Episode 5 revolves around faith. Following the story of Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva), it explores her relationship with faith as well as her status within the prison. A strong believer in the lighting of candles and the power of hope, Mendoza currently leads the kitchen crew, making her one of the most powerful people within the prison. Vee and Red, though, have other plans.
A dialogue-driven chapter, the writers prepare for the halfway point in the season by constructing a three-way power struggle. The trio gather their troops and begin testing each other’s limits. Tense and intriguing, it’s especially satisfying to see Mendoza’s background before the first shot is fired. A story closer to tragedy than to thrill, the flashbacks give a third dimension to Leyva’s inmate, whose stern looks and firm-but-fair work ethic are, by themselves, already interesting. It gradually becomes clear that her flaws are being revealed, all in time for her meeting with the ever-predatory Vee.
Elsewhere, the primary theme of Season 2 – family – continues to affect the characters in every aspect of their lives. Piper is confronted with a loss when her brother comes to visit. In spite of the morbid subject matter, the conversation is one of the lightest of Chapman’s recent escapades. Wacky and fascinating, Cal Chapman (Michael Chernus), brings out Piper’s silly, warm nature unlike any other. In a short exchange a lot is revealed about her family life and relationship with her mother; a subtle and diligent piece of writing.
Red is also struggling with family. In a short chat with Piper, spent staring at her old family (Nichols, Yoga, Boo), she hands out some hard-earned advice regarding life and the film Croupier: “Fuck Clive Owen. You don’t ever let go.”
In lighter news, Joe Capudo (Nick Sandow, moustached and sarcastic) turns out to be in a grunge band called Sideboob. Although this leads to an insight into both his and Healy’s character, as well as the political goings-on within the prison, it needn’t; if Jenji Kohan wanted to place comically-named grunge bands mid-season, there are few who would try and stop her.
Sideboob or no Sideboob, Healy remains one of the loneliest characters in modern TV. Unable to connect with anyone, he sycophantically absorbs Capudo’s vision for the prison in a discussion about its current state. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Figueroa’s husband is running for senate – at which point Capudo’s grunge-loving, bass-playing self bestows some world-worn advice upon his secluded co-worker: “Behind every strong man, is a strong cunt-faced witch-monster.”
Episode 5 of Orange Is the New Black Season 2 provides some precisely written, very important conversation (as well as Nichols and Boo having a sex competition). It’s subtle, making the episode feel quiet, with the only real confrontation being twisted into an apparent trade by puppet-master Vee. But it is important to the bigger picture: it manages to wrestle with the extremes of comedy Orange provides so well, as well as the depth character and plot expected from a hit second season. Well crafted and well executed, it takes a more serious tone with the major players than before.
The inhabitants of The Litch may harbour that titular low self-esteem, but the cast and crew are as talented and confident as ever.