Orange Is The New Black: “40 OZ Of Furlough”/“Little Mustachioed Shit”

Orange Is The New Black: “40 OZ Of Furlough”/“Little Mustachioed Shit”

Investigating the “Larry Problem,” and the calm before the storm

As with Orange Is The New Black’s first season, we will be covering two episodes of the show’s second season weekly, with regular reviews posting Tuesday mornings at 11am Eastern. These reviews will be written without foreknowledge of what takes place in future episodes, and thus will feature no spoilers for later episodes. If you wish to discuss the entire season, visit Todd VanDerWerff’s review of the complete season here —if posting here, please be respectful of those moving at a slower pace and avoid spoiling or heavily alluding to future developments in the comments.

“40 OZ Of Furlough” (season 2, episode 9)

Why is Larry still a part of Orange Is The New Black?

You may have noticed by now that my opinion of Larry is not particularly high. I’ve always found the character somewhat distasteful for his self-centeredness, and he’s suffered further as Piper—once equally self-centered—has gained perspective that Larry hasn’t. By the end of the first season, I was ready to be done with Larry, but then he shows up in season two even after breaking up with Piper, and he’s been a frustrating presence all year. I’ve been relegating him to the stray observations, and dubbing the feature “Ugh, Larry,” and I’ve never once hit an episode where I’ve felt like Larry’s storyline was saying something integral to its theme, its plot, or anything else that could make him worthwhile or interesting.

This is not Jason Biggs’ fault, and it hasn’t been enough to derail the show entirely. However, we’re now nine episodes into the season, and the show has yet to offer a compelling argument for Larry’s continued existence as a narrative thread in the series, despite making compelling arguments for other potentially tangential characters. In “40 OZ Of Furlough,” the show even works to bring Healy’s narrative further into focus, as he goes to counseling and actually learns something about how counseling is supposed to work, seemingly invested in getting back to what he used to love about his job. Does this make every Healy scene from earlier episodes infinitely more interesting? No, but it makes it feel like they were building to something, and that we weren’t just wasting our time.

The longer we go without a similar explanation for Larry, the more I wonder if the show is playing a longer game. This would normally have been the episode where Larry’s function comes into focus: Piper is out on furlough, and she shows up on the doorstep of the home they used to share. They have their awkward first interactions, they avoid getting into a fight, and then a drunk Piper insists on having sex with Larry in the bathroom of her parents’ home at her grandmother’s wake. This is the scene where all of our knowledge of what Larry’s been going through should be paying off, as he can’t get it up, tells Piper he slept with someone she knows, and then they sit side-by-side on the bathroom floor up against the wainscoting, realizing that it’s really over.

It’s a good scene. I think Piper’s relationship with Larry is important to the show, and I understand the appeal of having perspective on how the people in someone’s life are affected when their fiancé, or friend, or daughter, or niece, or acquaintance becomes a convicted felon overnight. Although it’s driven into the ground a bit by the scene with Piper and the two family friends, the idea that she isn’t interested in just restarting her old life is meaningful. She’s changed, and who she is in prison is an evolution of her existing self instead of someone completely new, and it’s opened her eyes in ways her previous life hadn’t. That’s meaningful, and an important note for Piper as a character and for her role in the show.

But why did we see Larry’s side? What made it crucial to helping the audience reach this conclusion? If this is really the end of their relationship, why were the specifics of his betrayal meaningful? I’m all for following the show on tangents, but Larry has never felt like the show fleshing out a new part of its world at any point this season. His scenes have never added new ideas, or helped drive home central themes, or seemed like they were something that couldn’t have been left on the cutting room floor with minimal impact on the season’s overall storytelling. In fact, I’d argue his absence earlier in the season could have made this episode even more effective, as we could have related to Piper’s disconnect, instead of being able to fill in all the dull gaps of what Larry’s been up to since Piper went into solitary.

