“Orange is the New Black” has always been about how prison can dehumanize you, can break you down and pull the humanity—or at least the normality—out of your existence. In many ways the lives of the inmates at Litchfield Prison are on an indefinite hold. But season three’s opener, “Mother’s Day,” reminds everyone that some things don’t go away just because you’re stuck in prison.
Episode one is a sort of check-in with all the characters we’ve grown to love over these past two seasons: Alex is back, Daya’s pregnancy is trudging along and her relationship with Bennett is confusing, Morello is struggling with life in prison while Red has a renewed outlook, and Piper doesn’t make it on screen until 12 minutes into the premiere.
Threaded through all of these situations is the upcoming Mother’s Day event at the prison, where inmates’ children can come join them for a sort-of carnival day. It gives the episode a natural context for framing how relationships are grown and broken in prison. Sophia and Gloria’s relationships with their children are strained, and the prison walls don’t help, similar to how Yadriel tells Maria he’s going to stop bringing their daughter to visit her. Conversely, Alex and Piper find a renewed (though no less fucked up) bond through their shared space, and Pennsatucky finds some comfort in Boo, even if it’s still not perfect.
It’s one of the things the show has toyed with before, but never quite as serenely, across the board as it does here: that there’s some good to come out of the relationships here, even if they’re just made here out of necessity. Those bonds that form may be for your own good, but there’s more to them than meets the eye. Suzanne still aches for Vee, even if she was a manipulator (which, it’s unclear how much Suzanne is read in on that master plan), Rosa’s effect is felt even after she’s gone, and hell, Poussey and Taystee should go down in the history books.
But it’s a dramedy, and by the end of the day the inmates are each reminded where they are, and who they are to the system. The show played it just the right amount this episode, I’d say, between all the make-shift decorations and activities and the heart-breaking scene where the kids are confused why all the prisoners need to get down on the ground.
OITNB is the sort of master of its own pacing style, showing both too little and too much. With all the characters it does the round with here, there’s not much to be said for full interpersonal plotlines. But then, this episode doesn’t care to. It’s planted the seeds of a lot of things (Poussey’s mother, Boo/Nicky trying to get rid of their drugs, Alex and Piper?? *eye roll*). Now we’ll just have to see what grows.
- Welcome to OITNB reviews! These will likely come faster than “The Affair,” because hellooo binge-watching.
- Apologies on the scatter-brained nature of this one; I took notes when I was watching episode one last night, but it didn’t save, so I’m writing it on the fly. Hopefully the next ones will be more coherent!
- Alex and Piper are so fucked up. More on that to come, I’m sure.
- Multiple people flashbacks! It’s a fun thing to do, and in an episode that’s such a scattershot it makes sense. But at the same time it was a lot more noticeable how convenient some of these events are for the narrative they exist within.
- “This is such a metaphor for their lives.” I didn’t feel good about it, but I laughed.