'Orange Is the New Black' Season Two Wrap-Up: How'd They Do?

Now that it's been a week since the release of Orange Is the New Black, let's wrap things up for you binge watchers.

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Now that it's been a week since the release of Orange Is the New Black, let's wrap things up for you binge watchers.

Netflix is already looking ahead to season three, having upped Dascha Polanco (Daya) and Samira Wiley (Poussey) to regulars, and enlisted Mary Steenburgen to join the cast. But before we speculate what's in the future, let's look back.

What Was the Season's Strongest Storyline?

Joe: I was surprised how important and thematically impactful that hunger-strike storyline got. At first it just seemed like busywork for annoying new gnat Brook Soso, but this show does such a great job making seemingly superfluous characters feel just as vital and relevant as the main cast, so it shouldn't have been that big a surprise to see that the spotlight on living conditions in Litchfield was the driving force behind all sorts of events in the final few episodes, not least of which were Figueroa's ouster and Piper's almost-transfer.

Esther: This is hard because Vee's storyline is certainly the one that sticks out the most. But is it the best? I'm not sure. Lorraine Toussaint is so good, but Vee became so purely villainous at the end that the storyline itself ended on a  frustrating note. Whereas at the beginning of the season it seemed that Vee would be a way for the writers to explore the racial tensions in Litchfield, that interested faded as she became just evil. Still, Vee's presence teased out a number of interesting themes about the nature of friendship and family in prison, and I especially like how it brought the relationship between Taystee and Poussey into conflict.

Other storylines I loved felt somewhat too slight for this honor, which is perhaps a flaw. I could have watched entire shows about Morello, Rosa, and poor addled Jimmy, even if the show did apparently get the concept of compassionate release somewhat wrong.

Whose Flashback Was the Most Illuminating?

Esther: Morello's. Taystee's flashback with Vee was the most integral to the broader plot of the second season, but learning the truth about Morello's past and her crime, made us look at the character in a wildly different light. Morello always felt a bit like comic relief, what with her strange voice and her seemingly girlish sweetness and preoccupation with her wedding. But, learning that that wedding was only a figment of her imagination, and that she was in prison for stalking her darling Christopher, with whom she had only gone on one coffee date, was heart-stopping.

Joe: In all honesty, Morello's my pick here too. But I have to say, I was intrigued by the depth and shading given to Sister Ingalls in her flashback. It managed to upend some of the notions of the character that we'd been taking for a given, but it also wasn't this easily cynical reversal, like finding out she'd been a meth-snorting abortionist or something similarly pat. Learning that Sister Ingalls was kind of an egomaniacal professional protester puts a lot of her words and actions in Litchfield into some fascinating perspective.

Pick One Character to Definitely Get a Flashback in Season Three

Esther: I'm angling for a Big Boo flashback. I feel like her character has mostly been used as a device, and it's unclear what exactly drives her, even though she does love to stir things up. Boo feels like more of a caricature than anyone else on the show—she's a mischief maker with a strong libido—and I think it's time that she got some depth. I also wonder if at some point the show might start giving us backstories for the prison officials. Season two was intent on showing their nuances in addition to the prisoners' and as the show goes on it has more time to play with its format.

Joe: Yeah, I'm impressed with how much they made me care about people like Caputo and Figueroa and even Healy, but maybe not a proper flashback. Figueroa's husband and his aide Gavin however ... No, no. Back to the matter at hand. I think we already know enough about Yoga Jones' crime that landed her in Litch, but a flashback like Black Cindy's that reveals her life as opposed to her lowest point would be interesting. But I think I'm riding hardest for a Brook Soso flashback, as crazy at that sounds. Or maybe Flaca? That teardrop tattoo probably has some tales to tell. 

Best and Worst Pop Culture References?

Joe: I am a sucker for '80s power ballads, so obviously Morello sadly singing along to "Almost Paradise" is my answer. Although Piper's angry hissing at LeeAnn about her purloined copy of Atonement comes in a very close second. "Everybody dies!"

Esther: Best is a tie. On one side is Taystee and Poussey's round of Celebrity, which includes the clue "chick whose husband died real young" and the answer "the white Michelle Williams." On the other side is Brook Soso's rendition of Meredith Brooks' "Bitch." Worst? Unquestionably the Jessica Simpson-Rihanna comparison Morello made. As Salon's Dan D'Addario tweeted: "I will go to my grave shouting about how the Rihanna/Jessica joke was pure nonsense."

What Was the Season's Single Strongest Episode?

Esther: I'm going to have to go with the penultimate episode "It Was the Change," even though it marked Vee's turn to over-the-top villain. It's not really a bottle episode, but everyone had to hunker down because of the storm, and I'm a sucker for situations where everyone is forced to interact with one another. It was a well-executed episode that allowed us to touch base with all of the plot threads that had been woven throughout the season. I also love the sweet moments it gave us, particularly the one between Rosa and Morello and the reunion of Taystee and Poussey.

Joe: While Morello's flashback was the most heartbreaking, Poussey's was a close second, and her featured episode, "You Also Get a Pizza," was incredibly eye-opening about a character we knew as one thing but had no idea of her depths. She was Taystee's fun pal in season one, but OItNB keeps telling us that sidekicks are people too. In this case, it's sidekicks who grew up on army bases and have their early lesbian relationships torn assunder by crabby Germans. Vee's reign of terror would probably have been sufficiently examined through the lenses of people like Red and Taystee, but watching Vee repeatedly attempt to crush Poussey made things all the more harrowing and personal.

Who Were the Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medalists of Season Two?

Esther: Bronze for me goes to Piper. I thought Taylor Schilling's performance was great this season, and that the show is justifying keeping her around even though she is clearly not the most important character any longer. Silver goes to Rosa, a character that completely blossomed this year. This is cheating, but gold is a three-way tie for me between Morello, Poussey and Sophia. Sophia's there because of her anatomy lesson. Meanwhile, Morello and Poussey became so much more than comic relief.

Joe: That IS cheating! Morello gets my bronze medal for giving me my favorite moment of the season, the one-two punch of her humiliation when Christopher comes to call her out, and her stairwell reckoning with Nicky, when Nicky tells her she loves her. Silver goes to Red, whose regaining of power became much less important than the regaining of her family. The show has resisted making her saintly even though she's obviously one of the easiest inmates to love. I just kind of can't deal with the fact that her restaurant is closed and she doesn't know it yet. Gold medal goes to Vee. I get what you're saying about her character becoming more overtly wicked in the last couple episodes, but she's the classic TV villain, here to fuck things up for a whole season, upend the applecart, and then be defeated before the closing credits roll on the season finale. Mission accomplished and with a good bit of flair too.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.