After only viewing the third season premier of “Orange is the New Black“, I had smug notions of anticipating how this season would play out. Most of these notions were about how the show would bring the focus back to Piper (Taylor Schilling) after sprawling out to explore the lives of the other inmates last season. I jumped to this conclusion based on one of the final scenes of that first episode – Piper nearly admits to Alex (Laura Prepon) the real reason they’ve been reunited but holds back. How could a secret like that not fester over several episodes only to explode around the halfway point of the season while the remaining episodes deal with the fallout?
Part of the appeal “Orange is the New Black” has had for me since the beginning was in its ability to showcase a group of people that aren’t typically a part of mainstream media and its ability to do so in unconventional, surprising, and entertaining ways. Piper’s secret — she is the cause of Alex’s return to Litchfield — comes to light in just the second episode of the season. Alright, but now I know exactly where the show will go. Alex will storm off, Piper will be upset, and after they spend a few episodes isolated from each other, they will reconcile and reestablish the status quo…
Nope, wrong again, they just have hate sex.
Episode two, “Bed Bugs and Beyond“, and episode three, “Empathy Is a Boner Killer“, play well back to back. While not as strong as the season opener, these two hours have some strong character moments and an early contender for my favorite Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) line of the season, “I will potato her at a future time.”
With a rampant infestation of bed bugs, it is interesting to see the different ways in which the groups address the problem. Most comedically, Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) uses off-brand disinfectant as a means to ward off the critters and to bathe. Each group has their own unique method which is a great little detail running through the second episode but also demonstrates again how the entire prison operates because of the cliques.
The weakest part of “Bed Bugs and Beyond” which bleeds a bit into the next episode as well, is the continued drama swirling around Daya (Dascha Polanco). Pornstache’s mother (Mary Steenburgen) has been writing to Daya trying to make arrangements for the baby after it is born, still believing her son to be the baby’s true father. Daya’s mother Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) sees an angle and responds to the letters.
Having Mary Steenburgen involved in this plot helps immensely but I was only interested when there was a terrible secret that could result in serious consequences. Since the only consequence was Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) being fired, I’m finding it difficult to stay engaged. Nearly everyone knows the truth about Daya’s baby and no one inside the prison seems to care, so why should I?
“Empathy Is a Boner Killer” has one great scene and one great plot. Having a drama class where the scene partners act out a scenario but the subtext of their “pretend” is less than subtle is a tried and true trope. The scene between Alex and Piper at the imaginary grocery store doesn’t even try to hide the fact this is the crutch it is going to rely on to work out their feelings after Piper’s admission in episode two. Despite how obvious the mechanics of the scene are, the scene just works.
The acting is the best I’ve seen from Laura Prepon thus far and and emotions it brought to the surface felt true. Alex and Piper are complicated to say the least but they are starting to understand what they mean to each other. What this means for the future of their relationship is a bit murky, one has always had power over the other in some form or another and now they are more or less on an even playing field. Despite “Orange is the New Black” proudly being an ensemble show (and having one of the best ensembles working right now), Piper is still the audience surrogate so having her involved in at least one strong story can only help the season progress.
The strongest plot in the third hour is luckily the main focus of the episode. It explores what would happen if a sober junkie suddenly got access to their drug of choice. Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) has been clean for two years but what will she do with heroin readily available but a mandate to sell it? It’s obvious, but heartbreaking, that she would try to keep some nearby, just in case.
Her partnership with Luschek (Matt Peters) was a mistake from the beginning but how it falls apart was surprising. After being cornered, Luschek very, very quickly sells her out. This is totally in his character but still caught me off guard. He seemed to be forming a bond with Nicky but when cornered, Luschek shows his true colors.
Many of the characters were starting to fall into the routine of Litchfield and feel a sense of comfortability. We could almost forget it has never been a fair place. With Nicky being shipped up the road, that reality is clearer than ever.
Are you taking the season slow? Have you finished already? Which plots are working? Which could you do with out? What’s your favorite Crazy Eyes line so far? Let’s talk!