An ever-present theme on Orange is the New Black, the concept of family permeates every single scene of both “Little Mustachioed S***” and “Take A Break from Your Values”, two episodes that quickly accelerate the dramatic stakes of season two. With the exploration of family (both blood-related and not) dominating the story, it makes sense that these two episodes are the most dramatically heightened of the season thus far: it’s family that brings out the best and worst in us, after all, isn’t it? Orange is the New Black would wholeheartedly agree – and uses it to its advantage to elevate the tensions in and around Litchfield Prison to code red levels.
The most obvious of these sudden tonal shifts comes from Red and Vee’s brewing conflict: as Red and Vee bring their “families” together in prison (the latter with a little more trouble, losing one of her soldiers to the Shoe, and facing resistance from Poussey), the ones they love become the ones they can’t control, an unfortunate side effect of having any kind of family you care of. There’s a stark difference drawn between the two, however, which seems to swing the dramatic pendulum in Red’s favor: when Red shares a dinner with her family, and then gets insulted in front of Big Traitorous Boo, we see just how real of a family Red has around her – maybe a little too passionate, given their misdirected attempt to try and kill Vee at the end of “Take a Break”, an action certain to reverberate through both the white and colored bathrooms in Litchfield as the season draws to a close.
But look how Red treats her family compared to Vee: where as Vee sees everything as a beneficial or detrimental transaction, Orange is the New Black goes to great pains to show the humanity underneath Red’s tough exterior. And as much as the show’s tried to make Vee an integral character we’re invested in (placing her close to Taystee being a bit part of this gamble), the way the show treats Red’s actions in these two episodes give away where the show’s heart lies, no matter what the outcome of their impending war: Red’s three dimensions are on full display in these episodes, be it her anger, her passion, or her enormous heart: her embrace of Nicky after she comes clean about the heroin she got is not only a great moment for both characters, but one of the most emotionally rewarding moments of the entire series, a callback to the early days where Nicky struggled to not disappoint Red – and a reminder of what happens when Red tries to judge someone, and throw them out in the cold (RIP Tricia). Vee, for all her nodding to Crazy Eyes and anger at Taystee’s growing resentment, just doesn’t feel as well-rounded as Red: and as the main dramatic conflict of the season, it leaves our villain a bit under-powered against one of the show’s strongest, well-developed characters.
Of course, there’s a lot more going on in both these episodes than Red and Vee: in both, there’s a particular attention paid to those being shunned or rejected by the ones they love, and great pains taken by the writers to point out just why we can never give up on those we’re seeking forgiveness from. Some of these aren’t quite as effective as others: Sister Jude’s back story feels like a tidy way to wrap up a story line, a series of flashbacks tinged with interesting ideas about faith and loving God, but never explored beyond Sister using her supposed faith as stilts for her ego. I’m not saying Orange is the New Black needs to have something to say about religion, but with such a good grasp on other, tangentially-related themes (forgiveness, emotional support and faith in those around you), I almost feel teased on what OitNB might have to say about spiritual faith.
However, this is a small complaint: despite every scene essentially representing two sides of the same conversation, both “Little Mustachioed Sh*t” and “Take a Break” do a wonderful job displaying the highs and lows that come with having faith in something: Alex continuing to send letters to Piper, Daya in Bennett’s love for her (the scene where Pornstache does everything she wants and doesn’t want from a man NAILS this perfectly), and Sophia finally getting to share some time with her son all show different pros and cons of what happens when we believe – and more importantly, love – other people. As humans, we’re always trying to build family – and as some build and others fall apart on Orange is the New Black, all are being tested as we head towards what feels will be an explosive final pair of episodes.
– oh, poor Morello. At least we got another beautiful scene with Nicky, who is reinforcing why she’s my favorite character on this show.
– Life sucks for Daya right now; it kind of feels like the show’s put her on the back burner, though, and her stories with Pornstache and Mendez lack the emotional impact of season one’s because of it.
– see ya later, Piper (and her paper)! Piper’s impending transfer looks to be a major shake-up of the show, though it may be short-lasted, given the one-way train to failure that Mrs. Fig is currently riding.
– Caputo gets to fire Pornstache in dramatic fashion – I wonder if he needed a private moment at his desk after the fact to reflect (gross, I know… but totally in character for Caputo).
– Pennsatuckey and Healey are a hilarious combination – Orange is the New Black found some gold pairing those two together. Healey’s support group may be failing, but he’s got a new buddy!
– boy, that Red/Vee scene in the greenhouse is intense; these two women have such great chemistry on-screen, I’d watch a season of them teasing and sneering at each other.
– Alex, you better be a little more scared. For your own good.