Where the first two hours of Orange is the New Black‘s second season focused primarily on the lives of Piper and Taystee (respectively), “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” is a return to form for the show, layering on the examinations of different characters and their mental states in the ever-changing landscape of Litchfield prison. Using it’s most volatile character as its focus, “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” shows us how different mental and emotional issues can be viewed by the world: by fellow inmates, by friends, by enemies – and most importantly, by those considered to be family, the people who can help (or hurt) us the most when we’re struggling.
Centered on Crazy Eyes (with a healthy side dose of Vee), “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” is a pretty classic study in narrative delivery: where Crazy Eyes’s story is told through blunt, extremely literal dialogue, Vee’s is given some subtlety, her attempts to begin aligning herself as the queen of the black prisoners expressing the subtleties of our new character. Some of this dissonance comes from who these two characters are as people – but in this particular hour, it stems from the narrative choices made in delivering each character’s story.
Compare Suzanne’s flashback scenes with Vee and Red’s initial interactions: where the former expresses itself very overtly through Suzanne’s adoptive mother, Vee’s first few scenes around the prison speak worlds about her former presence. It also shows us her influence, her ability to manipulate others around her with the many aces she holds up her sleeve (including stale cigarettes; gotcha, Gloria!) – and expresses it nearly silently, from small gestures like her look at Lorna following her racist comment, or larger, grandiose moments like her “friendly” reunion with Red in the hallway.
For whatever reason, Suzanne’s story isn’t really given the same care: in fact, all her plot does is reiterate facts we know about her. Do I need to see exactly where her stage fright came from (complete with a completely unnecessary flashback to the season one finale)? Not necessarily, just like I don’t need to see exactly where her hairdo came from. These little narrative gimmicks feel interesting, because they’re informing character traits with definitive visual moments – but they’re not satisfying because they don’t add anything to the already-colorful palette of Litchfield’s own, wildly tempermental.
Elsewhere, there are many suggestions towards what may be to come, including Lorna’s back story (Christopherrr is getting married, on her planned wedding day, to boot), and a possible tryst between Piper and Nicky (you know, now that they’re vagina buddies and all that). So far, OitNB is keeping things small, focused on touching images like Susan allowing Nicky to console Lorna after hearing her phone call earlier (although this kind of “exception” could lead to lots of trouble for Susan later, showing an emotional connection that might see her let her guard down), or fun moments like Piper dealing with SoSo (aka New Piper), showing us all a glimpse of the dark side brewing within her since she put her fists through Pennsatucky’s teeth (she’s got new ones by the way).
With all these unique stories floating around, “Hugs” smartly keeps the connective tissue between them simple: a wealth (or absence) of family speaks volumes about a person’s well-being, in or out of prison. Acquaintances, rivals, the justice system: these people will never have compassion for the person you are (the Latina girls making fun of Suzanne, shown in flashback). Only true family will have your back when the world goes to hell (which happens to us all, at some point in our adult lives), and it’s that sense of community (and the dread of feeling a lot of fractures destroying them in the near future) supporting each other that gives an otherwise tedious (if not consistently entertaining, thanks to the dialogue) episode of OitNB some meaningful pathos.
– Pousseey is not feeling the arrival of Vee; “She’s like… Teen Mom!”
– Crazy Eyes loves smelling the clock.
– “Everything ends, even prison.” – Piper
– Larry’s efficient date again feels like a scene pulled from another show: but Biggs’s reaction shots are great, so I didn’t mind the light diversion.
– Of course Taystee and Pousseey would kill it in trivia.
[Photo via Netflix]