The Netflix Original show “Orange is the New Black” stormed onto the scene last year with a very successful first season. The show, which follows an outwardly normal woman, Piper, who is sent to prison for a crime she committed a decade ago, examines the lives of inmates in a female prison.
Based on a book of the same name, “Orange is the New Black” shows these inmates as they manage the inherent pain of being imprisoned, fighting the rival urges of staying human and becoming something more despicable.
The second season of the show, released earlier this summer, was highly anticipated
due to the cliffhanger at the end of season one. Picking up where season one left off, we venture back into the lives of Piper and her new neighbors in the prison.
The first episode is a nonsensical and meandering journey completely disconnected from any meaningful subplots developed up to this point in the series. Piper is shipped out to a different prison altogether and not an ounce of exposition is given until the episode is practically over.
Once it ended, I had hopes the series would get back to digging into all its characters story, which made the show so good in the first place. And at first, it did. A larger number of episodes in this season are devoted in their entirety to the other inmates, avoiding Piper altogether.
This is a good thing, but it brings me to one of the more glaring issues I have with the show. Piper is the main character of the show and part of what made season one so great was watching her dynamically transition from a “normal” human being into just another violent inmate chewed up by the system.
The problem is that as interesting as that transition was, it wasn’t done subtly. Instead of showing it piece by piece, the show took her change and bricked you in the face with it, all of which is secondary to the issue that Piper is incredibly annoying and very difficult to like. It’s almost impossible to sympathize with her by the end of the first season, and season two does nothing to alleviate this, making her even more obnoxious and self-righteous than before.
She’s also dramatically inconsistent, which makes her difficult to believe as well as sympathize with. In the very first episode, she makes a massively stupid decision that goes completely against everything we’ve been lead to believe about her up until this point. It’s such a strange character action that it jars you right out of the story.
Sadly, the other characters received a similar treatment in the wrong direction. In the first season, we start by having almost no sympathy for the other inmates because of the crude way they act and the simple fact that they’re in prison.
Emotions change over season one as we start to see the hidden motivations of these characters and the various situations that caused them to land in prison. Many of them were victims of circumstance, and almost all of them simply made one bad choice. We start to see them as humans, and with humanity comes sympathy.
Season two erased almost all of this, showing us episode after episode that paints the inmates as simple, cruel and even deranged in some cases. The main offense is the addition of a new villain named Vee.
Despite obviously being a horrible person who cares only about herself, a number of inmates start following Vee as she forms a gang. The decision to do so is so stupid and makes so little sense that you not only stop caring about these inmates, but often even root against them.
“Orange is the New Black” is not irredeemable, and the show as a whole is still of fine quality. But the second season was such a disappointing massive step in the wrong direction that it leaves me almost indifferent to whether or not the show will return for a third outing.