*** UPDATED *** You can read our review of the first episode of Orange is the New Black season 2 right here.
Are you stoked for season two of Orange is the New Black, season 2? I know I am!
Created by Jenji Kohan and based on the memoir by Piper Kerman, this is one of those rare series that combines ridiculously brilliant writing with ridiculously brilliant acting. The show validates Netflix as a viable source of addictive original programing (have you seen House of Cards?!?) and provides viewers with a smart, hilarious series which practically demands binge watching, which is exactly what I did with season one – twice.
Because who needs a life when you can watch Laura Prepon and Natasha Lyonne get it on? Apparently Netflix has the same gratuitous boob requirement as HBO.
Anyway, season one of Orange is the New Black tells the story of the pretty, sheltered, and upwardly mobile Piper Chapman as she serves a fifteen-month sentence in Litchefield Women’s Prison for some youthful indiscretion (smuggling drug money). Don’t judge. I would have done the same if I was banging Laura Prepon and she offered to fly my ass around the world.
The beauty of the series (and the brilliance of Kohan) is that while the series uses Piper as a focal point, it also humanizes the rest of the characters (inmate and correctional officer alike) by giving the viewer the opportunity to make assumptions about them and then later providing a backstory which shatters those assumptions.
This is storytelling at its finest. None of the characters are two-dimensional; none of them are good or evil. They are people and as such, they all have motivations, narratives, and histories. They are flawed and fallible and prone to gross acts of stupidity. Just like the rest of us. Kohan has promised that season two will offer more of the same, pulling the focus back from Piper and letting some of the other characters come to the fore.
Here I take a look at some of the characters we cannot wait to see when Orange is the New Black returns.
Piper Chapman (Played by Taylor Schilling)
Piper’s well-meaning cluelessness is adorable until you realize it covers a crippling streak of self-serving narcissism. Girlfriend lives to be loved and has no problem stringing her (equally self-serving) fiancé Larry or her (conniving) ex-girlfriend, Alex along so that somebody gives her what she needs. Unfortunately for her, prison is a fishbowl and Piper is forced to take a long look at herself, warts and all.
Piper spent most of season one trying to acclimate to her new environment and she learned some harsh lessons about life. Namely the people you were raised to think were “bad” can be awesome and the authority figures you think of as “good” can be manipulative, self-serving, pieces of shit.
By the end of the season, her fall from grace is complete: she dumped Alex for Larry, was then dumped by Larry, after which she was rejected by Alex when she tried to go crawling back for support. Her homophobic Counselor, Healy, reviles Piper and fellow inmate Pennsatucky wants her dead. The season finale closed with Piper finally coming to her breaking point, and beating the Jesus out of Pennsatucky when the meth head came at her with a shiv.
It is hard to say what the consequences of this beat down will be; from the teasers, we know season two opens with Piper in maximum security. But will she have an extended sentence? Either way, the incident will have taught her that she is capable of holding her own and her need to be the helpless victim is a thing of the past.
Larry (Played by Jason Biggs)
For all his sputtering, Larry is a lot like Piper: an entitled, self-serving, douche. The two of them spend most of season one crying in their Cheerios over how prison has interrupted their perfect yuppie lives. They are perfect for one another.
Just as Piper uses him to stave off the horror of being alone, he uses her to further his career, peddling their situation as fodder for an article and an NPR interview. His insensitivity to Piper and the women in Litchfield is blinding and he blithely reduces them to caricatures while emphasizing his own plight (namely inconvenience and lack of sex). I don’t doubt that he loves Piper, but he clearly loves himself more.
When he finds out that she cheated on him with Alex, he is justifiably upset and breaks off their engagement, but here is the rub: Larry is no better at being alone than Piper. Plus, their relationship is the most interesting thing about him; personally and professionally.
Alex (Played by Laura Prepon)
Gorgeous and savvy, when Alex built her cosmopolitan life on her association with her aging rock star dad’s drug dealer, she left her scruples at the door. And why not? Growing up broke, she learned that there was no such thing as a free ride and no one gives a shit who your parents were. So she worked hard, gambled big, and lost everything.
Unlike Piper, Alex doesn’t harbor any illusions about who she is or what playing by the rules will get her. Early on we learn that Alex named Piper in the trial partly in exchange for a lighter sentence and partly as revenge for Piper breaking her heart all those years ago. Like Larry, she honestly loves Piper, and continually came to her defense throughout season one. By the last episode, Alex comes to the realization that Piper has been using her as a safety net, someone to fall back on when Larry doesn’t come through. Finally Alex turns Piper away, leaving her to deal with Pennsatucky by herself; a decision I think she will come to regret.
Prepon is not due to return as a series regular in season two. My prediction is that her character will take the fall for the Pennsatucky beat down in an effort to save Piper and make up for getting her incarcerated in the first place. Who would stop her? Not Pennsatucky who will probably be in traction. Not Healy who cannot admit he knew what was going to happen and ignored Piper’s cries for help. And not Piper who is terrified of being sent back to SHU.
Pennsatucky (Played by Taryn Manning)
Speaking of Pennsatucky, I have to wonder what effect the brutal beat down will have on that wackadoodle. Crazier than Crazy Eyes, the meth head is serving time for shooting an abortion clinic nurse. Sure, she was there to get an abortion (her fifth), but when the Christian coalition turned her into a hero and paid for her defense she found Jesus.
