Orange is the New Black’s second season wove a multi-layered narrative which placed series lead Piper in a back seat role, as a returning inmate to the prison shook things up. With a stronger and more clear cut antagonist, Orange is the New Black attempted a more focused story with mixed results. While the primary conflicts and storylines benefited from the new found focus, other stories became more noticeably disconnected by comparison. Stand outs of season 2 included Red’s redemption and Vee’s power grab. Low points included the weaker stories for the Latino inmates and series protagonist Piper.
Piper’s Bogus Journey
Season 3 started with confusion and dread, as Piper found herself loaded onto a prison transport with no idea where she was headed, or why she was headed there. After the events of season 1’s finale, Piper was confused, terrified, and to her great frustration, left in the dark. The confusion, while primarily a misdirect, was a powerful reminder of Piper’s lack of rights as an inmate. Temporarily in an out of state prison, Piper discovered the truth of her relocation, which lead to some miscommunications with Alex. While Alex had very little screen time this season, the show managed to use what little time they had to further complicate the situation between the 2 former (and perhaps future) love birds. Essentially, Alex screwed over Piper, yes, again. The end result had Alex out of prison and Piper on her way back to her previous prison. Though as it turns out, Alex may have ended up in the worse situation, with a notable threat hanging over her head. Piper’s relationship with Larry completely crumbled after he slept with Piper’s bestie Polly, which, of course, crumbled that relationship as well (yay 2 for 1). Besides her relationship woes, however, Piper’s story seemed forced and unnecessary. A reporter looking for a prison corruption angle visited Piper due to her relationship with Larry. In order to pursue the case, Piper asked to start up a prison news paper as a cover for her amateur sleuthing. This eventually lead to a significant change in the Prison’s administration, though that outcome could have been attached to any number of other loose threads this season.
The Shawshank REDemption
Red went from being the biggest antagonist last season to being the primary target of this season’s antagonist. Red struggled early on this season to reclaim her role as the prison’s contraband pipeline. This time, however, she faced competition from a dangerous returning inmate named Vee. Red convinced Caputo to let her start gardening activities. This, of course, was a front, which she used to cover up the tunnel she smuggled contraband into the prison through. Having lost much of her back-up last season, this season, Red allied herself with the old ladies of the prison while working to build back the trust of her old team and trying to warn her fellow inmates of the threat Vee posed. Red’s story this season was one of redemption, as she tried desperately to unify the prison against the dangerous Vee. While her pipeline wasn’t entirely believable, Red had a strong story this season, due mostly to her suffering, compassion, and wisdom in a time of impending crisis.
Riding in Cars with Guards
Though mostly an extension of their story from last season, the romance between Prison Guard Bennett and Prisoner Daya acted as an entry point in expanding upon the latino inmates, primarily through Bennetts role in sneaking contraband into the prison with his prosthetic leg. We also got some more background on the prion’s new head chef Mendoza, who sat uncomfortably in her new seat of power. Though the latino side of the story this year was fairly weak, I feel that there is some set-up for a stronger presence from their faction next season. This seasons latino story ended with Caputo learning about the true father of Daya’s soon to be baby, as Daya expressed strong feelings of guilt over her involvement in the false imprisonment of Pronstache, who was not the father.
The largest story of the season, and a third exploration of prison contraband comes by way of a new character, Vee, and her control of the black inmates. Vee is introduced as a charismatic drug dealer from Taystee’s past, an older black woman who brings in troubled kids, treats them like family, and uses them to sell drugs. Vee is, in fact, the root cause of Taystee’s incarceration. After she is revealed in flashback form we have an “oh no” reunion between the 2 when we find out that Vee is a new (or should I say returning) prisoner. Quickly we discover that Vee has some history with Red which is revealed to us in Red’s flashbacks.
Though initially reluctant and hurt by Vee’s lack of protection in the past, Taystee quickly comes around to Vee’s way of things. This causes major conflict for Taystees best friend Poussey, who also happens to have a huge crush on her BFF (I will now restrain myself from making the Taystee Poussey joke that… I… just… made… damn it!). Poussey, in a way, becomes the moral center of this season, as she alone (well, besides Red, who she didn’t interact with) stands up to Vee. Vee is bringing drugs into the prison, starting with cigarettes and moving on to much worse things. Vee also quickly shows that she is a threat to the safety of the main cast, and a manipulator that specializes in making others underestimate her.
