OITNB Teaches Us About Proper Container Volumes

OITNB - Orange Is The New Black
Orange Is The New Black (Screen: Netflix)

And some other stuff happens. I think someone died? No? It’s been a long few episodes.

We’re reaching a turning point, a nadir, the middle (if you will) of this sometimes messy often delightful thing we call OITNB. And we are stopping with the royal we. I liked/loved almost everything about this episode, just not all together. Piper became a sympathetic person for a moment; Miss Rosa taught a teenage chemo patient how to pull off a heist; Caputo elegantly approached a breaking point.1 In the end, though, I got stupidly giddy at the gimmick reveal of Pornstache, and had to think for a minute about what else was going into this writeup.

These are all loving critiques. I won’t devour this show the way I do my crime dramas and political thrillers but I will watch all of this, laughing and sighing and enjoying the trip.

Theme for the episode: death.2 OITNB is set in a minimum security prison. Oz3 was maximum security, with a death row. There are many, many other differences between these shows, but the frank4 presentation of death in the latter added a restriction, and thereby a drive, to many stories and characters. It also made it a completely different show, and I’m not suggesting Piper go to the chair or anything.5 It’s just interesting to see the layers brought to these characters, to this family, with the (re)introduction of this part of the world. One of the tenderest moments of late came when Piper opened up to the knitting circle about what she’s learned and missed out on learning from her dying grandmother. Doubtless it was nice to see Piper not being all about Piper, but really it was a moment of genuine connection and reflection between people.6

So I’ve gone another 250 words without really discussing the ostensible focus of the episode, thus underscoring my earlier point. Love Miss Rosa, love bank heists, loved the 70s and 80s stylings of the flashbacks. Could have had it all on any other episode or any other show. Not to take away from Barbara Rosenblat‘s performance the last couple of episodes, but this storyline did nothing to make the show flow better, and the flashbacks themselves didn’t merge as well here – in fact, they’re becoming a bit anvil-y again.7

Sidebar: Was the Morello flashback episode really a well done episode, or was it just effective at illustrating one specific aspect of her character, unlike many of the other flashbacks which seem to want to be entire origin stories? Will ponder this at some later date…

We’re in the midst of a run of episodes filled with great moments, character-, plot-, and Plot-wise, but it’s also feeling pulled in too many directions at once. If nothing else, the writers are reaping what they sowed by having the first season focus so much on Piper at the expense of the ensemble. OITNB is heading in the right direction to right this by spending time with the other characters, and shading in with (please, more subtle) backstories… but we’re five eps from the end of season 2. There’s not much time to do all that and bring the smuggling plotlines and the Healy becomes a better person8 subplot to some sort of resolution.

Seriously, 22 eps a season. Make it happen, Netflix.

Tomorrow: Mike gets into a Big Gulp o’ furlough. 

  1. Seriously, Nick Sandow nailed his scenes, without becoming a caricature.  
  2. Five times. And then lunch.  
  3. Great and powerful show that it was.  
  4. Perhaps too regular.  
  5. But boy did some of you just perk up at that suggestion, right?  
  6. And, yeah, it was also a setup for the emotional twist later on, but it wasn’t as painfully ‘come on!’ obvious as some setups and parallels on this show.  
  7. There’s also a small added wrinkle when the flashbacks use a different actress due to age. Introducing what is, effectively, a different character and certainly a different actor to an ensemble show is not likely to go as smoothly; it wasn’t a bad performance, it just added to the kitchen-sink aesthetic in which OITNB is currently mired.  
  8. Not going to last, unfortunately for all, is my guess.  

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About Aaron Mucciolo 206 Articles
He does things. That's all we can say at this time. E-mail: mooch@whatelseison.tv
  • Oz was the first show I ever binge-watched, and it totally desensitized me, in a bad way. At the end of Season 1, A Very Gory Thing happens, and whereas I’m normally a little bit squicky about on-screen violence, I didn’t even bat an eye (no pun intended). I forced myself to take a a break after that, and have never been able to watch Law and Order: SVU the same way again.

    Speaking of flashbacks … I think it’ll be very interesting to see who, by the end of this season, HASN’T gotten one.

    • “I’m normally a little bit squicky about on-screen violence, I didn’t even bat an eye (no pun intended).”

      I have not seen Oz and do not plan to. I have no idea what this is punning. DO NOT TELL ME.