The second season of Orange Is the New Black hits Netflix Friday, and since we all binge-watched the 13-hour first season one year ago, we at The Wire figured a catching-up with Litchfield's most notable inmates was in order.
Where did we last leave our prison pals? What was everybody doing, and what do we know about them? Our character rundown, complete with some episode suggestions to jog your memory, will get you all caught up just in time for Friday's binge watching to commence.
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)
Backstory: Our protagonist begins the series locked up for 15 months on charges of money laundering and drug trafficking. She’s a bit of a narcissist and is trying to make up for a wild past (where she carried drug money for her lover Alex, played by Laura Prepon) by settling down with the most boring, annoying man in the history of human society (Larry, played by Jason Biggs).
Season One arc: Piper starts out a wilting flower horrified at the complex prison society but wins several inmates’ trust and friendship with legal help and uh, hair donations. She pines for Larry but then is shocked to realize that her former romantic partner/partner-in-crime is in the slammer with her. A somewhat tiresome love triangle ensues, although Larry does himself no favors by dishing on Piper’s prison experiences in a radio interview, and Alex is revealed to be the person who snitched on Piper.
Where we left her: Larry breaks up with Piper after Alex makes him realize what a self-absorbed baby she is. Alex does this not long after Piper dumps her too, a decision she quickly regrets. In the season one finale, simmering tensions with the psychotic Pennsatucky, to which Piper is basically a bystander, blow up in her face, and the two end up fighting. But really, Piper’s getting a lot of emotion out.
Episode to watch: The pilot, “I Wasn’t Ready,” and the finale, “Can’t Fix Crazy.” Probably the whole season? She is the main character, after all.
Alex Vause (Laura Prepon)
Backstory: Alex, we initially learn, is the person who got Piper in jail in the first place, after having her carry drug money and then ratting on her. (The details of that last part are debated throughout the first season, but it’s ultimately revealed that, yes, Alex did name Piper.) Alex was raised by her mother, and taunted by other kids for being poor. Her absent father was a rock star, and visiting him gets her involved in the drug cartel in the first place. She and Piper’s relationship fell apart when Piper left her after her mother died.
Season One arc: Alex’s season one storyline mainly involves her winning back Piper’s trust and then losing it again. Alex and Piper reconnect and begin a sexual relationship, but that disintegrates when Piper learns that Alex is responsible for getting her into jail and chooses to go off with Larry, who then proceeds to break up with Piper when Alex tells him about their prison relationship. At the end of the first season she is starting a relationship with Nicky.
Where we left her: With Nicky’s hand down her pants.
Episodes to watch: “Fucksgiving,” which begins her storyline, and “Tall Men with Feelings,” which shows her and Piper’s fraught breakup.
"Red" Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew)
Backstory: Pre-prison Red ran a Russian restaurant with her husband and got mixed up with the Russian mob. At first that didn’t go so well – she punched a mob wife’s breast implant and popped it, which got her and her husband even more wrapped up with the mob (debts owed and whatnot) – but thanks to her crafty ideas, she eventually found herself in its favor. The taste of power and control she got from the mob carried over to her stint in prison.
Season one arc: When we first met Red, she was starving Piper nearly to death in retaliation for a slight against her cuisine, which is a pretty apt introduction. For most of season one, Red is arguably the most powerful inmate at Litchfield, overseeing the kitchen, commanding a legion of loyal followers, and running a smuggling operation. But cracks in her empire start to show as the season wears on (particularly with Nicky), and she faces off against Mendez (a.k.a. Pornstache) over what exactly she is smuggling into Litchfield (Red smuggles contraband; Pornstache wants drugs).
Where we left her: She had been removed of her duties as chef, which she did not take lightly. The finale saw her sabotaging the kitchen and starting a grease fire, costing her further loyalties.
Episode to watch: “Tit Punch” is our introduction to Red and her backstory, but go with “Moscow Mule” for a look at Red’s complex prison operations.
Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox)
Backstory: Before her transition, Sophia (then Marcus) was a firefighter. She landed in prison after using stolen credit cards to fund her gender reassignment surgery. Sophia has a wife who has stuck by her, and offers to help her with her transition, and a son who has rejected her.
Season One arc: Though Sophia came into contact with a number of characters as Litchfields resident hair dresser, Sophia’s personal storyline revolved around her attempt to get the appropriate amount of estrogen, which had been denied to her in prison. She also dealt with her wife falling for her pastor.
