Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?
Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.
Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.
(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)
S3E1: “Mother’s Day”
Damn, this theme song is still so good. No matter how much my initial enthusiasm for this show has waned, this theme still stirs something in me.
The episode starts with Pennsatucky driving a van somewhere with two prison guards, a white woman (Wanda something?) and a black woman. The first joke of the season is out the gate, ladies and gentlemen: Pennsatucky says “Crack is for coloreds,” prompting a stare from the black prison guard. Realizing she’s made a mistake, Penn amends it to: “African Americans. Crack is for African Americans.” I file this away for a roundtable discussion of the future. Is this joke analogous to the way the show talks about race???, my pseudo-academic brain insists. Quiet, brain.
The three quickly recap for viewers the way bald Miss Rosa drove the old van into a quarry. EXPOSITION. Penn tells a dumb punny joke about being bald, having bawled, and getting balled. “My momma taught me that, isn’t that wild? My momma taught me so many things.”
Dear viewers, it’s been announced. We’re 3 minutes in. This episode is about Motherhood.
Now: flashback to Mama Pennsatucky forcing Baby Pennsatucky to chug a giant glass bottle of Mountain Dew before a welfare meeting. Mama uses this Baby Penn’s hyperactivity to ask for supplemental welfare.
Cut back to Pennsatucky and the guards. They’re shopping in what looks like a dollar store. Penn states confidently that one of her aborted/lost babies might have been another Tim Tebow. I have nothing to say about this reference. Is it about Christian hypocrisy? Is it a nod to football fans? I’ll never know or care enough to find out.
Wanda the guard loads up the cart with a mishmash of party supplies from the sale aisle—mostly leftovers from Cinco de Mayo. It’s summer at the ladies’ prison funtime camp. We’re about to have a mother’s day party of some kind, I’m going to guess.
Back at Litchfield, Red saunters into the room with all the older ladies: respirator Anita and Sister Ingalls. It’s also Rosa’s old room, so her bed has been turned into a mini shrine. The fat dude guard who’s not Luschek (Scott? Brad? something like that…) assigns Red to Rosa’s bunk. Red dismantles the shrine, saying that the women shouldn’t commemorate Rosa in a place she hated. Red offers the women painkillers she’s been hiding in her mouth, which Anita rejects.
THEN SUDDENLY THE PERSON ON THE TOP BUNK ROLLS OVER TO TAKE THE PROFFERED PAINKILLERS AND HOLY SHIT IT’S ALEX.
At least, I think that’s the reaction we’re supposed to have, judging by the music. She has an artfully black and blue bruise on her eye. Her roll toward the other women was suitably dramatic. To be honest, I can’t remember shit about Alex’s plotline. I guess it’s supposed to be a surprise that she’s back in Litchfield.
Cut to: Caputo walking with a new CO outside by the field. He explains the Mother’s Day Visitation Fair to her. I think we’re supposed to feel sympathetic to Caputo, who “got caught in a shitstorm but put up a sturdy umbrella,” (the new CO’s words, not mine…) in season 2. The thing is, I can’t look at him or that little wisp of hair on the crown of his head without thinking about Fig being blackmailed into giving him head. And the term “beer can.” And then I have to take a break to throw up.
He complains about shortstaffed by “Madame Shit-Storm”’s departure. “What’d you hear about me?” new CO asks him, with a little lift of her chin.
“That you’re smart, and you’re qualified, and…you said yes.”
God, this is boring. Is this how Caputo flirts?
“These are complicated ladies in a complicated place,” Caputo says. How sensitive, insightful, and brilliant he is. New CO nods but she’s probably really thinking about how good her cheekbones look in this natural light.
Taystee helpfully announces herself and her expository function in this scene by yelling out, “Yo! Mr. Caputo! That your girlfriend? I had a feeling you had a thing for the darker berries.” This prompts Caputo to introduce Counselor Rogers (new CO gets a name! yay). Taystee asks about Mr. Healy (old sad sack counselor who wanted to bone Piper her first day in prison, remember?). Caputo tells her Healy’s still around. OH THANK GOD WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT HIM.
Taystee: “This is gonna get interestin’.” Oh, Taystee. You are so much better than this poor excuse for viewer stand-in. But thank you for assuring us that this will be interesting. It was good to see you. Taystee gets in a parting-shot “massa” joke and is gone.
