Piper is awake in bed, waiting for the day to start. This is probably the first time she’s looked forward to facing a day since she came to Litchfield. The reason for her anticipation is simple: she gets to leave Litchfield today. She gets 48 hours to go home and bury her grandmother. What do you do with a two day respite from hell?
She mostly does what we would expect. She sets out to connect with family and friends. She tries to get laid. She tries to get drunk. Nothing works quite works out, though.
More on that later. For the most part, Episode Nine, “40 OZ of Furlough,” is a bridge episode. It’s primarily concerned with taking us from Episode 8 to Episode 10, or—to put it another way—it’s setting up bigger, more important developments, to come. As a piece of comedy/drama by itself, it doesn’t actually accomplish very much. It’s a measure of the skill of everyone involved, however, that this is as entertaining as any episode this season.
The most interesting material here doesn’t involve Piper (which is becoming a habit of the show). Rather, it revolves around the relationship between Red and Vee. Theirs has been a storyline that’s developed incrementally in almost every episode this season, but here we finally get some of the back story. We see them, years before, as new inmates. Red isn’t quite herself yet. She’s already strong, but she’s scared, too. Being inside prison isn’t a life she’s prepared herself for, not yet.
Vee, however, is already Vee. She walks in like she owns the place—an echo of how she appeared at the beginning of the season. She rebuffs the advances of a crew of black inmates who want to initiate her into their group. By the next scene, she’s running them. At first, she and Red are friendly. Vee gives gifts of a toothbrush and toothpaste, and she gives Red some advice on how to handle herself. “I’m not telling you what to do, I’m just telling you how to survive.” That line is the key to Vee. It perfectly sums up her approach to handling everyone. She doesn’t come on strong; she comes on wise, caring, maternal. She doesn’t tell anyone what to do…until she does. And, at that point, she’s all business. Red, we see in a later flashback, found this out the hard way.
And that brings us back to the present. Vee has had her girls running cigarettes. Now, gradually, they’ve upgraded to harder drugs. Vee hangs out by the substance abuse meetings, listening. After Nichols delivers a speech about how heroin was “the love of my life, my best girlfriend” Taystee shows up with a gift from Vee. A little bag. More to come, for a price, of course.
Meanwhile Red has been circling her wagons all season, trying to draw her crew back together after losing her kitchen (and most of her power) at the end of season one. She’s finally successful, although she’s got a potential betrayer in the group. Everyone seems happy to have Red back in charge. Everyone but Big Boo, who sees a way to make some money off of the tug-of-war between Red and Vee. Hear that rumble? That’s the sound of an alpha dog showdown on the way.
Caught in the vortex of all of Vee’s machinations is the relationship between Poussey and Taystee . Poussey confronts Taystee about the dealing for Vee, and Taystee threatens her and tells her to back off. Poussey is a rare bird at Litchfield, someone who seems to be operating entirely from good intentions. If there is real tension in the show right now, it’s really around her. Everyone else is up to various forms of no good, but Poussey’s problem isn’t bad motives. It’s hard to say just what her problem is—though I suspect the root of it can be found in her attempt to get Taystee to say she’d save Poussey over Vee if both were drowning. The question itself is something middle-schoolers ask each other, demanding to be ranked higher in some Titanic lifeboat scenario. Despite all that has happened to her—some of which we know, much of which we don’t—Poussey is still a romantic. And Litchfield is a hard place on romantics.
The episode advances a few other storylines: the relationship between rageaholics Healy and Pennsatucky (oh dear God in heaven, where is that going), the relationship between Bennett and Diaz, and the return of Pornstache Mendez. One of the funniest things about this show is the way it loves to hate Pornstache. He enters this episode to a hero’s welcome—a hero because the show invites us all to enjoy the pure, crystalline pleasure of hating him. He’s everything wrong with the world, all in one swaggering package of shit.
Which, finally, brings us back to Piper. If we can’t quite bring ourselves to care very much about her time on furlough, then it’s okay because—in a way—neither can she. She doesn’t really have anything left on the outside that she can enjoy, at least not in the brief 48 hours that she’s been given. At least for the time being, Litchfield has become her life.
Read all posts by Jake Hinkson for Criminal Element.