Orange delves into Taystee's less than savory past and introduces a powerful new character: Lorraine Toussaint's delectable Vee

By Hillary Busis
Updated June 06, 2014 at 07:02 AM EDT
Orange Is The New Black 25
Credit: Jessica Miglio/Netflix

Ahh, that’s more like it.

As gripping as “Thirsty Bird” was, it was tough not to feel a slight tinge of annoyance at its Piper-centric storyline. That tinge was totally dispelled by this episode, which catches us up with the rest of Orange‘s characters in a big way. Though she’s mentioned, Piper never actually appears onscreen, marking a first for the show.

Thankfully, Chapman is the only major player missing. The episode’s first post-flashback scenes play like a roll call, with fan favorite after fan favorite making their glorious return to the screen: Taystee! Nicky! Morello! Sophia! Daya! Gloria! (Wait, is Gloria anyone’s favorite?) In fact, if there’s any one criticism to be made about this episode, it’s that it has to scramble to give everyone a moment in the spotlight, however brief — which makes the proceedings feel just the tiniest bit disjointed. That said, it’s hard to complain about this after spending the better part of a year yearning to see more from each of these characters. In light of the episode’s scattered feel, maybe the best approach here would be to simply take things character by character:

Taystee: Litchfield’s boisterous braniac gets the episode’s flashback, which details her grim group-home childhood — an upbringing that’s haunted by the specter of Lorraine Toussaint’s Vee, a silky, manipulative connect who uses kids as drug runners (and also gives the girl formally known as Tasha Jefferson her nickname). Young Taystee does her best to find honest work, toiling at OITNB‘s version of Mr. Cluck’s Chicken Shack — but eventually, she falls into Vee’s crew anyway. (It’s not all bad; at least she gets to use her math skills and branding acumen. Googly eyes on heroin bags — it’s gonna be big, people.)

Vee and company gradually become the surrogate “forever famly” Taystee’s been searching for her entire life — which is all fine and dandy until her surrogate brother RJ is killed by the cops. Vee swears on her life that she’ll keep Taystee safe. Considering Tasha’s now on her second stay in prison, it’s safe to say that she didn’t exactly keep that promise.

Back in the present, Taystee and the other inmates are preparing for Litchfield’s Mock Job Fair, an annual event sponsored by a nonprofit called Dress for Success. (Which, by the way, is a real organization.) The only two who get even close to choosing office-appropriate outfits are Taystee and Flaca; they’ll be moving on to a mock interview with a real hiring manager, which will take place onstage in front of the rest of the prisoners. Taystee’s determined to ace the test; she’s heard that whoever wins will be in line to get a real job once she gets out of prison. Sure, it sounds like a prison myth on par with Red’s beloved chicken — but Taystee crams for her “interview” all the same.

Considering Flaca’s questionable interview strategy — has the girl ever seen someone try to get a job outside of a porno? — Taystee could have this in the bag without breaking a sweat. Even so, she proves to be a model job seeker, buttering up a Philip Morris rep with facts she’s memorized about his company and even managing to spin her drug-running experience as a net positive. She’s named the Job Fair’s winner to a thunderous ovation, mostly thanks to Poussey and Cindy.

And, naturally, everything subsequently comes crashing down. Terrible Fig is predictably nasty when she tells Taystee that of course winning the fake job doesn’t have anything to do with getting a real job, then puts a bit too fine a point on it when she sneers that she’s not the prisoners’ “mommy.” (Mommy issues: They’re a theme tonight! Don’t drink each time they come up, because you’ll want to live to watch the rest of season 2.) And to add insult to injury, who should appear right after Fig snarls that Taystee needs to grow up? That’s right: Regal, evil Vee, ready and raring to pick up where she and Taystee left off. Why do I get a feeling she learned all she knows about motherhood from Madea?

NEXT: The haps with Pennsatucky, Red, Daya…

Pennsatucky: She’s aliiiiive, and she’s never been more saner! Even though she’s got to be on a liquid diet; after Piper’s beatdown, Tiffany’s Jack-o-Lantern gums have officially begun to resemble those of a pumpkin left out weeks after Halloween. But don’t get used to that sight. After a month in the SHU, Pennsatucky is brought into Healy’s office for a little negotiation. The basic gist: Tiffany will scratch his back by neglecting to tell the Powers That Be how Healy walked away from the fight that nearly killed her, and he’ll scratch hers by okaying a trip to the oral surgeon. Everybody wins, especially Tiffany’s gums.

