Women Behind Bars: Orange Is the New Black

OITNB's latest season is even better than its first.

Let’s start here: If you are not a current subscriber of Netflix, join up now and binge on Orange Is the New Black, Season 1 (starstarstarstarstar), Jenji Kohan’s magnificent, wholly engaging series set in a woman’s prison. You’ll then want to instantly dive into Season 2 (starstarstarstarstar), which Netflix will release, in full, on Friday, June 6.

For those who have been breathlessly awaiting the arrival of the new season, rest assured it does not disappoint. This season deepens the narrative, changes the landscape by introducing new frictions, new, potentially dangerous liaisons, and brings several side characters to the fore, revealing, in at least one case, a backstory with a startling twist that alters everything you thought you knew about the character. Kohan clearly enjoys her reveals.

Orange is the New Black: Season 2

Orange Is the New Black: Season 2

The season kicks off with an episode that’s both disorienting and troubling. It ushers into place a mechanism that will allow OITNB to continue from the primary viewpoint of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) for years to come. Piper, whose demeanor has hardened after last season’s climactic encounter with Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning), may be the pivotal character, but OITNB is very much an ensemble show, and it’s a testament to Kohan’s skills that she’s able to give so many characters, both major and minor, such ample screen time.

So much had changed in the final episode of Season 1 that Season 2 can’t help but move things in new directions. Kohan introduces a menacing new character — Vee (the extraordinary Lorraine Toussaint) whose manipulations threaten the very infrastructure of life in Litchfield Prison. The series attempts to find a way to keep Piper’s ex-fiance Larry (Jason Biggs) relevant, but his forced subplot moves in an awkward and unnecessary direction.

The gay content has been boosted significantly — there’s a hilarious “bang off” between Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) — and the series adroitly explores the difference between innate homosexuality and the need for basic human contact and compassion in a bleak, inhospitable environment. Nowhere is this better expressed than in the sixth episode of the season, set on Valentine’s Day.

Kohan has softened fan-favorite “Crazy Eyes,” reducing her from a perceivable threat to a comic-relief sidekick, but Uzo Aduba’s performance still remains one of the most memorable in the series.

Yael Stone’s Loretta gets to sink her teeth into some genuinely heartrending (and creepy) dramatic moments. And the friendship between Poussey (the affecting Samira Wiley) and Taystee (Danielle Brooks) takes an unexpected turn. Kate Mulgrew is remarkably stirring as the tough-as-nails “Red,” now ostracized by the women who once idolized her. And Laverne¬†Cox, as the transgendered Sophia, has a field day with a sequence where she explains, in elaborate detail, the workings of the female anatomy to her fellow (and apparently clueless) inmates.

Yes, Laura Prepon’s Alex appears to be gone — at least for the moment. But here’s the thing about prison: you never quite know when someone might make a return visit to the slammer. Certainly, for those who enjoyed the first season, it would be criminal not to return and spend another 13 hours with the ladies of Orange Is the New Black. Conjugal visits optional.

Available exclusively on Netflix. Visit Netflix.com.

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Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.

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