The lights are out at Litchfield, leading to shadowy confrontations -- and some very dark places

By Hillary Busis
June 15, 2014 at 08:59 PM EDT
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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

Let’s keep our fingers crossed — because Lord knows everything else is looking pretty grim going into the finale. Vee and Red head into the Open Pee Bucket Slumber Party nervously, knowing that their cold war could heat up at any moment. They settle their families on opposite sides of a fence and start talking strategy. Interestingly enough, both leaders agree on one thing: Red’s a trickier, shrewder schemer than Vee. No matter what disparaging things they may have said during their last greenhouse showdown, each woman does seem to have some baseline of respect for the other — an important detail, since it keeps them from underestimating each other.

And that’s why what happens next is so shocking. While emptying her pee bucket outside, Vee is ambushed by Red, brandishing a rope made of plastic wrap she stole from the kitchen. She manages to get it around the drug lord’s neck, and nearly ends their war right then and there… until, in the end, the Russian can’t go through with cold-blooded murder. The whole situation, in fact, has begun to take on an unmistakably absurd cast: “You just tried to strangle me with plastic wrap so you could sell mascara in jail,” Vee notes wryly. Reality is setting in; their fight has no real stakes beyond old score-settling, and Litchfield’s market actually is big enough for the both of them. So there, in the rain, still gasping from their nearly fatal tussle, Vee and Red declare a truce. They shake on it and everything. And lo, the storm breaks, the sun comes out, and the prison is graced with a new age of peace and prosperity. Contraband body wash and heroin for all!

Except, of course, that isn’t actually the end of it. The next day, Red’s first post-storm trip to the greenhouse is interrupted by a nasty blow to the head, courtesy of a makeshift mace fashioned from a lock and a sock. Though Flaca once declared this to be her weapon of choice, she’s not the one wielding the slock — instead, it’s of course Vee, who intends to honor the terms of that truce just as soon as flying pigs soar over a frozen hell on the 12th of Never. Forget Piper’s imminent transfer to Virginia — could OITNB possibly survive without Red? Thank the Gods of Netflix we don’t have to waste a single second wondering if it’s even necessary to voice this worry.

The Commissary:

– The episode’s other big moment, plotwise: Piper, who’s decided she has nothing left to lose, heads into Fig’s office during the blackout to steal the all-important, corruption-exposing FITZCore file. As always, she’s a victim of absolutely terrible timing; the lights come back on just as she’s taken the file, and she also bumps into Caputo in the hallway. He asks her to explain herself, and we don’t yet see her answer; could it be, though, that these two are about to team up to take down their common enemy?

– Healy worries about a future in which men have been rendered obsolete and women are left alone to run the show — a world, in other words, that looks a lot like the microcosm of Litchfield. But while the thought terrifies him, his new bestie Pennsatucky is sort of on board with it; after all, men being in charge has never done her any good.

– Poor Maria delivering a last desperate plea to her baby — “You grab Daddy’s face and make him say sh– so you don’t end up like me” — is one of the purest gut-punches OITNB has ever delivered. And we hardly even know Maria. This show!

– More fascinating gender stuff: Daya begins the episode assuming that her unborn child is a boy. (Apparently male fetuses cause uneven boob growth in expectant mothers.) But after she has a panic attack that Bennett is helpless to quell, she starts referring to the unborn child as a “she.” Why? Could it be because she’s starting to think of the kid as an extension of herself rather than a product made by the two of them? Or is it that Bennett’s ineffectiveness is convincing Daya that men are useless — so she’s hoping not to give birth to one?

– Soso launching a singalong with “Bitch” may be the first (and only) delightful thing she’s done all season.

– An anti-drug PSA from Leanne and Angie: Don’t do nutmeg, kids, or you’ll start to feel trapped inside of your own face.

– Show of hands if you’d listen to an hour of Boo explaining the Gay Agenda in great detail.

– Watch out, Reznikovs — Vee knows where you live, and something tells me “scorched earth” might be her middle name.

– The guest of honor at Fig’s husband’s fancy schmancy fundraiser: Tiki Barber, signing footballs and speaking casually about Foucault. Be still, my pretentious heart!

– Okay, guys, F/M/K: Caputo, Bennett, and O’Neill. Go. (There is only one correct answer, by the way.)

Jenji Kohan’s absorbing ensemble dramedy, based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, takes viewers inside the walls of Litchfield, a minimum security women’s prison where nothing’s as simple as it seems—especially the inmates.
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  • 07/11/13
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