Orange Is the New Black season finale recap: Don't Fear the Reaper

Season 2 gets a neat, wholly satisfying ending—while leaving just a few intriguing questions unresolved
Ep. 13 | Aired Jun 6, 2014

I want to put "We Have Manners. We're Polite" in a bottle—several bottles, actually—and send them to every showrunner on earth along with a message: "This is how you do a satisfying finale."

Last year, my initial reaction to season 1's ending—a gloriously crazy bouquet that left several ginormous plot threads dangling, though news of Taryn Manning being promoted from guest star to series regular immediately put at least one of them to rest—was a sharp intake of breath, followed by an awed "Holy s%*#!" My reaction to season 2's conclusion, by contrast, is more of a contented sigh. OITNB's 90-minute behemoth of a second season closer puts a neat bow on nearly every one of the year's biggest story lines—without ever making those wrapped-up gifts seem pat or convenient.

Sure, a few unanswered questions remain: How will Suzanne deal with the loss of Vee, the first person who's ever given her a sense of true belonging? Can Caputo find a way to make things better at Litchfield, or will the assistant warden position corrode him just as it corroded Fig? (The blow job doesn't bode well.) Will Alex and Piper get back together now that Alex is being locked up again, and can any relationship survive an endless cycle of mutual screwing-over? (Or is that what makes these two twistedly perfect for each other?) How closely was Nicky eying that contraband heroin—should we be worried about her future? Whose hair was Sophia styling as the finale drew to a close? And how far from prison did Rosa get, anyway? (Given those sirens intruding on "Don't Fear the Reaper" as the episode draws to a close, the answer seems to be "not too far.")

Each of these dangling threads is compelling—but none is particularly pressing, and certainly not to the same extent as last year's massive cliffhanger. Which seems fitting, considering the sort of show that Orange has become. We don't necessarily binge this series because we're dying to see what's going to happen next; we binge it because we yearn to be immersed inside of its fully formed world for as long as possible, delving deeper and deeper into its characters and relationships with every passing hour. If Netflix's other marquee series, House of Cards, is a traditional video game—fast-paced, propulsive, focused on one main hero facing a series of flatter adversaries, making all the time you've invested contingent on an explosive ending—OITNB is more like an RPG: slower, more contemplative, diving deeply into even the least ostensibly important characters and concentrating less on the destination than the journey. Appropriate for a show that's basically a meditation on purgatory, right?

Season 2's finale takes its name from the sing-song nursery rhyme that an (understandably) unhinged Suzanne recites after she takes the fall for Vee—and visitors from the SIS (aka the Bureau of Prisons' Special Investigative Service) inform her that she's going to be put on trial for Red's brutal slocking. Though her words, like many of the things Suzanne does, seem random, there's a method to this madness: "We Have Manners" as a total package is concerned with codes of conduct—both how they work, and when they should be violated.

Take Red, for instance. For an OG like her, there's no trespass worse than snitching—even if the one being informed upon is your mortal enemy. That's why, when the SIS asks the slocking victim for leads about her attacker, she chooses at first to stick to her guns: "I saw nothing...no one," she croaks. "I'm an old woman trying to grow something green."

But when Red's conscience—here taking the form of Sister Ingalls, weakened in body but not in spirit—points out that her silence will only enable Vee to hurt more people, the Russian finally relents...provided the ex-nun promises to go against her own principles by breaking her hunger strike.

Though there's a quid pro quo involved, Red must also recognize that when up against someone like Vee, the street's regular rules don't apply. As O'Neill tells the nuns who have gathered to support Ingalls' protest, "even a feral, wild, predatory beast can recognize innocence when it sees it." He's talking about a leopard who saved a baby baboon and raised it as her own, but he might as well be describing Yvonne Parker. The difference between Vee and the big cat is that while the leopard is driven to protect innocence, Vee opts to do the exact opposite: exploiting the helpless (children, the childlike Suzanne) for her own personal gain. (And she emphasizes her privileged position over them in everything she does, especially her habit of calling the members of her crew "baby girl.") Her instinct is to go against the laws of the animal kingdom; her nature is to go against nature. And that's why the only way to stop her is for Red to set aside the code she's likely followed even before she embarked on a life of crime.

NEXT: Well, at least in theory

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