Unsurprisingly, Orange is the New Black is kicking off its second season with a bang. Literally. When the Regina Spektor theme starts up and I heard the synthesized slamming of cell doors, it felt like coming home — if home is a women’s prison. Then, like our lead heroine Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), I was thrust — scared and uncomfortable — out of our first season setting and into a strange, new world. So begins the journey into the second season of Netflix’s smash hit.
The opening scene of Chapman being dragged out of her cell in the middle of the night by unfamiliar guards was a perfect, tone-setting move by director Jodie Foster. After warming up and becoming attached to the fascinating and diverse female cast of Orange is the New Black in the first season, the intolerant male guards surrounding Chapman for the first five minutes are just as disorienting for the viewer as for Chapman herself. By cutting her — and by proxy the audience — off from our comfortable cast, Foster deftly sets the stage for the rest of the episode’s confusion-riddled plot. The drastic difference between the male perspective of the guards, and Piper’s own commentary on it later, lets us know that things are going to be different the second time around. And, indeed, the changes keep rolling.
Chapman is loaded onto a plane with dozens of inmates just as tired and confused as she is, a hoard of male inmates joins them, and we meet Lolly, played by Lori Petty. A witty and friendly inmate, Lolly’s carefree attitude was a welcome relief after the tension of the first few minutes and provided a perfect counterpoint to Chapman’s brief breakdown as the plane takes off. Revealing that even Chapman herself doesn’t know if Doggett (Taryn Manning) survived the fight at the end of last season, that her time in solitary has deeply damaged her perception of herself, and the fear and paranoia she is struggling to keep at bay, Taylor Schilling delivers a flawless monologue that reminds the audience yet again what perfect casting choices are made of. And that gorgeous close up and slow-pan around her face kept the audience riveted to the scene and feeling Chapman’s sense of isolation.
When the plane finally touches down — in Chicago, of all places — the audience is treated to some spectacular, panoramic shots of the always beautiful Chicago skyline before being thrown back into the old prison processing assembly line.
In her new room, Chapman meets her bunkmates, a clever cast of characters that I hope stick around. Par for the course, she immediately offends them by squashing their cigarette-running cockroach and is forced to start working for her place among this new group.
After days of confusion (thankfully cut down for time), Chapman realizes that Vause (Laura Prepon) is once again in prison with her and the two find time to secretly meet-up. Both parties are still unsure how they feel about each other, but Vause has decided that she “don’t feel like holding a grudge today.” Vause informs Chapman that Doggett is, in fact, alive and that they have both been brought to testify against Vause’s former boss in the drug cartel.
Just before being parted for what looks like another week, Vause warns Chapman not to tell anyone about their connection to the boss, as it could lead to a revenge murder for them both. Chapman meets with her lawyer, the father of her now-former fiancé, who realizes that Chapman does know the mob boss and implores her to tell the truth, warning her of the consequences of lying under oath.
Chapman is conflicted. A series of flashbacks, this time of her as a child, reveal that she has always struggled with truth and morality. She resisted doing things other kids said were cool because they were dangerous. She saw her father cheat on her mother and was told not to bring it up again by nearly every member of her family. Sometimes the truth only hurts, says her grandmother. Now, however, the truth could get her killed, while lying could get her a longer prison sentence. She realizes she is faced with the same decision she faced all those years ago and she can either take a chance with her friend or risk losing everything again.
Back in the Chicago prison, Chapman becomes “closer” with her bunkmates, one of whom is obsessed with horoscopes, the others who are obsessed with cockroaches. Chapman continues to search for a replacement roach for the one she killed but is unsure if the inmates are teasing her or not. She reaches out to Vause one last time before going to court and Vause begs her to lie in court, if only to protect her former lover. If their stories conflict the other will look suspicious.
Chapman goes to court and chooses to lie under oath. She explains that she only ever focused on Alex when they were traveling and the rest of the people didn’t really matter to her. While this is not entirely untrue, Larry’s father knows that Chapman met the boss and was aware of his dealings. Finally washing his hands of her, he informs his almost-daughter-in-law that he is not the fool his son was and he washes his hands of her. Chapman cannot bring herself to apologize for lying to protect Vause, but is sorry she let him down, since the relationship she had with her own father was never one she found fulfilling.
Moments later, Vause is marched out the door of the courtroom, this time on the other side of the bars. Vause explains that she told the truth at the last minute and that she told the court everything she knew about the cartel boss. Distraught, Chapman realizes that Vause is getting out and can do nothing but scream after her former lover as she walks free.
Still on the verge of tears, Chapman looks down to see a cockroach crawling on the floor near her feet. A cockroach carrying a cigarette. She smiles.
A beautifully tragic opening to a beautifully tragic show that never forgets to add a laugh, Orange is the New Black Season 2 is shaping up to be just as awe-inspiring, bone-chilling, and achingly raw as its premiere season and I could not be more excited or hopeful. But I don’t have to tell you that, since the season has been out for a full day now. If you have any sense at all, you’ve already binged your way through at least half the season!
Images: JoJo Whilden for Netflix