Orange has always found a way to be witty, edgy and entertaining. Season 2 has been no exception, but has introduced an air of mystery and uncertainty to Litchfield. Where Season 1 had some fear for Piper’s wellbeing, Season 2 has changed the rules: The Litch is looking more like a real prison, with its death threats and smuggling, and the administration is forced to react in kind. This leads to two episodes that begin to hint at where Season 2 might be headed.
Episode 8’s (Appropriately Sized Pots) final minute sees an old, all-too-recognisable face return to the prison, which gives some insight into how bad things have become. Figueroa demands a crackdown on the inmates and guards alike. Caputo is searching for contraband wherever he can. Creator Jenji Kohan has swapped out an interest in the workings of Litchfield for a fear of it.
Mirroring this is the fear the inhabitants are creating for each other. Vee and Red begin a contraband war, with Gloria trapped in the middle. Aside from the standard chess metaphor making a needless appearance, a few threatening words between the three of them produce the standout moment of Appropriately Sized Pots.
Episode 7, Comic Sans, is the perfect booster for Episode 8. Practical and plot-driven, it intrigues where the other indulges, pushing ahead with the plot, keeping it entertaining and relatable. Dya and Bennett’s arc, in particular, causes heartache; their thoughtful performances show their struggle against a lack of options and a self-destructive draw to the truth. It also gives an insight into Fig’s marriage before she returns to The Litch to trample on any audience empathy built by seeing her unsatisfying home life.
Written with a fantastically sharp eye for comedy, Appropriately Sized Pots serves to poke fun at the problems caused by Comic Sans. A mixing of racial groups – uncommon as of late – leads to a string of hilarious moments, in addition to Caputo’s storming around asking about make-up, Rosa’s disdain for her new criminal cohort, Nichols’ exchanges with Luschek and Piper’s furlough discussions.
Complimenting the comedy, Orange finds its feet in making some serious accusations about the way the American prison system is run. The inmates suffer, the guards are ill-equipped to help and the management are underfunded and understaffed. It’s clearer than ever than Kohan’s writing is a huge neon sign of beloved characters and dildo jokes pointing at very real and very important problems.
Throughout, issues pertaining to inmates’ health are tackled with bravery and care, but still produce an upsetting result. Terminally ill, lovable rogue Rosa (a uniquely affable Barbera Rosenblat) is the focus of Episode 8’s flashbacks; a truly standout story, told warmly amid her back-and-forth with a mouthy teenager also on chemotherapy, Rosa is portrayed as an intensely thrill-driven bank thief. Exciting and sincerely likable, the story proves to be a season highlight in a very strong episode.
This double bill, a set-up and punchline pair, confirms that Orange Is the New Black is still hilarious, romantic and packed with style – and that Season 2 is much braver and tougher than its predecessor.
All photos: Ali Goldstein for Netflix