It’s a very warm welcome back to the ladies of Litchfield Prison. Boy, have we missed you. This new season of Orange is the New Black has somehow improved on the remarkable first season (which I reviewed in the early days of my blog here).
Episode one throws us straight into a different setting, with Piper (Taylor Schilling) being transferred to an unknown destination for an unknown reason. Was it because of her attack on Pensatucky? Was it an extension to her sentence? Was she off to a maximum security setting? Would the whole season be set away from Litchfield.
The Piper of season one was a thoroughly maddening protagonist. Utterly self-obsessed and blind to the emotions of others, she constantly seemed to make the wrong call. Piper of season two is a more evolved version. She is still maddening, but at least seems to be adapting to circumstance and taking action to improve her life, even when this doesn’t necessarily benefit those around her. The first episode of season two is Piper-heavy for a reason, as we get to see the start of that transition. The rest of the season finds her less and less at the fore, which gives the rest of the cast of characters their time to shine.
“Glad to see you evolving, Chapman, and getting past the whole ‘I’m-the-star-of-my-own-movie-and-everyone-else’s’ complex.” Nicky
By episode two we are back to Litchfield-business-as-usual, for a Piper-free episode, and it’s great to see all of season one’s strong characters back on screen. Season 2 takes each of their back stories by-turn, giving us an insight into their lives before prison and the crimes that led them there. The tales are funny, touching and perfectly in keeping with each character, although some provide some surprises. In particular the story of Morello’s incarceration provides a surprising twist which throws new light on our favourite softly-spoken New Jersey girl. There was a danger that all the stories would show the women as nothing more than victims of circumstance, but the writers side-step that particular pit-fall and do offer us some out-and-out bad girls to balance the sadder tales.
Like Piper, the show itself has evolved. There are still plenty of very funny moments, but the drama and characterisation have taken the spotlight, making it feel overall much darker than the first season. That’s no bad thing, as it just means the funny moments stand out more, and those zinger quotes become all the more memorable. Episode 4 is a stand out both in terms of drama and comedy with the women marvelling at the existence of a “whole other hole”.
“For the love of God girls, the hole is not inside the hole”- Sophia
There is still the superb cast on show, and it is so refreshing to see women of all ethnicities, shapes and sizes on our screens. The men of the cast do a terrific job too, with Nick Sandow‘s Joe Caputo becoming somewhat of a hero throughout the season, while other male characters don’t fare so well.
The more dramatic elements of the show do explore some very serious issues, despite the quality dramedy setting. Mental illness, life beyond prison, treatment of elderly inmates and those with serious illnesses are all covered, giving us all something to think about among the bean-flicking jokes.
However, it is the final episode that elevates the season to something truly wonderful, with a closing few minutes that will leave you punching the air and crying with delight.