Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by Netflix
Remember how each episode of Lost would focus on life on a prisonlike island and then one of the characters’ lives from before the island? Orange Is the New Black uses the same technique, except they’re in a real prison and they somehow manage to have worse hair, worse food, a whole lot more lesbians, no polar bears whatsoever, and (hopefully) a satisfying conclusion that won’t ruin the rest of the show forever.
The backstories are always my favorite part of each episode, especially with a cast as large, diverse, and interesting as the one on OITNB. Below, a ranking of all 12 backstories from season two (the finale didn’t have one, other than a flashback of young Rosa being amazing), ahead of the third-season premiere this Friday.
12. Young Piper won’t jump off the bus.
It is my secret fantasy that on episode two of season three, Caputo walks into the bunk room and tells Piper that her sentence has been commuted and she gets to go home, and we never have to see her whiny, artisanal-soap-making face ever again. In the season-two premiere, we learn that she always had a hard time breaking the rules. She wouldn’t play a fun game where everyone jumped out of the back of the bus, just like she wanted to testify about a drug dealer who might want to kill her. I don’t care.
11. Vee and Red go way back.
When Red, lying low at the end of season one, first sees Vee in the hallway at Litchfield, you can tell that the two of them have a long history. After she warns the inmates about Vee for several episodes we find out exactly what the history was: Vee used her and manipulated her when she first got to prison and was scared. Duh! We didn’t need flashbacks to tell us that. This is only saved from being in last place because we got to see what meek Red was like, which was something to behold.
10. Piper and Alex’s first hookup.
Ugh, more Piper. This was a little bit better because Alex was involved, too, so it moves up the list a bit. When Alex and Piper met in a bar, Alex already had a girlfriend and Piper didn’t care about the cheating. This is contrasted with her freaking out that Larry slept with her best friend, Polly, in the current day. Piper was also excited by Alex’s career as a drug smuggler. Sure, Piper might be aroused by danger and breaking the rules, as long as she isn’t the one who has to suffer the consequences.
9. Poussey’s German girlfriend.
Tied to an episode about Valentine’s Day, the worst thing about Poussey’s story is that it just seemed a little too sadly common to be that interesting. Her father was stationed in Germany at an army base, and Poussey was having a relationship with a German commander’s daughter. When he discovered them sleeping together, he had Poussey and her family shipped back to the U.S. to keep them apart. She’s about to pull a gun on the commander, but her father stops her and says he accepts her sexual orientation. That was a nice moment, but we still don’t know why Poussey is in jail!
8. Black Cindy is a TSA nightmare.
Black Cindy is always the show’s comic relief so of course her backstory is the funniest of the bunch. Cindy worked as an abusive TSA agent, riding around the airport terrorizing people with what little power she had, snatching Snickers bars from the newsstand as she zips by in her little cart. She even goes so far as to steal an iPad from someone’s luggage and give it to her sister (who is really her daughter but is being raised by her mother) as a birthday present. She takes her sister/daughter out for ice cream, but leaves her in the car to go get high and hang out with her friends. No one wants to get sad watching Black Cindy!
7. Crazy Eyes’ horrible sleepover.
After only some hints about her background, it was great to see just where Crazy Eyes, née Suzanne, actually came from. She was adopted by foster parents who had their own biological daughter afterward, whom they always favored. Still, they pushed Suzanne and made their younger daughter’s friends hang out with her and guilted their parents into letting her attend a sleepover. But they pushed her too hard, and when she’s not able to perform a song at graduation, her trademark self-flagellating behavior starts manifesting itself. Vee’s ability to control her by showing her affection and loyalty totally makes sense after seeing this story, which is also heart-crushing.
6. Sister Jane, the world’s worst nun.
We always knew that Sister Jane had to be in jail for some sort of saintly protest, but we never assumed it would turn out like this. She was turned on by the antiwar demonstrations of the ’60s when she was a young nun and dedicated herself to the cause because she thought it would finally make God speak to her. It did not. Instead, she became more and more narcissistic, protesting all sorts of liberal causes and even writing a book about her experience. She put herself and her public profile before religion so many times, the Church finally excommunicated her just before she was arrested for chaining herself to a nuclear power plant. Her story is a great investigation of faith, the extremes some go to find it, and the pitfalls of using it as a weapon for change. It also makes her selfless act to save Red and Suzanne in the finale that much more touching.
5. Vee was a badass.
From the first moment Vee started purring at the other inmates with her velvet tongue, everyone with a brain knew that she was up to no good. Little did we know that she was actually a sociopath who cares for no one. Vee is so evil that she actually had sex with a boy that she adopted as a son (and Taystee viewed as a brother), and then had him murdered because he tried to set up his own drug operation to compete with hers. Like Vee herself, this story rises to the top for sheer audacity.
4. Gloria’s guardian angel.
The best thing about Gloria’s past is that it doesn’t only include real tragedy, but also divine retribution. Gloria ran a bodega and used to trade cash for food stamps that she then turned into the government for even more cash. She also had an abusive boyfriend who wanted to take her for everything she was worth. On the day she was ready to leave him because he hit one of her children, the police showed up, tipped off by a disgruntled customer, and took her away. Her boyfriend came to the store that night and was going to steal all of her money stashed in a cigar box, but the finger of the lord knocked over a candle in the store, and he was burned alive for all of his sins. Sadly, Gloria had to go away to get free.
3. Taystee finds a forever family.
From season one, we know that Taystee didn’t have anyone to count on — when she was released from jail, she ended up back in prison because it’s the only support she knows. Taystee grew up in the foster system, desperate to find a “forever family” to adopt her, but it never happened. But she was smart and plucky, and Vee took a shine to her. While she tried to ignore Vee’s siren call into the world of the drug trade, it was the only acceptance she could find and offered a lot better pay than the fast-food joint where she was working. Of course, Vee ultimately betrayed her by having her brother killed. This was not only a great story about a character, but a personal look at how endemic injustice in the system can doom a person to a life of crime and incarceration.
2. Rosa’s wild ride.
Whenever we had seen Rosa in the past she always seemed so sad and frail, like she was about to succumb to her cancer. It was shocking that she was perhaps the most vital of all the inmates, living a wild life robbing banks with a string of lovers who would always die as they tried to make their getaway. It was both romantic and picturesque, like a forgotten scene from Bonnie and Clyde. Though it didn’t connect back to the main story at the time, Rosa’s crazy driving skills are what ultimately did Vee in at the end of the season. Seeing Rosa ride off into freedom as she faced death with the smile and vitality of her younger self was the perfect way to end the season.
1. Lorna’s lost love.
Never has an inmate’s story made us reexamine her like Lorna’s. Something always seemed fishy about her relationship with her fiancé, Christopher, but it was just assumed that he moved on or broke off the engagement, and she didn’t get the memo. Not only did Lorna not get the memo, she was making up an entirely different book to go with it. It turns out that Christopher was just a guy she met at the post office (while conducting a massive eBay fraud business) and went on one date with him before scaring him away. She then became a stalker who terrorized him and his real girlfriend before finally getting put away for mail fraud. That one brilliant twist, one no one saw coming, turned what used to be a sympathetic character into a complete psychopath. I couldn’t possibly love her more.