Orange Is the New Black / Screen

Orange is the New Black drops the ball with Vee’s flashbacks in “It Was the Change”

Vee Parker is a fantastic villain, but is she a fantastic character?

For a show that’s made it it’s business to flesh out characters who usually wouldn’t get that kind of attention, even characters that are slotted into the villainous array, its treatment of Vee this season has felt strange. She’s been a cipher all season, and watching her manipulate her way to the top of the Litchfield hierarchy has been fun (painfully so), but we’ve seen little of Vee’s own origins. Her relationship with Taystee was expanded upon well in the second episode, but this penultimate episode throws all that out the window and leaves Vee as a one-note villain which doesn’t seem up to the show’s standards or abilities.

With the storm rolling in, Litchfield is of course falling apart. The rising lake means that the lower levels are flooding so all the inmates are moved upstairs together. Attempts to get the generator working fall flat, because there’s no fuel in them, and the prison is plunged into darkness while rats poke around them as the conflict between Vee and Red heats up.

This is a show that’s tried to humanize Pornstache of all people, a corrupt prison guard who routinely coerced inmates into having sex for favors, abused them and got one of them killed. Healy and Caputo both get moments of sensitivity as they navigate their personal lives. For Caputo it’s his discontent with the way things are run at Litchfield, and Healy’s desire to appeal to his Russian wife has been a running subplot since the show began. Even Fig is getting screentime focused on her cheating husband, for whom she’s sacrificed her idealistic ambitions of running a prison. From the inmate pool Pennsatucky was arguably last season’s villain, but even she got a sympathetic attempt at fleshing out her backstory.

This isn’t the case for Vee. Her flashbacks starts off benign enough with her lounging around with Taystee and R.J as they discuss Vee’s health which they eventually settle with being her going through menopause. Her found family-esque connection with Taystee and R.J is her only redeeming quality, and it’s a good one. But her flashbacks ruin the point fairly quickly, as R.J starting his own operation makes him run afoul of Vee. Their mother/son relationship is quickly undermined as their relationship turns sexual, and then it’s shattered completely as Vee collaborates with a cop friend to plant a gun on R.J and have him killed.

The one thing Vee’s flashbacks do effectively is showing how things are likely to turn out between Vee and Red. Though Vee confronts R.J about his competing business, she pretends that they’ve reached a truce, that her mind’s been changed by her affection for him. It goes the same way with Red who tries to kill Vee herself after the botched assassination attempt last episode (and after Vee threatens to hurt her sons), and when Red lets her go Vee sums up their encounter with “You just tried to strangle me with plastic wrap so you can sell mascara in jail.” It’s a humorous summation of the show, where these women are competing for power within prison of all places, trying to make something of themselves while they’re serving time. It certainly works on Red who agrees to a truce with Vee only to end the episode being attacked by Vee in the greenhouse.

While Vee’s doing that, Taystee gets kicked from the group after a drunken Poussey (angry to see that Janae’s rejoined the club after her return from solitary) dumps the tobacco on the floor and douses it in cleaning solution. She pays the price just as Vee told her she would, costing Taystee the woman she’s considered to be a mother.  But it all works out in the end because Poussey and Taystee hash things out and reunite (though it gets distressingly and painfully violent for a second). In an episode that proves how awful Vee is, it’s nice to see Taystee and Poussey back on the same page because it gives you some hope that Vee’s not going to come out of all of this smelling like roses.

While all of this is going on, Litchfield is falling apart beneath Storm Wanda, and the inmates are gathered together, upping their camp vibe to extremes. Between singalongs led by Soso and sharing a few large buckets for peeing, the women actually have some pretty nice interactions. Leanne and Angie find a way to get high, Lorna gives Miss Rosa her last lollipop, Big Boo tells Pennsatucky about the lesbian agenda and Yoga Jones comforts Piper about her coming transfer.

Even though Yoga Jones tells Piper that the Virginia prison is “awesome” (with its crafts shop and volleyball team), seeing the rats poking around Litchfield get’s her to break into Fig’s office to look for incriminating documents. Piper’s push to expose Litchfield and how awful it is may not be the most exciting thing ever, but it’s still good to see Piper concerned about more than herself. Even though she’s no good at comforting Maria, who’s also being transferred, it’s nice to see her trying to talk to her and trying at some attempt at making her feel better. If Piper leaves Litchfield, it’s not like she’ll be leaving many people behind. She and her family aren’t on the best of terms, and her relationships with Larry and Polly are over. It’s Alex who Piper’s not going to be able to see, but Maria has a boyfriend who probably won’t wait for her and a daughter who will be six when Maria gets out. Piper’s problems are the least of the problems being had throughout Litchfield, and though this is nothing new and Piper’s attempts at being there for others are appreciated it’s still annoying to see her relatively minor struggles being made center stage.

Stray Observations

  • Red: “You want to assassinate someone? Vision is a basic requirement. It’s like step one, pick a person to kill. Step two, kill that person.”
  • Piper has eight months left on her sentence. I suppose the show will be over when she gets out.
  • Black Cindy calls Red’s group the lollipop guild.
  • Vee would have sex with Bennett, and Black Cindy would have sex with Caputo (because he always looks sad all the time and would probably work extra hard).
  • Healy and Pennsatucky are bonding over their shared homophobia.
  • Ignoring Daya and Bennett because all I can agree with is that they were both terribly stupid. Why would they have sex and not use a condom when she’s an inmate and he’s a prison guard? Like…?

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