This review of Orange is the New Black season 2 contains spoilers.
If Season 2 of Orange is the New Black taught me anything, it taught me that I am a shitty psychic. Virtually all of my assumptions about this season were wrong and thank God because predictability does not make for awesome viewing; and this season was pretty awesome.
Despite the enormous cast of characters, show runner Jenji Kohan avoids bloat by skillfully managing a delicate balancing act between her spectacular writers and her formidable ensemble of actors. Orange is the New Black Season 2 shifts the focus from Piper Chapman to the other Litchfield inmates. The characters are pushed to their limits, and forced to either evolve or get left behind.
Rumor has it that Orange is the New Black Season 3 will be Correction Officer-centric. If that is the case, I implore the fans to rabidly petition for more Pornstache.
The overall theme of Orange is the New Black Season 2? Compassionate care. I know it sounds wonky, but bear with me here.
People believe they are entitled to compassion. This is why we are always so butt hurt when we feel wronged. That expectation does not mean shit at Litchfield. For starters the facility is falling apart: the electrical grid is shoddy, the back-up generators don’t have fuel (would you enjoy peeing in a bucket in the dark while rats scurry by?), and a flood of shit backs up into the shower drains if the water runs for more than 30 seconds.
Then there are the inmate enrichment initiatives, like Job Fair, which are meant to make the administration look good but fail to provide the inmates with any actual job skills. Meanwhile Figueroa’s idea of improving Litchfield is to impose a shot quota on the CO’s which insures they ride the prisoners for imaginary infractions.
Caputo believes it is their responsibility to, at the very least, keep the women safe and clean. When that proves to be an insurmountable goal, is it surprising when Piper learns that inmates are routinely denied furloughs to visit dying relatives, surgery for Miss Rosa’s cancer is denied funding, and elderly inmates suffering from dementia are given a “compassionate release” which essentially puts them on the street.
We watch Piper and the other inmates as they are beaten down by the injustices perpetuated by the system with the heartbreaking understanding that, as one journalist tells Piper, no one gives a shit. Sure the public might be interested in Figueroa embezzling prison funds for her husband’s senatorial campaign, but there is no guarantee that ousting Figueroa would improve Litchfield.
Depressing? You betcha. Engrossing? Oh my, yes. Orange is the New Black is like a four car pileup on the freeway – you won’t be able to look away. And nothing, absolutely nothing, beats the episode where Sophia explains to the inmates that they don’t pee out of their vagina. Who knew the urethra could be such a revelation?
Anywho. As if to emphasize the powerlessness of the inmates in the face of an uncertain future, the season premier has Piper dragged out of SHU, and bundled onto an airplane full of inmates; destination unknown. Below, Den of Geek checks in with the characters of OitNB as they fly blind through Season 2.
Piper Chapman (Played by Taylor Schilling)
Turns out the unknown is Chicago, where Piper and Alex both testify in the trial of their old drug boss, Kubra. The Chicago prison is so rough, full of leering men and face licking cell mates, it makes Litchfield look pretty sweet. Despite this reality check, Piper lies under oath, at Alex’s insistence, claiming not to know Kubra. In a move that completely blindsided me (but which my husband says he saw coming a mile away) Alex identifies Kubra and is immediately released from custody. A short time later, Kubra walks thanks to a mistrial. Piper is the only one left in prison; the consequences of perjuring herself yet to be seen.
Oh. Shit. Despite her remorse for beating the crap out of Pennsatucky, Piper is done taking shit and is starting to develop a surprising level of inner toughness, cunning, and resilience. She is learning the hard way that life is not like a chapter out of The Secret. Shit happens, and more often than not, life is unfair.
