Red should have known better than to make a deal with a scorpion.
Orange excels at finding ways to make even the most ostensibly loathsome characters sympathetic. Gross Pornstache is really lonely under all that bluster! Prison is the only place misogynist Healy doesn’t feel like a loser! Corrupt Fig wants a baby, but she’s caught in a loveless marriage with a closeted gay man! (Really throws into relief her whole “I’m not your mommy” outburst from episode 2, doesn’t it?) But some people, it seems, are just sociopaths — meticulous, casually cruel monsters with claws and stingers and no remorse whatsoever.
Some people, in other words, are Vee: a drug lord who uses children to do her dirty work, convinces those children she cares about them, then tosses them aside without a second thought when they’re no longer useful to her. And those are the lucky ones. Woe betide the Vee protégé who tries to flee the nest in favor of founding his own drug den. Episode 2 of this season established that Taystee’s makeshift family fell apart when her foster brother R.J. was shot by the police; episode 12 reveals that the hit was organized by Vee herself, and carried out only after she’d first slept with her ersatz son. (An appropriate end, perhaps, for an Oedipal story in which there’s no father figure to be murdered.)
Vee, clearly, has always been pretty wicked — but her most heinous act (so far) comes just after she’s realized that she’s going through menopause. Her seduce-and-destroy mission serves a dual purpose: It gets rid of a threat to her business, sure, but it also helps to reaffirm her vision of herself as a strong, in-her-prime feminine force. By doing this, Orange presents a clever twist on the prestige TV antihero archetype that’s become ubiquitous over the past decade or so — the middle-aged white dude raging against the dying of his youth and masculine vitality by acting out. Mad Men Breaking Bad in Fargo’s Low Winter Sun, if you will. The difference is that those guys, like the lion’s share of OITNB characters, inspire some degree of empathy, either because they’ve ostensibly got good reasons for doing what they do or because they’re just so freaking cool when they do it. Vee, however, doesn’t, which makes her more of a true villain — a fascinating and multi-dimensional and compelling bad guy, but a bad guy nonetheless.
After seeing what may be Orange‘s most horrifying flashback, we know that the “peace” Red and Vee have just established will be short-lived. But I’ll get to that. First, let’s set the scene: That horrible winter storm foreshadowed last episode is finally ready to hit Litchfield. The downpour truly begins just as Vee’s starting to feel the effects of fighting a two-front war — one against Red (who at first insists that she didn’t try to get Vee killed, then, on Golden Girl Frieda’s advice, pretends that Taslitz’s assassination attempt was a purposeful warning shot), the other against Poussey (whose clandestine drinking has emboldened her to destroy Vee’s entire supply of contraband tobacco).
In lieu of permanent solutions, Vee has come up with a pair of temporary stopgaps. (Though as a wise man might tell her, half measures don’t do anybody any good.) First: Taystee is out of the gang. You might think this move would open T’s eyes to the kind of woman Vee really is — the sort who can never be trusted, even and especially when she swears to protect you — but if you did, you’d be wrong. First, Taystee tries in vain to hang out with her old crew; unfortunately, Cindy and Janae won’t even give her the time of day. (Suzanne, especially, really seems to enjoy watching someone who once excluded her experiencing life on the outside.)
Secondly, she takes her anger out on Poussey herself after Taystee and her former best friend are dispatched downstairs to save low-shelved books from a watery grave. (Predictably, Litchfield is in no condition to weather this storm. Everything is flooding, forcing the inmates and guards to abandon their bunks in favor of higher ground; there’s no plumbing, thanks to overflow from the lake; the weather ends up taking out the electricity, too. It’s like a giant blackout sleepover, except all the partygoers have to pee in buckets!) At first, the fighting is verbal — then, in a heartbreaking turn, it becomes physical. For one terrible moment, it seems like P’s going to get another beatdown, one that’ll hurt even worse than Suzanne’s. In the end, though, Taystee finally comes to her senses and realizes what she’s done. The last time we see the pair, they’re holding each other and crying. Could their friendship be on the road to recovery?
NEXT: If not, the finale’s gonna be daaaark