I was pretty late to Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, and while I felt like the first season was a little bit overrated – the prison-set drama delivers the goods with its second season. The first season saw Piper Chapman learn to survive in prison and its second is all about the struggle against the power dynamics that exist within Litchfield. It’s an interesting direction for the series to develop and a solid basis for the season’s thrilling 13 episode arc.
It’s hard to talk about Season 2 of Orange is the New Black without touching on its first episode – and it’s even harder to talk about that particularly stellar episode without ruining the tight series of twists and turns that make it so very brilliant.
After attacking Pensetucky in the finale of the first season’s finale, Piper is yanked out of the SHU for reasons unknown. It’s a solid premise for a brilliant episode that recaptures that same fish-out-of-water vibe that won over fans during the series debut last year. On top of that, Thirsty Bird brings the complex relationship between Piper and Alex back to the surface and ends with one of the series most punchy cliffhangers yet.
From there, it’s back to Litchfield where things are rapidly changing in the wake of the previous season’s events. Red’s struggles following her dismissal from the kitchens and the loss of her power forms one of the season’s most compelling arcs. It’s a neat reversal to see her in the same position as Piper was during the beginning of the series and its a situation that plays beautifully off the season’s big addition to the cast – Lorraine Toussaint as Vee.
Vee is a fearsome ex-con who finds herself back in prison and quickly sets to work bringing the disparate and immature black-group of inmates together into a intimidating gang. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s an old enemy of Red’s and the tension between the two of them as tensions rise and smuggling empires are built is one of the strongest narrative threads in the season.
Orange is the New Black is ensemble series at heart. This quality is one of its biggest strengths in the seconds seasons exploration of power-dynamics within the prison. This comes into play through the increased screen time and characterization that the guard-characters like Caputo and Figueroa warrant this time around. Season 2 does a great job of fleshing out of some of the more auxiliary characters into major players such as Morello, Sister Ingles and Rosa.
Orange is the New Black’s second season is every bit as funny as the first and every character gets their moment – although there’s nothing quite as funny as the sublime ‘Chicken-episode’ of the first season.
The only real criticism I can really level at Season 2 of Orange is the New Black is the diminished role that Laura Prepon has this time around. That said, I entirely expect that to be something the eagerly anticipated season 3 will address – and I can’t wait for it.
Orange is the New Black continues to be a show that fails to make any real missteps and is absolutely must-watch television.