Ahh, that's more like it.
As gripping as "Thirsty Bird" was, it was tough not to feel a slight tinge of annoyance at its Piper-centric storyline. That tinge was totally dispelled by this episode, which catches us up with the rest of Orange's characters in a big way. Though she's mentioned, Piper never actually appears onscreen, marking a first for the show.
Thankfully, Chapman is the only major player missing. The episode's first post-flashback scenes play like a roll call, with fan favorite after fan favorite making their glorious return to the screen: Taystee! Nicky! Morello! Sophia! Daya! Gloria! (Wait, is Gloria anyone's favorite?) In fact, if there's any one criticism to be made about this episode, it's that it has to scramble to give everyone a moment in the spotlight, however brief -- which makes the proceedings feel just the tiniest bit disjointed. That said, it's hard to complain about this after spending the better part of a year yearning to see more from each of these characters. In light of the episode's scattered feel, maybe the best approach here would be to simply take things character by character:
Taystee: Litchfield's boisterous braniac gets the episode's flashback, which details her grim group-home childhood -- an upbringing that's haunted by the specter of Lorraine Toussaint's Vee, a silky, manipulative connect who uses kids as drug runners (and also gives the girl formally known as Tasha Jefferson her nickname). Young Taystee does her best to find honest work, toiling at OITNB's version of Mr. Cluck's Chicken Shack -- but eventually, she falls into Vee's crew anyway. (It's not all bad; at least she gets to use her math skills and branding acumen. Googly eyes on heroin bags -- it's gonna be big, people.)
Vee and company gradually become the surrogate "forever famly" Taystee's been searching for her entire life -- which is all fine and dandy until her surrogate brother RJ is killed by the cops. Vee swears on her life that she'll keep Taystee safe. Considering Tasha's now on her second stay in prison, it's safe to say that she didn't exactly keep that promise.
Back in the present, Taystee and the other inmates are preparing for Litchfield's Mock Job Fair, an annual event sponsored by a nonprofit called Dress for Success. (Which, by the way, is a real organization.) The only two who get even close to choosing office-appropriate outfits are Taystee and Flaca; they'll be moving on to a mock interview with a real hiring manager, which will take place onstage in front of the rest of the prisoners. Taystee's determined to ace the test; she's heard that whoever wins will be in line to get a real job once she gets out of prison. Sure, it sounds like a prison myth on par with Red's beloved chicken -- but Taystee crams for her "interview" all the same.
Considering Flaca's questionable interview strategy -- has the girl ever seen someone try to get a job outside of a porno? -- Taystee could have this in the bag without breaking a sweat. Even so, she proves to be a model job seeker, buttering up a Philip Morris rep with facts she's memorized about his company and even managing to spin her drug-running experience as a net positive. She's named the Job Fair's winner to a thunderous ovation, mostly thanks to Poussey and Cindy.
And, naturally, everything subsequently comes crashing down. Terrible Fig is predictably nasty when she tells Taystee that of course winning the fake job doesn't have anything to do with getting a real job, then puts a bit too fine a point on it when she sneers that she's not the prisoners' "mommy." (Mommy issues: They're a theme tonight! Don't drink each time they come up, because you'll want to live to watch the rest of season 2.) And to add insult to injury, who should appear right after Fig snarls that Taystee needs to grow up? That's right: Regal, evil Vee, ready and raring to pick up where she and Taystee left off. Why do I get a feeling she learned all she knows about motherhood from Madea?
NEXT: The haps with Pennsatucky, Red, Daya...