All right bingers, let’s discuss Orange is the New Black in broad strokes rather than focusing on the nitty gritty. For those of us who need to watch more than one episode at a time, how does the first half of season two fare?
Let’s bitch it out.
I’m here for a two-post special: the first providing my insights regarding episodes 01-07 of S2. If you’re seeking solo episode reviews, be sure to check out cinephilactic’s posts where he covers off two episodes at a time for those craving more traditional recaps. But for this post, it’s pure unadulterated discussion of everything that happens from ‘Thirsty Bird’ to the end of ‘Comic Sans’.
Let me get this out of the way – although I enjoyed S1 of OitNB, I can’t say I loved it. There were some deeply problematic issues regarding depictions of race, identity and women that as a media scholar, I had difficulty overlooking. So I don’t come to S2 with bated-breath or intense anticipation of seeing how things pan out, because on the whole, I don’t particularly care for many of the main (read: white) characters.
In terms of character development, not much has changed with regard to the more privileged spectrum of the character roster. The main failing here is Taylor Schilling’s Piper. I just don’t care for her. I don’t think this is a particularly insightful observation as the character is very clearly written to be unlikeable and morally ambivalent. She lacks depth and although Schilling does an amiable job performance-wise, I find my mind actively wandering in boredom every time a Piper-centric storyline monopolizes the screen. The problem here is that I don’t find Piper to be particularly complex or compelling, and since she’s the catalyst for introducing the audience to the world of Litchfield and the motley crew within, ultimately the drama suffers with having such a blasé protagonist at the helm. Take for example, this whole business of Piper petitioning for furlough. We know she’s gonna get it, but is her true motivation wanting to see her dying grandmother? Or when she’s out will she attempt to smooth things over with Larry (Jason Biggs) or get revenge on the newly released Alex (Laura Prepon)?
At the end of the day, I just don’t find myself caring because the appropriate foundations simply aren’t there. I never bought into the love story between Larry and Piper, so their continued “will-they-or-won’t-they” feels tiresome and redundant. And with regarding to Piper and Alex, although we’re getting additional context into Piper’s supposed ‘deep love’ for Alex via flashbacks, the flip-flopping she does with Larry ultimately undermines it all. Piper’s actions in protecting Alex in the season opener feel incredibly stupid and only in service of propelling the narrative rather than coming from any genuine or relatable place.
Now that Larry’s ‘broken up’ with Piper, there’s opportunity for his character to be further fleshed out. Instead he’s equally boring this season as he was last season. I find myself desperately wanting to seek out a snack when he appears, wondering why the heck he’s still on the show. This tired, tacked on affair plotline with Polly (Maria Dizzia) is just groan-worthy. Are we really to believe that her Aussie husband (Nick Stevenson) would fly off on a mission to ‘find himself’ so soon after their son was born? And what wife would stand for that? Perhaps I’m being a bit of a nitpick – but that would never happen. The more pressing question here is – why the hell should I even care about this?! Ultimately wasting time on these incredible unlikable and unidentifiable WASPs brings any positive momentum the show builds from the goings on in Litchfield to a screeching halt. The result is an unimpressed yawn, and the realization that you’ve spent hours in front of the television without reprieve. I’m all for binge-watching, but when Polly predictably jumped Larry’s bones in protest to her douche husband’s actions, I became painfully aware of how much time I’d spent watching episode after episode. It’s amazing what a boring story can do to you.
But let’s focus on the positive – which is overwhelmingly our Litchfield inmates. OitNB has always had the herculean task of adequately representing such a diverse group of women that spans different races, classes and ages. I definitely give the show continued points for ambition. I appreciate how we’re focusing more on the periphery characters this season, particularly the Latino women who have taken over kitchen. We haven’t yet spent a lot of time with them, only getting a glimpse into one of their pasts- Gloria’s (Selenis Leyva)- via flashback. Although Gloria’s story unfolded rather predictably and didn’t necessarily give us more in terms of insight into her character’s motivations, it still contained an appropriate amount of heart and further augmented the mother-hen qualities she exhibited in the kitchen.
Furthermore, the shared kiss between Flaca (Jackie Cruz) and Maritza (Diane Guerrero) in ‘You Also Have a Pizza’ gives us a nice moment. It’s easy to see why women would turn to one another for sexual satisfaction without the presence of men, but being locked up doesn’t immediately equate to homosexuality. Even the exploits of the Latinas with regard to their attempted blackmail of Bennett (Matt McGorry) proved interesting when it could have easily gone the other way. As he exerts his power as guard, the show capitalized on a moment that pushed Bennett beyond the sticky-sweet, guard-with-a-heart-of-gold that I’d pigeonholed him into.