Despite these realizations, Piper still benefits from a certain level of privilege. She is the only inmate ever granted furlough; getting 48 hours to attend her grandmother’s funeral, her brother’s wedding, and to unsuccessfully attempt to fellate Larry before learning that their relationship is finally over. Over the course of the season Larry shacks up with Piper’s bestie, Polly (although this viewer can tell you first hand that Polly DEFINITELY does not have the boobs of a woman who is breastfeeding). Feeling betrayed on all sides, Piper takes a cue from Red and plots her revenge. She starts small, enlisting her new sister-in-law to light a bag of poop on Polly’s doorstep, and graduates to getting Alex sent back to prison for parole violations.
Surprisingly, Piper manages to hang on to her compassion even while she jettisons her martyred sense of entitlement. For Piper Chapman, the time has come to give as good as you get.
Pennsatucky (Played by Taryn Manning)
Pennsatucky urvives Piper’s beat down and blackmails Healy for a new set of teeth (wonder how he managed to get approval for funding). Sure, the wackadoodle is a little loopy from her stint in SHU, but she manages to bounce back quite nicely. Her credibility is shot to hell and she lost all of her meth head friends, but she bonds with Healy over their mutual bigotry, penchant for violent outbursts, and the sudden need to redefine themselves.
Red (Played by Kate Mulgrew)
Red begins the long climb back into the good graces of her girls, not by her isolation so much as her need for allies when Vee arrives at Litchfield. Although the elderly inmates prove more than capable of shiving someone. The two OG’s may act like friends, but they are rivals. In the beginning of Red’s incarceration, she received a vicious beat down on Vee’s order over control of the contraband pipeline.
Now, Red may have lost the kitchen, but she discovers a literal pipeline under the prison greenhouse that her sons can supply her through. When Big Boo snitches about the tunnel to Vee, history repeats itself. The problem is, for all her cunning, Red not only lacks the killer instinct, she legitimately loves her friends. She can’t help but wonder if Vee has also softened. Short answer: oh hell no. In the end, Red relents, only to get another vicious beat down for her efforts.
Vee (Played to absolute perfection by Lorraine Toussaint)
Once the undisputed Queen of Litchfield, Vee is the Hannibal Lecter of heroin dealers. A master manipulator devoid of compassion; she doesn’t just run the system, she invented the game. On the outside she ‘adopts’ orphans like Taystee, giving them the illusion of home and family; so long as they are prolific drug dealers. Her so-called kids look at her as a mother – albeit a mom who would have you killed if you tried to work for the competition. After sexy time. Yes, you read that right (bleh).
Back inside Litchfield, she immediately starts to reclaim her old position as top dog, manipulating Taystee and her friends into selling tobacco and heroin to the other inmates. She adopts Crazy Eyes as her surrogate daughter and ‘muscle’ and enlists her to antagonize anyone who resists them. Up to and including Miss Rosa. Who bullies an old lady on chemo? Sheesh.
Despite all her cunning, Vee overplays her hand, when she strains the otherwise lax system of acceptance and family the inmates of Litchfield has previously enjoyed. Under Vee’s reign Watson goes back to SHU for contraband, Poussay gets humiliated and abused, Taystee gets ostracized by her friends, a woman who looks like Vee is shiv-ed by mistake, Black Cindy is threatened with a broken mop handle, and Crazy Eyes gets framed for slocking Red. Vee had a busy season.
Everything comes crashing down when Red’s girls steal Vee’s heroin and Watson and Black Cindy revolt. Vee flees Litchfield through Red’s tunnel, reaching the road just in time for Miss Rosa to mow her down with the prison transport van. Lesson learned? Don’t antagonize ALL the people.
Taystee and Poussey (Played by Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley)
These besties find their relationship put to the test this season. Taystee feels indebted to Vee and quickly falls back into their codependent relationship. Poussey recognizes Vee for what she is, “a fucking vampire” and refuses to play her game (or deal her drugs).