Despite the hypocrisy, being an agent of God gives her purpose, value, and authority (at least over the other meth heads). Her season long tussle with Piper and Alex threw her hypocrisy back in her face and finally Pennsatucky fell back on what she knew best: violence. After all, years of using meth tends to affect a person’s ability to reason, plus you have to admit Piper looks like really easy prey. But this is prison, and looks can be deceiving; you never know how close to the edge someone might be.
Red (Played by Kate Mulgrew)
Holy crap Mulgrew is awesome. She revels in this character, bringing the kitchen matriarch to life. Like Piper, she had a tough time in prison as of late, which culminated in a meteoric fall from grace. Sure, she knows how to play the long game and work the system while doing her best to take care of ‘her girls’. But when she goes toe-to-toe with Pornstache, resisting his demands that she smuggle drugs into Litchfield through the kitchen alongside her benign contraband (Biore strips), she overestimates the CO’s resourcefulness.
On the outside, her savvy mind helped earn her the respect of the Russian mob, and so long as she ran the kitchen, she had the leverage to wield power over the other inmates. When Pornstache gets her knocked off her pedestal she immediately starts to flounder and overplays her hand, attempting to sabotage the kitchen and accidently injuring one of her own.
Season one ends with her situation strangely mirroring Pipers’. Isolated, alone, and desperate what lengths Red go to in order to reclaim her throne?
Daya and Bennett (Played by Dascha Polanco and Matt McGorry)
The love story between the street smart Daya and the hopelessly naïve Bennett is sweet and plausible since people are really this fallible. Who has unprotected sex with an inmate? Not even Pornstache is that dumb. No one is surprised when Daya gets pregnant and the couple find themselves in deep shit. What surprised this viewer was when she decides to keep the baby. Seriously?
And yes, I stand by my earlier statement that this is totally plausible. Trust me, I know people this idiotic; we all do. I am not trying to turn this into a pro-choice PSA; but good God. There is a time and place to have a baby. Having one in prison, which could result in the baby daddy getting put behind bars? Not ideal. Daya tries to pin the pregnancy on Pornstache (at Red’s behest), who seems unfazed by his subsequent suspension. Season two should see the birth of baby Bennett. I cannot wait for the fallout. Fingers crossed that Pornstache gets to play daddy for at least one episode.
Pornstache (Played by Pablo Schreiber)
Ah Pornastache; such a piece of shit yet you can’t help but love him. Morally reprehensible, misogynistic, and a drug dealer to boot, ‘Stache has the survival skills of the cockroach. He is exactly what he seems to be: a power-abusing dick. This viewer cannot wait to learn more of his back story and finds it hard to believe that he fell for Daya’s professions of love.
Here’s to hoping that season two will reveal that he knew he was getting played and has been getting back at Daya by fucking with Bennett.
Healy (Played by Michael Harney)
Talk about reprehensible, Piper’s counselor is easily the most emotionally fucked up bastard on the show. When he isn’t getting humiliated by his Ukrainian mail order bride (and her mother), he is taking his anger and frustration out on the inmates. He thinks he’s clever; forming the Women’s Advisory Counsel, ostensibly to give the inmates a way to address administrative issues, but the only one naive enough to fall for it is Piper.
As for Piper, she has the misfortune of reminding Healy of his wife. Deeply homophobic, he makes it his mission to punish Piper for her lifestyle choices. Healy is used to dealing with inmates who cannot fight back, and was not prepared for the ruckus Larry would make, raising Figueroa’s ire.
By the end of season one, Healy is so enraged he is no longer content to throw Piper in SHU, but leaves her at the hands of Pennsatucky, hoping she would take care of his wife’s doppelganger for him. Possibly the worst character on the show, I have a feeling that like Pornstache, Healy’s penchant for survival will see him through season two.
Figueroa (Played by Alysia Reiner)
Embezzle much? Sure the prison is in shambles, they barely have enough guards, and there is no money to keep the education program going, but the Warden’s Assistant still manages to wear designer suits and drive a Mercedes. Not surprising, Piper and Larry have been a major pain in the ass, drawing attention to Litchfield’s many deficits. As if that wasn’t enough, Figueroa has to constantly divert well-meaning guards like Bennett from getting overzealous in their duties (i.e. revealing that contraband has been entering the facility).
Why can’t everyone be more like Pornstache? He knows how the system works and more importantly, not to rock the boat. If the public scrutiny continues, Figueroa might find herself on the other side of the bars by the end of season two.
Taystee (Played by Danielle Brooks)
Taystee had a strange character arc in season one; getting paroled and then managing to land herself back in Litchfield, taking Ms. Claudette’s place as Piper’s bunkmate. Really she is a walking reminder of the tenuous position being incarcerated leaves these women in. Some of the women, like Piper or Sophia are first time offenders with a life and family far removed from prison and resources for when they get released.
Taystee represents the inmates who have become institutionalized. For them prison offers a sense of security. There is the promise of shelter, food, and a familiar routine. What happens when you take that structure away from a woman with no resources? Despite her intelligence Taystee is unable to make it outside of Litchfield.
What does that mean for her future? Is there hope for change or is this as good as it gets for some of the women? What a terrifying prospect; certainly it puts Piper’s perceived problems (missing a season of Mad Men) into perspective.
Fun fact: the actresses who play Taystee and Poussey attended Juilliard together.
Stick with us for our episode by episode and full season review of Orange is the New Black season two coming very soon!