Orange Is the New Black 2.10: “Little Mustachioed Shit”

After spending most of this season hopscotching between different characters, in Episode 10, Orange Is The New Black swings back around to Piper. She occupies both the flashback (which gives us some more details on her relationship with Alex) and the present day storyline (which concerns her relationship with Polly and Larry). These two storylines converge in a funny way, and “Little Mustachioed Shit” ends up illustrating something important about the character: Piper needs Alex.

Looking back on the season, you can pretty much chart the show’s interest in Piper in terms of Alex. The drama of the first episode came to a head when Alex betrayed Piper in court, but once she was back in Litchfield, Piper seemed to drift—and the show’s interest in her seemed to drift, as well. Even in Episode 9, which concerned her big furlough, the real focus was on Red and Vee. The reason for this, I think, is that Alex was missing. I’ve taken a number of shots at Larry in these recaps, but the truth of the matter is that the show sags whenever it focuses on the drama between Piper-Larry-Polly-Pete. Larry brings out Piper’s responsible side. Alex brings out Piper’s heedlessly romantic side. (In the universe of OITNB, romance and love and sex are always combustible emotions.) 

Episode 10 opens with a flashback of Piper and Alex in bed, their first time together, and we see both the passion that they generate together and the hard-to-miss signs that trouble is bound to follow. As Alex takes a call from her drug lord boss, her girlfriend comes home unexpectedly and punches Piper in the face. Bad end to a first date.

Piper’s Litchfield life is just so much more fascinating than anything Polly could offer.

Now seems like an excellent time to point out just how goddamn good Taylor Schilling is as Piper. Her performance in this episode is fascinating: playing the same character at two separate points in her life, she subtly creates a gulf of age and experience. In the flashback, Piper just seems younger. It’s not merely a matter of hair or clothes or makeup. It’s a difference in Schilling’s eyes. Young and in love, discovering real sexual passion for the first time in her life, she seems far removed from the older, wiser (well, somewhat wiser), and sadder woman we see in jail.

Schilling’s performance here, especially in her scenes with Laura Prepon, illustrates an interesting point about the nature of acting. Let’s begin with the ancient observation that all actors are objects. That’s the nature of cinema. We stare at them, project emotions onto them, and develop associations with them. But there are two kinds of actors. The first kind is the performer of great range and skill. On this show, I’m thinking of people like Taylor Schilling and Yael Stone. They’re manipulating our response to them in subtle—and sometimes undetectable—ways. For lack of a better term, we might call these “good actors.” The second kind of actor is far more limited in range and skill. Here I’m thinking of folks like Laura Prepon and Natasha Lyonne. They don’t, and probably can’t, do as much to manipulate our response to them. They’re not “good actors” in the sense that Schilling and Stone are good actors, but they are nevertheless effective (occasionally even powerful) cinematic objects. Look at the scenes between Schilling and Prepon in this episode to see what I mean. Schilling is doing much more of the emotional heavy lifting than Prepon (as she has in virtually every scene they’ve played together in the course of this series), yet Prepon is vital to their chemistry. Her laconic sexiness (which she’s had since she was doing sitcoms) is the thing that causes Schilling to reach forward. Maybe this is why Piper always seems to be missing something whenever Alex is gone too long. Prepon balances Schilling’s energy.

This wasn’t easy to watch.

Elsewhere in the episode, things are heating up. Poussey continues to war with Vee. Things get ugly when Vee unleashes Crazy Eyes as an enforcer. This is a development that I frankly did not see coming, but now that it’s here, I’m struck by how much sense it makes. Crazy Eyes started out as a somewhat comical figure in Season 1, and then she turned slightly more menacing, before she settled into being quite lovable. But in this season, we’ve seen a more disturbing side to the character. We’ve seen Vee manipulate her, winning her with love and then twisting that love into the obligation to do violence to anyone who poses a threat to Vee. The scene in this episode in which Crazy Eyes beats Poussey in the shower is one of the most disturbing moments of the whole series precisely because, in its terrible way, it makes so much sense.

Finally, the episode also gives us some nice closure on the Morello storyline that started in Episode 4. When Christopher comes to Litchfield to confront Morello about the break-in at his house, an eavesdropping Nichols finally learns her secret. This leads to a nice scene between Yael Stone and Natasha Lyonne that further illustrates the point I was making earlier about the balance of energy between actors. Stone is excellent here like always, but Lyonne is fantastic—tough but sweet, simply exuding the aura of an old school straight-talking broad. You know, that Natasha Lyonne thing.

Jake Hinkson, The Night Editor, is the author of The Posthumous Man and Saint Homicide.

Read all posts by Jake Hinkson for Criminal Element.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *