“Hello passengers, we’d like to thank you for flying with us today. We know you have a choice in your air travel…kidding. You have no choice at all because you’re prisoners. Our prisoners. Anyhoo, please note the exit rows located in the middle of the plane. In the case of a water landing we strongly suggest you do not try and swim to freedom. Remember, it’s winter, and hypothermia hurts. Your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device. Please make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened. If the oxygen masks come down, just push them back into the panel above your seat, we’re having some issues with those. Sit back, relax, and enjoy our in-flight entertainment, which is staring off into space.”
Piper, our nominal protagonist, is in a SHU (solitary confinement) cell, dozing with a book over her face. Two guards burst in. “I thought that Foley was on duty tonight. Is it time for breakfast already?” she slurs sleepily. Obviously, she’s been here a while, as one would expect after the last season finale, in which she beat another inmate to a pulp.
“No,” one of the COs tells her, “but if you’re hungry, you can lick yesterday’s off the walls. Nasty.” Piper has used egg yolks to create a painting on the wall above her bed. The work depicts a hummingbird drinking from a flower, and she has called it “Thirsty Bird.” The guard is unimpressed. He tells her to stand up, and asks if she needs to pee, ignoring Piper’s stream of questions. As they leave, he tells her that her painting looks like the yellow angry bird, and it’s Piper’s turn to look unimpressed.
She’s dragged out of her cell, downstairs, and into a van, and her increasingly frightful questions are ignored or shut down every step of the way as the guards banter about their personal lives (“Can’t abide by demanding, flat-ass poochies.” “Poochies?” “You can’t call them ‘bitches’ anymore, that’s degrading.”) Through Litchfield’s lobby as she gets “processed out,” and onto a bus. Piper desperately insists that she still has “basic human rights” and that she can’t be just trundled onto a bus in the middle of the night with no idea where she’s going. The guard pushes her through the door. As stated before, he can’t abide demanding poochies.
None of the other prisoners on the bus seem to have any idea where they’re headed, and they clearly want Piper to quit asking about it. Eventually, they pull up to an airplane, and everyone lines up to get patted down. A small, dread-locked woman is taken away for hiding a razor blade under her tongue. The next time we see her will be on the plane, and she’ll be wearing one of those Hannibal Lecter face masks. Piper’s seated next to two other women – one freaking out about her first plane ride (who thankfully conks out right away), another with a buzz cut, a lined face, and a high pitched voice, Lolly. No, she doesn’t know where the plane’s going either, but she does have a glob of Vaseline stored in her ear, want some? No, Piper does not want some.
The two get to talking more, and things turn pretty quickly turn to the subject of Piper’s transgression. There’s a whole big monologue here that I’m not gonna type up (it’s not badly delivered on Taylor Schilling’s part, definitely worth a watch), but the gist of it is that Piper’s not sure what happened to Pennsatucky after she beat her up, but she seems pretty certain that she killed her. It sort of goes back into one of the first season’s themes: the warped places a person’s mind has to go to survive in prison. Piper’s trying to grapple with the possibility that she might be capable of murder. “That’s some shit, man,” Lolly responds, because really, what else is there to say?
Later, the plane lands to take on some new passengers. One of the guards emphasizes that attempting to touch these new prisoners in any way will result in a stay in SHU. Honestly, just avoid eye contact altogether. When the new passengers arrive, we see why he felt it was necessary to offer this advice: male prisoners. There’s a small wave of whoops and catcalls from the seated female prisoners. One of the first guys through the door is a stocky Black dude with two tear drop tattoos on his face.
“Baby, I think you overshot first class,” he says upon seeing Piper. Immediately upon sitting down, he sets about making more lewd, rather uncreative comments in her direction, while she aggressively ignores him. Hannibal-mask lady, across the aisle from Piper, is mildly offended. “Black men get all snowblind. They don’t know how good they got it with a cinnamon queen that knows how to handle her business.” Teardrop assures Hannibal-mask that there’s plenty of him to go around. And this…this whole thing is just a damn mess of racism, and I’m gonna talk about it more later, so stay tuned for that.
Lunchtime. Lolly, whose cuffs are a little looser, helps Piper with her apple slices. “It’s gonna be so weird getting fed every day,” she says. “I’m gonna get fat.” This isn’t the first hint that Lolly’s dropped indicating her previous conditions weren’t as cushy as Litchfield.
