What is love? It’s Valentine’s Day and this is the question posed to the inhabitants of Litchfield prison in short cut-scenes throughout Episode 6. Sometimes humbling, sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious; it’s an array of stylistic writing that shows awareness for characterisation as well as a fantastic sense of humour. But as Poussey’s past and present reveal, love is about more than chocolate and teddy bears and hot baths. It’s about a lot more.
Love is about give and take. As Vee manoeuvres her girls into position, mistrusted by Taystee and defied by Poussey, she reveals her true plan: to smuggle tobacco into Litchfield. Poussey’s past, star-crossed and grand, is cigarette-laden but her withdrawal from her friend is hurting more. Culminating in a bout of threats that quickly jump Poussey to fan-favourite status, it’s clear that she’s fighting a losing battle once more. Samira Wiley (Poussey) gives a uniquely likable performance, with such visceral determination; it’s impossible not to find yourself in her corner.
Love is about family. Alongside Vee, others begin their own smuggling operations; Red using the literal pipeline and the Latina’s by blackmailing Bennett, who will currently do anything to assuage Daya’s fear about their future. Daya and Bennett endure as a constant source of tension, as every decision they make creates more worries for both them and us. Red also needs her family around her and hands out treats as tokens of caring, which – aside from the illegal smuggling operation – mirrors a typical Valentine’s Day.
Love is about honesty. Piper, encouraged by Larry, commences an investigation into prison finances. Asking around about improvements, she’s given very little to work with. Taylor Schilling, however, is given a little more. This season has seen surprisingly little of the middle-class protagonist, but an exchange with Healy regarding a prison newsletter brings Piper back to the foreground. For Healy, February 14th is not so kind. Michael J. Harney (Healy) provides un-PC comedy and some villainy when needed, but is clearly as comfortable playing the desolate victim; it’s a credit to him that a character who tried to ignore Piper’s murder five episodes ago is now appearing as a soft, sympathy-worthy loner.
Love is about smuggling and lies and facing your fears. It’s a standout episode for a particularly difficult subject. Naturally, Kohan and co. tackle it with flair and charm. And death threats. The introduction of the smuggling rings, coupled with Piper’s return to the foreground and Poussey’s troubled story, means that Episode 6 is one of Orange’s grittiest, funniest yet.
All photos: JoJo Whilden for Netflix