Jackson Ball reviews the Season 2 premiere of Orange Is the New Black…
The first season of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black had it all: colourful characters, brilliantly dark humour, critical acclaim and one hell of a cliff-hanger. One year on, it’s time to continue Piper Chapman’s story of incarceration, as we return to Litchfield Penitentiary… or is it?
Warning! Spoilers Ahead – You have been warned!
Season 2 begins with the same unbearable tension that closed its predecessor. Following her brutal beating of a fellow inmate, we find Piper (Taylor Schilling) isolated in the solitary confinement. It’s unclear just how long she’s been held in isolation, but judging by her ‘wall paintings’, it’s been a while.
She’s quickly released from solitary, and makes her way back through the prison, as we prepare ourselves to once again meet the show’s vast array of familiar characters. However, that’s when we are violently hit by the season’s first curveball and the tension takes hold. The unfamiliar correctional officer accompanying her suddenly veers direction out of the prison building, now leading her towards a bus. Where is she going?
Piper frequently asks the very question we are all thinking, only to be ignored, shot down and berated. The bus departs, leaving the first season’s central location and its entire supporting cast behind. Seriously, where is she going?
It’s a master class in agonising tension-building, as the writers seemingly discard everything the audience has come to associate with the show (excluding Schilling), and turn the mundane activity of a bus ride into a nerve-shredding rollercoaster. A second gut-punch is promptly delivered when Piper steps off the bus and comes face-to-face with a jet; a jet that she will soon be boarding. WHERE IS SHE GOING!?
The sheer confusion and brazen misdirection of season 2’s opening episode is equal parts thrilling and frustrating. Fortunately though, it is beautifully broken up by some of the show’s trademark black comedy. From zippy one-liners to an expertly crafted visual joke about urinating, it’s clear that OITNB’s humour is set to remain one of the show’s main assets.
Piper’s (and the audience’s) questions are finally answered when it is revealed that she has been temporarily transferred to Chicago to give testimony in a drug lord/former associate’s trial. This scenario leads to the latest instalment to the love/hate relationship between Piper and her two-time lover Alex Vause (Laura Prepon).
In short, season 2’s opener is filled with promise. Its daring decision to leave the audience in the dark for most of the episode, surrounded by unfamiliarity, shows the bold ambition and unique direction the show is headed for. The writing is sharper, the tension higher and it’s all anchored by another knockout performance from Schilling. Whether episode 2 returns to more familiar territory or not, it is obvious that Orange Is the New Black has no intention of shying away.
Jackson Ball – follow me on Twitter