Where we left her: We last see Sophia running the Christmas pageant, and getting a card from her son that her wife didn’t sign for him.
Episodes to Watch: “Lesbian Request Denied,” the episode in which we learn Sophia’s backstory.
Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne)
Backstory: A recovering drug addict, Nicky hails from a tony background and had a distant socialite mother who raised her via nanny. She cleaned up in the slammer with the help of Red the chef, her closest ally. She has a chest scar from endocarditis surgery, a common affliction for heroin addicts.
Season One arc: Nicky is a bit of a gossip and in a casual sexual relationship with Lorna Morello, which Lorna breaks off because she’s engaged to a guy on the outside (even though that engagement seems troubled, to say the least). Nicky acts as a helpful adviser to Piper as a fellow WASP, but in the season finale ends up having an encounter with Alex after she breaks up with Piper.
Where we left her: With her hand down Alex’s pants.
Episode to watch: “WAC Pack” is Nicky’s flashback episode, although it does not go into specifics on why she’s in prison, so there may be more material to explore this season.
Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst)
Backstory: The severe Miss Claudette ran an illegal child-labor-fueled house-cleaning service, the sort of operation she worked in as a child herself. She has romantic feelings for Baptiste, a life-long friend. Miss Claudette’s flashbacks reveal that she has in fact murdered someone (a man who abused one of the girls working for her), but we’re not sure if that’s why she’s in prison.
Season One arc: Piper’s roommate (a relationship which starts off rocky and then works itself out) in “the ghetto,” Miss Claudette is one of the older and more intimidating roommates (the murder rumors help with that). Miss Claudette learns her case is eligible for re-examination which could result in time shaved off, and at first she rejects the notion, but after a letter from Baptiste, she decides to apply for appeal. After she’s rejected, however, she assaults a prison guard and gets transferred to a maximum security prison.
Where we left her: Being transferred.
Episode to watch: “Imaginary Enemies”
Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett (Taryn Manning)
Backstory: Pennsatucky was a drug-addled woman who had multiple abortions. She shot a nurse at an abortion clinic who made a comment about how many abortions she’d had on the premises, saying that the nurse “disrespected” her. Afterwards she is embraced by pro-life supporters and becomes a fanatical evangelical herself.
Season One arc: Pennsatucky is the main antagonist of the season: locking Vause in a dryer, and getting Piper sent to SHU. She herself decides she’s a faith healer, but is sent to psych when she tries to heal a juvenile delinquent in a wheel chair. Pennsatucky eventually plots to murder Piper outside the Christmas pageant, but Piper ultimately overtakes her.
Where we left her: Getting attacked by Piper.
Episodes to watch: “Bora Bora Bora,” her faith healing episode, and “Fool Me Once,” her origin story.
Dayanara “Daya” Diaz (Dascha Polanco)
Backstory: In the same prison as her mother Aleida, Daya arrives with Piper at the beginning of the first season on drug charges, having embarked on a sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend/drug dealer Cesar. She can’t really speak Spanish, which doesn’t help her with the prison’s Latina community. She loves drawing manga.
Season One arc: Daya doesn’t really get along with mom and their relationship isn’t helped by both of them being in jail. She does strike up a rather sweet relationship with prison guard Bennett ... who knocks her up. Hoping to protect him, she tricks the evil Pornstache into having sex with her and gets him put on unpaid leave.
Where we left her: Bennett learns of the encounter with Pornstache and dumps her, but then wraps her up in his arms when the kitchen sets on fire, so they’re figuring it out.
Episode to watch: “The Chickening,” which explores Daya’s relationship with her mom in flashback and Bennett in the present day.
Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren (Uzo Aduba)
Backstory: We've yet to see any flashbacks to Suzanne's life before prison, nor what landed her there. In episode nine ("Fucksgiving"), we see Suzanne visiting with her parents, a WASP-y couple who frown when Suzanne uses bad language. One assumes season two will finally give us our Crazy Eyes-centric episode, as she was definitely one of the breakout characters of season one.
