The wait for the second season of Orange Is the New Black has not been an easy one; the cliffhanger that the first season ended with was melodramatic and suspenseful and with such a climactic conclusion, Jenji Kohan had a strenuous job to keep up with viewers’ expectations. But she certainly achieved this with absolute wondrous execution.
The episode was very Piper-centred and, as opposed to the very communal episode plots that saturated the first season, we were provided with a personal journey for the opening of this eagerly-awaited follow-up season. The episode began enigmatically; we were dropped in as much solitary confinement as Piper was. The ending of the last season was not explained and the reasoning for Piper’s whereabouts were not either. All we knew was that a month had passed since Piper’s attack on Doggett. Piper is then taken from claustrophobic solitary to being seated on a plane, where she travels to a Chicago penitentiary. It is unknown as to why she is there to the audience, and to Piper herself.
The alienation that is evoked from the first half of the episode is compelling and potent and only adds to the emotional ending that we are left with at the end of the episode. Orange Is the New Black‘s signature flashbacks also continues in the first part of the episode, particularly focusing on a very young Piper witnessing the acts of her unfaithful father, as well as events with similar themes being shown in her youth, idyllically fusing the past Piper with the present Piper, a poignant theme that characterises the show’s wider message. The flashbacks add to the bildungsroman aura that weaves its way around this episode, intimately connecting us with the lost Piper that we see becoming more and more intangible to us.
The passionate and dramatic performance of Taylor Schilling is quite simply impeccable. But the sensitive and touching moments sit antithetically next to comedic moments, showing that Orange Is the New Black‘s incredible ability to snake from drama to comedy genres so excellently that neither is sacrificed has not been abandoned or lost. Whether it be explicit one-liners like “she can blow out candles with her coochie” that brim with colloquialisms, or the focus on the death of the roach named Yoda, the programme has not lost its quality to evoke cries of laughter and sadness in a synchronous and effecting way.
Through Alex’s surprising presence at the penitentiary as well, we begin to discover why Piper is in Chicago and rather than why Piper feared (killing Doggett), it is actually to testify in the trial of Alex’s drug boss. Through Alex’s persuasion and Piper’s nostalgic reminiscence of her love for Alex, Piper lies in court on Alex’s instruction to then be betrayed by the latter. Fury, outrage and ire surrounds Piper, and consequently us. Any hope for Alex and Piper’s future coupling is in disarray; Alex has left prison and abandoned Piper who is likely to get her sentence increased. We are once again left with another cliffhanger.
The performance by Schilling was second to none and – although very diverse from previous episodes and probably most episodes to come – the 50 minute-long episode had a unique quality of centring on one character who was so isolated and consistently placed in unknown places that I, as a viewer in the comfortable orb of my room, felt alone myself. Piper’s experience of such intangible events suddenly became tangible and relatably calamitous; it was no longer about a woman in prison but a woman in pain that is felt by everyone in any position. The episode was precisely what the show needed, firming its place as a drama-comedy which is exactly that and specifically both.
10/10. An incredible start to an extremely promising second series. Despite the surprising absence of the caricature icons of Orange Is the New Black in the episode, the pure focus on Piper was exactly what was needed. I just didn’t know it.
Orange Is the New Black‘s second series is available to stream via Netflix now.