But as happy as her new pearly whites — pristine as the pearly gates! — may make Pennsatucky, she shouldn’t get too comfortable: Trouble is brewing among the other meth-heads, who seem to think their former leader has gotten a little too big for her britches. At least the mock job fair taught pale Leanne the benefits of makeup: “I didn’t even know you had eyelashes until today,” Angie tells her by way of compliment.

Daya: She’s pregnant and constipated, which means we’re in for a lot of poop puns. More importantly, she’s at the center of a maternal arms race between Gloria and her biological mother, Aleida, both of whom think they’ve got what it takes to get Daya’s pipes moving. Perhaps it’s more important to note that Gloria and her gals seem to be enjoying their new position of power in the kitchen, which gives them a perfect perch to gossip about their territory’s former czar in Spanish. Speaking of:

Red: What happens to a Russian deposed? Does she dry up, like a raisin in the sun — or slowly fade away, like the hair color she can’t be bothered to keep applying? After losing her throne, Litchfield’s former top dog is a broken shell of a woman, one who returns to the cafeteria only after her commissary money goes dry. (According to her son, all is not well at the family business; cutting off the supply of contraband to Litchfield has hurt her kin on the outside as well.) Once there, Red finds that she’s got nobody to sit with but the Golden Girls. It may not be time to cue up a recording of Bryan Cranston reading “Ozymandias” just yet… but still, the tides have certainly shifted. What will it take for them to shift back?

Healy: Still trying to learn Russian for his mail-order bride; still a total skeeze. We can’t forget who the real enemy is.

Fig: That corruption stuff teased last season? Yeah, it looks like it’s going to be a bigger deal this year — which I’m sort of torn about, since as a storyline, it’s a little more contrived than I want or expect Orange to be. Anyway, Litchfield’s administrator tries to use her feminine wiles to throw an intrepid reporter off the scent… but he doesn’t seem like he’s buying what she’s selling. Also important to note: Fig’s husband is running for state senate, instantly giving me flashbacks to The Office

Morello: Would totally wear a sailor suit to a job interview. Also comes up with the perfect way to describe Red’s downfall: “It’s like when you see a cop in sweatpants in the kitchen after he spends the night with your sister.”

Sophia: Looks fierce in a tiny, spangled, totally office-inappropriate dress, but otherwise doesn’t have too much to do.

Poussey: Alters Taystee’s skirt so that she’ll have a leg up at the job fair, because their relationship is the best. Seems to be doing Jay Pharoah’s Kanye West impression when she’s describing her ideal job, but it’s funny enough that I don’t mind.

Suzanne: Asked what she’d like to do for a living, Suzanne answers that she’d “love to work with round things.” Why? Because “round things are very pleasing to me.” Marry me, Suzanne.

Cindy: Be prepared to watch her become a bigger presence in the cast this season. I loved her philosophizing when Poussey started complaining about Philip Morris: “The real evil are them companies killing without consent… Monsanto, Big Pharma, BP, Halliburton.” The lady has a point.

Larry: Finally, the Larry scenes we’ve been waiting for all these months!! (“We” are “Jason Biggs and Jason Biggs’s mom,” right?) Okay, that was harsh; there’s some amusing stuff here, between Larry and Mr. Blum’s uncomfortable trip to a gay bathhouse (“I had a Groupon!”) and Larry’s uncomfortable trip to Polly’s House of Exposed Nipple. Hey, another example of motherhood (Frantic Yuppie flavor) — everybody drink, if you dare!

Big Boo: Ew. Ew. Ew. All you need to know is that Little Boo is out of the picture, after a truly disturbing event we’ll refer to only as The Peanut Butter Incident. (Ew. Ew. Ew.)

Pornstache: Neither seen nor mentioned, though you know he’s got to turn up at some point this season.

The Commissary:

– Be still, my beating heart: Young Taystee can recite pi up to 56 digits.

– More Taystee, awed by the bougie craft store: “They had a whole f—ing aisle of pipe cleaners!”

– And another thing: Young Taystee is searching for her “forever family.” Teenage Taystee says that drug running is not her “forever career.” Should we take these semantics as a sign of her continued naiveté? How do you think her concept of “forever” has changed since going to prison?

– I’m mesmerized by Taystee’s ever-changing hair; how many different styles did you count altogether?

– You can trust Pennsatucky; she was on Greta Van Susteren!

– One last example of motherhood: Maria, the inmate who went into labor last season and had to return to prison right after her newborn was taken away from her. Here, we see her spend a few precious moments with the baby during visiting hours; it’s a harrowing couple of minutes.

– Do those naked dudes in the steam room mark the first hint of dong we’ve seen yet on OITNB? Hooray for equal opportunity nudity!

Episode Recaps

Orange Is the New Black

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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