The Big House

Honestly, I was worried. When a show comes out of the gate with a really strong first season that gets a ton of media attention, it's not exactly a bad bet that the second season will fall apart under the scrutiny. Or at the very least, it won't live up to everyone's high expectations. So while I was excited to watch Season 2 of Orange is the New Black, I have to admit there was a little voice in my head that kept admonishing me not to set my hopes too high. After all, Season 1 landed on my Top 5 Shows of 2013, even as I was only halfway through, and when I was finally done, it hadn't slipped at all. How could Season 2 compete?

Good news, everyone! Season 2 not only didn't implode, but improved. The universe within Litchfield expanded and developed. Characters that were originally relegated to the background got to take center stage. A new, malevolent presence named Vee (Lorraine Toussant, in an outstanding performance) tips the scales of power, leading to radical shifts in loyalty and violence. Inmates we thought we understood got examined in a new light. Guards we caught only the barest glimpses of in the first season became full-fledged characters.

Orange is the New Black remains the most diverse show on the air today, and I don't just say that to give it a pat on the head for being inclusive. Forcing a blend of viewpoints into the microcosm that is prison is not only true-to-life, but makes for good storytelling. Straight, gay, trans, black, white, Asian, Latino, elderly... You name it, it's represented, and the clashes that result are really compelling television. There are no two-dimensional characters in this show (within the prison, anyway - we'll get to my one complaint in a moment). While some of them make an effort to be friendly and others are unrepentant assholes, everyone is a real human with understandable motivations. The flashbacks help. Some of them show us what brought an inmate to Litchfield. Some fill in backstory of the character herself. And some show how Vee operated both outside prison and how she manipulated the power structure the last time she was in.

Just about everyone had a strong season, and it amazes me that in a show with such a large cast, just about everyone got a chance to shine. And shine they did. While Season 1 Piper was whiny and entitled (which was done on purpose, but still), Season 2 Piper is finding more of a place within the prison society, and is actively awesome. Pennsatucky is a completely different presence, and the religious coalition falls apart. The Golden Girls who originally served as window dressing step up and throw a giant wrench in the works. Vee brings Suzanne up in the ranks of the black inmates to serve her own twisted plans, and drives a wedge between previously-close friends. Caputo and Fig's barely-disguised contempt for one another erupts into outright hostility. Ruiz attempts to mother the new baby she can only see on visit days. Red attempts to regain her position of power, now that she's lost not only her kitchen but the respect of the family she cobbled together. Everywhere you look in Litchfield, something interesting and important is happening.

In Litchfield, that is. There is the little matter of what's going on outside, and that is the one complaint I have with the season. I understand the need to show what's going on with the people who used to be a major part of Piper's life, but ultimately, they served little purpose in this season. I don't care about Larry and Polly. I don't care about Pete being a crappy father. I sort of care about Cal and Neri, but only cause they're kind of awesome people, not because it's important to know what's going on with them. Ultimately, though, that's a minor issue. Overall, this was an incredible season. That just leaves one little problem. Now the little voice in my head is worried about Season 3. How do you shut that guy up?

Orange is the New Black - Season 2: A


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