We finally get backstories for some of last season’s breakout characters (and some of my personal favorites) that do not disappoint but will definitely shock. “Crazy Eyes” Suzanne’s (Uzo Aduba) flashback is a short story in itself, one that succinctly and deeply tackles themes of class, racism, and mental illness in one fell swoop but also leaves you wanting more. Morello’s (Yael Stone) is a true shocker, surprisingly depressing and much darker than I imagined; one of the many highlights of this season is watching her become unhinged in short bursts, then blink it away. All of the actresses are at the top of their game here (I’d say pay close attention to Samira Wiley as Poussey, but I don’t have to because she quietly demands it). Orange Is the New Black should have an entire Best Actress category specifically devoted to its stars, and all the nominees should take home statues.
The show still has plenty of heart — maybe even more of it than before; I was surprised at how much the scenes featuring Pennsatucky’s childlike naiveté and sadness affected me — but OITNB doesn’t skimp on the heavy drama. Daya (Dascha Polanco) and Bennett (Matt McGorry) are dealing with her pregnancy. Sometimes, they bicker so much like a real couple, it’s easy to forget they are both technically in prison (one by choice) and he’s her guard. The prison guards get more time, too, as the show travels off the Litchfield grounds and into their personal lives.
Many shows have touched upon women struggling to accept the aging process, but OITNB brilliantly reimagines this within the prison walls. Graying hair, crochet circles, and retirement — all while locked up.
Relationships abound in this season: daughters and mothers (biological and surrogate), exes, new lovers, confusing friendships, fuck buddies, and unrequited love. Then there are the power struggles. There is the quick introduction of Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), a conniving prisoner with past ties to both Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Taystee (Danielle Brooks). Vee reminisces about the good old days when the black prisoners ran Litchfield, and she seems hellbent on making that happen again, setting up racial tensions that divide the prison and will surely end in disaster.
It gets dark (of course!), but it remains funny. For every depressing scene about a woman who is out of choices, there is a laugh-out-loud-funny scene with an impromptu health class on female anatomy. Netflix sent out six episodes to critics, and I devoured them all quickly, with more hunger than I had for even the first season, and all I can think about is what happens next. Orange Is the New Black spent its first season delighting in making its audience nervously bite our fingernails while alternating between laughing or crying, and it’s ready to do it again.