Season One arc: Crazy Eyes took notice of Piper early on, developing a fast and intense crush on her. After Piper accepts food from Suzanne (during Piper's period of Red-imposed starvation), Suzanne assumes they're girlfriends. Piper's rejection of said assumption, which ends up being pretty harsh since Crazy Eyes doesn't take no for an answer, leads her to retaliate and pee on Piper's floor. After that, we see a few different shades of Suzanne, including Suzanne on her meds. She's more reasonable, even sweet, and we become more privy to her sadness. After Larry tells Piper's story on NPR, including the harsh assessments of inmates like Crazy Eyes, we see a much softer side of Suzanne. When Piper tries to apologize to her, Suzanne responds that Piper isn't a nice person.
Where we left her: Suzanne takes part in the prison Christmas pageant, though she freezes up when it comes time to sing her solo (Norma manages to come through in her stead).
Episode to watch: Episode three, "Lesbian Request Denied" features the bulk of the Crazy Eyes/Piper doomed-relationship storyline. But episode twelve, "Fool Me Once," features her bathroom confrontation with Piper, a delicate and touching scene where you get the best sense of how hard Suzanne works to keep herself together.
“Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks)
Backstory: Lacking a backstory episode, we have few details about Taystee’s pre-prison life. Though she told one memorable story at AA about being shirtless, covered in BBQ sauce, and standing over a dead man.
Season One arc: Taystee, one of the funniest inmates at Litchfield, has one of the most tragic storylines. She spends the first half of the season prepping for her parole hearing (she works in the library, which helps), and does indeed win parole. But reintegrating to life on the outside doesn’t go so well – Taystee finds herself unwanted and alone. So she commits a crime to get resentenced to Litchfield, and returns at the end of the season. Life in Litchfield is just easier for Taystee, it seems.
Where we left her: Singing in the Christmas pageant.
Episode to watch: “Fool Me Once,” her return to Litchfield.
Lorna Morello (Yael Stone)
Backstory: Morello didn’t get a backstory episode in season one, but she still wears her pre-prison life on her sleeve: much of her time in Litchfield is spent planning for an extravagant wedding once she gets out. The trouble, we learn, is that her fiancé hasn’t exactly stuck around waiting.
Season One arc: The chatty Morello (with a strong accent) is friendly with Piper and a recipient of Red’s good graces. She also began the season hooking up with Nicky, but things went sour once her conscience kicked in, what with her engagement and all. Even though Morello herself alone with a threatening Mendez, she refused to rat on Red.
Where we left her: Being mocked for and losing faith in her wedding plans.
Episode to watch: “Moscow Mule” to see her withstand Pornstache's pressure.
Janae Watson (Vicky Jeudy)
Backstory: Watson was a very promising track runner in high school, until she got got felled by the combination of a bad boyfriend and a self-sabotaging streak.
Season One arc: Initially, Watson is just collateral for one of Piper's many early-going screw-ups. When Piper takes a screwdriver out of the shed, Watson is blamed for losing it, and she's sent to SHU (solitary). When she gets out, she's incredibly rattled, and Piper pledges to make it up to her by getting the track re-opened. Watson also has a clash with Yoga Jones, though they end up making up and becoming somewhat close.
Where we left her: Watson and Yoga Jones got close enough to where Yoga told her the story of how she accidentally killed a kid.
Episode to watch: Episode seven, "Blood Donut," where we get to see her story told in flashback, and she emerges from SHU.
Other Inmates of Note
Big Boo (Lea DeLaria): Boo's big storyline was her clashing with Tricia over Mercy, who was Boo's ex and Tricia's current, and who was released in mid-season. By the time Tricia overdoses, however, Boo is one of her most affected mourners.
Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman): Skinny, hippie, pretty chill. She only really gets rattled by Watson, who pokes at her about her past. Watson intuits that Yoga killed a kid, and it turns out she did, albeit accidentally.
Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley): She gets angry at Taystee for ending up back in prison after her parole, but Taystee is her girl, when it comes down to it. She sings "Amazing Grace" at the Christmas pageant. Poussey is cool. Her name's kinda unfortunate.
Norma Romano (Annie Golden): Norma is mute up until the season finale, when she sings "I Saw the Light" at the Christmas pageant. She also turns her back on Red after Red's attempt to re-take the kitchen ends up with Gina getting terribly burned.
Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler): A cool nun and frequent confidant of Sophia. She's in jail for political protest.
Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva): Mendoza basically runs the Latinas in the ward. When Red runs afoul of Pornstache and the administration, Mendoza is given control of the kitchen. Red tries to sabotage her, but it backfires, and Mendoza starts starving Red out as punishment.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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