.
Anyway, flash back to Poussey in Germany — she’s an army brat and her dad’s on a new base every year, but he swears this is the last time they’ll move. That could have been true, except for Poussey’s doomed love affair with another girl on the base: Her dad walks in on them having sex, and the look on his face is not happy at all. Unfortunately, he’s a pretty big deal, and gets Poussey’s family transferred back to the United States. It’s quite sad though, especially because Poussey looks the happiest we’ve ever seen her with her girlfriend; second to only maybe when she’s hanging out with Taystee.
Meanwhile, Piper and Larry meet, and Larry tells her about Andrew the reporter who has been sniffing around for more information about Litchfield’s financial situation. Larry wants to steal the story with Piper as his main source, and Piper is less than pleased that the only reason he’s here is to get her investigative help. But that gets her thinking — why is Litchfield in such bad shape and cutting programs (showers down to 30 seconds, even) if they really did get millions of dollars in federal funding? She decides to do some digging herself.
That leads to her brilliant idea: Start poking around, but do it under the guise of publishing a prison newsletter. Healy seems on board with the idea, especially because he wants the inmates to start liking him again — he’s aware they all hate him. Piper happily agrees to help, and starts snooping.
During the Valentine’s Day dance, Healy and C.O. Bennett supervise. Bennett’s been having a tough time lately: Things are looking bleak for him and Daya, the inmate that he got pregnant. They’re both beginning to realize the unlikeliness of a real relationship, and both depressed about it. Bennett confesses even though he works in a women’s prison, he doesn’t understand women at all. Healy gives him some powerful advice: Make women think you’re meeting them halfway, but really meet them 10 to 15 percent. “Women are really bad at math,” he tells Bennett. “Don’t forget that.”
Oh, poor dumb Healy. Just wait. Although he does get one inmate to like him: Pennsatucky, scored him her fellow meth addicts because they think she’s acting like a big shot with new teeth, gives him a much-needed embrace at the end of the episode.
And finally, things end in disaster at a bar, where Caputo has invited Fischer (he’s always had a huge crush on her) to hear his band perform. Unfortunately, she invites all the other guards, so no one’s on duty to see the oldest, most senile lady in prison — the one who is always asking the whereabouts of Jack and thinks she’s 23 — slips out and wanders off, only to wander up at the very same bar.
Episode 7: Newsletter
After the incident where the guards let the senile lady (besides the fact that her husband called her “Duckie,” do we ever learn her name?*) slip outside into the wild, Caputo brings the hammer down: They all have to be meaner to the inmates and fulfill “shot” (warning) quotas every week, no matter how much paperwork it is. *Update: The woman’s name is Jimmy.
That means everyone has to get tough: Even John Bennett, who got Daya pregnant, and is currently being blackmailed by all of her friends. (An iPod, a cell phone, porn, all the usual things.) After all, he can bring in the contraband in his prosthetic leg, right? Not so much — Bennett gets so mad that he winds up throwing Maritza in solitary confinement, just to prove a point that he can be mean, too. Even Fischer writes Sister Ingalls a shot for trying to take an extra piece of cornbread. The tension is rising at Litchfield.
Speaking of contraband, Vee has set up shop to run quite the illegal cigarette business. All of her “girls” are working in the warehouse now, with some on cigarette-rolling duty and others on sales. If there’s one thing she knows, inmates will pay big money for a cigarette. And they do. Her rival Red is running her own contraband, though — thanks to the sewer in the greenhouse, she can funnel all sorts of fun things through there, in return for some payment and more importantly to her, respect.
Backstory time: Black Cindy is up this week, as we see that she has always been pretty irresponsible. In her former life, she was the worst TSA agent ever, happily stealing iPads from passengers’ luggage and taking candy from the airport stores. She also has a nine-year-old daughter that her mother is raising as her sister, and is just as careless — Cindy takes her daughter for ice cream, but when she sees her pal on the street, she leaves her daughter in the car for 20 minutes by herself.
It all catches up with Cindy, and even in jail. Back in present day, Vee takes her off cigarette sales when Cindy doesn’t follow the rules, and lays down some real talk: If Cindy has no ambition, that means she’s already given up on herself, and she’s a loser.
In other storylines, Piper’s newsletter is starting to take off: Daya’s drawing cartoons, Lorna’s the beauty columnist and Marisol wants to write an advice column. Piper even writes a puff piece on Caputo (the guards are people, too!) that will be sure to stroke his ego. And down the line, beware: This newsletter will be only bad news.
And poor Jimmy — while the guards aren’t looking, even though they’re supposed to be trailing her full-time, she takes a leap off the chapel stage (she thinks it’s a pool) and breaks her arm. Therefore, the last we see of Jimmy, the staffers are leading her into a van out of prison for a “compassionate release.”