Lastly with Vee’s story I want to address the continuing tragedy of “Crazy Eyes” as brilliantly played by Uzo Aduba. Crazy Eyes own brand of crazy continues to work against her own best interest, in this case allowing her to be easily manipulated by Vee. Crazy Eyes becomes Vee’s willing enforcer and eventually her confused patsie. Once again we get to see a bit of Crazy Eyes’ past, and how bad of a combination white guilt, competitive sensitivity, adoption, and mental Illness can be.
While I felt that Rosa’s backstory episode itself was rather weak, she remained a fun and relatable character throughout the season. Most notably with her relationship to a fellow Chemotherapy patient, and their inspired small time heist. Rosa also ended up with the most satisfying moment of the season. “Always so rude, that one.”
The DOC Crowd
This season gave us more time than before with the prison staff, allowing us to relate to them in a way we couldn’t before in the past season. Healey continues to exhibit a pathetic loss of purpose and loneliness that makes him sympathetic despite his mistakes and flaws. The surrogate father role he played for bible thumping meth head Pennsatucky this season, humanized her in a way I didn’t expect. Another character I didn’t expect to be so humanized was Caputo, the creepy and ambitious administrator. And yet, like Healey, Caputo showed us a man drowned in the corruption of another. The rest of the staff was likewise humanized with self destructive flaws and moments of compassion. All accept the wholly corrupted Fig and cartoonish Pornstache, that is. Though even Pornstache showed a brief and surprising moment of responsibility.
The Inmate That Rocks the Cradle
Lorna’s story was interesting but largely out of place. While her actions lead to a believable turn of events at the end of the season, they otherwise felt like an isolated story with little connection. That being said, the status of her much talked about relationship was a fascinating, and somewhat disturbing, twist that I didn’t see coming. Perhaps it can act as a reminder that crazy people are just out there, and they don’t necessarily exhibit overt traits that would make you suspicious.
Game of Points
Other minor stories this season included a fun point based game of lesbian conquest between Big Boo and Nicky which dealt largely with the new naive inmate Brook Soso. Speaking of Soso, she played a part of another small story as she worked towards a hunger strike for inmate rights, and fought persecution over her environmentalist stench. Soso was comical and silly, as the naive brat who annoyed people and didn’t “get it”, but the emotional battering she went through because of her naivety often crossed over from funny to distressing. The hunger strike also gave us an entry to Sister Jane’s back story, as we learned that her past protests were primarily self serving and rooted in her own narcissism. As with Lorna, we were given extra depth to a character we already liked that reflected them in a more negative light. Typically the show has taken the opposite approach, making us wary of a character, only to later understand their position. This narrative shift was interesting and unexpected. These are still prisoners, they are not victims, they are there for breaking the law, and we cannot forget that.
Overall Orange is the New Black’s second season was a less charming, but more ambitious look at the lives of female inmates. Vee worked well as a menacing presence, though her arc felt weak in its final act even with its satisfying pay-off. Getting a better look into the lives of the prison staff revealed a cringe-worthy and heartbreaking ineptitude, but the return of the cartoonish Pornstache, though fun, seemed more like an unnecessary comic relief than a vital ingredient of the whole. Ultimately, the greatest strength of the season was in its 3 pronged exploration of the illegal contraband pipelines in the prison.
Orange is the New Black is a Netflix exclusive series, 2 seasons are currently available on the service to its subscribers. A 3rd season has already been ordered.
Another Take by Sikes D.
Season 2 was a welcome if not at first awkward shift to a full on ensemble cast, which was there in the first season but was always centered around the series lead Piper. I agree that Piper got the short end of the stick in terms of story development this season. While her newsletter storyline helped move things along especially with DOC plotlines, I found her interactions with Larry and Polly, humorous as they were, entirely disconnected from the rest of season two and as such it felt very unnecessary. I felt the latina inmate stories meshed well with the DOC shakeups and the ultimate end of the season, with Gloria’s Santeria background and eventual curse. Going into next season I can see Daya and Bennett getting more prominent roles (especially with Pornstache in play and Caputo at the helm), definitely enjoyed the conflicts between the couple this season. Although they were a weak point in the grand scheme of things, the latinas still provided me with some great laughs and probably my biggest smile of the season. Ruiz and her saga to get her unemotional, tear-drop tattooed boyfriend to open up more to the baby was a great running gag that ended so sweetly I almost contracted diabetes.
Lorraine Toussaint’s menacing performance as Vee is the definite highlight of the season, alongside strong character development for most of the black inmates. The stories told in this group were tight, tragic and heartwarming. Suzanne (Crazy Eyes), already an interesting character off season 1, was given so much emotional depth this season, making some of the final moments especially hard to watch. Overall I thought every story flowed and interacted with each other perfectly, making the last few episodes feel like a true ensemble finale. Can’t wait to see whats in store next season.