Season 2, Episode 7: “Comic Sans”
Season 2, Episode 8: “Appropriately-Sized Pots”
Season 2, Episode 9: “40oz. of Furlough”
I’m going to combine the recaps of all three episodes this week because we need to get past the prison newsletter and Sideboob to the actual meat of the second season: Red (Kate Mulgrew) vs. Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), with a sprinkling of what may be the richest flashback of the season, The Adventures of Rosa (Barbara Rosenbalt). These characters are of a certain age where their histories make them not only the most interesting of all the inmates at Litchfield, but also the most compelling. These women are not saintly “old women”, despite either being mothers or mother-figures. They are ruthless criminals clinging on for survival in a way that no one, from Piper (Taylor Schilling) to Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), could ever imagine. For all of the “toughening” the writers have put Piper through, she will never be a true focal point of the show as long as she has to compete for screen time with characters as complex and as beautifully realized as Red, Vee, and Rosa. In a perfect world, (with this one major exception) Hollywood wouldn’t churn the likes of these roles just for men.
The cancer-ridden Rosa, as we find out in “Appropriately-Sized Pots”, was once a bank robbing adrenaline-junkie. The gun in her hand and the men (who all doomed to die young) by her side gave her rush that nothing else could. That need to constantly get one more score finally bites her in the ass and lands her in prison. It’s there that she finally embraces the need to continue living, despite her diagnosis. That’s made her a cranky old broad. And why not? We’d all feel what she’s feeling if we were ever in her shoes; even snarky teenage boys who haven’t even begun to live the life that Rosa has lived.
What’s great about this storyline — aside from a brilliant performance from Rosenblat — is that it is the only major tale to parallel Red and Vee’s. Now, here’s two women who should be past their prime, criminally-speaking, but they continue to go at it like their first stint together at Litchfield.
Their first present-day meeting was filled was so much tension and history that there was no way we weren’t going to get a backstory out of it. And thankfully, we do. We now know that much like the African-American wing of the prison, Red once fell under the spell of Vee. It’s surprising to us because we know her to be a head-strong Russian who takes shit from no one. But Vee is a master manipulator, offering up goods that are usually reserved for her. It’s she who first suggests to Red to start smuggling contraband in through the kitchen via her produce connections. And once that “business” is up and running, it’s she who violently tries to take it over. But that’s who Red becomes who she is — suffering a true betrayal by the hand of someone she considered a friend.
Of course, it goes without saying that Mulgrew and Toussaint are just about the best frienemy combo ever presented in dramatic form since Ian McShane and Powers Boothe’s teaming in the first season of Deadwood. The scenes are chewed, in the best sense of the phrase, and are then digested into goodness. (Follow me on this metaphor.) The moments they share in the flashbacks and present-day are so good that it’s easy to forget that Piper is continuing on a pretty long (and decent) arc that takes her from editor of the prison newsletter to spending a confusing weekend furlough with ex Larry (Jason Biggs) and her family at her grandmother’s wake and funeral. To a certain extant, that storyline is a dessert consisting of just a Jell-O cup while the Red and Vee storyline is a delicious steak dinner with a side of mashed potatoes.
Oh, and Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) returns to complicate another major storyline but we’ll handle that on Monday, June 30th with recaps of Episodes 10-12: “Little Mustachioed Shit”, “Take a Break from Your Values”, and “It Was the Change”.