Have you finish binging the second season of Orange is the New Black? How do you feel about the fates of the inmates and administration at Litchfield prison? We take a look at the tail end of S2 in the second installment of our binge-watch review.
Let’s bitch it out.
I’m back and I’ve binged. Here, I’ll be giving my thoughts on OitNB‘s sophomore season, with a focus on the last batch of S2 episodes. I can’t address everything, but if you’re looking for insights on things I’ve neglected to mention, hit up the comments below and chime in. Also check out cinephilactic’s posts where he covers off two episodes/week if you want to get into the more granular details of each episode.
As I mentioned in my last post, I feel pretty ambivalent to Orange is the New Black. After having gone through the latter half of the second season, my opinion, unfortunately, hasn’t changed much. There are characters and plot lines that I absolutely loved, but there seemed to be an equal number of stories and characters that I could have done without entirely.
Let’s start with the bad and get it out of the way. As I said last week, all the crap with Larry (Jason Biggs), Polly (Maria Dizzia) and her douche-bag hubby (Nick Stevenson) is a complete throwaway. It’s so uninteresting that the only way I could justify it garnering any of my attention was the hope that it would close things off for good and we’d never have to see any of these terrible people again. I think the douche husband is out of the picture permanently (woot), and let’s hope that Alex’s (Laura Prepon) run-in with her parole officer at the end of the season means that we’ll never have to see Larry or Polly again because they delivered on Piper’s (Taylor Schilling) final favour. I also wish we wouldn’t have to see Piper again, which clearly isn’t going to happen- but I will say that I found her presence to be tolerable through this last batch of episodes. This was either due to that fact that she simply wasn’t granted as much screen time, or the other bits of the show were so much more compelling that Piper faded nicely into the background.
I also (surprisingly) appreciated how Piper’s relationship with Red (Kate Mulgrew) developed. It might have been a bit hasty, especially considering their history, but it felt organic and more importantly, authentic. I found myself respecting Piper when she took the time out of her predicted furlough to check on Red’s now defunct family store. Although she conceals the fate of the store to Red (which will very likely bite Piper in the ass later), the familial interaction between the two was quite touching and it made Piper just a bit more likeable. Building on that momentum, Piper’s confessions regarding how she’s really feeling about the whole Larry/Polly situation are unexpectedly genuine, and that’s likely because Red’s compassionate yet blunt advice is so complementary to the scene.
But on the whole, Piper remains uninteresting and unidentifiable. I found much of her behaviour to seem far too contrived for my liking. When she gets out on furlough, I thought there would be opportunity for her to show some depth, but much of the adventure is wasted on uninteresting family drama (i.e. have we spent enough time with Piper’s brother to care that he’s getting married?) or disappointing messiness with Larry. Ultimately, the Larry/Piper interactions feel devoid of any emotional connection, which is likely due to the fact that the two actors have absolutely no chemistry. Their situation is ripe with dramatic potential, but the execution of much of ’40 OZ of Furlough’ falls as flat as Larry’s penis in the funeral bathroom scene. It’s just awkward and uncomfortable to witness and not in a good way.
Equally uncomfortable is everything that goes on with Fig’s (Alysia Reiner) downfall. She’s sketched out so one-dimensionally that it’s impossible to feel anything but vexation as we slowly watch the inevitable play out. Caputo’s (Nick Sandow) triumph over her doesn’t feel in any way rewarding and Fig’s final ‘nail in the coffin’ made me feel just as disgusted as she likely did after the act. Why must the punishment of female characters ultimately result in sexual humiliation? C’mon OitNB, I know you’re better than that.
What does work in the tail end of the season is all the stuff we get in relation to Vee’s (Lorraine Toussaint) rise to power and subsequent fall. There’s almost too much to talk about, but the interactions between Vee and literally everyone is incredibly fascinating to watch. I loved how we delved deeper into her past in ‘It Was the Change’, which was by far the season’s best episode. Even with short flashback bursts, the level of character development in this one episode out numbers any that preceded it. Toussaint delivers a brilliant performance showing us how Vee seamlessly transitions from compassionate confidant, to terrifying (and psychotic) enemy. The character of Vee gives us a glimpse of the horrors that occur in prison – something I feel the show has sheltered us from thus far – but does so in a way that isn’t alienating. We feel genuine trepidation when it comes to Vee, but are still compelled to watch because of the pleasure of her unpredictability. Vee’s attack on Red is the perfect example, and I continue to be impressed by the subversion of expectations when it comes to the pair of them. Their interactions literally define three-dimensional character development, and I only wished that all the characters on OitNB had this kind of treatment.