Dayanara (Dascha Polanco) also made the most of her limited screen time, showing appropriate flashes of character depth in her interactions with Bennett, surmounting the confines of their clichéd love story from last season. I found the moments stolen between the two to be incredibly effective – Daya’s simplistic pleas acknowledging their predicament to be surprisingly identifiable despite the implausible nature of their relationship. When comparing the amount of screen time between Daya and Piper, it’s a wonder why Piper is so forgettable in contrast.
But let’s stop beating around the bush – OitNB‘s greatest strength is it’s black characters. Although seemingly falling into equally hackneyed stereotypes as their white counterparts, I’m almost universally compelled by each one of them, dismayed whenever the show takes a break from them. I love how we’re getting more screen time with last season’s scene-stealer Suzanne, aka ‘Crazy Eyes’ (Uzo Aduba), but that her increased presence doesn’t feel like an afterthought simply to appease fans. Her flashback episode broke the formula slightly, in that the crime that brought her to Litchfield had yet to be revealed. In contrast to Piper’s, Suzanne’s flashback does exactly what it’s supposed to – it makes us care more about her, provides further context to her behaviour within the walls of the prison and leaves us anxious with anticipation for the next one, hoping to understand what she did to warrant imprisonment.
Adrienne C. Moore takes the prize for this season’s scene-stealer as Black Cindy, where her infectious energy both in flashback and in the present-day prison is enough to make any binge-watcher perk up. Last season Taystee (Danielle Brooks) just about broke my heart when she returned to Litchfield after being granted release, but I grasped my heart in earnest because her story simplistically alluded to a much more complicated issue regarding how our society treats former inmates. The time we spend with Taystee in S2 continues to evoke those same compelling questions, as she quickly becomes one of the show’s most engaging characters.
Which brings me to my shout-out to season newbie Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) who very easily could succumb to moustache-twirling villain archetype, but instead manages to infuse an inherent freshness into a played-out stereotype. The artistry of Vee’s manipulation of the black inmates as they setup an underground tobacco ring is delightfully entertaining even though it feels like we’ve seen it all before. Nothing feels overly drawn-out as Vee casts her spell over Crazy Eyes, reinforces her hold on Taystee and even brings a reluctant Poussey (Samira Wiley) into the fold. Things can’t continue to go well for this bunch, but in contrast to the WASPs I mentioned earlier, I’m compelled to let Netflix continue running episode after episode as I anxiously await their demise.
So here I sit, squarely on the fence when it comes to this first half of S2. I continue to find Piper and the characters in the “outside world” to be increasingly tedious, but much like last season, I’m enjoying the series because of the time spent with the characters outside of Piper’s inner circle. Perhaps it’s as simple as acknowledging that these kinds of characters are under-represented on television, and when we’re presented with a glimpse into this world that doesn’t feel trivialized, one can’t help but single these characters out as the show’s most pronounced assets. Here’s hoping that the latter half S2 achieves the same kind of depth applied to all the characters and plotlines so the season as a whole doesn’t feel as unbalanced as I’m currently presenting.
- I can’t be the only one who is upset that Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) made it through her beat down with Piper – she’s one of the most insufferable characters that I’m always tempted to fast-forward through. One good thing that the incident produced: no more terribly distracting and unrealistic dental implants for Manning to wear. Seriously – how is anyone meant to believe those things are real?
- Yael Stone also deserves a mention for her brilliant portrayal of the hopeless love-struck Lorna. ‘Stalk this Way’ was an excellent showcase for both the character and the actor.
- While we’re identifying completely groan-worthy storylines, let’s make a wish that the following plot points will just disappear without a trace in the latter half of the season: 1) All the crap about Joe’s (Nick Sandow) band, ‘Side-boob’ and his silly crush on Fischer (Lauren Lapkus) 2) The completely uninteresting plight of Fig’s (Alysia Reiner) husband for state senator 3) Healy’s (Michael Harney) attempts to make his wife love him
- I’m definitely enjoying a Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) free season thus far, how about you?
- The subject matter of the show could easily catapult it into the overly bleak and depressing. Despite my gripes, the show deserves praise for admirably straddling the very difficult line between drama and comedy. The sex bet between Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) and Big Boo (played by the brilliant Lea DeLaria) is just one example of how the show excels at ensuring it doesn’t spiral too deeply into the depths of despair.
What do you think bingers? How do you like S2 of OitNB? Are you as annoyed with Piper & the WASPs as I am? Does binging make the show better? Worse? Who are your stand out favourite characters? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Come back next Friday when I’ll be talking about the rest of the season, and it’ll be carte blanche on what we can discuss. Until then, please keep your comments spoiler free for episode 08-13.
Orange Is The New Black is now available in its entirety on Netflix.