Monday, June 9, 2014

TV Review: Orange is the New Black (2014)

Orange is the New Black (season 2)

Created by: Jenji Kohan

Starring: Taylor Schilling
Laura Prepon
Jason Biggs
Kate Mulgrew
Natasha Lyonne
Pablo Schrieber

Synopsis: Shocking revelations and new arrivals shake up the lives and relationships of Litchfield's prisoners in the highly anticipated second season. (Via Netflix)

*since this this a review of season 2, expect spoilers for season 1 okay*


I know up above I said that this would contain spoilers for season 1, but you should probably prepare yourself for spoilers about season 2 as well because this is going to be a more general discussion post about the season rather than a broad review to interest people in giving it a go. So if you haven't watched it yet and don't want to have some major shit spoiled, then you best be heading elsewhere until you catch up.

*Spoiler dance* Last chance to get out before I discuss the hell out of this season.

I had every intention to try and spread this season out, maybe only watch two episodes at a time, but that didn't happen. That didn't even come close to happening. I started to wonder halfway through episode 6 whether I like this everything-at-once model of delivering a series. Do I appreciate having something to binge watch while everything else (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, It's Always Sunny) I watch is spread out over weeks and months, or am I only doing it because it's there and it's too tempting to resist? What do I actually get out of spending a Saturday night watching 6 episodes back to back? I'm excited that I got to watch it, but now that I realise I have a full year until I get more of the show? Maybe spreading it out by the week isn't so bad after all.

But my lack of will power is neither here nor there. What I really want to discuss is this latest season of OITNB and how much I adored it. While I loved the first season (my review is up above the line ^ there) I did have a few issues with it, mostly surrounding Piper and the love triangle between her, Alex and Larry. My favourite parts of the first season had to do with all the other prison ladies, and I think this season did a really great job of focusing on them more and making Piper almost more of a background character. Which is fantastic, because while she was our vehicle into the story and we felt her fear and discomfort and unease as she did, she's a lot more comfortable in her surrounds now, as are we, and we don't really need her any more. I'm almost a little disappointed they didn't go through with her transfer to Virginia, because while I liked her a lot more this season I think her role is done. We don't need more drama with Alex (which is clearly coming) or Larry and she's no longer the new girl completely out of her depth. If they started season 3 with her release I'd probably be okay with that*.

The series kept the chosen character/flashback model from the first season, and I think I enjoyed it even more than last time. There was almost a hint of the unreliable narrator in it, releasing small details that suggest one route before the full story is finally revealed and everything is flipped on its head. Take Morello, poor, poor sweet Morello. We're introduced to her as she's conducting a pretty nifty mail scam - ordering expensive designer clothes online and then claiming not to receive them and getting a full refund. I couldn't remember if we'd ever gone into what her crime was in season 1 (perils of the binge watch) but everything was set up to think that she was in Litchfield for fraud, until her "fiancée" is on the stand and starts talking not about mail fraud, but of stalking and attempted murder and damn if my heart didn't completely shatter. To remember her season 1 self and then see that everything she'd said was a lie/delusion was heartbreaking, to know that something in her was so broken that she'd convinced herself that they had a dog together and that she was willing to make an explosive and try and kill his real fiancée...that was some fantastically crafted storytelling. When she was in his house taking a bath and they got home? My god, I don't think my heart slowed for 10 minutes after she managed to get away.

While there were plenty of flashbacks and stories for other characters, the shift in group dynamics because of a) Red's downfall from season 1 and b) Vee's arrival were definitely the prominent season arcs. Vee, man. She scared the shit out of me. She was this pied piper type figure, luring in the young and the vulnerable and lacking any empathy when it came to the girls (and boys in the flashbacks) who were drawn under her spell. Any time she had a run in with a character and then we saw that character alone, I was convinced they were going to die in the most brutal way. I first hated her because her flashback scene with child-Taystee gave me the willies, but then she stepped in between Poussey and Taystee's friendship and HELL NO, that will not stand. And then she used and abused Crazy Eyes and I switched to eagerly rooting for her death every time she was on screen. Poor Crazy Eyes, and bravo Uzo Aduba, she was unbelievable all season. The stand outs for me were when she was with SIS and Healy when she's convinced she must have done it and you see the turmoil and confusion just wrecking havok on her psyche. And the scene back in her bunk when she's crying with the uno cards? Ugh, she's such a complicated, broken and sad character and makes my heart hurt.

