“I think I’ve moved beyond stress into something more deeply disturbing,” Piper Chapman says in the Season 2 premiere. She’s sitting on a plane after being pulled out of solitary but has no idea where she’s going and no one will fill her in. It’s been a while since we’ve last seen Piper and presumably a while since she’s last seen anyone, as she’s been locked in the SHU busying herself with using her breakfast to create “art” on the walls.
Season 2 — which I will be recapping two episodes at a time, since I’m sure most of us will have finished the season by the end of the day — starts off with a jolt. Suddenly Piper (and her full bladder) is thrown into a van and then into an airplane, still unaware of where she’s going until she glances out the window and realizes they’re landing in Chicago. It’s another prison, though this time she has to remain in the same room except for meals and one hour of recreation (there are men around, it should be said, but they are mostly inconsequential). The montage when Piper gets to the prison is a succinct way to show how quickly the weird becomes second-nature: the ID photo, the fingerprints, the strip down, the squatting. In this new setting, we meet a pile of new characters who Piper has to bunk with, most of whom are obsessed with cigarette-carrying cockroaches that they race for pennies.
In Season 1, Piper’s flashbacks were all her as a young adult and generally revolving around her two main relationships — with Alex and with Larry — but the Season 2 premiere goes all the way back to her childhood. As a child, Piper always did the right thing — refusing to jump out the back door of a bus, as is tradition in her school, when even the bus driver is OK with it. When she does rebel by getting tickets for a rated R movie (Dazed and Confused), she spots her father kissing another woman. She tries to tell her mother but her mother flips it to being mad at Piper.
Back in the prison, there are flashes of the pilot episode as Piper spots Alex in the yard. Piper learns that she didn’t kill Pennsatucky (she had spent the entire time since then worrying about it). As for the trial? Piper remains dishonest, against her lawyer’s advice, but Alex is truthful and sells her out — leaving Piper alone.
The focus of Episode 2, “Looks Blue, Tastes Red,” is all on Taystee. Originally Taystee wasn’t supposed to have as big a role as she did — remember how she was released? — but both the character and actress (Danielle Brooks) made such a lasting impression that Kohan thankfully wrote her back in. I’ve always been eager to learn more about Taystee. She was a foster child (and an extremely smart one) who met Vee at an adoption event and later found that her math skills (along with her creativity and knack for crafting) helped with the drug business.
Taystee has always wanted to be legitimate. She stays in prison because she doesn’t know how to exist outside and because she doesn’t have a family to go to — in prison, she’s found her “forever family” — but she still dreams of making it out again and going straight. During the prison’s career fair (which basically exists so Natalie can pretend that Litchfield is full of programs that make sense of the huge budget she blows on herself), Taystee takes it more seriously than any of her fellow inmates. Poussey helps her tailor the outfit while Taystee studies up on how to rock a job interview. She’s heard an obviously false rumor that the last winner of the career fair was hooked up with an actual job and Taystee really believes this could happen to her. I’m immediately reminded of something Miss Claudette told Piper last season: “Hope is a dangerous thing.”
She gets her hopes up and thoroughly impresses the interviewer, effortlessly winning the contest. But there’s no real prize, just a few extra bucks on her commissary and a fucked up speech from Natalie. In the span of a few seconds, Taystee goes from happy and hopeful to heartbreakingly disappointed to nonchalantly forcing herself to shrug it off — Brooks is amazing in this scene. The kicker is at the end when Vee shows up in the chapel. “Oh shit” indeed.
Cliff Notes on the non-Taystee happenings in E2:
- Daya is starting to really feel the ill effects of pregnancy and her real mother, Aleida, and her surrogate-like prison mother, Gloria, are fighting about who gets to take care of her. In a nice touch that’s very reminiscent of mother-daughter relationships, they both end up embarrassing Daya in front of Bennett.
- Big Boo loses her dog privileges after a disturbing incident involving peanut butter.
- Pennsatucky returns from SHU and meets with Healy; she blackmails him into getting a much-needed set of new teeth. Good to know blackmail is still alive and well this season!
- Red emerges from her solitude and is no longer being starved but has seemingly given up, letting her gray roots show and choosing to sit alone at lunch. We also meet her son.
- Larry and his father meet up in a gay bathhouse — hey, equal opportunity nudity! Thanks, Kohan! — and Howard suggests that Larry look get back on the horse (or, as he puts it, “sticking his dick in something new and cute and moving it around”). Larry is still the worst, by the way.