OITNB: This Whole ‘Values’ Thing Is Overrated

Orange Is The New Black (Screen: Netflix)

Was anyone else hoping that the opening weatherman bit meant this episode was going to mash up OITNB and Desperate Housewives?

Dang there’s a lot happening each episode this season. Was there this much each episode last season? Or was there just so much Piper-Alex-Larry that… y’know what, I don’t mind them or their storylines as much as others might. They were fleshed out, motivated, and well-acted. Granted they were often not that interesting, and I’m glad to see various parts of them being wrapped up in season 2 – but they weren’t discordant.

There’s not a ton of discordancy nowadays on OITNB, and maybe that makes its appearances that much worse. I won’t grumble on about the efficacy or not of flashbacks – although this episode’s especially felt perfunctory1 and ultimately may have even undermined my interest in the Parallel Present – and instead let’s talk about a sub-theme in S2e11 “Take a Break From Your Values” which is time and timing.

There’s no question that the characters and storylines with which we spend more time are… better.2 Writers and actors alike get to settle into parts and can carry any collected, if not always earned, character capital along with them. Look at the main administrators – Healy, Caputo, Figuero – and how watchable they’ve been over the last several eps. They’re being asked to do more and more, and they can – because they’ve been around enough for us not to be jarred by new traits or developments.

It’s not all about screen time, though. Plenty of characters and actors have shone on this show in their first moments in the spotlight, or done so much with the shading and flavor their asked to bring in the background.3 Strong actors bring all the depth of the flashbacks, all the power of great, meaty scenes to their non-verbal bits4 and their short, often plot-driving moments.5 Consistently hitting the right notes – no matter how many rests the character must sit through – is crucial in this symphonic ensemble show.6 I may roll my eyes at Black Cindy, but I tense up in the same way I do when I see Vee coming, so established is the different types of chaos that those characters inherently bring; and with so little screen time needed to make it land.

Poussey is riveting; is Samira Wiley getting Emmy buzz yet? I’m sorrowfully waiting for Healy’s other shoe to drop. I feel bad for Beth Fowler (Sister Jane) in that I suspect the writing on this episode, and the way-too-rapid introduction of her actual activist leanings over the last several episodes, really undercut what might have been a Miss Rosa-esque character arc. Quick shout out to Yoga Jones and Taylor’s tight little gut-punch of a scene.

I’m finding it harder and harder to figure out what to say about OITNB, at least without whining or saying the same thing again and again. This isn’t a slap at the show – I’m watching much more closely than season 1, and I’m enjoying the (many) highs as they come. But this remains a show that could simultaneously cut the fat, and that has so much more to explore.

  1. If, again, well acted. Hey, anyone else catch that the actress who plays the young Sister is named Sinn?  
  2. Bennett/Diaz not withstanding; they also slot into the unwritten counter-example of the next paragraph.  
  3. See: Every other guard aside from poor Bennett. Delightful, all of them, in each of their three lines an episode.  
  4. See: Alex learning the gang has been to her apartment building.  
  5. See: The old guard in the greenhouse, and especially the beat-perfect suggestion of murder.  
  6. Heck yeah extended simile!  

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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

  • Re: Emmy Buzz — Because of the weird mechanics of acting category distinctions, Wiley is considered a “guest star” as is Uzo Aduba (for season 1). Uzo’s getting the buzz this year for her work from last season. Season 2 fell into the qualifying window for 2015 and Uzo has since been bumped to supporting rather than guest, so fingers crossed?

    This is why there realllllly needs to be some ensemble categories. Seriously.

    • Aaron Mucciolo

      Over- and underinclusive as that would still be, ensemble acting awards are absolutely needed.