Both women come from fucked up pasts; especially when it comes to love and family. Poussay might crave romance, but not to the detriment of her friendship, and she fights hard to help Taystee get out from under Vee’s thumb. For her part, Taystee is blinded by her loyalty to her adopted mother, and it takes Vee turning her out of the group as retribution for Poussay destroying a tobacco shipment, for her to realize that their relationship is conditional at best.
Healy (Played by Michael Harney)
After the Piper/Pennsatucky fight, Healy seems to be suffering from a crisis of conscience. He goes to therapy in an effort to understand his impotence and spends most of the time insisting on his innocence while screaming at the psychologist. Then he tries to compensate by parroting what she says at his own job. At least he’s trying, right? If only he hadn’t spent all those years being disingenuous and abusing his power over the inmates.
Healy sees himself as a much maligned good guy; no one else does. His scanty efforts to do right by the women are best summed up by the advice he gives Bennett: pretend to meet a woman half way and you only have to give them 15%. What a dick.
Figueroa (Played by Alysia Reiner)
Poor Figueroa in her loveless marriage (to a gay man running for Senator). She is such a bitch; the Litchfield bathroom floods with shit, all she cares about is getting gum on the bottom of her Louboutins.
She is so hated that when Caputo, armed with evidence of her embezzling, takes her offer to bribe him in with the most gratifying retribution blowjob in television history, you don’t even feel bad. Especially since Figueroa, despite everything she has done, is allowed to quietly resign with a commendation. Fucking bureaucracy.
Daya and Bennett (Played by Dascha Polanco and Matt McGorry)
This viewer is about sick to death of Daya. I get that she is pregnant and therefore hormonal, I get that the power dynamic in their relationship unfairly favors Bennett, but her insistence that he claim their child and go to prison is fucking ridiculous. Sure, Pornstache (who enjoyed a brief return) has the balls to loudly proclaim his love for her and baby (“let’s call him Stan”) – while being carted away by the police. Sure, Bennett is an insensitive dick at times who is terminally naive.
But forcing a resolution won’t improve the situation. As becomes immediately apparent when Bennett confesses to Caputo, who declares that no inmate-raping CO is going to ruin his victory over Figueroa. Instead of threatening Bennett with prison, he threatens Daya with transfer to maximum security (oh Caputo; it took you less than 48 hours to turn into Figueroa and no amount of Side Boob is going to save you). Chew on that, Daya, and start using your brain.
Morello (Played by Yael Stone)
It turns out Morello isn’t just sweetly delusional, she is bat shit insane. She is a grade-A psycho stalker. Her fiancé Christopher is actually some poor shmuck she met once, and then became obsessed with. When she learns that Christopher is getting married, she takes a side trip to Christopher’s house after dropping Miss Rosa off for her chemo treatments. Then proceeds to take a bath while wearing his fiancé’s wedding veil. Creepy. She doesn’t get caught, but Christopher shows up to Litchfield during visitation and exposes her as a fraud. Humiliated, Morello finally comes to terms with the fact that she is seriously fucked up. The upshot being that despite her situation (and her casual racism), she has an excellent support system in the other inmates.
Miss Rosa (Played by Barbara Rosenblat)
Hard to believe, but Miss Rosa was once a drop dead gorgeous bank robber. Albeit a bank robber with terrible luck when it came to men (two of her boyfriends die during heists). Now, almost completely beaten down with the thought of dying in prison, she gets one last chance at freedom when Morello leaves her in the prisoner transport van while the motor is still running.
The final episode ends with her speeding through Litchfield, nearly mowing down Caputo and a gaggle of nuns. Miss Rosa escapes just in time to see Vee emerging from the woods and hits her with the van, paying her back for her rudeness, proving compassion is both learned and earned.
What will Season 3 bring? I have no idea. But I have my fingers crossed that she goes out in a blaze of glory instead of dying by inches in Litchfield, which is stricken by a corruption as insidious as Miss Rosa’s cancer.
Read our review of the first episode of Orange is the New Black season 2 right here. We’ll follow up with more episodic reviews!