TV Review: Orange Is The New Black Arrives With A “Thirsty Bird”

“Sometimes it’s not a matter of right and wrong. It’s about making a choice that will causes the least amount of pain to others.”

This is the advice a young Piper receives from her grandmother in “Thirsty Bird,” the second season opener of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. In the flashback portions of the episode, we follow Piper as a tweenage girl wrestling with her default nature as a rule follower. On the last day of school, while other students are jumping from the emergency exit of the school bus, Piper remains behind, not wanting to disappoint her father. When she and a friend get an older boy to buy them tickets to Dazed and Confused, a rated R movie, she’s plagued with guilt, at least until she sees her father kissing another woman on the street. Rather than reacting to the news, Piper’s mother grounds her daughter for violating a house rule about movies. It’s Piper’s first introduction to the very grey world of her parents. Right or wrong aren’t as important as keping the peace, so truth takes a back seat to maintaining life as they know it.

“Thirsty Bird” spends the entirety of its hour on Piper, keeping us in the dark about Litchfield and the fate of Pennsatucky until its nearly three quarters over. The episode opens on Piper, woken in the early hours of the morning in her cell in solitary only to be whisked away by guards. Piper’s confued and scared, but no one is telling her anything. Is this about Pennsatucky? Did she die? We spend the bulk of the hour following Piper on a mysterious trip by bus, plane, and bus to arrive in a Chicago penitentary where all she knows is that she’s starting over. But the more things change, the more they stay the same which goes for Piper’s new digs as well. There’s a host of new cellmates, just as crazy as those from Litchfield.

Upon arrival, Piper is quickly embroiled in another strange side quest, this time to hunt for a cockroach that can be trained to deliver cigarettes across the prison. Finally, while outside Piper spots a familiar face in another block. Alex is there too, and knows far more than Piper does. Alex’s drug trafficking boss, Kubra Polik, was captured and they’re both in Chicago to testify in his trial. The only thing is Polik isn’t the kind of dug kinpin that takes rats lying down. Instead, Alex warns Piper that they must lie and profess not to know him in order to stay alive. Of course, Piper the rule follower doesn’t want to commit perjury, after all lies are what landed her in prison in the first place. By the time Piper lands in court, she recalls her grandmother’s advice and refuses to give up Polik, trusting Alex’s call for unity only to get stabbed in the back by her girlfriend again. Alex chose the truth and appears to be getting whisked away by the feds for what I assume is witness protection, screwing over Piper yet again.

“Thirsty Bird” is quite the risk for the opening volley of such an anticipated show like Orange is the New Black. OITNB boasts an incredibly strong ensemble, full of strong characters portrayed by incredible actors. It’s an important reminder that this show is ultimately about Piper. It was Piper’s arrest that brought us to the inmates of Litchfield and the new world Piper lands in. And as “Thirsty Bird” unfolds, it’s full of the same fear and isolation that Piper experienced on her original trip to prison. The episode doesn’t really give us too much groundbreaking information when it comes to Piper’s character, but again, it’s a welcome reminder about her nature.

Much of “Thirsty Bird” retreads familiar story ground when it comes to Piper’s acclimation to her new prison population, even if the new quarters are only temporary. So, although I enjoyed the episode, mostly because I’m just so glad the show’s back, I’m ready to see what’s going on with the ladies of Litchfield.

As much as I want to, I don’t have the available hours to binge the entire season of Orange is the New Black, so I’m going to be reviewing these episodes at the (hopeful) rate of two per week. I know I made a similar claim when I began the second season of House of Cards, but once I got further into the season, it was just too silly/crazy to write about. I won’t let that happen this time I swear! So, I have to ask if you choose to comment and are a binger, please, please, please avoid spoilers for later hours!

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