Soon after, the plane’s destination is revealed: Chicago. After a few shots of the bus rolling through a very gray cityscape and Piper looking very sad to the strains of “Pulaski at Night” by Pitchfork-approved singer/songwriter Andrew Bird, the female prisoners are unloaded at their new facility and processed in. The joint looks way closer to other prisons we’ve seen in the movies than the apparently humane and luxurious Litchfield, with a panopticon-ish setup and lots of gray steel visible. Piper is given her bunk assignment, and absolutely no new information. It’s at this point I realized that this episode really wasn’t going to be involving anyone else from last season’s ensemble, and had to pause for a moment and be sad, because GODDAMN do I miss Taystee and Poussey and Big Boo and Daya and EVERYONE WHO ISN’T PIPER DAMNIT.
The second Piper enters the door of her new cell, her half-dozen-ish new bunkmates pounce on her. What could she have possibly done in two seconds? She looks down at her shoe: there’s a smushed cockroach under there. “Oh, God!”
“Yeah, you better be praying to God about now,” says a middle-aged Black woman. “Him, baby Jesus, Buddha, whoever else might look out for dumbass bitches who don’t look before they stomp.”
“I told you to be overly cautious today. I said you’ve got to slow down in order to excel.” This comes from a roundish, bespectacled white lady.
“I told you to quit it with that cosmic voodoo shit,” the first woman, Joyce, snaps back. “Yeah, he’s dead,” she says of the cockroach. “She killed Yoda.”
It comes out, via the aforementioned two inmates and their young, tattooed Latina associate that they’ve been training cockroaches to run cigarettes to solitary for stamps. Yoda was the only one that consistently found his way back to them. Piper thinks they’re fucking with her, but everyone seems pretty dead serious. Piper now owes them either a new Yoda or 400 stamps a week, or else they’re gonna set Tattoos (whose name is Celi) on her.
Glasses, Mazall, leads her to her bunk, and correctly guesses her zodiac sign (“It’s a thing,” she says dismissively), and continues asking her questions about her birth – year, location, etc. More astrology stuff, sounds like. Piper answers gamely until another inmate signals her with a loud deliberate cough. Color me intrigued. Turns out they’re stuck together in this bunk round the clock, save meals, 1 hour recreation a day, and one day a week in the yard, so this is obviously going to be a disaster.
Later, Piper calls Silverman (tip for the newbies: I will be referring to Piper’s fiancé Larry as “Silverman” for the duration of these recaps, because I hate both the character and Jason Biggs) for I guess the first time in a month to say I’m sorry about everything, and can you please call your dad who is my lawyer. I guess this is kind of a big emotional moment for Piper, but it involves Silverman, so I don’t care.
Back in the cell, we learn that a) Joyce likes to sing loudly and badly while she shits, and b) she uses the revenue from the cockroach-cigarette racket to support her kids, so Piper needs to get on that shit. Piper is clueless about how to do that, but she’s trying. Also, Mazall needs her to call her mother and learn what time she was born, so she can complete Piper’s star chart.
Out in the prison yard, Piper almost makes friends with some murderers, inadvertently causes a fight between them and Lolly (who only wants to say hi) and most importantly, sees a familiar face across the yard as they head into separate doors: Alex Vause.
In the cafeteria, Piper sets about getting a message to Alex. Her conduit: Teardrop, from the plane. He has serving duty, and is apparently still into Piper. He’s amenable to helping out, but not for nothing. “What are you willing to give?” Teardrop leers.
“A kiss?” Piper offers optimistically. Teardrop chuckles.
“With my hand?” she tries. Teardrop turns serious.
“I’m a predator, bitch. Ain’t no fun if you offer.” Aaaaand if you haven’t been wincing at this character’s every scene since the beginning, here’s where you should start. What the hell does Jenji Kohan think she’s doing?
“Well, there’s nowhere for you to violently assault me in private here. So what do you want?”
“They haven’t given us new ones yet. I’ve been wearing these for four days.”
“Even better.” Teardrop licks his lips. Honestly I can’t see how this actor (whose name I can’t seem to find confirmed anywhere) managed to play this stuff straight. I guess he’s just a talented dude who deserves better roles. Someone get on that.