Oh look it’s Serious Bennett! Serious Bennett walks with his hands behind his back and puffs out his chest. He furrows his brow to make it clear that he’s sensitive and thoughtful. He wants to tell Caputo some boring story about lights being out in one of the dorms. Caputo, probably for Counselor Rogers’ benefit, reprimands Bennett for calling the inmates “girls” and corrects him with “inmates” and “women.”
“Or electricians,” CO Rogers chimes in. Bennett pouts at her seriously.
“Officer Bennett…is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” Caputo asks. Like how you abused your CO position, however “romantically”, and got an inmate pregnant because you didn’t like the feel of condoms? No? No? OK, bye, Serious Bennett.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Gloria is doing “Catholic-plus” magic on an inmate by rolling an egg over her body. The egg cracks, prompting the inmate to leave in a panic so that…Poussey can walk in! Oh, Poussey. How we have missed you. This show will always have value to me, no matter what it does or says, because it introduced the world to Samira Wiley.
Gloria and Poussey talk about Poussey’s alcohol brewing side business, and the fact that Poussey wants to set up a games booth for the visiting kids. “It’s y’all’s day,” P tells Gloria. “It must be hard as fuck bein’ in here when you got kids on the outside.”
“Don’t forget to call your mother tomorrow,” Gloria tells P. This can only mean one thing…
“My mom’s passed,” P reveals, looking a bit like a sad, lonely puppy. Y u do dis to me, OITNB.
And then, because we can’t linger on that sad/sweet moment, apparently, Blanca (the crazy Hispanic woman) is called into the shot to tell a strange and meandering story about her old goldfish “Tequila.” Ok, OITNB.
Cut to: Luschek and Piper in the grass outside, wiring what looks like a cardboard windmill for mini-golf. They’re talking about ways they would commit suicide, and Piper says, “pills.”
“Figures,” Luschek says. “Pills are expensive. But you don’t even think about that.”
Piper fires back that she makes eleven cents an hour in prison, and that when she gets out, she won’t have a job or prospects. This is kind of a hard sell to me because…well, she’s still white and pretty, no? Her parents are still lawyers, or whatever. She still has that college degree. Not saying it’ll be easy, but why is this conversation happening around Piper? Maybe I’m cranky because she bores me. It’s also weird to me that Luschek is the one lecturing her about waking up to the “real world.” He seems to do all right by himself. COs make a decent living, don’t they?
Luschek is chock full of economical ways to kill oneself. (“At a shooting range, you don’t have to pay until you leave.”) Piper insists that they change the subject, so Luschek informs her that “the hot one” is back. Of course, this means Alex. “The Bettie Page of Litchfield,” Luschek offers. Another gem: “And to be honest, she looked a little rough. It sucks when hot chicks start to cool down.” Damn, this show is really good at making me dislike the characters.
Meanwhile, Sophia is in the salon while a long line of women, winding down the hallway, waits outside. “If you don’t have children comin’ today, please come back another time.”
Maria, waiting in another chair, asks for her hair to be the same length as the last time her baby saw her. “It’s called object permanence,” she tells us. I have a real affection for Maria and her baby daddy, at this point. He dresses that baby in the cutest outfits for their visits with Maria. That’s love.
Morello sits in Sophia’s hairdressing chair and asks for a “no. 7,” excitedly chattering about her four kids who are coming to visit. Maria looks over like…this bitch…
“Show me your stomach,” Sophia says. “Mother of four, twins no less.”
Morello, no surprise, evades the question, and Sophia tells her to get out of the salon. Morello, in desperation, pleads that “dollin’ up’s the only way I got to feel better.” Sophia looks over thoughtfully. I guess a transgender woman doing her transitioning while in prison would know a little something about that, honey.
Sophia and Morello talk about the strangeness of Mother’s Day when Sophia’s son isn’t sure how to treat Sophia—like a father? Like a mother? Cut to a flashback of Sophia in her previous life as a man, rubbing her wife’s feet and singing as they wait for their son to be born.
