Orange Is the New Black, Season 2, Episode 12: “It Was the Change”
Written by Sara Hess
Directed by Phil Abraham
Released Friday, June 6 on Netflix Instant
Super Storm Wanda came and went, and with it seemingly any chance for this season to climax satisfactorily or live up to its promise. A blackout in a prison should be a major, insane, no-holds-barred culmination, but instead all we get is Daya having a random attack of panic and doing jumping jacks, Piper stealing some files, and Red suffocating Vee, then changing her mind—events that all could have just as easily happened with the lights turned on.
Maybe I expect too much drama in a show that is sweeping up awards in the comedy categories, but this season has undoubtedly been playing with darker themes, been much lighter on the funny than last season, and has set up an expectation of tragedy that I’m not just inventing. Everyone keeps talking about how you don’t mess with Vee, over and over. In flashback, we see her hire a cop to kill her surrogate son in cold blood after having incestuous sex with him. But, how is this intensity bleeding through into the present, actively? How is it taking form in Litchfield and changing the characters we love?
Last episode, we saw Vee bang on a table and tell Taystee that she is responsible for Poussey’s actions. Now, when Poussey yet again plays aggressively with Vee, the result is that Taystee simply can’t sit with the gang at lunch anymore, or play games with them. This would be fine because, as Vee says, she is a business woman and doing the smartest thing to “neutralize the risk.” She does not have to go after either girl directly or violently. But, at the very least, we should have seen a major conflict between Taystee and Poussey; something that would be a wedge, and amount to more than one shove and then crying together and getting over it. No, this shouldn’t be Oz, but actions, deals, and words from people on this show about prison inmates just don’t ever seem to amount to many consequences this season, and it is disappointing.
As far as the war on the whole, it’s already dead in the water. Vee says Red “bungled the first shot,” referring to Taslitz’s shiv misfire (which was at least a good catalyst for some action), but in this episode we sadly have two bungled next shots as well, killing any momentum or logic. Red going after Vee with plastic wrap was, namely, very silly and unbelievable. It just doesn’t make sense. Vee tells us that Red’s a “schemer” (although we really have no evidence of this, either), yet Red’s risking everything for such a faulty plan. Next, she realizes what she’s doing is crazy and unnecessary, and opts out. Vee can take everything, she says, genuinely tired. So, naturally, the next “shot fired” is Vee beating the hell out of Red the next morning, after she already surrendered. Um… huh?
Perhaps if Vee’s backstory involved a ton of betrayal and mistrust, maybe from childhood, that would be one thing. Maybe in that scenario she wouldn’t believe Red when she surrenders; maybe she has been screwed over before and eliminates any and all competition for a very interesting, relatable reason that the better episodes of this show are known for giving. Maybe it even has to do with the inequality of “the system,” since Michel Foucault was name checked in this episode, after all. Except, that’s not what’s happening; instead, her flashbacks reveal her as a psychotic killer succubus, with some damn hellish menopause.
There are possible connections to be made to her mid-life crisis lines—the ones about regretting finding a man, and regretting not renting to own—to her current behavior, but they are tenuous ones. In fact, if she was truly going through a mid-life crisis, and maybe trying to build an empire, Walter White-style (conjecture since there is so little explained here), she would be playing a much smarter, bigger game than she currently is, and be more successful at inciting strife. As it stands, she, along with everyone else, comes off foolish and ineffectual.
So, in the end, the award shows are right and it is the comedy here that shines. Pennsatucky being paired up with Boo to join the “lesbian agenda” is genius on all levels, and Figueroa’s conniving and ball-busting are top-notch. And, yes, in an ensemble this big, of course there are bound to be story lines you are more interested in others; but when Leanne and Angie sneaking off and downing nutmeg to get high is in your top three—I can’t help but wonder if it’s time for me to make like Daya and do some immediate, panic-stomping jumping jacks, as well.