Season 2 of Orange is the New Black, a Netflix original series from the brilliant Jenji Kohan and based on the memoir by Piper Kerman, was released today. Chances are you’ve heard of it. This show is so important for so many reasons, not least because it’s hilarious, so for those needing a reminder to cancel weekend plans and scour Eat24 for delivery deals, here’s my non-exhaustive though no less shameless flattering of a S2 pre-cap.
The show left off on the night of the Christmas play. Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning), or Pennsatucky as she’s affectionately called, had followed Piper (Taylor Schilling) through the back door, spotting her chance to make good on God’s will and carry out the exorcism of Piper Chapman. Manning, a usual casting suspect in these more distressed types of roles (Hustle and Flow), is a force of a half-pint and owns the seductive, charismatic piece of walking white trash effortlessly.
Ms. Tucky is many things: A leader, a visionary, a pugnacious jailhouse messiah, a Bible-thumping gnarl-toothed maniac who puts the Westboro clan to shame. But to Piper, she’s a both a pariah and a massive existential threat, physically, spiritually and psychologically. Because the things she’s not — codependent, insecure, at the mercy of a WASP complex — are all Piper trademarks, the culmination of which are coming home to roost. Try as she might to dismiss Doggett as crazy, Tucky truth is stranger than fiction.
Only days had passed since Larry's (Jason Biggs) Hail Mary proposal to tie the knot with Piper before she’d served her sentence, and she was settling into this recently hedged bet when a call to him had thwarted the whole thing.
His secret rendezvous with Alex, Piper’s ex-girlfriend-in-residency (played by a punked-out sexpot Laura Prepon — who, after some threatening contractual issues, is back for part of Season 2 and most of the presumed Season 3), laid painful cement on ground he knew in the most vulnerable corners of his heart was far from unpaved. Pipes was not blameless in her infidelity after all, and he’s tired of treading her emotional wave pool. The wedding is off, indefinitley. Alex won’t look at her — “Never Again” still singeing her ears and searing her heart. Piper is completely derailed.
“You’re not worthy of God’s love. You’re not worthy of nobody’s love,” Pennsatucky declares. It’s when Tucky delivers these words from on high that Piper goes full Pacquiao on her, the symbolic sounds of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” closing out the season finale.
An overarching theme of the show deals with the painful process of intimate self-reflection, coming face to face with who you really are when the distractions of free citizenry are left on the other side of the bars and fellow inmates see right through your charades, mastered though they may be. Self-deception is comfortable and Piper is having a tough time with these new rules, and how Season 2 explores the consequences of aforementioned roosting will further drive home the show’s societal and individual relevancy.
Keeping in mind that much of Orange’s rich soul is born from first disarming then flipping our preconceived/misconceived realities on their heads, is the Pornstache report. Officer George “Pornstache” Mendez, played by a deliciously barbaric Pablo Schreiber, wound up a favorite antihero toward the later half of 2013’s Orange craze. He’s a sadistic clown looking out for No. 1., evidenced by more than just his closet-hosed cover-up of Tricia’s (Madeline Brewer) tragic overdose and what’s become of poor Red (Kate Mulgrew). He wears his mustache namesake proud and his misogynistic loneliness on his sleeve, and given our especially sensitive social climate surrounding gender issues, his role as the textbook enemy, White Man in Place of Power, would be clear as day in a more conventional show. But it’s not, and he’s not. And he’s in love.
Due to his part in Red’s recent demotion and with Daya (Dascha Polanco) in a forbidden family way, Mendez was unknowingly volunteered to take the fall for the inmate impregnation. He was successfully seduced and it now appears Daya has gotten herself fallen in love with. She’s all he talks about, his confidant of choice being fellow prison guard and baby daddy himself, John Bennett (Matt McGorry).
True Mendez steers an impressive he-man showboat and it’s easy imagining him in his frat days, luring in freshman girls with packs of Natty Ice and tales of Greek Week grandeur. He’s a bona fide slime-ball in many respects. But after a couple copulations he’s shown more commitment to Daya than Bennett has all season.
He tells him she’s worth whatever ramifications may be in store, a sentiment that hasn’t come so easy for Bennett, and we’re dreading his inevitable heartbreak despite his past atrocities.
Orange is filled with these multichotomous characters. Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” (Uzo Aduba) — the stud— is a starved thespian and literature junkie. Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) is a tough cookie with a soft center and also coping with big-house heartbreak. She hates her mom almost as much as she misses her, is a recovering addict and loves a good skirt.
And, of course, there’s Laverne Cox, a total dream. Cox plays the prison’s transsexual hairdresser Sophia, and has become the unofficial spokesperson for and inspiration of the LGBT community. She’s the epitome of class and elegance, and women everywhere should strive to be half the woman she is.
There’s a scene in the Season 1 episode “Blood Donut,” where Piper takes it upon herself to clear up a popular misconception about Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” for Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and Tricia. How it’s often mistaken for championing the lone soldier who walks more challenging or offbeat roads, be them for moral purposes or individual discovery or commitment to the greater good, and that Frost’s ironic intention gets lost in modern interpretation. Toiling over this path or that path, the right or wrong, the black or white, is a vain practice — an attempt to validate our lives as infinitely meaningful and our choices consequential. Compartmentalizing “the way things are” and “the way things should be” is an everyday obsession. To make the process more efficient we distance ourselves from whatever or whoever we’ve been taught should be distanced from. We start assigning limited definitions and warped understandings to the Other, and begin to slowly strip away humanity along with any semblance of sameness. We inevitably lose parts of ourselves in this process — cutting out connectivity is its own form of devolution.
Orange says to hell with it, and doesn’t worry with one path over the other. Nor political correctness, nor hot-button issues, nor an eat-this-not-that mentality. It instead embraces the universality of all paths, of our many character shades, far more beautiful than the sum of their parts. Current modus operandi is tedious; institutionalized preconceptions, in nearly every capacity, are unproductive.
Philosopher extraordinaire Alan Watts can add supplemental posthumous commentary:
“This world is a great wiggle-effect. The clouds are wiggling. The waters are wiggling. But people are always trying to straighten things out … They’re always trying to put things in boxes. Those boxes are classified. But the real world is wiggly. Now you have a wiggle like a cloud, but how much wiggle is a wiggle? Well, you have to draw the line somewhere, so people come to sorts of agreements about how much of a wiggle is a wiggle; that is to say a “thing.” One wiggle. Always reduce one wiggle to sub wiggles, or see it as a subordinate wiggle of a bigger wiggle, but there’s no fixed rule about it.”
Orange experiments with redrawing a few sociological wiggles.
Tune in now.
Melissa Weller lives and writes in Los Angeles. Follow her @meldoinwell.