Furthermore, although the screen time we get with Vee’s prison ‘family’, Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Poussey (Samira Wiley), Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) and Watson (Vicky Jeudy), isn’t as plentiful in the back half of the season as the front, they certainly make the most of the time they do have. Taystee, for example, continued to show incredibly emotion depth as she dealt with being back in Vee’s favour to quickly dropping to ousted black sheep. The reunion between Taystee and Poussey took the requisite time to develop and unfold to give reverence to these characters, showing that they go beyond their narrowly define archetypes. And Black Cindy is just about my favourite character ever – even though she arguably doesn’t have much depth. She simply lights up the screen whenever she’s on, delivering one-liners that are all worthy of their own gifs. Ultimately the trajectory of Vee’s crew provides a much needed momentum to the show, essentially making it binge-worthy. I could easily watch a show that just focused on these handful of characters.
But perhaps the best surprise comes way of Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) who quite frankly, steals the entire season. ‘Appropriately Sized Pots’ is another of the series’ best where both young (Stephanie Andujar) and old Rosa are equally compelling. Present-day Rosa breaks our hearts as she ‘mentors’ her teenage brethren, and although the whole ‘curse’ subtext is kinda hokey, ultimately it works in further fleshing out Rosa’s motivations and behaviours. But most impressive was the immense sense of gratification I got from seeing Rosa run over Vee in the season’s final moments. Not only did it provide a kind of closure that I felt we were robbed of at the close of S1, but it shifted the focus away from boring Piper, and back to the stars of the season – Vee and Rosa.
We’re meant to pity Rosa as she’s left to die slowly but surely, as the show metaphorically robs her of any agency. In allowing Rosa to be the one to finally take down Vee, especially in such a viscerally shocking way, OitNB very tactfully resurrects Rosa in a triumphant fashion (visually echoed as she morphs back into her younger self while driving away). It has to be one of the most satisfying moments of the entire series. I would find it hard-pressed to believe that anyone watching Rosa’s final act wasn’t squealing #RosaForever at that moment.
So ultimately OitNB second season functions much the same as its first – it delivers some outstanding characters and situations that makes it almost impossible to turn away from, but is counterbalanced with its fair share of the mundane, tedious and underdeveloped. Still, OitNB, despite its faults, is a series worth watching, whether it be episode by episode, or in large, overindulgent chunks.
- Last week I remarked on how wonderful it was that Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) had yet to turn up. To my surprise, his reappearance was actually quite hilarious. I believe the problem I had with him before was that he straddled the line between ‘serious villain’ and ‘over-the-top caricature’. I’m happy to report that since he’s embraced the latter in S2, his presence was much more tolerable, and dare I say, welcomed, this time ’round.
- Invariably with such a large cast, some characters needed to take a backseat in this last batch of episodes. I was happy to see that Alex got very limited screen time, that Fischer (Lauren Lapkus) got let go and will hopefully never return, and that we spent less time with the Latina crew. Although I liked how we were explored the Latinas in episodes 01-07, I’m glad that Vee’s crew got more screen time in episodes 08-13. Their stories would have been diluted had we jumped back to the Latinas, and really, they seem much better served as a revisit come S3.
- Speaking of characters taking a backseat, boo on having little to no Sophia (Laverne Cox) time this season – what a waste.
- Even though Vee’s crew (and arguably Red’s) got more prominence, I still could have done with cutting some fat. And by that I mean we should have scrapped all the crap with Healy (Michael Harney) dealing with his anger issues and all the ‘safe place’ nonsense. Further to that Pennsatucky’s (Taryn Manning) submittal to the ‘gay agenda’ is worth a chuckle but not much more.
- A lot of time was given to Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) and the hunger strike team. Ultimately I didn’t hate her flashback and subsequent storyline, but I can’t say that I was interested by it either. The only good thing to come out of that business was the hilarious interaction between guard O’Neill (Joel Garland) and the nuns as he attempted to illustrate how small-minded they were.
What did you think bingers? What did you think of that final scene? Will you come back for S3? What characters are you looking forward to revisiting? Will Caputo be a good assistant warden or will he end up being equally as corrupt as Fig? What will become of Bennett (Matt McGorry) and Daya (Dascha Polanco)? Will Pornstache ever be vindicated? Sound off in our comments below!
Orange Is The New Black is now available in its entirety on Netflix.