I don’t want to give the impression that Larry’s presence in the season has been an absolute blight or dragged it down considerably, but it’s frustrating to see a show so good at making even the most marginal characters feel like part of its central idea having so much trouble making a character even marginally compelling. This is especially concerning because the only logic I can find is that the show is preparing for a time when Piper’s world outside of Litchfield will be a more integral part of the series. If I had to put money on it, I would say that the show intends to follow Piper outside of Litchfield once she earns her release, and that Larry—as part of her ecosystem—will remain to help show the challenge of merging the before and after selves that result from a stay at Litchfield.

It’s possible—remember, no spoilers—we’ll start heading in this direction before the season ends. It’s also possible the show has big plans to make Larry more interesting between now and the end of the season that aren’t related to this speculation. Whatever happens, though, the season has gone too long spending time with Larry and struggling to find a way to make him feel like part of the ensemble. Here, tied as his presence was to Piper’s furlough, Larry makes sense as a part of her past, present, and future; I’m not as convinced that he’s as important to the show, and that his continued presence this season was required to get the point of this episode across.

The rest of the episode is about escalation, both in the past and the present. The flashback to Red and Vee’s days in orange at Litchfield is simple but effective, the origin of a conflict that has been at the heart of this season. It’s told primarily from Red’s perspective because she’s the character who goes through a change. Vee is Vee the second she walks in the doors, calmly refusing the assistance of the other black inmates and then plotting Rhonda’s trip to maximum security in order to take over. Red is a meek woman terrified of her surroundings who, at Vee’s suggestion, takes advantage of her plum spot in the kitchen and her relationship with a vendor to start smuggling in luxury goods. It’s the origin of their feud in the sense that Vee has Red attacked in an effort to take over the business despite seemingly being her friend, but it’s also the origin of Red’s hardened nature. Where once she only had Norma, now she has her own crew to assist her in the way that Vee’s assists her. It’s the origin of the group that Red treats to dinner back in the present, a way of apologizing to them for the hurt she caused following her exit from the kitchen.

The problem is that Big Boo has already switched sides, sensing more opportunity with Vee and negotiating a cut of the profits for revealing Red’s sewer secret. The other problem is that Vee is escalating her game from cigarettes to the hard stuff, including supplying Nicky with unasked-for heroin. Red knows this story too well, even if she hasn’t yet seen it with her own eyes. She knows she has standards that Vee won’t follow, that she is the lawful evil to Vee’s chaotic evil as far as prison contraband is concerned. And yet Taystee isn’t willing to see that, following Vee because she owes her, and ignoring Poussey’s concerns. When that scene first played out, you presume that Taystee doesn’t know about the hard drugs, but it’s tellingly she who delivers the heroin to Nicky. We want to think that Taystee would be above giving a junkie her fix and risking everything with the one piece of contraband that even the more relaxed of the guards would never look past, but the current climate at Litchfield is breeding this kind of activity, and it’s getting more dangerous by the episode.

The guards are responding by reintroducing Pornstache, which is proving to be less about the inmates and more about Bennett. In truth, Mendez returns and mainly just cracks down as one might expect: he knows every infraction, he administers every infraction, and he not surprisingly has a little bit of fun with Soso as she begins her hunger strike. We never actually get Pornstache’s side of the story. We don’t know what he’s been up to outside of sending Daya a Valentine’s card. We don’t see him approach Daya or speak to anyone other than the inmates. All we see is Bennett’s panicked response to his return, and his reaction manifesting as an epic freakout at the sight of a cigarette butt that Pornstache of all people has to restrain him from continuing. It’s therefore not a huge surprise that, to take a load off his conscience, he throws Daya and Pornstache both under the bus, breaking his promise to the former by claiming the latter is the father of her child.