Anyway, Piper agrees, and one scene later, Teardrop walks away with the message, sniffing Piper’s panties. Immediately after he leaves, Joyce approaches, wondering loudly how a someone with so much cockroach-training to do has time to talk with a “gun.” “Gun?” Piper wonders. Turns out Teardrop was a hit man on the outside. “Oh, I thought he was a rapist,” Piper breathes, “I’m so relieved.”
Jesus. Tap-dancing. Christ.
Deconstruct this character, a viewer may find themselves pleading, with regards to Teardrop. Subvert this stereotype, make him sympathetic and human, give him a complex inner life and nuanced interactions with other characters.
Don’t be like the rest of them, OitNB, the viewer might beg. I want to have faith in you.
Yeah, that deconstruction never comes, and that is not ok. The “big scary Black man sexually menacing a white woman” is a stereotype that dates back to the 17th century and slavery. I shouldn’t have to tell any of you that it’s alive and pervasive and forever encouraging white women to clutch coats closed and cross the street whenever they see a Black guy in public. And here it is, a chunk of undigested, rancid racism built into the middle of a supposedly “progressive” show. I think that we’re supposed to see subversion in the panty thing, but that’s just, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, weak as hell. Piper’s relief at hearing Teardrop is a hit man is meant to be the social commentary here: a woman feels safer in the presence of a killer than a rapist. But using a destructive, prejudiced character trope to make that point is just gross. (H/t to Eri and followers over at thisisnotjapan for pointing this stuff out.)
In bed that night, Piper wakes up with Mazall lying on top of her.
“I need you to tell me what time you were born.” Piper doesn’t know. “Tell me!” Mazall hisses, and savagely licks the side her face, nose to forehead.
11:42 p.m., Connecticut.
Mazall thanks her and slides off.
The next morning, Mazall places a juice box and apple on Piper’s bunk, possibly by way of apology. It’s strange that she’s in prison, Mazall says. Most people are lead astray by a powerful force, but there isn’t one evident on Piper’s chart. That’s right back to one of last season’s big points – plenty of the folks in Litchfield are in there at least partially due to circumstance. Maybe they were defending someone in their care from destructive outside forces, like Miss Claudette or Daya. Maybe they just weren’t designed to function in “normal” society, like Crazy Eyes. Piper, on the other hand, is the only reason she is in prison. She’s her own powerful force.
Piper, of course, mentions none of this. She asks Mazall about her “powerful force.”
“I bit my girlfriend’s tongue off and swallowed it. Well, that was the beginning of the fall.” Well, indeed. “Pretty straightforward manic rage stuff. Makes sense. Aries rising.” She says this last bit in a sing-song oh, you know me! tone that I find immensely amusing. Let’s get Mazall a webseries or something.
Piper and Alex meet through a gate near the cafeteria area. We learn the following:
- Pennsatucky is not dead
- They’re in Chicago for a trial. Kubra, the dude who heads Alex’s drug ring, has been extradited.
- Alex has decided to suspend her grudge for the day, and yes, is happy to see her. They try to hug through the bars, but a guard yells “no touching.” Arrested Development fans can be heard snickering in the background. You know, those are two pretty commonplace words, ones often heard together in this setting, you might want to tell them. This is not necessarily an Arrested Development reference. They cannot hear you because they are still snickering. Smug bastards.
- Oh! Alex! Get that bug! It’s a big one! And it’s slow! Alex, it’s a biggie slow! Alex does not get the bug.
- Neither of them can reveal that they knew Kubra. He’s a revenge-y type of guy, and he wouldn’t take kindly to that.
- Yes, Piper, that means lying under oath.
At her meeting with Silverman’s father, the lawyer, Piper marvels at the Dunkin Donuts coffee he’s brought for her, and pries some family gossip out of him. But then business. Did she ever actually meet Kubra Balik? It was a confusing time. So, yes. Long story short, Mr. Bloom (who I like better than his son, and is therefore allowed to keep his name) says she’s got to tell the truth, so Kubra can get put away.
On the bus to court, Alex reiterates the need for silence. Yes, show. We see what you’re doing here. On one side, Alex, lies, breaking the law. On the other, the Bloom family, truth, justice. This is not the time for moral high ground, Alex says. If one of them tells the truth, the prosecution will know the other is lying. She just wants to keep Piper safe.
