Releasing an entire season worth of show at the same time is both incredibly awesome and downright horrifying. Orange is the New Black is a show that is designed to be binge watched. Netflix knows their user base well and put a convenient countdown clock on the homepage so all of the obsessed fans like myself could line up their caffeine sources and prepare for a long night of back to back episodes. How many of us were really going to try to spread it out over a few days? I certainly knew that I’d be pulling an all nighter as I watched one episode right after another. The season became available at midnight Pacific Time and as one of my Twitter followers stated “I missed the sunrise. I turned around and suddenly the sun was there.” Same, my friend. Same. And I have absolutely no regrets about it.
While the first season focused primarily on Piper’s transition to prison life, this season drove the point home that life is short, precious, and continues to move forward towards its inevitable end even if one is locked up behind prison walls. The narrative focused on established characters, expanded the roles of previously minor characters, and introduced some fresh faces as it explored that theme. Much like the first season, the show explored serious topics such as love, death, sexuality, and mental illness, while still managing to deliver many well timed laughs. My major complaint for the season was the severe lack of Sophia. Considering the fact that Laverne Cox has become an icon in the last year, this seems like a pretty big misstep. If this show gets renewed for a third season I hope to see Cox’s name as part of the main cast and more than just a ‘guest star.’ I can count her appearances on one hand and that’s downright criminal.
Spoiler Warning: The rest of this review contains spoilers for Orange is the New Black season 2.
Piper has evolved into a woman who is used to the prison system, though she certainly hasn’t lost her natural tendency to try to improve the environment around her. Even when she was losing her mental stability in SHU she made an effort to ‘paint’ the walls and brighten up the bleak atmosphere. When her offer to spy on the prison for a reporter becomes too much of a risk for her, she turns her fake newsletter cover story into a legit operation, which has a lot of benefits to many of her fellow prisoners. She was also one of very few people who seemed to care about the senile inmate who presumably suffered from dementia. Piper does have a sunny disposition and helpful demeanor, even if her decision making skills are often quite questionable at times. She has a kind heart, but when people like ‘Crazy Eyes’ or Alex accuse her of being selfish, they aren’t wrong either. The fact that she can be both extremely caring and extremely self centered at the same time makes for a very interesting character. She’s not straight forward or simple. This also makes her incredibly frustrating as I’m never quite sure which Piper I’m going to get in any given episode.
Her selfishness often gets displayed through her romantic tendencies. She seems to have strong feelings for both Larry and Alex at the same time, but ends up hurting them both with her indecisiveness. She purgers herself in court for Alex, but Alex ends up telling the truth and being freed while Piper is sent back to prison by herself. At the same time, Larry is unable to forgive her for her infidelity, but that doesn’t stop Piper from trying to sleep with him when she’s on furlough and complicating their situation even further. Her love life is a mess. She’s alone, feels abandoned, and is reaching out to someone she loves hoping that she’ll have a home to return to when she’s freed from prison. On the one hand, that makes her erratic behavior somewhat understandable. On the other hand, she’s playing with people’s hearts because she’s confused and scared. In the end, everyone’s hurt by her behavior. Piper is an extremely complicated person with an equally complicated love life.
The only positive thing that came out of her romantic storyline this season was the fact that the word ‘bi’ was finally used to describe Piper’s sexuality. As I’ve discussed before, season one was filled with a lot of biphobic themes. None of the characters wanted to label her as such and instead used her interest in both sexes to belittle her. She was called a ‘lesbian,’ a ‘former lesbian,’ and a ‘straight girl.’ Surprisingly, the term ‘bi’ was stated by Larry, who has repeatedly referred to her as a ‘lesbian’ when he’s angry with her for sleeping with Alex. It’s good that the term was finally used, but just a few seconds later Larry is entirely dismissive of the revelation and the label is dropped again for the remainder of the season. It was also preceded by Piper’s brother Cal claiming that if a woman sleeps with another woman it’s not really cheating, which is another horrible way to dismiss bisexuals. Still, I count the word drop as a small victory in Piper’s disastrous love life riddled with incorrect labels, complicated emotions, and infidelity. It’s far from perfect representation, but I appreciate the step in the right direction.
Her attempt to sleep with Larry came during her two day furlough. The furlough was granted so that she could see her grandmother before she died, but it came too little too late. What would have been two days of saying farewell to her grandmother turned into a family reunion at her grandmother’s funeral. This plot line is probably the most obvious example of the ongoing theme of the season; life keeps going even if you’re locked up in prison. In the short amount of time that Piper has been locked up, her grandmother got sick and died, while her brother got engaged, then married at the funeral (so awkward). None of this stopped while Piper Chapman was in prison. Even a brief 15 months behind bars has caused her to miss out on many huge life events. She takes her two days of freedom and makes the absolute most of it in the best ways she can. She drinks, she eats delicious food, she reaches out to those she loves.
Though this is Piper Chapman’s story at its core, this season managed to flesh out many other characters as well. It was far less Piper-centric than last season. The one story that evolved in the most surprising way from season one involved Lorna Morello. We’d already suspected that her extravagantly planned wedding wouldn’t happen, but our assumption was that her fiance wouldn’t have the patience to wait for her sentence to be up. Instead we’re struck with the revelation that the entire relationship was fabricated by her. They’d really only had one date. She then relentlessly pursued him, even threatening his new girlfriend with a bomb.
