Review: 'Orange Is the New Black' - 'Hugs Can Be Deceiving/A Whole Other Hole'
We're continuing our periodic look at "Orange Is the New Black" season 2 with thoughts on episodes 3 and 4 coming up just as soon as I know you're talking about the white Michelle Williams...
I wanted to approach this season reviewing two episodes at a time because it seemed a manageable compromise given the binge-viewing of it all. (I'm guessing many of you have already finished the season by now.) But it also made sense to me because, at least through these first four episodes, the season has been deliberately structured in pairs. Episode 1 was all-Piper, while episode 2 was no-Piper and all-everyone else. Episode 3 gives us backstory on Suzanne, whose emotional problems have long been on display for all to see, while episode 4 reveals that Morello is just as unstable, but has wrapped her crazy in a more presentable package. The episodes complement and comment on each other very nicely.
I've been waiting for a Suzanne flashback episode ever since we got a brief glimpse of her parents during a visiting day scene last season, and "Hugs Can Be Deceiving" did not disappoint. Her story is not an unfamiliar one in life or literature — parents struggling with fertility choose to adopt, then improbably conceive a biological child — and what makes this version of it so poignant is that we see just how much Suzanne's parents loved and fought for her as a kid. They worked so very hard to protect her from both the outside world and her own demons — we see that her mom(*) is even willing to play the race card on occasion to get people to overlook Suzanne's obvious issues — yet ultimately they couldn't get her out of her own head and her own neuroses enough to prevent her from winding up in a place like Litchfield, so broken and down on herself that she would so eagerly become Vee's new house pet.
(*) They cast new actors as her parents this season, and though the mom isn't a dead ringer for Taylor Schilling, they're similar enough types — Suzanne even screams, "No more, Mommy!" while hitting Piper — that it adds a whole complicated layer to Suzanne's obsession with Piper last season.
Now that Vee's back inside those walls, we see how masterful she is at manipulating others and building a solid power base. She recognizes in Suzanne someone who will be intensely loyal in return for some affection and respect that's easy to provide, and she quickly begins building her own gang from the ground up. Only Poussey seems to be resisting her corruption in this early going, and her situation is complicated by her romantic feelings for Taystee — feelings that Taystee can't reciprocate and feels uncomfortable about. Suzanne is the first of Vee's soldiers to fall completely in line, but it's clear she'll be far from the last.
Suzanne was clearly a character last season who had a story to tell. Morello, on the other hand, seemed at times last year to be little more than local color: a friendly initial tour guide for Piper, and an extra voice at the lunch table with Piper, Nicky and Alex. When she would talk about her elaborate wedding plans, it always gave the impression of a distraction from the bleak day-to-day of prison life, but wish-fulfillment at worst. The thought that she might be this utterly delusional never crossed my mind, which is what makes the flashbacks in "A Whole Other Hole" so effective.
The show often plays games in those flashbacks to keep you guessing about the crime each woman committed to wind up at Litchfield, but the Morello ones seemed fairly straightforward: even more concerned with her style and appearance on the outside than she is behind bars, she committed serial mail fraud to obtain clothes, shoes and accessories she otherwise couldn't afford. Nice and easy, right? And the brief glimpse of her first meeting with Christopher (carrying several boxes worth of ill-gotten designer booty) only ties into that version of things. But the very fact that she does something as ridiculous and self-destructive as driving away from her hospital parking spot to visit Christopher's house suggests all is not right inside that well-coiffed head, regardless of how stable Morello seems. And, sure enough, we find out that the entire relationship, other than one date, was entirely imagined, and that Morello's eyes can look just as crazy as Suzanne's. Uzo Aduba is always excellent in the very big role she gets to play(**), but Yael Stone was pretty wonderful herself at showing the madness lurking just below Morello's polished surface.
(**) And is also wonderful auditioning to play every other major "Orange" character.
"A Whole Other Hole" deals with a lot of fake relationships beyond Morello's imagined engagement. Boo and Piper discuss the value of prison wives (and Piper tries to trade Brook into matrimony to get Miss Claudette's blanket back), Vee claims that Taystee and Poussey's friendship is only real within the confines of these prison walls, and Larry and Polly convincingly pretend to be a married couple to amuse themselves with a stranger. This is not just the province of the mentally ill, even if someone like Morello (or Suzanne, back when she was still crushing on Piper) can take it to extremes.
Suzanne's story also provides some closure on the Piper/Pennsatucky cliffhanger from the end of last season, as a flashback to her mortifying high school graduation appearance leads into her similar meltdown at the prison Christmas show, which then leads her to vent all her self-loathing outward to beat up Piper, who made her feel so small and humiliated with her contribution to Larry's radio story. It winds up being a useful thing for Piper — her bruises (and the secret of their origin) make the fight with Pennsatucky seem more even, and combine nicely with Healy's desire to make the whole thing go away — but it's also a cathartic moment for Suzanne, who feels ever so strong enough (or, at least, reliant enough on Vee) to decline Piper's offer of a movie date.