On the stand, Piper lies. Reaction shots of Mr. Bloom’s crushing disappointment.
After the trial, Piper sits in a cage, and Mr. Bloom stands over her.
“Since I am not a half-wit like my son, I do not have to bother asking why you did that. I guess the possibility of added time or resentencing or new charges just isn’t that big a deal for you.” Bloom is in full-on disappointed-dad mode, and it’s having its effect on Piper.
“I made a decision that I don’t expect you to understand,” she says.
“Well, I’m done. You live on this slippery slope, kid, and for some reason, you can’t seem to stop doing rain dances. Good luck, honey.” It’s understood that he will no longer be lawyering for her.
FLASHBACK to Piper and Alex’s globetrotting drug cartel days. They’re in a swimming pool in Bali, hands curled around drinks, legs tangled together as they talk and laugh with three other men, one in the pool with them, two sitting on the side. Alex left early the previous night, and missed the live sex show and the flamingos (?). Kubra had a front seat to the flamingos. “So much pink,” the bald buy in pastel striped shorts confirms.
Piper excuses herself to go call home. Paris is beautiful, dad. We’re staying with Polly’s relatives. Yes, I take a cab home if it’s late. And always walk on the well-lit side of the street, and hold onto my wallet, and don’t jump out the back of buses.
“You taught me everything, dad. Thanks. I gotta go. Happy birthday, dad.”
Back in the present, Alex approaches Piper’s cage. She’s in street clothes. She had to tell the truth…her lawyer…she can explain. Piper isn’t having it. Alex is dragged out of the room, as Piper swears after her. For once, I am 1000% on her side.
Piper looks down to see a cockroach crawling into her cage, a cigarette fixed to its back with chewing gum.
OTHER RELEVANT FLASHBACKS: Piper’s Childhood Edition
- Piper, maybe about middle-school age, is on a school bus. It appears she’s a bit of a killjoy, playing Chuckie Finster worrywart as she refuses to participate in a driver-sanctioned traditional jump out the back door of the bus with her friends. Her father says it shows strength of character not to be a lemming. Child actress Claire Foley nails Piper’s firm insistence that she is indeed “fun.”
- While attempting to sneak into her very first R-rated movie, Piper (still being a worry-wart) and a friend see her father kissing a woman who is not her mother.
- Piper tries to tell her mother about it. Mrs. Chapman basically pretends she doesn’t hear anything, and focuses her attention on grounding Piper for sneaking into a movie, on that bad influence Sarah H., on the neighbors’ terrible house paint choices.
- Over milkshakes, Piper tells her grandma about her father’s affair. Grandma thinks Piper should have kept her mouth shut. “Sometimes it’s not about right and wrong. Sometimes it’s about making a choice that will cause the least amount of pain to others. Keeping things to yourself. Sitting on information and feelings, and living with your secrets.” Oh my God, this is the single WASPiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. “That sounds horrible,” Piper says. “Oh, it is, dear,” her grandmother replies matter-of-factly. Then Piper’s brother Cal ruins the moment by announcing his room is on fire. The rascal.
STUFF TO CHEW OVER: (includes some super-mild spoilers)
- This will be the only episode we spend in Chicago, and surprisingly, that makes me a little sad. Testament to the good writing I guess.
- I discussed this above, but it bears repeating: this sucks because it gives the writers no time to develop their characters, and they responded to this by creating a number of surface-level caricatures, mostly of people of color. The aforementioned hit man, Piper’s dangerous cellmates, Hannibal-mask lady on the plane… all “types.” Honestly, this is just lazy and callous.
- Also this episode was directed by Jodie Foster???
Well, there you have it, folks. Sorry it was a little late. I had this thing scheduled for Monday, but then I got hit with two days of something nasty and sneezy that put me out of commission. Next post will be coming at you on Monday, June 16, and hopefully I can stick to a weekly schedule after that. If you want to discuss this episode further, or call me out on something you find problematic, feel free to leave a comment or tweet at me (I’m @pasternaked). Also: do you think I should continue doing these things one episode at a time, or should I move to two per post? Don’t want you folks to lose interest. Sure this releasing-a-whole-season-at-once thing is revolutionary from a storytelling/viewing/marketing perspective, but it’s terribly inconvenient for writers trying to stay relevant. Won’t someone think of the small-time TV recappers?