Well another season of Orange is the New Black has come to an end, ending the saga of Litchfield’s inmates for another year until next summer. It hasn’t been a perfect season by any means, but the supersized finale “We Have Manners. We’re Polite” is a good ending to a flawed season, at least in the big ways. When a pair of investigators turns up to look into the attack on Red and find the culprit, the prison is thrown into turmoil as everyone tries to figure out who’s to blame. Vee obviously, but the tricky part is making sure she pays for it especially when everything seems aligned to make sure she doesn’t.
Like Red, alive but in medical and refusing to tell the truth about what happened to her so she can exact revenge later. It’s an obviously stupid plan, which Sister Ingalls has no problem pointing out. Red’s in over her head when it comes to Vee. She just doesn’t have the same cutthroat sensibilities, and any attempted retaliation would probably just serve to make things worse for her.
Then there’s Vee, hard at work covering her tracks, roping a reluctant but fearful Black Cindy and Janae into naming Suzanne as Red’s attacker. She even convinces Suzanne that she must have done it, relying on Suzanne’s loyalty and trust in her to make her more than willing to confess to attacking Red. I’m reminded of that episode when Suzanne first fell in with Vee and was so charmed by her that even now she’s starting to believe that she was the one to attack Red because Vee says so. When it’s all over, Suzanne cleared and Vee in the wind, Suzanne’s crying in her bunk because she still believes Vee to have been her friend. Though this season has had its issues, Suzanne hasn’t been one of them. It’s given her more depth and more material than last season which only scraped the surface of her richer characterization, and she’s had one of the most heartbreaking arcs of the season. She doesn’t even get the happy ending or the clarity that finds other characters who were caught in Vee’s web. Even though Poussey, Taystee, Janae and Black Cindy came through for her in the end, it’s still hard to call them her friends, and Suzanne may be stuck in the lurch until next season.
Suzanne avoids being pegged as Red’s attacker once Red finally tells the truth which encourages Healy to take action to help her. It’s the only good thing Healy does in this finale which he spends licking his wounds after his Safe Place meeting goes unattended, even by Pennsatucky who’s getting a haircut at Big Boo’s urging. Like Healy grew obsessed with Piper last season, now he’s transferred that to Pennsatucky, and when she starts hanging out with other people he tries to solve it by lashing out at her. I’m not sure why this is a storyline that persists, and why Taryn Manning was promoted to regular and get hardly anything to do, but at least Healy manages to get Suzanne out of trouble. But once Vee’s abandoned by her former followers, she uses Red’s sewer tunnel to escape. It’s actually a relief that someone used that tunnel for the obvious act of leaving, and it’s fitting that it’s Vee. Once she lost her power in Litchfield, and is on her way to maximum security, she decides to take her chances on the outside.
The show at least does good work making apparent divergent storylines come together in the end, and Healy’s a small example. Less cohesive are Daya and Bennett who continue their same season-long argument about their baby, their relationship and their impossible future. I remember their storyline being a pretty exciting one last season because Daya and Bennett were really cute despite the illicit and illegal nature of their relationship, but the show may have backed themselves into a corner with the pregnancy. Even when Bennett confesses to Caputo it’s stupid. Noble, sure. But very stupid. And if Caputo wasn’t so obsessed with keeping Fig’s job, Bennett, Daya and their baby would have been screwed.
Speaking of Caputo, this season has been (mostly) a good one for him, since the show broke him of his masturbation habit and made him something close to the only crusader the inmates have. It kind of undoes it all when Fig gives him a blowjob in the hopes that he won’t expose her to the warden, but at least his promotion makes it possible for him to cancel the transfer (which means Maria, Piper and even Sister Ingalls get to stay). But with both Vee and Miss Rosa (after being told she has only weeks left to live) escaping on his watch, it doesn’t look like he’s going to keep that job long.
“We Have Manners. We’re Polite” is Orange is the New Black at its chaotic best, with people running around at cross-purposes and eventually finding themselves on the same side. Gloria and Norma team up to make the candle that ends up cursing Vee, Miss Rosa’s escape leads to her mowing Vee down in the van before she drives onward toward a few weeks of freedom, Ingalls and Red bond in medical over the food strike and Red stubbornly staying quiet, and Big Boo and Nicky reunite to get their own vengeance on Vee by stealing her product and hiding it. But with everyone else’ stories overlapping, it’s impossible not to see how Piper remains isolated.
