Orange is the New Black Season 2 Review: Welcome Back to the Big House

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Funnier, darker, more consistent, and stringing together one of the best ensembles in the medium, Season 2 of Orange is the New Black proved that once you go orange, there’s no coming back. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Perhaps the most startling thing about the sophomore season of Netflix’s female prison dramedy is just how many strong character arcs were intricately woven into the bigger story of the season.

But let’s get one thing out of the way; that premier was kind of bad. I can claim with relative confidence that no one watches this show for Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). So to start the eagerly anticipated season with an hour that focused almost entirely on her wasn’t the best. That said, it was also one of the few Alex (Laura Prepon) heavy episodes of the season, as one of the best things about Season 1 was reduced to a recurring character due to scheduling conflicts (don’t worry, she’s back full time for Season 3).

Thankfully, the second episode left Piper out of the equation entirely, reuniting us with the most diverse and entertaining supporting cast on TV. The second entry also introduced us to Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), who would go on to be a standout villain of the season.

Just as with last season, this is a character driven show with some loose plots scattered throughout. Some major arc we had this season were Piper uncovering a embezzling scandal within the prison’s leadership, Daya’s (Dascha Polanco) pregnancy and Bennett’s (Matt McGorry) struggle to keep it a secret, and, of course, an epic power struggle between Red (Kate Mugrew) and Vee.

But it seemed like just about every other character had something interesting going on this season. Here’s a list of characters I found to be highlights this season: Healy (Michael J. Harney), Suzanne a.k.a. Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba), Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), Morello (Yael Stone), Poussey (Samira Wiley), Boo (Lea DeLaria), Mendoza (Selenis Leyva), Norma (Annie Golden), Sister Jane (Beth Fowler), Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat), Caputo (Nick Sandow), and Fig (Alysia Reiner).

To go further into each of their individual arcs would rob you of the masterful storytelling at hand, but the sheer size of that list is only maybe rivaled by Game of Thrones. That’s the only other show that really tries to make the most of its ensemble.

However, one character really didn’t work, and that was Larry (Jason Biggs). His storyline outside of the prison walls felt boring and a bit forced.

As far as the show’s format, this thing was pretty flawless. While the humor was slightly more present in the first half of the season, the second half really honed in on the drama, but every episode still has at least one insanely quotable line.

The flashbacks were even stronger than they were last season, fleshing out some new characters and shedding light on the situations of the present. A few characters’ flashbacks (Piper, Taystee, and Suzanne) went back to their childhoods, which was definitely a highlight of the season.

On a deeper level, Orange is the New Black is also known for tackling some major issues. The most prominent of the season was the state of our country’s prisons, but there was still enough about racism, misogyny, and homophobia sprinkled throughout that even when the show had a punchline in mind, it still had some greater subtext within the series. It makes Orange one of the most dynamic and startling shows on the tube.

The season ends on a high note, giving Rosa one hell of a moment that deserves more words than I’m about to give it. Not every question is answered, but there was enough closure for a satisfying batch of episodes.

Orange is the New Black overcame the dreaded sophomore slump by doing what once seemed impossible: weaving these characters around each other in alternatingly funny and important ways. Yes, the premiere and Larry’s storyline were a bit misguided, but when everything else is do close to perfection these are easy quibbles to forgive. The worst part? The long wait ahead for Season 3. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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