The pregnancy has been one of the weaker subplots carried over from last season, but it works as another example of something bubbling over. Litchfield is a pressure cooker, and when you get a secret like this one, or nascent enterprises like Red and Vee’s contraband pipelines, the pressure will eventually become too much. Now nine episodes into the season, “40 Oz. Of Furlough” is the point where the inevitable becomes reality, and where the march to the season’s climax begins.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

  • The title is pulled from Piper’s final scene, as she sits on a New York bridge with a Colt 45, after having gone to Red’s market to find it closed and for lease.
  • After talking in the previous review about the Golden Girls, it was lovely to see them throw down with Gloria’s kitchen staff. “It’s so disappointing to be underestimated as you age,” indeed, ladies.
  • I dug the moment when Big Boo asks Red for some kind of special dedication, and Red gives her a joking insult, which is what everyone at the table thought Big Boo was prompting. In truth, she was testing Red, having spotted the sewer grate and pondering her best alliance. Nice subtle work from Lea DeLaria.
  • “When I said prove it, I said it in a Coach Taylor way”—I bet Caputo sees himself in Coach Taylor, which has now sent me down a rabbit hole of matching OITNB characters with their Friday Night Lights counterparts. (Y’all are reading Sonia’s TV Club Classic FNL reviews, right?)
  • Speaking of connections to other television dramas, Deirdre Lovejoy debuts as Healy’s therapist, occupying a different piece of the law and order ecosystem than as Rhonda Pearlman on The Wire.
  • Pennsatucky and Healy make a connection over their respective pressure cooker identities as it relates to anger—as I’ve said before, I’m waiting to see what they plan to do with Pennsatucky, whose feud with Leanne has remained fairly pedestrian up until this blowup.
  • Cal hijacking his grandmother’s funeral during his and Piper’s eulogy so he could have his wedding was pretty mortifying, except that it made Piper’s awful parents upset, so I kind of loved it.

“Little Mustachioed Shit” (season 2, episode 10)

The scene where Sophia’s son Michael—or Mike, now—comes to Litchfield for the first time is beautifully quiet. He sits with Crystal, quietly, suffering the usual observations that come with being a teenager being seen by someone for the first time in a while. He’s grown four inches; his feet are so big that Crystal says he’s almost as tall laying down as he is standing up (which is dirtier when I write it out than I think she intended it). And then Crystal suggests they play cards, and she finds a deck, and then Mike wipes the floor with Sophia.

It’s nothing like the scene Sophia imagined, in which Mike laid all his feelings on the table and worked through the hurt and frustration that she believes he has every right to feel. It’s also nothing like the scene Red imagined, which involved kicking him to death for turning her in (“But we all have our own way of parenting”). It’s just a quiet moment of what may be years of incremental change, a calm in the storm that Litchfield is quickly becoming, and a far cry from Morello’s visit from Christopher. She gets the meeting that Sophia expected, with the anger and the yelling.

Recurrent throughout “Little Mustachioed Shit” is the reminder that all of these women are criminals. The reporter tries to single out Fig, but Piper reminds him that she’s just as much a criminal, all told. Poussey tries to convince Taystee again that Vee is bad news, but Taystee rejects Poussey’s attempts to elevate herself above other criminals when she’s one herself. The nature of the series is that we rarely think of most of these characters as criminals first and women second, but the fact is that’s how society thinks of all of them. It’s what Piper experienced when she was out of prison, and it’s what each of them face when they interact with a loved one or, in Morello’s case, one of their victims. All Morello tried to do by extending her lie in prison was hold onto her humanity, to let people believe that she wasn’t in prison because she’s mentally unstable and tried to kill Angela. Christopher is not wrong to be mad at Morello, nor is he wrong when he makes clear she is a dangerous criminal, but in that moment he seeks to strip away her humanity, and that goes against so much of what the show stands for.

Healy’s sign at his support group suggests it is a “Safe Place,” but there is no safe place in Litchfield. Fig claims in her episode-ending speech to the press that they create a safe environment, but there is not such thing as far as the show is concerned. In some cases, this is dramatized through plot, as is the case of the increasingly authoritative Vee. Passing the drugs to Nicky was the first of what have turned out to be many shows of power, including forcing Rosa out of her table and eventually strong-arming and then attacking Poussey. Vee has turned Suzanne into an enforcer, allowing her anger to be strategically deployed to keep other inmates in line. Suzanne’s mental stability is threatened in the process, but it could have been just as easily threatened by the guards sending her to solitary, as Yoga Jones points out while expressing concern about Janae. As much as Soso’s activism is complicated by her naiveté and how annoying she is, the characters are starting to realize that she’s actually right—this is not a safe environment.

