Season 2 gets a neat, wholly satisfying ending—while leaving just a few intriguing questions unresolved

By Hillary Busis
June 17, 2014 at 07:56 PM EDT
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I want to put “We Have Manners. We’re Polite” in a bottle—several bottles, actually—and send them to every showrunner on earth along with a message: “This is how you do a satisfying finale.”

Last year, my initial reaction to season 1’s ending—a gloriously crazy bouquet that left several ginormous plot threads dangling, though news of Taryn Manning being promoted from guest star to series regular immediately put at least one of them to rest—was a sharp intake of breath, followed by an awed “Holy s%*#!” My reaction to season 2’s conclusion, by contrast, is more of a contented sigh. OITNB‘s 90-minute behemoth of a second season closer puts a neat bow on nearly every one of the year’s biggest story lines—without ever making those wrapped-up gifts seem pat or convenient.

Sure, a few unanswered questions remain: How will Suzanne deal with the loss of Vee, the first person who’s ever given her a sense of true belonging? Can Caputo find a way to make things better at Litchfield, or will the assistant warden position corrode him just as it corroded Fig? (The blow job doesn’t bode well.) Will Alex and Piper get back together now that Alex is being locked up again, and can any relationship survive an endless cycle of mutual screwing-over? (Or is that what makes these two twistedly perfect for each other?) How closely was Nicky eying that contraband heroin—should we be worried about her future? Whose hair was Sophia styling as the finale drew to a close? And how far from prison did Rosa get, anyway? (Given those sirens intruding on “Don’t Fear the Reaper” as the episode draws to a close, the answer seems to be “not too far.”)

Each of these dangling threads is compelling—but none is particularly pressing, and certainly not to the same extent as last year’s massive cliffhanger. Which seems fitting, considering the sort of show that Orange has become. We don’t necessarily binge this series because we’re dying to see what’s going to happen next; we binge it because we yearn to be immersed inside of its fully formed world for as long as possible, delving deeper and deeper into its characters and relationships with every passing hour. If Netflix’s other marquee series, House of Cards, is a traditional video game—fast-paced, propulsive, focused on one main hero facing a series of flatter adversaries, making all the time you’ve invested contingent on an explosive ending—OITNB is more like an RPG: slower, more contemplative, diving deeply into even the least ostensibly important characters and concentrating less on the destination than the journey. Appropriate for a show that’s basically a meditation on purgatory, right?

Season 2’s finale takes its name from the sing-song nursery rhyme that an (understandably) unhinged Suzanne recites after she takes the fall for Vee—and visitors from the SIS (aka the Bureau of Prisons’ Special Investigative Service) inform her that she’s going to be put on trial for Red’s brutal slocking. Though her words, like many of the things Suzanne does, seem random, there’s a method to this madness: “We Have Manners” as a total package is concerned with codes of conduct—both how they work, and when they should be violated.

Take Red, for instance. For an OG like her, there’s no trespass worse than snitching—even if the one being informed upon is your mortal enemy. That’s why, when the SIS asks the slocking victim for leads about her attacker, she chooses at first to stick to her guns: “I saw nothing…no one,” she croaks. “I’m an old woman trying to grow something green.”

But when Red’s conscience—here taking the form of Sister Ingalls, weakened in body but not in spirit—points out that her silence will only enable Vee to hurt more people, the Russian finally relents…provided the ex-nun promises to go against her own principles by breaking her hunger strike.

Though there’s a quid pro quo involved, Red must also recognize that when up against someone like Vee, the street’s regular rules don’t apply. As O’Neill tells the nuns who have gathered to support Ingalls’ protest, “even a feral, wild, predatory beast can recognize innocence when it sees it.” He’s talking about a leopard who saved a baby baboon and raised it as her own, but he might as well be describing Yvonne Parker. The difference between Vee and the big cat is that while the leopard is driven to protect innocence, Vee opts to do the exact opposite: exploiting the helpless (children, the childlike Suzanne) for her own personal gain. (And she emphasizes her privileged position over them in everything she does, especially her habit of calling the members of her crew “baby girl.”) Her instinct is to go against the laws of the animal kingdom; her nature is to go against nature. And that’s why the only way to stop her is for Red to set aside the code she’s likely followed even before she embarked on a life of crime.

