Netflix released the second season of Orange Is the New Black in the wee hours of the morning. So, without further ado, here is our take on the first four episodes of the season for your binge-watching pleasure. Welcome back to Litchfield.
Very Important Prisoner: The action of the first episode takes us away from Litchfield, though we're initially not sure where we're going. We know as much as Piper knows, and Piper doesn't know much. She eventually ends up transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Chicago, though it takes more than half the episode for anyone to figure out why.
Flashback: The premiere episode is all about Piper, so naturally, the flashbacks look at her childhood in suburbia, where she is a goody-two-shoes afraid to rebel with the rest of her classmates on the bus or sneak into an R-rated movie. (Dazed and Confused, for the record.) We obviously know that latter-day Piper has done loads to get herself into trouble, she even apologizes to Larry in a voice-message about not not cute her behavior has been. But this episode lets us see how her guarded, WASP-y upbringing made her the morally conflicted person she is today. When she sees her father cheating on her mother at the movies, Mom's cold-shouldered avoidance teaches Piper to keep quiet.
Overall impression: It almost feels odd that the first episode of the season is entirely Piper-focused because the show has made such a point of not simply being about Piper's struggles. But this is an intentionally disorienting episode wherein we're supposed to be just as confused as Piper is. Is she getting sent away for murder? Did Pennsatucky die after that season-ending beatdown? Piper is terrified at what the answers to these questions might be. This, however, is not the Piper we encountered at the beginning of season one, even though her hazing looks familiar. (She's chasing after roaches here, not chickens.) The motives behind this season opener become more clear when Piper encounters Alex, who explains that Piper didn't kill Pennsatucky; the two of them have been transferred temporarily, for the federal trial of Kubra, Alex's former kingpin boss. Alex succeeds in convincing Piper to lie on the stand, but it turns out Alex tells the truth herself and gets out.
This scenario reiterates a familiar point: Piper makes bad decisions around Alex, who convinces Piper to do bad things. (Also, that Laura Prepon wasn't signed up for the entire season, but that's a different matter.) But is it really that simple? Has Piper been hardened by prison to think she can game the system? Or did she learn to be susceptible to peer pressure thanks to her overly guarded family?
Odds and ends: We hope that wasn't the last of Lori Petty, a fellow transfer to Chicago and basically the one friendly face Piper saw besides Alex (we're not counting Larry's dad and neither should you).
Looks Blue, Tastes Red
Very Important Prisoner: As the show returns to Litchfield, it checks right in with a fan favorite: Taystee. The episode also introduces us to Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), a character integral to Taystee's backstory, who will be important as the season goes forward.
Flashback: "Looks Blue, Tastes Red" delves into Taystee's backstory, revealing, among other things, how Taystee got her nickname. Young Tasha had been precocious as a child, but not reserved enough for the families at adoption day for black families. It's there, however, where she runs across Vee, who offers to rope her into her drug business even though she's just a young girl. Vee gives her the name Taystee, after young Tasha describes the snow cone she's eating. Tasha/Taystee recognizes that she does not want to associate herself with Vee, but in a moment of desperation is drawn into Vee's world, where she proves herself with her business savvy and in return receives mothering and care.
Overall impression: After the dire circumstances of the season opener, we're back at Litchfield with an overtly funny situation as the inmates participate in a job fair. For some of Litchfield's residents, the job fair is an opportunity for dress-up—Sophia's cocktail dress is in no way appropriate for a job interview, but she looks fabulous—but Taystee sees it as her way out. When it comes to the interview portion of the fair, Taystee absolutely nails it. There are still holes in Taystee's story, but the show continually presents her as the Litchfield inmate who is best prepared to leave the prison. The tragedy lurking in the shadows is that we know how poorly that went over when she received parole last season.
Odds and ends: Pennsatucky is back and is getting new teeth (thank God); pregnancy is taking a toll on Daya's bowels; and the one thing about this show you cannot bring us to care about is whether or not Larry gets laid.
Hugs Can Be Deceiving
Very Important Prisoner: The first episodes of season two seem purposely constructed to highlight the supporting characters the audience connected to in season one. So episode three turns attention to Suzanne/Crazy Eyes, as both Piper and Vee arrive back at Litchfield.
Flashback: The outcast narrative is a familiar one to Orange Is the New Black's flashbacks, and Suzanne's adheres somewhat to this formula, if perhaps in a more extreme way. She's adopted to a middle class white family, who, despite not exactly knowing how best to integrate her into their lives, fights and advocates for her. But it's clear they may push her too far to fit in, having her sing at her high school graduation, where she becomes petrified with stage fright and starts hitting her head, a gesture we've seen her resort to frequently, and specifically during the Christmas pageant last year. We learn in this moment that taunting after that incident on stage drove her outside, yelling about her mother, where she punched Piper, ultimately making it look like Piper's fight with Pennsatucky was a fair one.
Overall impressions: Though in her flashback, it's clear that Suzanne's race is one of the things that makes her an outcast in her parents' and little sister's lily-white world. In an early scene, her parents act befuddled when she acts out after holding her newborn sister, and a black nurse is the one to console her, doing her hair. In Litchfield, however, she's an outcast for other reasons. Taystee, Poussey, Cindy, and Watson leave her out of their game of Celebrity. But that is all set to change when Vee comes back to Litchfield. Suzanne sees Vee as her opportunity to become part of a community, and Vee sees Suzanne as her way to start to build a set of followers. "In my day the black women ran this place, and I say women because that's what we were, women, not a bunch of little girls running around here with bad attitudes," Vee tells Suzanne when Suzanne reacts poorly upon seeing Piper. The racial divides among the inmates of Litchfield have always been a part of OITNB, but Vee promises to bring them into even more striking focus as the season continues. "Black women used to run this place," she tells Suzanne. Sounds like she wants to go back to the good old days.
Odds and ends: Piper and (a newly-toothed) Pennsatucky are forced to hug and make up; Brooke Soso is Litchfield's newest, most annoying inmate; and Morello is breaking down.
A Whole Other Hole
Very Important Prisoner: The episode focuses on Morello, but Vee and her relationship with Taystee is clearly going to be a plot that will be vital to the show this year.
Flashback: After two episodes with flashback backstories that made their characters more sympathetic, the show turns the tables when telling us Morello's story. Morello has always seemed sweet, if a little daffy, and at first it seems that her backstory will further prove that. Twilight-obsessed Morello is running a mail-order scam out of her room, decked out in romantic posterboards she designed. Only the mail scam is not her ultimate crime. After an emotionally wrenching build-up, the show reveals that she's actually a potentially dangerous stalker, and her beloved, obsessed-over fiancée was never her fiancée, only the man she targeted.
Overall impressions: Morello's backstory was the first of the season to truly change our opinion about a character. Her impulsive decision to go to Christopher's house while waiting for Rosa to come out of chemo at first seems merely ill-advised and possibly stupid. However, the episode is paced and the backstory interspersed in such a way, that the audience comes to the horrifying realization that her illicit soak in Christopher's tub isn't only crazy, it's a threat.
Morello's personal story, however, is isolated from the larger goings on at Litchfield, where we see Vee's influence take another nasty turn, drawing Taystee away from her best friend Poussey. Vee taunts Taystee for cuddling with Poussey and convinces her that she doesn't want to be seen as gay when she leaves prison. "She is not your real friend, she is only your friend in here," Vee says, forcing Taystee to harshly reject Poussey at movie night.
Odds and ends: Nicky and Big Boo engage in a contest to see how many women they can bang; we finally hear more from Rosa, the cancer patient inmate; and we all want anatomy lessons from Sophia.