'Orange Is the New Black': 6 Shockers From Season 3's First Half

Orange is the New Black One Sheet - P 2014
Courtesy of Netflix

Orange is the New Black One Sheet - P 2014

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the first six episodes of Orange Is the New Black season three.]

After the second season finale of Orange Is the New Black rather definitively dispatched its main villain, the show could have been primed for a letdown.

Emphasis on "could have." Season three arrived with a bang Thursday (six hours ahead of schedule), and it was immediately clear that the show was more than maintaining its incredible storytelling momentum. Here are a half-dozen of the best, craziest and most heartbreaking moments from the first six episodes.

The Piper and Alex show is back

Thankfully, the show's deep ensemble hasn't been shortchanged in favor of focusing so heavily on Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex's (Laura Prepon) renewed relationship. But their co-dependency reaches new heights (depths?) after Alex returns to Litchfield.

Piper can't keep it secret that she's responsible for Alex's parole violation, and instead of punching Piper or shutting down emotionally, Alex finds it … kind of hot? After a few rounds of hate sex, the two come to the realization that it may actually be OK to admit their love for one another. Given how closed off both of them can be, that's a huge leap.

Red and Healy … what?

Speaking of odd relationships, attempting to parse the power dynamic between Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Healy (Michael Harney) could make your head spin. Each of them seems acutely aware of where they stand — Red knows she can't push too far, and Healy has to understand (right?) that she is playing to his ego — but they seem to mutually agree to put that aside so they can each get at least a piece of what they want: a return to the kitchen for her and positive attention from a Russian-speaking woman for him.

Bennett bails

There's a real-world reason Matt McGorry departed OITNB: He's a series regular on ABC's How to Get Away With Murder, and the two shows' schedules overlapped last year. On screen, however, his character proves every bit the coward the flashback to his Army days suggests. Given the circumstances he and Daya (Dascha Polanco) faced, any kind of relationship outside the prison walls may have been doomed to fail. But his leaving a crib on the roadside and driving off likely means he won't even get to try.

Nicky's downfall

Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) has made no secret of her heroin addiction, so when Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) started bringing smack into Litchfield late in season two, it only seemed a matter of time before it would catch up to Nicky.

It did, albeit in an unexpected and tragic way. Nicky manages to stay clean, but her decision to go into business with Luschek (Matt Peters) proves her undoing. When Caputo (Nick Sandow) gets word of the scheme, he orders a search that turns up only a tiny sample of the drug. After Luschek points the finger at her, however, it's enough to get her sent to the maximum security wing, to the deep dismay of Red and Morello (Yael Stone).

Taystee and Suzanne get closure

Taystee (Danielle Brooks) is at best a reluctant caretaker for Suzanne (Uzo Aduba): "There's a scene where the guard tells Taystee you're going to go to SHU if you don't get your girl in check. So she has to watch after her. I feel like that was something she wasn't really trying to do," says Brooks with a laugh.

Still, the shared experience of being under Vee's thumb brings them together, and they share one of the most emotionally powerful moments of the season when they both break down over Vee's death.

Even Chang has a backstory

Season three has begun to fill in the pasts of some secondary characters — including the enigma that is Chang (Lori Tan Chinn). Her flashback scenes reveal that she has long had a knack for being invisible to the people around her, one that continues into the present, and it immeasurably deepens a character who has previously only been used for comic relief.

Season three of Orange Is the New Black is streaming now on Netflix.