After a season premiere that focused entirely on Piper outside of Litchfield, the second episode of the new season of Orange is the New Black gave us an entirely Litchfield-based episode with no Piper at all. Now that the show is a hit, it seems like this is season was designed around proving that the show could last season after season and isn’t dependent on one single story. This Piper-less episode certainly makes a strong case for that.
The show opens on a flashback to Taystee’s childhood, already showing how the season plans to function without being driven by Piper. We’re not getting flashbacks as Piper gets to know each inmate, they simply exist as part of the show. Just like they nailed the casting of young Piper in the last episode, in this scene you immediately know that Teeka Duplessis is Taystee without any sort of introduction. We see her run up to a couple and ask if they want to hear her sing and she starts belting Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” It melted my heart because I am not a monster. We find out she’s at an “Adoption Festival,” trying to impress prospective parents. After being pushed away from the couple she was trying to impress by her social worker, she sits alone and is approached by Vee (Lorraine Toussaint). Taystee complains that everyone at these things wants a baby and Vee tells her, “You’re big and your hair’s ratsy and you’re too eager and too dark.” So that’s heart-wrenching. Taystee finds out Vee is a drug dealer and Vee asks if she’d ever be interested in learning the trade. Taystee says that if she gets in trouble she’ll never find a “forever family” and Vee tells her it’s time she started thinking about making her own forever family instead of waiting for one to come along, then she gives her the nickname Taystee.
After that great opening, we return to the prison and see everyone getting ready for a program called “Dress for Success” that helps women in prisons learn to prepare for job interviews. While everyone is looking through the interview clothes, Flaca asks, “If this is really about career dressing for us shouldn’t this be all like McDonald’s and maid’s uniforms?” The woman running the program insists that you have to put what you want into the universe -— “Dress for success!” She then tells Leanne exactly what to wear.
“Dress for Success” then takes them to a mock job fair in front of a big audience of inmates. The volunteer has the woman stand in a line up so she can critique their outfits. Her critiques include telling Leanne that her outfit is ill-fitting, dated and not flattering. When Leanne yells, “But you told me to wear it,” the interviewer tells her to leave the stage. When she gets to Taystee and critiques her outfit, Taystee says, “Hold up. At job fair last year, this was the winning outfit. That’s why I picked it.” The volunteer doesn’t reply to her directly and instead responds by telling the audience, “Let’s talk about dressing for your body type and skin tone.” This is my favorite moment of the series so far. The metaphorical impact is incredible. Even if there weren’t any more flashbacks to show us exactly when and how Taystee ended up a criminal, this quick interaction allows us to completely understand the why. Because Taystee can play by the rules and do everything right and still be rejected simply because of who she is. At least that downer moment is followed by Taystee proclaiming that she knows she still looks good and then Poussey cheering for her in the audience. Um, adorable.
After “Dress for Success,” the next step in the mock job fair is a round of interviews with someone who’ll help them decide what career path they’d be best in and help them draw up a resume. The montage of interviews is wall-to-wall gold from Poussey saying she wants the kind of job where she can just chill out on the beach surrounded by beautiful people, to Lorna saying she just wants to marry Christopher and make their house look nice, to Nicky asking the interviewer what the fuck is wrong with him. Taystee is taking the whole thing very seriously and drawing up a nice resume —- but just because she’s taking it seriously, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t also high-five the interviewer and tell him they’re gonna be friends. He’s clearly charmed by this and I think it’s safe to say the central thesis of this episode is that everyone should root for Taystee to get every good thing all the time.
Afterwards she tells her friends she’s going to win the job fair and get hooked up with a real job. Everyone asks what she’s talking about and Taystee tells the she heard from the girl who won last year that the job fair people helped her get a real job when she got out. When they ask why she didn’t tell them there was a prize, Taystee jokingly says, “I’m a child of the system. No one ever taught me right from wrong!”
In a flashback, we see a tearful Taystee asking Vee for a job. Vee tells her that she had her shot and didn’t take it, but Taystee impresses her with her math skills.
Back at the library, Poussey encourages Taystee to concentrate on a book on job interviews. They are so precious. This should be the show.
In another flashback, Taystee talks to Vee about how they could improve their heroin selling and tosses around the word “branding.” She insists that this won’t be the only career she ever has and Vee quickly corrects her saying that where they live they don’t have careers, they have jobs, and this is the best paying job around. As Taystee watches Vee make dinner, she spaces out and you see the pure joy she’s feeling at having a maternal figure.
On the day of her mock interview, Taystee nails it, providing examples of times she used her skills in previous jobs. She finishes by thanking the interviewer and dropping some real knowledge about the company he’s from. The interviewer is legitimately impressed and everyone applauds her -— especially Poussey, of course.
The interviewer announces that Taystee won and there’s more applause for her. Taystee follows Assistant Warden Figueroa down the hall, asking her who she can get in touch with about her job. Figueroa asks what she means and Taystee says she heard the last winner got set up with a real job. Figueroa says that’s untrue then launches into a rant that perfectly captures how deeply she willfully misunderstands the system, saying, “This isn’t a contest. You do your best because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Why is it so hard for you people to understand? You’re like babies. ‘Where’s my present?’…Grow up!” Off Taystee’s look of disappointment, Figueroa says that in acknowledgment of her achievement a prize of $10 will be added to her commissary fund. Taystee graciously thanks her, saying that’s something. After Figueroa walks away, it’s revealed that Vee has now entered the prison. It cuts to credits and a cover of “Beautiful” starts playing because this show wants to emotionally destroy us. It’s a strong second episode that will be hard for the rest of the season to top.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix