Peripheral characters come to fore in ‘OITNB’ season two

“Orange is the New Black” took Netflix by storm July of 2013 when all 13 episodes debuted at once. And then it did it all over again June of this year.

This new way of releasing shows, not one episode each week but the whole season all at once, is becoming a trend on Netflix. This makes binge-watching even easier, as now you can watch current shows all at once instead of waiting for episodes to be released one by one 13 episodes at about 50 minutes each adds up to about 11 hours. That’s amateur hour for those of us who can watch entire series over the course of a weekend. You could watch all of “OITNB” in one day, or two.

The show is able to experiment with the way the writers create storylines since the episodes are released all together and it’s expected that people won’t watch episodes with weeks in between each viewing. Storylines can be drawn out over several episodes instead of starting and ending in one, giving the writers of the show a creative way to plot out the storylines for the course of the entire season. The writers are successful in making the season feel cohesive and not choppy, a problem often found in watching whole seasons all at once when originally intended to be viewed once a week.

What stood out about this season was the time spent on the characters’ back-stories. “OITNB” does not follow the usual television drama template with a clearly defined hierarchy of characters. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is the reason the story exists, but she becomes a minor character in Season 2. The majority of the characters who make up the show are further explained in Season 2, making them more of a central focus. Viewers learn who the inmates were before they were in jail, what led to their incarceration, who were the important people in their lives and where they are now.

We get a look into Poussey Washington’s (Samira Wiley) first love and how tough her teenage years were. This deeper look into Poussey’s past further locks in her position as my favorite character. She comes across in the first season as a total badass who doesn’t let anything bother her. The second season adds an entire dimension to the character when it becomes clear Poussey is a sweetie who puts all she has into the people she cares about. Poussey and Tasha ‘Taystee’ Jefferson’s (Danielle Brooks) friendship adds a little sarcastic wit to the show. What could be a script filled with flat, whiny dialogue all focusing on the theme of prison hierarchy and everyday troubles becomes quippy and comical.

Taystee is another character we learn more about in Season 2 when the woman who adopted and then began Taystee’s life of crime and drugs ends up in Litchfield. Taystee seems like a tough woman who has been hardened by her past, but she’s just trying to survive and her friendship with Poussey proves this.

The writers of “OITNB” appear to have decided a plot twist was necessary in Season 2 and they found it in Lorna Morello’s (Yael Stone) back-story. Previously known as the homeless romantic, Lorna (known as Morello) has a mental illness and is under the impression she will marry the man she stalked before becoming imprisoned. This betrayal of viewer’s attachment to the only character who, up until this point, appeared to have no bad intentions was not something I took lightly. It seemed unnecessary to the overall plot of the show to ruin viewer’s ideas of Morello, though her move from harmless, lovesick inmate to completely unreliable character adds a new level of intrigue to the show.

The plot lines of “OITNB” become more complicated as the season goes on, which makes the show more appealing. Typically, I want to watch a show which starts off with a basic overview of its characters and once a relationship is established, their stories become more complex.

Episode 6 is my favorite, because that’s when we learn about Poussey’s back-story. It’s also the episode in which the inmates are asked what love means to them, and the responses allow viewers to learn even more about their favorite characters. Most shows in this day and age use love stories, however subtle, to keep viewers interests piqued. In some shows, love stories are used to take away the power of strong women but in “OITNB” it make the characters multidimensional.

The various love stories between Piper and Alex, Poussey and Taystee, Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) and all her women, however fleeting or platonic, are more fleshed out in this episode. This episode makes the characters appear more vulnerable as they face the camera, interview style, and tell the viewers how they feel about love. If you watch the show, please just appreciate this episode. My love for Poussey is totally justified, and if you disagree, just watch the show and then refer to the Buzzfeed article: “12 Times Poussey Stole Our Hearts in ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Season 2.”

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about Piper this season from friends who watch the show and I’ve got to agree with them. Piper may be the show’s protagonist, but she comes across as really whiny and weak. She’s not relatable anymore, and her deteriorating relationship with Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) has taken away an interesting aspect of the show. Their is a lack of sexual tension and the excitement surrounding their relationship has gone away. Longtime “Bones” watchers wanted Booth and Bones to get together forever, but when they finally did, it turned out to be much less exciting than the sexual tension once between them. Jess and Nick’s sexual tension was thrilling, but their relationship proved to fall flatter than possibly any other TV relationship. Alex and Piper’s relationship, or lack thereof, was possibly the only thing holding anyone’s interest to Piper’s character.

Also contributing to Piper coming across as kind of obnoxious (though admittedly not her fault) is the relationship between her ex-fiancé—who she cheated on with Alex!—and her best friend Polly Harper (Maria Dizzia). What a terrible fiancée and best friend thing to do. Piper, of course, whines about this and doesn’t acknowledge the fact that she did something terrible first and can’t exactly ask a lot of her now ex-fiancé. Maybe this plot line was an attempt to make the viewers root for Piper again, but I think it failed. She might be the main character in this show, but she is not even close to being one of my favorites.

“OITNB” is a great show to watch in a weekend. Get past the first two or three episodes of the first season and then get to the second season as quickly as you can. You can watch “OITNB” as a movie with constant loop of rising action, conflict and resolution. It’s a show with few dull moments.

We’ll have to wait with baited breath to see what’s in store for the inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary. Season 3 is scheduled to premiere June or July of 2015, so we have a while to go before we can spend another week (or day) watching the next season.

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