Orange Is the New Black, Season 2, Episode 8: “Appropriately Sized Pots”
Written by Alex Regnery & Hartley Voss
Directed by Daisy Von Scherler Mayer
Released Friday, June 6 on Netflix Instant
And so the work of the ants continues to pay off. We haven’t hit any kind of critical mass yet as far as the contraband businesses and Red vs. Vee, but the battle lines are being more clearly drawn, people are taking their places, and tensions are rising high. Piper even finally has a space in the prison drama, as her furlough makes her a recipient of white privilege, and also a target. The furlough is something even Suzanne is furious about (in spite of her own white parents), which lets you know it’s serious, not to mention all of those inmates who have lost their loved ones, yet weren’t granted a few days off themselves.
The furlough issue in general is really a great device to hear about these sadder back story bits, and an opportunity to think more about what’s going on with some of the women right now. Since our entry into the story is Piper, we so often see the others as just living in a kind of stasis inside the prison, no matter how much we see in flashback. Red, I suppose, has gotten some development in the outside-life arena, but we don’t exactly follow her sons after they leave her, or follow Sophia’s wife around town as she does her errands, the way we do with Larry. Sure we get pieces of current situations, but hearing Sophia tell the anecdote of her father asking for her on his deathbed was especially moving and necessary. It is a reminder of details we as an audience usually miss out on, and an example of the deeper consequences of prison that adds much-needed weight to the episode and hopefully the season going forward.
Because the thing is, even though this show is funny, prison is no joke. Or, at least shouldn’t be if the dramatic elements are going to work to their maximum power. It’s not as exciting to believe that Red, or Vee, or anyone else not following the rules is doing so out of their own selfishness and asking for the consequences. What’s better is if these are overall normal people who are tired yet aware, being pushed to their limit, and working at their best with a depressing and unfair system—inside the joint and out. In this way, we can watch them without turning our empathy off. Even if we do side with Gloria and cast some of these inmates as “scorpions”—a totally fair opinion—at least it keeps them from being one-dimensional villains, considering what else they have to deal with. It also leaves plenty of room for conflicting emotions.
Rosa’s story, for instance, works impeccably well precisely because it is complete conflict. We know she is dying of cancer, which is underscored in the very first scene, but then we get to a flashback where she is pretty much just a greedy woman who likes men and money. Is her death sentence a comeuppance, then? Some viewers might say so, and even she might say so herself, but still, this is a charismatic, vital woman who is going to rot away slowly in prison. Perhaps this is simply justice for her crimes; but, as we witness how good she is at what she does, the infectious, pure adrenaline rush she gets from it, plus her joy at the Curse of Dead Heist Partners being lifted for her chemo buddy, it’s impossible to not want to see her go out in the blaze of glory she dreams about.
This is also, in a way, part of the message Nichols communicates to Fischer after she’s been fired—to go out and enjoy herself. To not go against her instincts of pleasure just for $18 an hour, that there are other jobs, other ways to be that would be more true to her. It’s a hard thing to hear sometimes and a hard balance to strike. When we see Healy and Caputo struggle miserably with their lost ideals, and we see Rosa ultimately sticking to hers, although she is the inmate, we may wonder who really made the mistakes in life. As Mendez returns, my prediction is that the line between officer and prisoner, good and bad, will absolutely become less clear, perhaps even giving Rosa a righteous outlet for her final dream to become an explosive reality.