NEXT: Well, at least in theory

Or…not. Red’s change of heart comes too late; the SIS agents have already gotten a half-confession from the addled Suzanne, which—along with the lies told by Janae and Cindy, frightened into doing Vee’s bidding once more—will be enough to get poor Crazy Eyes blamed for the slocking. And even after Taystee and Poussey’s onetime pals come to their senses and decide to form a united front against Vee, the process has gone too far to save Suzanne. Vee can finally be brought to justice only when Healy himself breaks a code of conduct even more sacred than that of the streets: He convinces Luschek to give Suzanne an alibi by forging a work order, which states that she’d been in electrical when Red was attacked. It’s a lie, but one with honest intentions. And at least the ends will justify the means, right?

Or…not, again, because Vee’s managed to weasel her way out of yet another sticky situation. Using Red’s contraband portal, she escapes from Litchfield and sets off through the Blair Witch-ian upstate forest in search of her freedom. For a few moments, it seems that season 3 could be haunted by the specter of an on-the-lam Vee, hellbent first on escaping and second on exacting her revenge…until the escaped Rosa appears in the Van of Justice. The THWACK! made when Rosa’s bumper plows into Vee, as well as Rosa’s one-liner (“Always so rude, that one”) ranks among the best things I’ve seen on TV (or, you know, “TV”) all year. It’s a beautiful callback to the whole “manners” thing. Also: Is there a way for Orange to invent some sort of magical cancer cure? Because Rosa has stealthily become one of the show’s best characters, and it’ll be a shame to lose her in or before season 3.

And here we are, over 1,000 words in, and I’ve barely mentioned everything else that happened in “We Have Manners.” Looking back over the 11 pages of (single-spaced) notes I took while watching the episode, though, I’m realizing that much of it hardly matters, at least in a narrative sense. Did this episode need to be 90 minutes? Probably not; the setup leading to Vee’s escape could have been condensed a bit, and some of the subplots (O’Neill’s one-man war against the nuns, for instance) felt a little superfluous. Then again: Apparently superfluous stuff—Taystee and Poussey bringing back their delightful “White Lady” characters, Red and Ingalls sandwich toasting to orgasms, Gloria and Norma cooking up some sort of Santeria spell to get rid of Vee, Morello describing the plot of Toy Story to Rosa in twisted detail—is what makes OITNB OITNB, and I’d be happy to watch a full season of 90-minute episodes if it could maintain this level of quality. Suddenly, the time between this season 2 binge and the season to come stretches out before us like a prison sentence. In other words: We’ve… got… tiiiiiiime!

The Commissary

– Vee, wheedling Cindy and Janae to blame the attack on Suzanne: “Is it cold for Amazon to underprice books just to capture market share?” Cindy, perhaps only now realizing how deep she’s in: “Not sure cheap books is the same as pinning sh– on Crazy.”

– Like Taslitz, Maritza doesn’t know Vee’s name. Seeing how Litchfield’s various tribes fail to intersect is almost as fascinating as watching what happens when they do clash. It’s also a reminder that there are all kinds of stories happening within these walls that our main characters are totally ignorant of—which bodes well for the future of Orange, since it’ll always be able to find new inmates to focus on.

– Oh, remember the whole transfer thing? Piper got out of it by providing Caputo with proof of Fig’s embezzlement. (Proof that ended up being beside the point because the warden let Fig resign in order to avoid a scandal. Politics!)

– Speaking of: Did Fig’s despondency over her obviously gay husband’s obvious homosexuality (and her implied bulimia) succeed in making you feel sympathy for her? Also: Is there some rule on TV that state senate candidates have to be closeted?

– “This is a song about my mom and dad/And the divorce that they should have had…”

– The least convincing thing Piper has ever said: “I didn’t mean to make this about me.”

– Brook needs a friend. Any volunteers? *crickets*

– Points for Tucky inadvertently spurring Healy into action: ‘It just seems like you’re really good at what you do, and you really care.”

– Suzanne’s lock is actually an anthropomorphized bolt named Mrs. Loxley, which is all kinds of delightful. Do you think she and Moppy are friends?

– “You know who made up that ‘never snitch’ bullsh–? People that deserve to be snitched on.”

– I still can’t believe it’s over! But in the meantime, let’s get to talking about our season 3 wishlists: Whose backstories are you still yearning to see? (Or does this episode, which nixes flashbacks entirely, indicate that Orange is moving away from that device?) Which characters would you like the show’s focus to shift to, à la this year’s increased spotlight on Taystee and Poussey? Are you hoping for return visits from any departed characters like Fig, Pornstache, and Miss Claudette (always Miss Claudette!) again? And finally, what would you like to see the show do about Larry now that he and Piper are totally, 100 percent over? Discuss below—and thanks for reading.

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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