Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black opened with Piper and followed her outside the gates of Litchfield, to another prison in Chicago where she got involved in the trial of the drug lord she used to mule for. It was a great start to the season, but it involved only Piper and Alex. Happily, Episode 2 “Looks Blue, Tastes Red” finds us back inside Litchfield with the rest of the crew.
We open in the past, with a flashback to Taystee’s childhood. Raised in the child welfare system—shuffled from group home to group home—she’s still a kid when she first meets a drug dealer named Vee Parker. Right off the bat, Vee is a fascinating figure. Composed and subtly maternal, she has a businesswoman’s distance. She wants the kid to start working for her. Throughout the episode we get flashbacks of Taystee, and we watch as she rebuffs the drug dealer’s overtures until one by one all her options come down to Vee. I won’t tip how the episode ends except to say that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Vee. That’s good news, too, because the interplay between Danielle Brooks as Taystee and Lorraine Toussaint as Vee is terrific. Brooks has always been a highlight of the show—she’s one of those performers who seems to light up any scene she’s in—and her scenes with Toussaint take her into new, deeper waters.
The story of Taystee and Vee is the first in what promises to be several ongoing storylines this season that take us into this past. This is a carryover from Season 1, which showed us the back stories not just of Piper and Alex (the show’s central characters) but Red, Pennastucky, Janae, and more. In a sense, Orange Is The New Black is a show all about back story. Every inmate has her reasons for being in jail. They all have stories. In a sense, of course, this is a trope of the prison movie genre. (Maybe the starkest example of this is from Jules Dassin’s 1947 Brute Force, a film that was structured around revealing each inmate’s back story.) Trope or not, though, it feels nicely organic for this show. In one way or another, the inmates of Litchfield keep being pulled back into the past.
“Looks Blue, Tastes Red” catches us up on the rest of the show’s sprawling cast of characters. Red (Kate Mulgrew) is adjusting to her loss of the kitchen. No other character in the show has had such a radical change of fortune befall her thus far, and it will be interesting to see how she adjusts. Diaz (Dascha Polanco) is still pregnant with the baby of good-guy-guard Bennett (Matt McGorry). Lorna Morello (Yael Stone) doesn’t have a lot to do this episode, but her offhand comment about her dreams for the future with her fiancé Christopher have the ring of foreshadowing. (On a related note, is it me or is Morello the most completely adorable person in the world? Every time she opens her mouth, I smile. The fact that Yael Stone is Australian only makes her nasal Boston-Meets-The Outer Burrows mash-up accent even cooler.)
The most ominous moment of the episode has to be the return of Pennsatucky Doggett (Taryn Manning). The last time we saw her she was getting so pummeled I assumed she was dead. Apparently, a lot of other people assumed she was dead, too—including her fellow inmates. But Pennsatucky has returned from her time in the hospital, followed by some time in solitary, and she’s disturbingly mellow. If Morello is the most lovable character on the show, in some ways Pennsatucky is the most disturbing. Taryn Manning does that slack-jawed, cold-stare thing so well it makes my skin crawl. The episode ends with the implication that she’s going to get some new teeth, a development that will, at the very least, surely improve my ability to eat dinner while watching the show.
We touch base with most of the other main characters—from Aleida to Larry—but there is one notable omission. We haven’t heard from “Pornstache” Mendez (Pablo Schreiber) in while. That guy worries me. Somehow I have the feeling he’s lurking around, somewhere in the shadows, waiting to pounce.
The most interesting thing about “Looks Blue, Tastes Red” is that it’s the first episode without Piper. I look forward to her return to Litchfield, but it is interesting to note how well the episode functions without her (not because of her absence but in spite of it). Piper is the center of the show, for sure, but this episode does demonstrate that when the day comes for Piper to get out of Litchfield, the show is strong enough to continue without her.
Read all posts by Jake Hinkson for Criminal Element.