Spoiler Alert: This article contains plot details of Orange is the New Black seasons 1 and 2.
This past Friday, the entire second season of the critically acclaimed show, Orange is the New Black, was released on Netflix. In some of cases, you binged all thirteen episodes in a long, but enticing thirteen hour marathon. However, this season includes more astute, yet subtle connections. I decided to watch the season over the course of a week, and as I sigh in astonishment as Rosa races the van off the screen, I believe taking the time to process each episode has proven rewarding. Ever so subtly, yet oh, so powerfully, the series forces us to be introspective, demands us to analyze the human condition, and analyze the despicable, yet neglected failures of institutionalization.
Whereas the first season focuses heavily on Piper Chapman as the primary protagonist, detailing her private life, her history with Alex, and her adaptation to prison—the second season brings secondary and even tertiary characters further into the light. Creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) shifts focus to community instead of individuality. Though the pilot season creates a foundation of ‘dog eat dog’ survival, the new season emphasizes reliance and companionship to fight the common enemies of prison corruption and dehumanization.
When Chapman’s remaining time at Litchfield is jeopardized by her transfer notice, the essence of community is fully unveiled. Though by no standards would anyone admit to enjoying Litchfield, over time, the hellhole and its endearing characters have undoubtedly become a defining part of every persona. Though Chapman has become hardened by her time incarcerated, she has also transformed into a fiercer, more confident woman, fully accepting of her mistakes.
Many inmate backstories are also revealed, which detail how each individual’s past affects how they influence the community now. Each flashback uniquely portrays what are seen as contemptible convicts as humans. Whereas Litchfield strips the women of basic liberties, their histories serve as their backbones. The insight into how each journey arrived at this current state returns humanity to each prisoner. It is a life of impulse, ignorance, misguidance, and in some cases, regret—that binds every inmate with commonality.
Starting with Poussey’s love story that ended in a homophobic induced heartbreak, Rosa’s glamorous life of thrill that was cut short by her misjudgment, Morello’s history of fantasizing idealistic romance, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes’” tale of misfit and misunderstanding—Regardless of the horrific actions they may have performed, the mistakes of naiveté they may have committed, we find ourselves able to sympathize. Though we still hold them responsible for the actions that locked them up at Litchfield, we finally understand how each character is scarred, and how scars remain permanently slashed into souls.
Ultimately, the second season solidifies a significant message of the entire show: the true nature of human beings is multidimensional. Every character, both primary and secondary, is much more than just a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person. No one is classified by purely good intentions and altruistic deeds, nor negative motives and harmful actions. Rather, each character has egregiously unforgivable flaws, yet they all have some redeemable ounce within their persona.
The inmates share an obvious commonality that they have all committed crimes heinous enough to land them in prison. Yet even behind bars, there is no such thing as someone who is purely good or evil. Red stops short of no type of revenge or attack to operate her corrupt underground commissary, including hurting some of her closest friends. Though she continually puts up a stubborn front, she still reveals a vulnerable side of herself that values people far more than her business. We are also introduced to a few new characters—primarily, the notorious Vee, who becomes the blacks’ new leader. Vee is stealthily cruel with her manipulation—she breaks relationships and even murders to retain utmost loyalty. Despite these absolutely heinous qualities, she has undoubtedly provided care at times when people have needed it most. She not only has served as a motherly figure to Taystee as a child, but later she is sickeningly kind to Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes,’ who doesn’t realize she’s being brainwashed. Mr. Healy has too often abused his power by commanding cruel and unusual punishment upon inmates, but he demonstrates an empathetic side that truly seeks to do right and help the women, as well. One minute he banishes Chapman to solitary confinement for no justified reason, and the next he is granting her the miracle of furlough. We even find an iota of pity for the unforgivable Natalie Figueroa, who merely yearns to be loved by her closet homosexual husband.
Each character seems so fundamentally like realistic human because they are portrayed as more than two-dimensional—they are complex, confusing and contradictory at times. On television, it is often rare to see so many characters developed with such depth. Protagonists and antagonists seem to exist in separate entities, rather than coexist within every person like human beings truly are.
Regardless of whether you binged in thirteen hours, or digested this for a week like me, season 2 of Orange is the New Black certainly does not disappoint. For you marathoners though, I highly suggest at least re-watching sometime—you’ll find keen details you may not have noticed the first time racing through.
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