So what do you do about it? What do you do when someone threatens your humanity? Do you go on a hunger strike? Do you put a flaming bag of dog poop on their front door? Piper’s tale of revenge is not particularly important new information, beyond informing us that Piper was once the other woman receiving shit in a bag to her front door. It serves partly to set up her revenge against Polly, while also signaling that when Piper imagines plotting her revenge she isn’t imagining the same thing that Red is imagining. In the case of each inmate, their definition of revenge is different, just as their definition of safety is different. Taystee attacks Poussey for her “bougie” upbringing with a military father, claiming that their class distinction is driving their current conflict. One of the biggest challenges for the show has been finding ways to draw out similarities and differences in equal measure, to avoid painting with one brush inmates who, according to most, are able to be lumped together as criminals.

This hour does a solid job with this, although admittedly my lack of investment in Alex and Piper keeps it from really connecting. It also brings the Dayanara storyline to the foreground, which has been something of a slow burn all season and has never clicked in the way other storylines have. There are some interesting ideas around it. It forces us to confront whether or not Bennett and Pornstache are—like the inmates—criminals in the same way. It also, in this case, pushes us to consider Daya’s safety, and what agency she has in this situation. I was thoroughly disturbed by Fig’s questioning of Daya, asking her—“girl-to-girl”—to basically admit that she really wasn’t raped by Pornstache. It’s a loaded question given the plot circumstances, but Fig doesn’t know those, and so she takes Daya’s answer—that she was, in fact, inciting Pornstache to sleep with her—as a basic truth, confirming her suspicion that she has a thing for men in uniforms and was asking for it. She still has to single Pornstache out, and she still has to “call it a rape,” but she doesn’t actually believe it is, because she sees all inmates as the same, and believes that they’re all looking to feel the thrill of having a guard’s attention on them.

Would things be better if everyone went to Healy’s support group? Are conditions likely to improve if the reporter writes his article, or if Soso’s hunger strike continues? Those are questions way bigger than the plot of this season, but part of the series’ tension comes from the fact that the more plot that emerges in Litchfield, the less these issues can be addressed. In this sense, the episode does indeed feel like a brief moment of calm before the storm takes over, the last vestiges of the peace Leanne spoke of in Pennsatucky’s absence early in the season.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

  • I knew the second Piper saw the “For Lease” sign on Red’s market that she was going to lie to her about it, both because it fits her personality and because it sort of nicely calls back to the first episode’s discussion about the value of honesty. You would normally think Red would smell the bullshit a mile away, but it would appear she—not unlike Morello—willing to accept a glimpse of a better reality to protect herself from the truth.
  • Speaking of Morello, there’s been some discussion in the comments on whether the police wouldn’t have found her fingerprints in Christopher’s house, and at least made a cursory effort to investigate whether there was any way she could have been there, which could have led them to the gap in surveillance. I would argue that this is all true, but I also feel the show is making an implicit observation that the criminal justice system isn’t going to go out of its way to follow up on a claim that someone in prison broke into someone’s house, even if Christopher’s right.
  • Another scene with Ruiz and her baby daddy, and another scene where I really resist any readings that he’s a bad parent or a danger to the child (which was discussed in the comments earlier this season). I think he’s just quiet, and attentive to Ruiz’s advice on what kind of baseball bat to purchase to threaten someone with.
  • I really want to see that burlesque routine that involves a Ray Romano puppet.
  • Where do we stand on Healy flagrantly using his own therapy sessions to teach him how to be an actual counselor? An endearing sign of his desire to change and be better at this job? A sleazy trick designed to make him seem more effective without really believing it? You be the judge.
  • Ugh, Larry: No Larry in this hour, but the lingering effects of his actions put Polly in a difficult spot with Piper, and ends with what she admits is a deserves bag of shit. I just hope a similar package was left for Larry, because he deserves it too.

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