The other big thing I wanted to bring up was Healy. In season 1 I had thought he was misguided and a little (okay a lot) homophobic and old-fashioned before turning into an absolute maniac by the final episode. I expected for him to remain the villain for me in season 2 but nope, I am utterly confused about how to feel about him. On the one hand his fear of the lesbian agenda is infuriating and hateful and the lengths he's willing to go to hurt or disadvantage "those" women is disgusting. But then you see him actually trying to make things work with his wife and help the inmates with his safe place group and it's like, why are you making this so hard on me?! I know one of the best things about the show is how grey everyone is, there's no bona fide villain or hero, but I just don't know what to think about Healy. He seems to represent both sides of the coin and I got dizzy trying to keep up with his aggressive asshole schtick one minute and his vulnerable helper-puppy persona the next. Is he a good guy with anger issues (and old fashioned ideas about feminism and homosexuality) or is he a shitty guy who believes in therapy? I JUST DON'T KNOW.

And just as quickly as it started, it was all over again. I was almost a little disappointed with the way the finale episode ended, most likely because season 1 finished with such a shatteringly stressful cliffhanger and this one just sort of...finished. I think it did a really good job of lining up the stories for season 3 - Alex will be back, Caputo will struggle as assistant-warden, Pennsatucky and Healy will probably have a continuing story, Daya and her baby will likely become the A-story - while also wrapping up a lot of the season's arcs. There'll probably be some fall out over Rosa's escape and Vee's death (death? Do we think she's definitely dead?) but I think they'll be handed pretty quickly. When it finished my sister and I discussed whether it's better to end with a cliffhanger like in S1 or wrapped up (with new roads laid out) like in S2, and while I can see the benefits to both I can't help but think the cliffhanger is a bit more satisfying. I think you could argue that it's a cop out, a way for the writers to set up something without really having a proper conclusion for it right away but there is something incredibly gratifying (maybe even masochistic) in ending a series that you get all at once with a juicy scene like the end of S1. Like, here's 13 episodes to binge watch and just when shit is getting real BOOP, privileges revoked. Or maybe that's just me.

Small details to note before signing off and heading to the comments to discuss it all with you.
~I loved Laverne Cox with her bob haircut, and damn her toned arms. And nawwww, making inroads with her son?
~I loved the way they started Piper's story (and the whole series) this season. It brought back the fear and confusion that was in the first couple of episodes of S1 and also helped kickstart her attitude for the season.
~I really enjoyed the nun's story and her narcissism and Rosa's little story with the kid in chemo. They were stories that had consequences and weight, but they were also nice/funny stories outside of the gloom of prison. the Sister's story in particular felt almost slapstick at times, like when she was posing with the fake blood?
~Lori Petty was great, but I was sad she only had a cameo.
~Was there more boobs this season?
~Nicky still remains one of my favourites. She's so on point and I love how little she cares about just laying down the truth for people. I really hope that she doesn't fall back into drugs next season, my heart will break.
~They clearly spend many painstaking hours looking for the perfect young child/women actresses to play the flashback versions of characters. I could absolutely see the woman playing young Rosa in the cancer-stricken, prison-wearied woman we know and the child playing Crazy Eyes at the birth of her sister was so on point.
~Is Larry going to be off the show now? Because I really am done with him. Goodbye Larry.

*That sounds so mean. I think Taylor Schilling is doing a brilliant job, I just don't know if her character is really necessary any more. I'd rather they got rid of her now while she's at her top, than keep her in and keep recycling the same love life drama over and over until I dislike her again.


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