Careful, this post may or may not contain spoilers!!!
Season 2 of Orange Is The New Black premiered on Friday, and surprisingly …. I binged. In the past, I wasn’t taken to the show; privileged blonde girls slumming it with the coloreds isn’t really my cup of tea.
But as a blogger and millennial, I am compelled to partake in such interests.
And honestly, I’m happy that I did. Unlike Season 1, where we’re introduced to Piper Chapman, the good-girl-turned-drug-carrier who finds herself in prison with her hot ex-girlfriend and other nameless black, brown, and yellow women (who serve as props and not personas) … Season 2 not only highlights characters of colors, but humanizes them in a way that was lacking in the first season. Through a series of flashbacks that cleverly tie into the present, we see (and dare I say … comprehend?) how socioeconomic hardships (especially in regards to race) affect the choices that we may or may not make.
Don’t get me wrong. The humanization of the Black body isn’t the focal point of the show; Piper still shines in her ditzy-ness. However, even she is given provocative character development; in what seems like minutes, she is transformed from the naive upper-middle class white fiance, to a menacing, pessimistic misanthrope who understands that her privilege will only get her so far.
She’s like the Walter White of Netflix originals. But I digress…
Through a series flashbacks, we delve deeper into the vibrant personalities that make up the show. Crazy Eyes (played brilliantly by Uzo Aduba) is given spectacular context. Unlike the comic relief element which tinkers on minstrelsy, in this season we gauge the depth of her character; a mentally ill Black girl adopted by a well-to-do white family. She was raised with a pushy mother who, instead of accepting her daughter, tried to assimilate her into suburbia; an act which led to nothing but devastation and humiliation.
We also learn the origin of her Bantu knots.
We also get a glimpse of Taystee’s context (played by Danielle Brooks). A spunky foster child with no prospects, we learn that she was taken in by drug queen pin Vee who raised her within the criminal element. Abandoned, Taystee takes to the streets and eventually lands up in jail.
Almost all recognizable characters get some much needed context (from maniacal stalkers, cursed bankrobbers, and survivors of domestic violence) the women of the show (and particularly the women of color) are granted humanity that dilutes the jocular and welcomes the insight.
And of course, there’s Vee, the supervillian of the season who I happen to adore. Probably one of the greatest characters in recent memory, Vee (Lorraine Toussaint, if you will) proffers racial consciousness without the sparkling confetti that other shows are often guilty of. Race, a factor that was treated as the elephant in the room last season, is a running theme, introduced provocatively by Vee.
An OG, Vee’s main intention (other than herself) is to unify the Black prison population through the lucrative barter market. Selling contraband tobacco through tampons, Vee quickly rises to the top of the prison empire and brings her Black girls with her.
Black characters are especially humanized through Vee, with their flashbacks often tying into Vee’s schemes. Through Vee, Black bodies are given stories for thought, not just for laughs.
In closing, Season 2 was better than I expected. Through careful use of character development and the recognition of how race plays within the prison system, we are prompted to not only see the characters, but visualize them as well.