Well, kids, THAT is what you call a satisfying wrap to the season! Unlike my earlier summary of the first half of the season, this piece will be filled with spoilers, so if you haven’t yet watched the whole season and intend to do so, please do yourself a favor and stop reading now (after you’ve bookmarked the page so you can come back when you’re ready, of course)!
First of all, it was nice to see some of my burning questions from the first half of the season be addressed more completely in the second half. The embarrassing handling of mental illness in the prison system was used as a driving force in Sister Ingalls’ decision to join Soso’s hunger strike to improve prison conditions, as she was inspired by the shameful “compassionate release” given to elderly prisoner Jimmy after she wandered out of Litchfield and ended up listening to Caputo’s band (the hilariously named Sideboob) jamming in a local bar. This procedure essentially amounts to leaving prisoners suffering from dementia and Alzheimers’ on the street to die rather than continue to care for them inside. There’s also the ongoing development of other types of mentally ill characters with whom we are much better acquainted: convicted stalker Lorna and poor, misunderstood but dangerous Suzanne; we still don’t what she did to land in jail, but it may have something to do with her neighbor. (It’s also possible her trusty “Lady Locksley” was involved; who knows?) Regardless, Suzanne absolutely has some special needs that should be addressed and Lorna, who is thought of as a sweetheart in prison but is obviously pretty unbalanced, won’t be any good to return to real life without some serious therapy to determine how to manage her issues and compulsions.
Speaking of Lorna, the revelation of her stalking and her subsequent break in was one of the best hours of the season. And after she escaped Christopher’s house without being found (which seemed unlikely), it was great that Christopher came to the prison to confront her several episodes later, and reveal her truth to Nikki in the process. Perhaps the simple fact that Nikki was still supportive of her friend (and onetime lover) despite this new information will allow her to start on a better path. And Nikki may need her friends even more considering where we left her as the season ended, staring hungrily at a ton of heroin that she smuggled out of Vee’s hiding place and put in one of her own, with only Boo in on it. Will they become the new power brokers and pushers, or will Nikki just fall off the wagon and spiral into addiction again? She and Boo got to provide some comic relief with their sex contest and Boo’s straight-faced teasing of Pennsatucky about the various tenants of the “gay agenda”. She was so convincing that Boo got Tucky to let Sophia cut her long her into a butchy pixie cut. Our favorite transgender hair stylist spent most of the season relegated to the sidelines, save for a touching story of son Michael finally coming to visit and the two bonding over a game of Go Fish.
Taystee and Poussey are back on track after their painful “breakup” and have gotten Cindy and Janae back in their corner as well. Maybe this group can be the ones to really help Suzanne get herself under control. On a related note, Uzo Aduba needs an Emmy nomination, pronto. This crew is being portrayed as smart and sympathetic, which is refreshing for a group of black prisoners on TV. All have had their share of crappy circumstances combined with bad decision making to various degrees. Cindy is getting the most typical portrayal, but she can certainly change her ways. All of these girls can be shown to undergo major growth during their time in jail (how about have Taystee study for a business degree?) and maybe even thrive once they get out. In the meantime, they’re an entertaining bunch as well, especially now that they’re rid of the evil Vee.
Lorraine Toussaint did a masterful job with her portrayal of this horrible woman who was a master manipulator who preyed upon children and the childlike (i.e. Suzanne) and could smooth talk her way out of almost any situation, even if it meant sleeping with a young man who was practically a son to her and then having him shot for daring to venture out on his own in the drug game. From the moment she first locked eyes with Red upon her return to Litchfield, we knew it was on. Red spent the season slowly plotting her way back into a power position, as is her wont. She hooked up with “The Golden Girls” to help her do the heavy lifting (and shivving, in a botched attempt to off Vee) and found a passage in and out of the prison that she used to smuggle in contraband, rather than escape. That decision alone spoke volumes. Obviously, she is so sure that what awaits her on the outside is less appealing than her standing in jail that she’s better off working the angles from where she sits than trying to leave. This story allowed us to see the various factions–black, white and Latino–converge. Red needed Gloria’s help to get over on Vee (and the administration) and Vee was able to prove herself superior to Gloria at every turn. But the Latino de facto leader wasn’t a huge factor in the season overall.