Once she gets Caputo the info he needs to oust Fig and gets to leave solitary, Piper reverts to old, self-absorbed ways. She goes on to Nicky about the cancellation of her transfer meaning Alex can visit, and Nicky points out how uninteresting that line of thinking is when Red’s suffering in medical. The show seemed to be breaking Piper of this habit recently, including last episode so it’s disappointing to see her going right back to what the show seems to treat as her default status. This is why Piper feels so isolated from everything going on, because she is isolated. Litchfield goes on and on, and Piper’s just there. The other people have lives inside Litchfield, and its going-ons affect them deeply. But it’s Piper who isn’t touched by any of it. She’s resistant to forming any kind of lasting relationships within the prison, even though she could if she wanted to (Red’s group in particular has been pretty welcoming to her). When Piper chats with Soso, she agrees with her observation that they’re all alone in there.
But it’s not true. The only women we’ve seen who are alone are Piper and Soso, and that’s because no one likes them. They have potential to form relationships like the other inmates, but they turn people off with their personalities. So Piper’s content to pine over Alex, and when she’s about to skip town, Piper enlists Polly (feeling guilty for starting a relationship with Larry) in alerting Alex’s probation officer so she’ll get sent back to Litchfield. Last season ended with Piper in similar straits, alone and isolated from most of the people in Litchfield, and it made sense then because Piper had hurt people and it felt like a natural occurrence. But this time around it feels manufactured for the sole purpose of her manipulating Alex’s inevitable return, after a season that’s done a decent job of proving that Piper can remove her head from her butt when necessary and can show people (particularly Red and Nicky with whom she spends the most time) that she cares about them.
But with this finale Orange is the New Black renders it all obsolete. Piper’s never going to have anyone in prison aside from people who are sometimes nice to her. She might have Alex (she will) once she gets over Piper landing her back in prison. But it’s disappointing that the show can’t allow Piper to actually make the strides she’s capable of making and having her shrug it off as a condition of prison life as if the entire season wasn’t about the inmates and their relationships with one another. Taystee and Poussey struggled with Vee’s presence and the wrench it threw into their friendship, Suzanne finally found someone who seemed to accept her as she was, Red reunited with her family, Gloria and Aleida competed over who would be a better mother to Daya. Hell, even Daya and Bennett argued all the time about their relationship and their impending baby. And Pennsatucky lost all her friends, but even she found a semi-friend in Healy. I’d bet on Soso finding more lasting companionship than Piper has, despite being annoying, because at least Soso finds time to care about other people while Piper, and the show, keep defaulting to her self-absorption.
Piper’s been touted as a trojan horse for the most interesting, more diverse characters, and that’s fine, and it’s also true. Orange is the New Black has given us a very wide range of women with whom to spend time with each episode, and all of them (even Alex) are dynamic and interesting. Except Piper. It doesn’t make any sense. Taylor Schilling’s more than capable, and it’s not like Piper doesn’t have her moments, but the show seems content to let her go the same route every season, dragging her back to her starting point as if she’s learned nothing since being put in prison. It’s as if Orange is the New Black is just as confused about what to do with Piper as most of us are about why she’s around in the first place.
- When did Taystee find out about RJ? Saying that she knew the entire time wrecks whatever suspension of disbelief could come with Taystee’s loyalty to Vee, and the show glossed over whenever it occurred to Taystee that Vee had him killed.
- Maria’s boyfriend is so talkative with their daughter! This is the cutest thing. I hope she gets flashbacks next season. Same for Flaca and Maritza.
- O’Neill with the nuns was gold. “You know she’s not even a nun anymore?” “The way we see it she’s still married to Jesus. We’re Catholics. No divorce.” And later, “Run, nuns, run!”
- So does this mean we can finally drop Larry and Polly from the show forever?
- Also, Sophia was not in this season enough. It’s a huge complaint I have against it. Hopefully this will be rectified next season.
- Also we’ll be seeing more (or maybe less if you consider the way Taryn Manning’s promotion worked out) of Poussey and Daya because Samira Wiley and Dascha Polanco were both promoted to regulars for next season!
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