Morello obviously has a lot of things going on in her head, which makes one wonder why she’s put in such a position of power within the prison system. She gets to frequently leave the prison grounds as a driver with little to no supervision. As we saw this season, she’s obviously willing to abuse that privilege to continue her stalking. Why is a dangerous person allowed to leave the grounds so frequently? How did she get put in such an important place of power? She’s a nice person, sure, but knowing what we know about her mental health it doesn’t seem like she should be trusted to the extent that they trust her.
Despite my concerns for others safety, I do have a lot of pity for her. Like so many people in this world, she just wants to be loved and have a fairy tale romance. Unfortunately her mental condition makes her take these desires to a dangerous extreme. Her story also expounds on the theme of the season that the world moves on with or without you. Though the relationship was mostly fabricated, the wedding announcement came as a shock to her. If she’d been free she would have no doubt continued to interfere with their lives, but now it’s pretty clear that his life has moved pretty solidly without her. When he confronts her at prison visiting hours, it becomes impossible for her to continue lying. The world kept moving and Morello got left behind with nothing but her fantasies to keep her company.
Miss Rosa was a minor character from last season, but her importance grew this season as theme of the show shifted. Miss Rosa is dying of cancer and there’s nothing she can do about it. Cancer didn’t grant her mercy because she was behind bars. Prison doesn’t put a pause button on your life. Her illness progressed to the point that it’s terminal. Life kept going. And now it’s ending for her. The interactions with the young boy at the chemo clinic were touching and I’m glad that she learned that he was going into remission before she had to return to the prison. Despite her incredibly bleak future, she had a small moment of joy that at least her friend gets to live on. That moment was one of the most uplifting moments of the entire season.
Morello and Rosa’s story intersect at the end, both seemingly recognizing the important lesson that life is short and you need to seize whatever life opportunities are given to you. While I still don’t think Morello should be trusted as a driver and I’m not exactly happy that a criminal is on the loose, I was actually quite happy to see Rosa steal the van and escape. She only has weeks left to live, so what does she have to lose? Her escape also wrapped up my least favorite plot from the season, which I was really worried was going to extend into next season, but I’ll get into that a little later. It’s odd to root for a criminal, but when a show is based in a prison that’s sort of how things go. I hope Rosa enjoys the last few weeks of life that she has left.
Stepping away from the serious themes, there’s still a lot of fun and light hearted laughs in the show. Nichols is by far one of my favorite characters (only partially due to my long standing crush on Natasha Lyonne). Her sexual exploits this season, especially her competition with Big Boo, were hilarious. Her method of making Soso shut up made me literally laugh out loud in the middle of the night. She really is a good person, but this tends to get buried under her snark, free spirit, and drug addicted backstory. Her story does have a serious edge to it and we almost see her backslide into drug use. I feel like Lyonne should get some sort or award for her performance. She manages to be a comedic relief character and deliver serious moments with equal power. But hey, maybe that’s just my crush talking. The girl owns my heart, okay?
My favorite individual character story was Sister Ingalls. I always enjoyed the idea of a criminal nun and wanted to know what her story was. We got hints at her activist past, but seeing her actions in flashbacks brought the vision of a rebellious nun to life. The new character Soso has an activist spirit, but lacks the practical experience necessary to get a movement off the ground. There’s obviously a large amount of corruption and unfair practices so someone like Ingalls is valuable when trying to combat it. It was also great to see her feel alive and important again. She’s accused of being a narcissist, but for some reason I’m really drawn to her regardless of that accusation. She fights for what she believes in and I’ve got to admire that.
Surprisingly, I didn’t enjoy everything about this season. I feel like this season spent far too much time on the conflict between Red and newcomer Vee. I generally like Red’s character, even though she craves power with a frightening fervor. She really cares about her girls, though, and does her best to prevent drugs from circulating through the prison. Vee’s moral code is not the same, though, and while she did manage to pull together her own group I didn’t appreciate the influence she had on many previously enjoyable characters. She flat out manipulated Suzanne, who was feeling vulnerable after Piper hurt her last season. She also drove a wedge between Poussey and Tastee, which is one of my favorite friendships. There’s also the whole, you know, drug smuggling thing. Perhaps her character was introduced to make Red look better and show that the corruption among prisoners could be worse. If so, the mission was most certainly accomplished. I was worried that this would get dragged on, but thanks to Rosa it seems that Vee is most likely dead.
While Daya was one of my favorite characters last season, I found myself not being very interested in the further development of her plot this season. It felt as though it was dragging on. I suppose it’s difficult to move a story forward when you have to wait for a baby to develop, but the pacing still felt frustrating. The only victory was when Pornstache finally gets arrested. He’s an awful guy and I’m glad that he’s getting punished for his creepy behavior, but his reason for being punished is the same crime that Bennett committed. Once Daya gives birth both of the legal parents will be prisoners, which means the baby may get sent into the foster system instead of being handed over to its real father. The ruse with Pornstache may have granted Bennett his freedom, but its also severely complicated Daya’s baby’s life moving forward. If they ever reveal who the real father is publicly, Bennett could be prosecuted for having sex with a prisoner just as Pornstache has been. The whole ordeal is a mess.
Besides the two plots that felt like dead weight compared to the rest of the characters’ stories’, I generally enjoyed this season. I severely missed Sophia in the plot, though, and I hope that Laverne Cox’s recent popularity means that she has a potentially bigger role next season (if there is one, knock on wood). The season managed to maintain the first season’s balance of drama and comedy, which is difficult for a show that takes place behind prison walls. I hope the show keeps getting renewed all the way to the end of Piper’s sentence because I am thoroughly hooked on this story.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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