Recap: Orange is the New Black, Episode 1 & 2

Written by Dylan Brandsema

SPOILER WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD!! DO NOT READ THESE REVIEWS UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE EPISODES.

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Orange is the New Black Season 3, Episode 1: “Mother’s Day”

After the absolutely insane chain of events that took place during the final moments of Orange Is The New Black Season 2, most assumed that the first moments of the third season would pick up immediately after, and present us with the immediate aftermath of said events. Alas, it does not. Some might call that taking a risk, but those people should also be reminded of what show they’re watching.

The Season 3 premiere, appropriately titled “Mother’s Day,” picks up, we can assume, a few weeks after the events of the previous season. Caputo (Nick Sandow) has assumed Figueroa’s (Alysia Reiner) position with dominance and assertion. The loss of Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) has slowed down the drama between the blacks and Mexicans and the Golden Girls, and all the other craziness from the last episode has basically been dumbed down to dull flame. This comes as a surprise at first, but eventually, we realize that this is necessary to introduce new story arches, new potential characters, and set the somber tone for this new season.

Photo Credit: JoJo Whilden for Netflix
Photo Credit: JoJo Whilden for Netflix

We learn early on in this first episode, that Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat), one of the most beloved characters of last season, (and a big player in the events that capped off it off) has since passed on from her illness. Although it was to be expected, this may come as a shock to learn so early in the episode. While it’s nice to have closure on Rosa’s arch, was it necessary to inform the audience of this so soon, and so bluntly? Surely a little bit of ambiguity wouldn’t have hurt, and it could’ve been handled much better.

One striking thing about this premiere is the realization that we don’t see Piper (Taylor Schilling) until 12 minutes into the episode. This show’s treatment of its characters has come a long way over the past two years, and this is no longer a single-protagonist program. After all, last season’s “Looks Blue, Tastes Red” didn’t have any Piper at all. We also see this through the announcement of this season’s exclusion of characters such as Larry (Jason Biggs) and others directly connected Piper. This assures us that, while Piper’s arc is still important, the inmates of Litchfield are one unit, and the structure of this episode is fitting with this new established narrative.

Through this, also comes another turn. It’s been a tradition on Orange Is The New Black to give backstories for each character in the form of flashbacks. Typically, a singular character’s story is assigned to an episode in which they are part of the episode’s specific plot. Here, it’s scattered. We see brief, limited flashbacks for a variety of characters. With the exception of Healy (Michael J. Harney), who we get to see a child in the ’60s (presumably), it’s all characters we’ve learned about before. These glimpses are extremely short – some of them even running under a minute long – and even though they’re nice to see, don’t seem to have a purpose with the rest of the episode. The episode is about Mother’s Day, and all of these flashbacks involve motherhood, so thematically, there’s a connection, but does it add anything to our familiarity of the characters? I vote nay.

Photo Credit: JoJo Whilden for Netflix
Photo Credit: JoJo Whilden for Netflix

“Mother’s Day” doesn’t really have a plot — there’s no overlying conflict between characters that can be solved by the end of the episode that we can move on from in the next chapter. Instead, show creator and writer of the episode, Jenji Kohan, treats the episode as if it were a slowed down, exaggerated montage. She focuses on small handfuls of characters at a time, not really doing much – just going about the everyday tasks they would do on a normal day. While their actions don’t provide much depth, their dialouge and conversations with one another is what keeps the train moving – opening up new possible plots through casual banter. It’s not exactly exposition, but it’s something. It’s certainly creative, and a bold choice for a follow-up to Season 2’s off-the-walls “We Have Manners. We’re Polite” capper. It’s one of those fly-on-the wall kind of episodes, but in a manner we haven’t really seen before.

It brings up an interesting discussion – do season premieres have to be as eventful as their predecessors? Is purposefully writing more exciting storylines for a premiere where they don’t need to be a cheap way of getting the audience’s attention? In “Mother’s Day”, Kohan and co. take advantage of the Netflix medium. With “binge-watching” becoming such a popular method of viewing television shows, viewers would’ve went straight to next episode after this even if it was terrible and absolutely nothing happened. If this was a cable show, this kind of premiere probably wouldn’t do so well. It’s an interesting utilization of the way we watch our shows, and frankly, quite brilliant. In retrospect, it makes you wonder how different the show would be if Kohan had the liberty of writing every episode.

This isn’t the type of premiere anyone expected. In terms of story, it’s kind of pointless, but this show is impossible to predict, so, maybe it isn’t. One thing it does for sure is get the viewer in the mood for the roller coaster that’s to come (probably). So, tonally, “Mother’s Day” succeeds twofold.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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