In the laundry room, Angie (Pennsatucky’s dark-haired friend, right?) tells Leanne that Nicky is always in the laundry room because she’s obsessed with “getting” Angie after the “lesbian-off” with Big Boo from the previous season. Let’s just forget that happened, why don’t we? There’s something really messed up about treating the high rate of sexual abuse and coercion in prison as a kind of game between voracious lesbians. Anyway, there’s gotta be a reason why Nicky’s actually in the laundry room…
aaaand it’s that she’s looking at some drugs drying in the air vent.
Cut to baby Nicky baking muffins for her WASP mom on mother’s day, while her nanny helps and encourages her. WASP momma can’t be bothered, blathering about going to an alcohol-fueled brunch to pretend that they like Nicky’s grandma. Hell is brunch at the Four Seasons, I guess. Baby Nicky is really adorable. “She didn’t read my card,” baby Nicky whispers. I’d read your card, cutie!
Back in the present, Morello and Nicky go through the lunch line and Nicky flirts with Morello, noticing her new look. Piper grumbles but discovers Alex walking through the door of the cafeteria. They hug, and Piper asks why she’s back. I…also need a refresher. These ladies leave, letting the camera pan to the black women: Cindy, Poussey, Taystee, Suzanne/Crazy Eyes, and Janae. They discuss Gloria’s magic and whether or not she really put a hex on Vee, killing her. Crazy Eyes insists that Vee is fine, leading Cindy to warn her that if she throws anything on her tray, they will dog-pile Crazy Eyes until she’s flat. Which is kind of a hilarious and loving punishment to imagine.
Janae asks Poussey why she’s dabbling in “voodoo magic.” Taystee intervenes with a warning we can all get behind: “Mess with the evil forces, you’ll be out like Cedric Diggory.” Poussey and Taystee simultaneously intone, “Harry Potter…” when Janae asks who Cedric is. I love P and T’s friendship. I hope that this season we get another taste of their game where they imitate white women at yoga or a cupcake shop or wherever white women in TV shows hang out.
Flashback to Poussey’s mom reading Calvin and Hobbes aloud with a pre-teen Poussey. I’M NOT READY FOR THESE FEELS, DAMN IT. Is Poussey trying to use black magic to bring her mom back from the dead? I don’t really blame you, Poussey. But remember the Deathly Hallows and its cautionary tale. I know you know.
In the dorms, Aleida and Daya talk about Daya’s “first mother’s day” and feeling like a mother because your baby gives you pain and trouble. “At least get me a card or something. Draw me one of your weird pictures,” Aleida says. You leave Daya’s amateur anime alone, Aleida. She drew herself in a bomber jacket with a bionic arm, for god’s sake. She’s doing fine.
While looking through Daya’s mail, Aleida discovers a letter from Pornstache’s mom, who believes that she’s Daya’s baby’s grandmother. Aleida pressures Daya to see Mama Pornstache because there might be money in it.
Nicky and Big Boo are making a clown costume and whispering about how to sell the drugs Nicky’s been cooking in the laundry room. I’m a little confused about Nicky’s casual relationship to drugs in this season, given how seriously Red held her to a clean standard, and how strong we were told Nicky’s addiction was. Isn’t the basis of Red’s “family” tie to Nicky the pain and suffering they struggled through as Nicky went off drugs, at Red’s insistence? Where did all that suffering go? Now Nicky can just casually sell drugs in her spare time?
Cut to: Gina and other ladies sitting under the full moon, passing around an invisible ball of blue energy in their monthly witches’ coven meeting. Freida and Red are in the greenhouse, discussing how the “witch ladies” get to have their night walks because Caputo’s reign is so much gentler, and that people are getting out early! This doesn’t bode well.
Red pours concrete into the old smuggling tunnel in the greenhouse, cutting off Nicky and Big Boo’s sell route. Red carves “RIP V” into the concrete. “Life is complicated,” she says. Yes, Red. Yes it is.
Meanwhile, Healy is in Caputo’s office whining about CO Rogers being hired. He insists he’s “got it covered” but that if Rogers has to stay, “she can have all the blacks and the crazies.” EW GO AWAY HEALY. He then falls back on that old racist standard, “she’s got a weird smell.” When is this gross old man going to be dispatched in some entertaining and satisfying way? I’m waiting, show writers.
