All 13 new episodes from Season 2 of Orange Is The New Black are now available for streaming on Netflix. The series is set at a minimum security facility for female offenders and gives a whole new spin to the "women in prison" sub-genre.
My review of the second episode can be found below. Click through to read my impressions on the first episode of the new season, as well as on Season 1 as a whole.
Season 2, Episode 02: "Looks Blue, Tastes Red"
As a counterpoint to the first episode of the new season, which focused exclusively on Piper in a new, strange, and hostile environment, the second episode turns back to Litchfield, picking up many of the story threads left dangling at the end of Season 1.
The key backstory related in the episode belongs to Taystee (Danielle Brooks), who finished serving her sentence in Season 1, but then ended up back in the joint because 'there's nothing out there,' even for the ebullient and positive-thinking Taystee. Rewinding to Taystee's teenage years, we learn she was hard-working and industrious, initially resisting the criminal temptations offered by neighborhood drug boss Vee (Lorraine Toussaint). Eventually, though, living in a group home and having to fend for herself breaks her down. She demonstrates her impressive mathematical abilities to Vee, who agrees to take her on, and then schools her in the ways of drug-dealing.
Taystee is more attracted to the family environment than the profit potential. Vee is cold and calculating, but she allows her humanity to show through in her dealings with her son and also with Taystee, becoming a surrogate mother, which is all Taystee has ever wanted. But Vee is a criminal at heart, as self-protective and merciless as the streets demand, and her ultimate abandonment of Taystee leaves a big hole in the young woman's heart.
All this leads to Vee's incarceration at Litchfield; it concludes the episode on a not-unexpected note -- the same gag was pulled in Season 1 with Piper and Alex -- and points forward to a major story arc. Even though it's reminiscent of the Piper/Alex dynamic ("I hate you" / "I love you"), the mother / daughter relationship, and also Vee's stature as a criminal kingpin (queenpin?) of sorts opens things up for different stories to be told.
The present day narrative of the episode revolves around a mock job fair, which allows for social commentary that is acidic and on-point, and the plight of Red (Kate Mulgrew), who finds herself out of favor with the other inmates now that she is no longer head of the kitchen. Without the ability to smuggle in little goodies, she's also lost the ability to intimidate and influence, and sits by herself in the cafeteria. The only ones to welcome her are the "Golden Girls," the grey-haired, long-time prisoners who are outcasts, and Red begins to doubt herself and her capacity to deal with her situation.
Watching the episode reminded me how much I enjoyed these characters in Season 1. After the bold departure of the first episode, I was preparing myself for a complete reboot / overhaul, but, all things considered, I'm glad that was only a temporary change in perspective.