As Orange is the New Black heads into the central episodes of its sophomore season, it’s pretty clear where things are headed. “You Also Have A Pizza” and “Comic Sans”, though different episodes, serve similar purposes, centered on the various hustles being initiated throughout the prison, from Vee’s cigarette mill to Caputo’s new shot quotas for guards to meet. The lines are being drawn in the sand, between fences, races, and relationships: and with so many bubbling tensions in these two episodes, it makes the few cathartic and/or reflective moments that much more powerful – and dangerous, since the show has no qualms telling us where this is going. It’s safe to say I’m squarely in Red’s boat when she tells Gloria that she doesn’t like this one bit.
There are a few ways to build tension on drama: and although season two of Orange is the New Black doesn’t begin with a flashback showing us its climax, it reminds me of Hannibal‘s fantastic second season. In both, viewers are given large, shiny pieces of the dramatic puzzle early on, reinforcing early on that events are heading in inevitable directions. With Orange is the New Black, these pieces are decidedly more subtle (most of the time, anyway) but they’re still clear as day: from the second episode, the lines were drawn in the sand between Red and Vee, and it’s only a matter of time before they collide – very much like the battle between Will and Hannibal on Hannibal this year. As an audience, we’re given clear signs of where things are heading: in dialogue (Red’s been a voice to this all season, allowing Vee to get her Cool Chillaxin’ Badass on), in actions (the Larry/Polly “tension” reaches an unsurprising, laughably pointless peak when they have sex), and in symbolism, best seen when Piper decides against drawing lines in the newspaper editor hierarchy, allowing whites and Latinas alike to exist on the same plane, as “Assistant Editors”.
It even bleeds over into the flashbacks of both episodes: unlike previous examples this season with Lorna and Gloria, we don’t actually see what Poussey and Black Cindy do to get put in Litchfield for an extended period of time. There are hints of it – Poussey nearly pulls a gun on a military official, and Black Cindy steals an iPad to give to her secret daughter – but neither episode reveals what they’ve actually done wrong. The other shoe hasn’t dropped for them yet: and like the stories building inside prison, we can already see that said other shoe is on it’s way to the floor. With the guards on point (mostly; a tearful reunion between Wanda and O’Neill leads to Cavanaugh being released from prison to die on the streets), someone is going to get busted selling Vee’s cigarettes or Red’s contraband, and all hell will break loose.
Or maybe not: one of the beauties of this kind of tension – a beauty that separates itself from what Hannibal accomplished in its terrific second season – has is the variable of choice. There’s still a chance some of these things could turn into nothing – whatever crap Pennsatucky is up to, Caputo’s passive-aggressive pursuit of Fischer, those suspiciously faulty electrical boxes – and that some of these people may have a choice in what they decide to do. However, as business – be it between prisoner and prisoner, or guard and prisoner – gets more and more personal, chaos could erupt from some random corner, inciting Red and Vee’s war for some other reason than “control” of the prison. And it’s there that these two episodes find their power, balancing the emotional notes with the dramatic: and even though a few of the former are misfires (Black Cindy’s flashback chief among them; the issues with Poussey’s are saved by Samira Wiley’s severely underrated performance), it makes for an exciting two hours that represent the first real plot movement of Orange is the New Black‘s already-impressive second season.
– Healy: “women are really bad at math.” Oh, this guy.
– I don’t know why Jason Fig being gay matters, but trying to humanize Mrs. Fig isn’t really something I think works for Orange (her sudden diatribe about what’s unfair in the prison system is just weird).
– Sophia: “Have you ever been kissed by a six-foot tall transvesite woman?” Red: “I’m good, thanks.”
– I could watch Crazy Eyes talk to a mop for a half-hour a week.
– I’m sorry, but no chess scenes mean anything to me after The Wire’s mastery of the topic back in its first season.
– Caputo really does look like “the gay Edge” with his skullie on. An astute observation.
– one more time, for the memories: “Roberta!!!!”
– It really should be “couldn’t care less”, though Piper makes a solid point.
– badass prison lighters made from gum wrappers!
[Photo via Netflix]