Flashback to baby Healy trying to give his insane mom breakfast as she draws on the wall with lipstick and smashes vases on the wall. I guess I’m supposed to feel some sympathy but mainly I’m thinking about how satisfying it would be to smash a vase against a wall.
Piper and Alex share a romantic moment in the chapel, talking about their mothers and their disappointment in their imprisoned daughters. Memorable line from Alex about her mother: “She’s probably looking down right now….vomiting…angel dust…” Alex is understandably frustrated and upset about being back in prison, while Piper cracks a lame joke about living in Queens and how that makes prison seem much more attractive. Whatever, Chapman.
Piper then proceeds to literally shut Alex up by kissing her. “It wasn’t your fault,” Piper soothes. Maybe she’s talking to herself, here. Alex fires back, “Of course it was my fault! No one put that gun in my hand.” I’m not sure what gun Alex is talking about here, but…if I have to choose between these two white ladies, Alex seems infinitely more sympathetic at this moment.
Ever so earnestly, Piper leans in to whisper, “It wasn’t you! …It was the system.”
I can’t take this seriously at all. That Piper, whose storyline so far has revolved around being the one who is in prison “against all odds,” should be the one to spout a platitude about “the system” is just…ridiculous. How about Taystee being back in prison, in season one, because of the system? Where was the show’s revelation about the system then? Like yes, let’s talk about the system and incarceration of women and other very important themes that this show addresses. OITNB does create an opportunity for dialogue and thought by highlighting women of color and the prison state. But these words, “it was the system,” just…should not be so easily available to Piper. What authorizes her to critique the system in such an empty and ultimately thoughtless way? You can almost see the wheels in her head turning as she gropes in the dark for something comforting to tell Alex. Even Alex refuses to buy it totally, though this would be one way toward self-absolvement.
“At least we’re in it together,” Piper says, satisfied. Her selfishness in this moment, as her partner is clearly cracking under the strain of being back, is kind of hard to stomach. I guess that’s the point. Show writers, are we turning the Piper ship around? Are we making her totally unlikeable? Like completely?
Cut to: the COs struggling to contain an excited crowd of children about to enter the prison to see their mothers. Serious Bennett is unpleasantly surprised to see Cesar, Aleida’s boyfriend, who talks openly about the fact that Bennett is Daya’s baby daddy. Cesar, who is either oblivious or takes a malicious pleasure in Bennett’s discomfort, invites him over to their house later. Bennett just manages to look constipated. Now that Larry is gone, is Bennett obligated to take over the role of mildly attractive, insistently well-intentioned douchenozzle?
Montage shots of the inmates with their kids, sitting in the grass, playing mini golf, petting puppies, and generally frolicking. Suzanne plays with a kite in the hallway, getting ready to go outside. Healy comes up and stops her, because he hates fun and wants everyone to be as sad sack and gross as he is. We’re forced to watch Suzanne stare longingly at the field of children having fun because GODDAMN IT OITNB. I am reminded again how good Udo Azuba is as an actress. She looks so vulnerable and subdued—even the slightest lift of her eyelids into those signature crazy eyes is full of pathos. She has the power to turn me into a cheesy film-review writer.
Soso supervises the breaking of the chili-pepper pinata, but the kids can’t have sticks in the prison yard. Fat good-natured security guard says they can work out their anger on the pinata. “Hey, kid, your mother is in prison,” he tells a young black boy. Thanks, FG-NSG. Maybe you’re not that G-N after all.
Flaca’s face-painting for the kids. One little girl looks terrified at the eye makeup Flaca’s put on her, leading to one of my favorite lines from this ep: “NooOoo, you look really good! You could like, leave here and go straight to a My Chemical Romance concert and be the balls.” Yes, Flaca. Yes.
Cindy taunts kids as they play a glorified version of beer pong, and she and Taystee agree that they’re done with mother figures (no surprise, given how messed up theirs were.) Poussey looks like a kicked puppy again. Stahp, show. Pls.
Yoga Jones makes an appearance, playing Simon Says with the kids. Some random redhead inmate I don’t recognize takes some cocaine out of her baby’s diaper and does it. Gina and Norma play duck duck goose. This happens:
Gloria speaks with her younger son, teasing him about growing a moustache. It’s very sweet.
