Orange Is the New Black, Season 2, Episode 13: “We Have Manners. We Are Polite.”
Written by Jenji Kohan
Directed by Contantine Makris
Released Friday, June 6 on Netflix Instant
“Bad seed,” “insane,” “psycho,” “the real evil”—these are just some of the ways in which Vee is referred to this episode. Strangely, it is a finale that works hard in its side stories to show a fuzzy line between good people and bad people, and mostly succeeds in doing so. So why exactly it features a central story that works to prove the complete opposite, about a sociopath with no redeeming qualities who is treated like a cancer on the prison, is a mystery. Are we really supposed to cheer her death after we just learned our lesson over the course of two seasons that life is not so clear cut? Close out the story singing “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead”?
It seems certain that we are, and in this way the episode is utterly disappointing, and reminiscent of the worst moments of Jenji Kohan’s other show, Weeds. It’s not that I think Vee is a good human being, she is of course despicable, and if she were in my life the way she was in the women of Litchfield’s, I would be trying to bring her to justice, too. But this is a story, not real life. It is not entertaining to see bad people be bad, and then get punished and all the main characters to be happy—not in a show of this caliber, precisely about humanizing the very people society deems “bad.”
This kind of storytelling also brings with it dialogue lows in this episode, because when there’s no gray, no push or pull, there can only be preaching. Poussey for a scene turns into a walking anti-bullying PSA, saying things like, “You know who made up that ‘never snitch’ bullshit? People who probably deserve to be snitched on,” with cheesy backup from Black Cindy, Janae, and Taystee, all circling the villain that five minutes ago was their leader, like they are in a Disney movie—as if they are the hyenas and Vee is Scar. Even the murder of RJ is piled on, with Taystee magically knowing all of a sudden that Vee was responsible. Logic doesn’t need to figure in here, all that matters that Vee is a user, and these girls are now absolved, because we need them for next season for a fresh storyline.
Or will we? There’s actually so much blame piled on Vee, so many labels, and so much revisionist history that there is a slight chance that perhaps the episode is consciously protesting too much. When Lorna tells the SIS that before Vee came “at least no one was trying to kill each other,” it is laughable, considering Piper and Pennsatucky. Also, there are Red’s words about sex, and that fear is good, “very good.” The writers clearly understand that safety, boundaries, and black and white are boring, and could be sending us a subliminal message. With Nicky stuck with a ton of Vee’s heroin she stole, there is hope for next season that they will backtrack on just how bad this “villain” really was, especially if the prisoners start turning on each other without her there.
Surely, the biggest evidence that points to this possibility is Caputo. Piper tells him in the beginning, “You’re a good person. And Mrs. Figueroa? She isn’t.” He takes these words as gospel and runs around the prison squealing over his good fortune in her ousting. Yet, we know Figueroa isn’t all bad, and when faced with tough choices, Caputo completely falters, picking his career over his morals. As dragged out as the Bennett storyline has been (and will likely continue to be), it is definitely satisfying that his impregnation of Daya is Caputo’s first crisis to lead him down a darker path. When Fig said “good luck” to his noble intentions, she had to have no idea how quickly he would need it, indeed.
Still, whatever happens next season, we are still faced today with this one, and while Rosa driving off in a blaze of glory was a nice cap for her, it had little resonance otherwise. Piper was our north star last season, and this one has suffered greatly from her sidelining, and general lack of cohesion. What we’re left with is some vague “people need people” theme, culminating, kind of, in Piper getting Alex thrown back in prison—but is this a step forward for her or a step back?
In “40 OZ of Furlough” Piper seemed at peace with her new prison identity and happy to be exposed to more and growing, like we the audience watching; yet, suddenly in her conversation with Soso here, she makes like Janae and Black Cindy and recants. Agreeing with Soso that changing because of prison is not OK is a truly baffling moment for a season that started with Piper not helping her new friend in Chicago when she was getting jumped in the prison yard. Instead of learning, she’s basically taking everything now as a loss.
Wouldn’t it have been much more satisfying to also see Piper somewhere in the Vee story, sticking up for her friend Red, and maturing? Do we have to wait until next season to regain any kind of central focus, or will we have to be satisfied with Piper sitting out, and Pennsatucky being the one to grow, sometimes? I haven’t given up on the show yet, so I’m willing to find out, and the return of Alex is absolutely promising; but, all I know is, next season, there better be more follow-through… and they better be using that riot gear.