While her backstory was informative, it wasn’t the most exciting. And Daya was also sort of a letdown. Her relationship with Bennett was more whiny that steamy, with her constantly bugging him to fess up to his bosses and serve his time so they could be out in the open and him constantly saying he couldn’t do it. When Pornstache returned to work briefly (after Fisher’s unceremonious firing by a spurned Caputo), he was ultimately arrested for raping Daya and perp walked past all the inmates to great comic effect. When Bennett did finally work up the courage to tell Caputo that Daya’s baby was his in the finale, Caputo–newly installed as assistant warden once Fig resigned to avoid prosecution for embezzlement–he was met with indifference. It was the prison equivalent of when Bert Cooper gave a big “so what?” to the revalation that Don Draper was really Dick Whitman. I have no real prediction as to what the future will bring for these characters; they’ve gone from hot to annoying pretty quickly.
But Vee and Red’s history and battle was the central struggle that divided Litchfield, culminating in Red trying to strangle Vee with plastic wrap and Vee slocking Red in her precious greenhouse. Both attacks were surprising and brutal, but neither resulted in death. It seemed like Vee might both get away with her assault and get away, period (by escaping through Red’s sewer grate) but her comeuppance was swift and poetic, thanks to the season’s under the radar MVP.
I enjoyed watching Miss Rosa’s story. It was fun to see a backstory that was not drug-related and not downright depressing. Rosa was an old school bank robber who did it for the rush. There was even some dark humor to her tale, with each of her loves dying in the midst of a job and her arrest occuring because she just needed another “hit”–to pull another robbery–so she did so without casing the place first. Her cancer was sad to watch unfold, and her time with the teenage cancer patient in chemo was oddly heartwarming. But her big coda, stealing the prison van (with Lorna’s help) and then straight up plowing into Vee with zero remorse was cheer-worthy. (“Always so rude, that one.”) That whole sequence–Lorna explaining the plot of Toy Story in the most twisted way possible; her giving Rosa the keys to the van as alarms sounded in the wake of Vee’s escape; Caputo shouting to O’Neill to “scatter the nuns!” who’d gathered to support Sister Ingalls’ huger strike–was absolute gold.
And what of our former central character and pathway into this crazy world, Piper Chapman? After her mystery trip to Chicago to testify against Alex’s drug lord boss and the perjury she committed on said trip, she was back to Litchfield and Alex was out of jail. That’s right; Alex screwed Piper again, encouraging her to lie and then opting to tell the truth and take a plea deal for herself. This experience certainly hardened Piper and forever ended her victimhood. She was on the sideline a bit, but still an integral part of the story. Her idea to start a newsletter while working with a reporter to out Fig’s embezzlement was crucial; getting caught by Caputo during the power outage was also key. It allowed him to use her as a bargaining chip in the takedown of his nemesis and I’ll admit to laughing out loud when he actually got her to give him a bj as a bribe, only to tell her that he’d already turned in the evidence to the warden.
Piper’s personal life got even crazier (I imagine real life Larry just laughs at the absurdity of his character’s portrayal at this point) when she and Larry officially broke up and he ended up playing house with Polly, whose husband conveniently flaked out and skipped town for a month. The two apparently fell in love, and came clean to their significant others, which was at least somewhat honorable. But they are less and less important to the ongoing storylines of Orange. Piper and Alex continue to be an electric couple. We learned that their relationship started with a lie (Alex had a girlfriend she didn’t tell Piper about) and their ongoing sabotages and betrayals are both infuriating and fascinating. Neither can resist the pull toward the other and I can’t help but think that their actually perfect for each other.
We were not left with giant cliffhangers like at the end season one, but rather questions as to just where we’re going to head next. And now we have lots of time to work on our theories before season three drops, sometime in 2015.