”I think I’ve moved beyond stress into something more deeply disturbing.”
The animals, am I right? As unpredictable as a predator’s next move, Netflix’s surprise critical hit Orange is the New Black is off parole and back for a drama-filled Season 2. This is prison-issued binge watching material, but don’t let the guards find it in your bunk, or there might be hell to pay.
Having only watched the first handful of episodes, I can’t say for certain where all the many characters is this ensemble will end up, but I can assure you it’s just as fun to reacquaint myself with everyone in action. Having a few new faces helps to spread the love around a little more, as well. The Piper-heavy first episode had me momentarily wondering if creator Jenji Kohan was tightening the series’ narrative scope. Alas, that wasn’t the case for long.
The first episode, “Thirsty Bird,” introduces us to a slightly more insane Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who is leading a solitary kind of prison lifestyle before being hustled up and out of the comforts of Litchfield and into the unfamiliar territory of a Chicago prison. Is this all about her beating the shit out of Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning)? Part of the episode’s pleasures come from this simple mystery, which is egged on by nearly everyone in a uniform turning a deaf ear to Piper’s pleas. She meets up with Lori Petty, who is hopefully not gone for good, and her intense new Windy City roommates task her with finding a super special cockroach that can handle transporting cigarettes across the prison. Do you know the exact minute you were born? The episode was an exercise in vicarious discomfort and continues to make my skin twitch.
It turns out Piper's transfer is only temporary, as part of a court case involving Alex (Laura Prepon) and her old crime boss. Drowning in desperation and haunted by memories of her family’s dishonest history, Piper once again learns a tough lesson in trust, which hardens her some by the time she makes it back to Litchfield to bunk with Red, and everything is fucked-up business as usual.
The next few episodes spend time getting into the backgrounds and mindspaces of Taystee (Danielle Brooks), "Crazy Eyes" Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and Morello (Yael Stone). Taystee is dead set on fixing herself up for a mock job fair, with the prospect of finding work outside of prison. Crazy Eyes finds a mentor in Taystee’s mom, Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), who shows up out of the blue to offer some unwarranted motherly love and cake. And Morello’s romantic relationship takes a nosedive, knocking a few disturbing layers off of her personality.
Another new character fans will enjoy turning their nose up to is Brooke Soso (Kimiko Glenn), a cell block newb who is mentally unprepared to think of prison as anything more dangerous or challenging than a slumber party. She has one of the best lines this show has given us.
“I didn’t expect the bunks to feel so dorm-y. It kind of reminds me of camp, you know? Except without the gimp bracelets and the archery and kind of sad.”
And everything else you expect from Season 2 is here as well. Piper’s ex Larry (Jason Biggs) is there on the outside, fielding questions about Piper and still thinking about her. Nicky is still going down on people. Black Cindy is still the life of the party, and Poussey has become a bathroom attachment entrepreneur. Dayanara is facing bigger challenges due to her pregnancy with the guard Morelli, who has a secret of his own.
I’m still not as gung-ho on Orange is the New Black as many of its most vocal cheerleaders, but I am hard pressed to think of a series that can successfully and repeatedly draw humor out of taking a shit in front of other people, or exploring vaginas with mirrors. The humor is often dark, but rarely hateful, and everything feels extremely organic coming from this wildly talented cast.
It's been a long time coming, and Season 2 of Orange is the New Black has been well worth the wait. Put aside any felonies or misdemeanors you were planning on committing this weekend and go behind bars in the safe and entertaining way.