After kicking off Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black with a pair of atypical episodes—one involving Piper outside of Litchfield, and another involving Litchfield sans Piper—Jenji Kohan and her creative team get back to business with episode three. “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” finds Piper back home, and Litchfield is happy to have her.
Not that everything is business as usual. There have already be some shakeups this season. Alex is gone—sprung from the big house after betraying Piper in court—and though we haven’t seen the last of her, her absence is already being felt. And there are a couple of new additions to Litchfield. (One of the built-in strengths of a prison show is the regularity of cast changes. The very nature of the penitentiary is that people come and people go, thus allowing a show like this to add or subtract characters in an organic way.) One new inmate is the weepy Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn), who latches onto the recently returned Piper as her new best friend/mentor. Piper indulges this for a bit (mostly to keep Soso from crying), but eventually she snaps. By this point in her sentence, Piper is no longer a newbie. Having returned from her ordeal in Chicago, she’s back on familiar footing. Litchfield may be an awful place, but at least Piper knows her way around. She’s not going to coddle the new girl. She tells Soso to get it together. In a way, her advice harkens back to the key line of the greatest of all Women-In-Prison movies, Caged: “Get tough or die.”
Litchfield’s most notable new addition is the opposite of the fresh faced kid. Vee Parker (Lorraine Toussaint) is a long-time drug dealer who has been inside Litchfield before. We learned in the last episode that she had played a pivotal part in the outside life of Taystee, but in this episode we discover that other people know her as well. When Red spies her across the room, she immediately goes to Sophia to get a new “fierce” hairdo. When Vee and Red finally meet—they greet each with respect and even warmth, and we get the sense that Red (who has been in a depressed funk since losing control of the kitchen to Gloria) has rediscovered some of her spirit.
In some ways, the main driving force of “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” is Vee’s return to Litchfield. She’s a quiet presence, but throughout the episode she’s up to things—taking the lay of the land, figuring out where the fault lines are, and, most importantly, accessing who needs a matriarch. What’s interesting here is the way in which Vee’s calm consolidating of power is not based on violence. We’re reminded of something Piper was told her first day in Litchfied: “This ain’t Oz.” While violence is a possibility—even a necessity on occasion—for the most part the battles here are fought on deeper, more emotional levels. Vee doesn’t walk in and beat the hell out of someone on her first day to prove that she’s a badass. She hangs back and sees where the lost souls are.
And who is more of a lost soul than Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba)? In Season 1, Crazy Eyes started out as an almost sinister presence, someone who gave Piper way too much unwanted attention. As the season progressed, though, we discovered a gentle soul underneath the bug-eyed emotional fluctuations. Crazy Eyes is simply someone at the mercy of her own volatile emotions. She is—we intuit—capable of violence, but she’s also more dangerous to herself that anyone else. In “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” we finally get her back story, the story of a black child raised in a white suburb by well-meaning white parents who can’t quite deal with a girl who, even at a young age, clearly has emotional issues. Orange Is the New Black is a show where race is almost always an issue, yet it’s rarely discussed at any length. The prison is segregated into factions. That’s understood. With Crazy Eyes, however, we have a woman who’s never been able to fit in anywhere. She’s not accepted by anyone.
Until Vee shows up. Sensing immediately that “Suzanne” needs someone, Vee offers her fidelity and protection. (Vee addresses her by her real name which, interestingly enough, Piper does as well.) By the end of the episode, Vee will have made acolytes not just of Crazy Eyes but some of the other girls as well. It will be interesting to see what she does with this power.
Finally: a quick word here at the end about Lorna Morello. In this episode, she gets dumped over the phone by her boyfriend. This is a development that everyone except Morello has seen coming, but it’s crushing for the inmate herself. I just want to point out what a fantastic piece of acting this is by Yael Stone. She has to veer between heartbreak (“By why?”) to comedy (“You don’t go Jessica Simpson when you’ve got Rihanna.”), all the while sobbing, all the while doing an accent.
Read all posts by Jake Hinkson for Criminal Element.