Suzanne and Morello get the flashback treatment in stories that surprisingly parallel each other
Though the series is more of an ensemble than ever, some stories like Piper's always loom larger than others. But there's a scene in "A Whole Other Hole" featuring an extremely minor character that functions as a mission statement for the whole series: Rosa befriending the boy in the chemo chair next to hers. He wants nothing to do with this weird old bald lady until his phone's battery runs too low to play Fruit Ninja, and within a few minutes of reluctantly engaging her in conversation, she's telling him all about her long and colorful career in the field of bank robbery. That's "Orange Is the New Black" in a nutshell: a character who's had very little screen time, rarely speaks, and is largely ignored by all the show's major characters beyond her one defining feature (the bald head as a symbol of her cancer treatments) turns out to have a fascinating story to tell if anyone bothers to ask her about it.
Once upon a time in the series, Suzanne and Morello were only slightly more prominent than Rosa. In time, though, we got to learn how complicated and interesting they really are, and if this series has a long enough life, I imagine we're going to get to hear a lot of other great stories with unlikely heroines.
Some other thoughts:
* At the ATX TV Festival in Austin last weekend, I wound up spending a few minutes with Uzo Aduba in the green room while we were waiting to participate in different panels. She went on at length about Eden Wiggins, the girl who played Suzanne as a 10-year-old ("We had Little Suzanne, Middle Suzanne and Big Suzanne — me — in that episode") and how preternaturally composed the girl was as she hung out with the adult actress she would have to imitate. Definitely made me want to see more of Middle Suzanne at some point, even though I imagine any Suzanne flashbacks in later seasons would be more about the crime(s) she committed as an adult.
* The episodes bring Piper back to Litchfield, and introduce us to new inmate Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn), who's like a more extreme example of Piper at her most sheltered and annoying. We get to see not only how much Piper has changed in just a few months (Nicky tells her, "It's great to see you evolving, Chapman, and getting past the 'I'm the star of the movie and everyone else's too' complex"), but how much our own perception of this place and its people has. When Piper arrived back in the very first episode, the other inmates all seemed unsettling in one way or another, but as we watch Brook and the other newbies get their first look at Boo and company, we know the veteran inmates too well to be scared of any of them.
* The fight winds up working out well for Pennsatucky as well as Piper and Suzanne, since she gets a mouth full of sparkling new teeth to replace the ugly mess she had before Piper applied her fists to the problem.
* "The Wire" references: Sophia says she heard that Piper's face would look like Omar's after the fight, while Vee and Red discuss how much The Game has changed since the last time they were in prison together.
* Though Red's previous smuggling operation has been shut down, new methods for importing contraband present themselves, as Bennett figures out that he can hide things inside his prosthetic leg, while Red discovers a sewer pipe underneath the prison's old greenhouse.
* "A Whole Other Hole" gets its title from the women's confusion over some basic female anatomy questions that Sophia understands better than all the women who were born female, in much the same way that naturalized citizens often know more about American history and government than those of us who didn't have to study hard for a citizenship test.
* With Alex for now out of the picture as her love interest, Nicky instead gets mixed up into a sex competition with Boo, declaring her bonafides by saying, "I am like a bean-flicking Mother Teresa!" Her approach to getting Brook to shut up during sex was excellent.
* Piper and Red wind up as roommates, in a way evoking her previous living arrangement with Miss Claudette.
Finally, let's talk spoilers. Some of you may have watched well past episode 4 by the time you read this, but we are going to aim to restrict the discussion each week to the two episodes in question (or to episodes previously reviewed in the series). So if you have seen more than what we're talking about here, please stay quiet about that. I'm a few episodes ahead right now, but I'm only discussing the content of what we're up to, and at a certain point a lot of you are going to get ahead of me. Let's all be considerate of one another, okay? Thanks.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org