Poussey stops Norma on her way to the port-a-potty to ask about the “juju” she does with Gloria, and how it works. I have a bad feeling about this.
Daya, Aleida, and Aleida’s kids are hanging out on a picnic blanket in the sun when Bennett shows up. He’s so awkward that it hurts. “How come computers are so smart? It’s because they listen to their motherboards,” he says. Oh my god, Bennett. Please stop. Aleida looks away. We see Caputo in the background, watching with disgust, and then grabs Bennett as he leaves for a man-to-man chat about how Bennett should keep secrets swept under the rug where they belong. Caputo helpfully points out how he could have had any inmate he wanted, as a CO. Caputo makes his point in a particularly gross way (involving the phrase, “personal pussy smorgasbord”). But at least he points out the very unromantic aspect of Bennett’s relationship with Daya: its unavoidable power dynamic. Drawing a parallel between the two men is at least helpful in pointing out that the only real difference is Bennett’s cute face.
Sophia sits doing crafts with her son, talking about his mom’s new boyfriend, the pastor. As they talk about shaving and how to do it properly, her son’s curt “ew” is a reminder that he isn’t comfortable with her identity yet, and may never be. But they have a redeeming moment in which they bond over how stupid the pastor’s “wait until marriage” advice is re: girls. Sophia gives her son some advice about exploiting girls’ insecurities as flirting practice. “You really want to be a lady in a world where men do that?” Her son asks.
“God help me, I do,” Sophia answers. A very self-aware, but ultimately kind of effective moment.
Meanwhile, the kids are still ineffectually pummeling the pinata. CO Wanda, fed up, flicks out her nightstick and smashes it open. The kids rush forward, only to discover that the pinata is empty. “Oh my god,” Soso intones, “This is such a metaphor for their lives.”
Aleida, sitting in the field with Daya as the kids play, goes over how awful it is to be a mother. “It’s not all bad…it just ruins your life, is all.”
Flashback to Aleida in the hospital with baby Daya. In the present, one of Aleida’s kids is discovered missing.
Red, surrounded by her husband and grown sons in the visitation room, talks about shutting down the smuggling business and getting back to her life, to the future. “Who’s minding the store?” she asks, suddenly suspicious. Her husband is such a bad liar.
In a corner of the field, Pennsatucky’s made little popsicle-stick crosses with her baby’s names on them. She prays that their unbaptized souls be considered for entry into heaven, because she was “wicked” and had them aborted. Big Boo, in what must be the world’s most terrifying clown costume, comes up to give Penn some weird comfort based on…Freakonomics, of all things. In this strange economy of life, Big Boo argues that the passing of Roe v. Wade prevented the birth, and therefore incarceration, of a whole generation of criminals.
Penn’s babies would have been doomed to a life of criminality had they been born—and thus she actually did them a favor by aborting them. I don’t know if I agree with this argument’s viability as an argument—its calculus seems a little cold. But it’s Big Boo’s way of helping, I guess. “Maybe you should stop punishing yourself,” she suggests. I can get behind that.
In the dorms, Aleida sneaks around whispering for Lucy, her missing child—and, of course, takes a moment to stuff Daya’s card from Mama Pornstache into her pants waistband. The buzzer goes off and Aleida has to drop to the floor, discovering….Lucy, hiding nonchalantly under the bed.
In the field, the inmates drop to the floor, leaving a bunch of bewildered children standing. In the episode’s most gut-wrenching scene, some of the children get on the ground with their mothers, asking, “What’s happening?” Your mother’s agency as a human is being denied, kid. Your mother’s being reminded of how tenuous her authority as a mother can be in a place that treats her like an asset to be contained.
We see Maria handing her baby off to Yads, her baby-daddy. “I don’t want her seein’ her mother in prison, thinkin’ this is normal,” Yads says. Baby Maria won’t be back to see her mother this season, I’m guessing. Maria breaks down in tears, cursing.
We get a sweet acoustic accompaniment to images of the inmates cleaning up the debris of the Mother’s Day visitation. And finally, we end with Poussey picking up a discarded newspaper that has the EXACT Calvin and Hobbes comic she read aloud with her mom in the flashback. It feels pat, but I’m a sucker, so now I’m crying ugly tears and I guess I’ll see you next time.