The first season of Netflix show Orange Is The New Black got the mix just right: it was a smart, moving and funny drama set in an unlikely place, namely Litchfield Correctional Facility. On a surface level it was the story of Piper Chapman, a well-off thirtysomething sentenced to prison, but the series cleverly touched on all the women in the facility, showing a human side to characters that usually get reduced to genre stereotypes. Additionally Orange juggled the in and out of prison scenes nicely, and struck a neat balance between telling Piper’s tale and veering out into unforeseen directions. It kept the show fresh at all times and, to top it off, the show delivered a thrilling finale that ended on a cliffhanger, leaving fans wanting more. While it no means was a perfect season, hindered by some repetition, soapy plots and the occasional caricature among seemingly real people, it was a wonderful addition to the TV landscape, a very promising start to what could well be one of the most unique shows out there. Unfortunately the second season doesn’t fare quite as well.
The end of season 1 left Piper in dire straits. When she snapped and unleashed a flurry of savage punches on her bully, the screen faded to orange and the credits rolled. Cleverly, the first episode of the second season takes full advantage of the state viewers were left in, takes its time to clue its audience in on what happened after, and it leaves you guessing what will happen next. While it’s a bold move, this episode ranks amongst the season’s best, because it’s entirely unpredictable and there’s a feeling in the air that, really, anything can happen. Sadly, after ‘Thirsty Bird’, the second season comfortably settles for what’s already established and does very little to surprise its viewers. To put it bluntly: this season of Orange Is The New Black isn’t nearly as inspired and original the first one was. Instead it leans very heavily on prison drama tropes for its plot and characters, which makes most of the episodes entirely predictable and cookie-cutter. A couple of new characters enter Litchfield, for example, and right from the word go you’re able to guess what the inclusion of these characters means for the season’s arc and how the storyline surrounding them will pan out. It’s a shame really, because its freshness made Orange such a pleasant surprise the first time around.
There’s also much here to enjoy, though. While Piper’s journey during the first season was well-done, it was also quite frustrating (in a good way) because of her personality: she really tried to find out who she was and what she wanted during the first season, which made her, as a character, hard to stand sometimes. While there’s some of that in S2, Piper grows even more and actually becomes much more of a strong and self-assured woman. Her growth makes for many of the season’s best moments and Taylor Schilling really gets a chance to shine and show off her versatility as an actress. The problem with it though, is that Piper’s plot sometimes seems like an afterthought. Orange gets lost in a clichéd story about a stereotypical villain’s fight for power in the prison, which isn’t all that compelling since that villain is more of a plot device than an actual character. Additionally, now that Piper and Larry have broken up, the show really struggles with coming up with a reason to include him. Ultimately that results in a melodramatic and entirely forced storyline that really wasn’t introduced in Orange‘s first season and is very, very hoaky. On the other hand the writers really stepped up their game what some of the other characters are concerned. Prison official Joe Caputo really gets fleshed out and the work there makes him a character you really start to root for despite his flaws. Additionally both Lorna Morello and Miss Rosa get interesting stories in past and present to deal with, and these are truly heartwrenching at times. It’s those moments you watch the show for, with a level of quality the show’s first season delivered and it had its viewers hoping for upon the series’ return. The thing is that season 2 just gets bogged down by a lot of soapy and cringeworthy moments, like the Bennett-Daya dynamic, an seemingly endless shallow push and pull cycle, which makes it seem like, already, the show has ran out of ideas.
Orange Is The New Black‘s second season is very uneven and, sometimes, downright uninspired. On the contrary there are some moments of poignancy, dark humor and character development there that really make you want to look past the bad parts. 7/10