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Orange Is the New Black Season 2, Episode 2 Recap: Cold Comfort

We are recapping one episode at a time. Please keep your comments limited to this episode and those before it. Any comments referring to future events will be deleted.

What kind of Litchfield is a Litchfield without Piper? She might be the Trojan Horse through which the stories of the other inmates are told, but I honestly didn’t even realize she wasn’t in this episode until the very end. I like Piper; I just like the other inmates more. Their stories give way to a broader slice of humanity, and do more to reinforce the way systemic oppression works on multiple levels.*

My favorite part of the episode came from the underrated and brilliant Black Cindy and Poussey. When a representative from Philip Morris shows up to the mock job fair they're holding at Litchfield, they have a deeply philosophical conversation about who would show up to hire felons. Poussey says, “The only people who want to hire felons are already hated by everyone else,” and Black Cindy counters with a diatribe on “the real evil companies” like Monsanto, Halliburton, and big pharma who never show up to job fairs, saying, “The real criminals don’t bother with us small-timers.” This show isn’t even subtle about all of the scripts it’s flipping. The writers are so good they can make a passing comment about our country’s legit problems with the prison system and our imbalanced economy without blinking an eye.

When I watch a non-Piper story, I usually leave feeling slightly infuriated about the reasons women are imprisoned in real life, and Taystee’s story drives that feeling all the way home, crashes into the garage, and barrels through the neighbor’s living room. She’s overwhelmingly intelligent and self-aware, but due to circumstances and geography she’s undervalued and never really has a chance to shine. At the start of this episode, young Taystee (Tasha) is putting on a show for prospective parents, singing Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and boasting that she knows the periodic table. She’s also entirely Taystee already, telling another child to “back the fuck off!” when she waltzes between Taystee and the would-be adopters. The problem Taystee encounters for most of her life is that she gets more attention for her bad behavior instead of her abject intelligence. When neighborhood drug dealer Vee takes an interest in Taystee, she’s smart enough to resist her charms, but eventually runs to her when she has nowhere else to go and makes herself useful by using her brain to help Vee’s business. When they’re sitting on the bench at the adoption festival, Vee tells her to “make her own forever family,” and as backwards as it is, Vee becomes one of the only constants in Taystee’s life.

There’s a mock job fair happening at present day Litchfield, and everyone is a little worked up to try on the clothes Mrs. Sackin, the Dress for Success lady, brought in. Sackin is already unrealistic and a little bit mean; since when does an ex-con dressing for the job they want eradicate the prejudice they’ll face on the job market? A lot of these programs are self-serving, which is proven when Taystee, who assumes winning the mock job at the mock job fair will translate into a real job once she gets out, gets shut down by Figueroa. She’d heard from a former inmate who won last year that was how it worked, but the only thing Taystee gets from her win is speech about ungratefulness from Fig and $10 in her commissary. It’s a terrible thing to realize that Taystee just can’t win; like last season, when she purposefully gets put back in jail when she can’t find a place to stay or a job on the outside, or at the mock job fair, when she picks out her interview outfit — modeled exactly on the outfit that won last year — and Flaca still takes the crown. When she follows the rules she gets nowhere, and she quickly points out that it’s “some bullshit—  some shit to the bull.” Some shit to the bull, indeed — her outfit was the most professional! Flaca looked like Goth Courtney Love with a good hair straightener and a bad disposition.

We finally get to catch up with Red, who is having a miserable time of it lately. With no money in her account now that she has to give up her meals of Cup O’ Noodles and return to the kitchen, where her fall from power is all on full display. She’s lost her crew and her kitchen, and her roots are as gray as the Golden Girls trying to scoop her up into the fold. When she tells her son during visiting hours that her life is “sad, small, and a burden to those I love,” it’s weird how much she believes it. Come back to us, Red! We need your no-nonsense cutthroat sensibilities to liven things up.

We also, unfortunately, catch up with Larry this episode, who is as gross and deflating as you remember. Did he really tell his dad that he can make Piper come vaginally and look for props on how hard that is to do? Welcome back, Larry! You’re still the worst. He also spent an inordinate amount of time staring at Polly’s boobs when he drops by for a visit and the frazzled new mom is breastfeeding and exhausted. By season four he’s going to join a men’s rights activist group and spend all of his time yelling at lesbians on Twitter.

Pennsatucky is alive and out of solitary, bribing her way to a new set of teeth when she confirms to Healy that she saw him turn the other way the night of the Christmas play fight. She’s still a crazy nugget of nonsense wrapped in a blanket of Bible quotes, but she plays the hand she has by reminding him that she’s the poster child for the right to life movement with news outlets on speed dial just begging to tell her story of mistreatment. She’s not smart, but she keeps tripping into situations that give her what she wants. I’m glad Pennsatucky isn’t dead (the comic relief alone), but I’m waiting to see if she’s lost your edge, particularly now that Leanne is bold enough to remark on how quiet and normal it’s been without her.

Figueroa is still a slimy bitch, convincing an auditor that the money she stole goes into programs like the job fair. Her husband is running for Senate, so hopefully someone who is less mesmerized by her Sharon Stoning will get to the bottom of this, and the inmates can get their heating fixed. The thing that sucks about Figueroa (besides everything) is that her actions are not just inspired by greed, but contempt. Her response to Taystee after the job fair, where she compared her and the other inmates to babies for having needs, made my blood boil. I know it’s a fictional show! But I think there are plenty of Figs in the world taking advantage of the disenfranchised, and the writers of this show always craft her character with the perfect amount of smarm to make me believe in the realness of it, and then I hate the world.

At the end of the episode, after Taystee wins the job fair, she glances over and sees new arrival Vee hovering in the doorway. What does this mean for Taystee? Is this a family reunion or the harbinger of doom? Taystee isn’t happy to see her, so whatever happens next can’t be good.

OUT IN THE YARD

  • Leanne is pissed when her outfit, picked out specifically by Sackin, gets chosen for the “don’t” pile. Poor thing just wants to be a marine biologist, not argue the merits of peach pantsuits. “I just want to swim with dolphins!”
  • Big Boo, uh, encouraged her dog to go down on her by putting peanut butter on her bits, and that’s why Big Boo no longer has that dog. “It got weird.” Yikes, y’all.
  • Daya was constipated for five days, but her mom stole some yogurt for her and she shit up a storm. Is Daya’s story done now that she’s pregnant? I know it’s only the second episode, but she’s SO FAR in the background.
  • Gloria: "Why aren’t you in jail?" Luschek: "I am in jail – every day of my fucking life."
  • O’Neill is working out now, marching in place and trying to get 10K steps a day
  • Lorna: “I’m still upset to see Red not in the kitchen. It’s like seeing a cop in the kitchen wearing sweatpants after he spent the night with your sister, with splooge on his leg, you know?” Let’s hope the Lorna backstory addresses her family in some way. 
  • “You’re a good son – not great, but pretty good.” RED FOREVER.

*Two great books on this subject are Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Dr. Joy DeGruy’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

Photo: Jessica Miglio