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Best Shot: OITNB Season 2

No sophomore slump for this sensation. Orange is the New Black's second season arrived on June 6th for the masses to binge watch on Netflix. We ended Season 1 with a cliffhanger battle between Piper and meth-head hilbilly Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning,) which landed Piper in the SHU (solitary confinement) and as Season 2 begins she's being hauled off in the dead of night, completely unaware of what's happened, whether Pennsatucky is dead or alive, and where she's headed. The unfamiliar guards act as if she isn't even there.

Please tell me where we're going."

It's a sensible enough question, and a perfect one for a new season which no longer has the source material to work from (Chicago was the end of Piper's jail term in the book and here it lasts just the first episode of the season). Untethered to adaptation, and with the rich often fictionalized world of the prison already established where will Jenji Kohan take us? [More...]

On a wild ride. Improbably Season 2 is even better than the 1st: darker drama, richer themes, deeper characterizations and more daring structure. The opening move couldn't have been smarter or riskier and would never have happened with the old models of week-to-week television for fear of losing the audience: Episode 1 features only Piper (Taylor Schilling), the show's lead, and none of the show's familiar sets or characters. Episode 2 features all of the regulars we're familiar with in the S1 setting but no Piper! By Episode 3 everyone is reunited but the terrain and interpersonal dynamics are already destabilizing thanks to the arrival of Vi (Lorraine Toussaint), an older and more dangerous criminal who's been to this prison before. In the interest of time management I'm  just looking at these first third of the season (four episodes) for Best Shot though I've watched 8 episodes thus far.

Directed by Jodie Foster. Shot by Yaron Orbach 

Why this shot? It succinctly captures five of the show's most common elements: lesbianism as the prisoner behind Piper is looking for information regarding Piper's sex life; the daily degradations of prison life as we see Piper hunting for cockroaches (long story); group dynamics and twisted communities (the shot pans from the left and there are other women in the room, all with already settled roles); Piper as the outlier, foregrounded; and absurd tonal disparities since the scene should be upsetting but it's funny with the overlay of dialogue about astrological charts and substory about cockroaches. Orange is the New Black uses these collisions all the time though rarely with its camerawork which isn't self-consciously pretty like other "prestige" shows. The arced composition of this shot is beautiful but it also serves the story and themes well. 

Directed by Michael Trim. Shot by ??? 

I'll be keeping my eye on you tasty girl."

Why this shot? Because the finest showbiz thrill is great actressing. Giving props where they're do, Lorraine Toussaint's "Vi" completely destabilizes the prison dynamics and emerges as Season 2's MVP. Her entrance at the beginning of this episode in a flashback to Taystee's (Danielle Brooks) childhood is a model of incisive character work and wickedly smart vampiric line-readings. She's cozying up to her prey, an eager little girl at an adoption fare, with a mix of tough-love maternity, predatory profiling, and bitchy truth-telling. Taystee is curious but ultimately wary. "You nasty," she says, accurately summing things up and turning her down for some years thereafter; the wisdom of children.

Alas she eventually enters the witches gingerbread house. (Taystee was great comic relief in Season 1 but Brooks really gets room to play with the character in Season 2 and elevates her characterization.)

Directed by Phil Abraham and Michael Trim. Shot by? 

Why this shot? Because Season 1's most violent storyline is resolved with a laugh out loud hugging moment, another example of the show's deft tonal juggling.  I can never decide if Taryn Manning is too cartoonishly over the top or totally genius as the meth-head hillbilly Pennsatucky but this broad bit of physical comedy when she throws her arms open for a hug that both she and Piper are shocked that they've been asked to perform is deliciously funny. 

Directed by Phil Abraham. Shot by Yaron Orbach 

Why this shot? I almost went with a mirror shot of Morello's face, distorted in the prison as she puts lipstick on (why does she wear so much makeup just to drive the prison van? But I've chosen too many mirror shots and maybe the split face is too obvious a foreshadowing for this episode's long form storytelling payoff. For 18 episodes we've been hearing about Morello's impending wedding and fiancee without actually meeting him. We knew something was off but how off? The episode makes surprisingly disturbing but still funny use of traditionally happy props like bridal veils and teddy bears. 

Bonus points to the art directors and set-decorators who remembered the tossed off joke about Morello and West Side Story last season and incorporated it into her bedroom in a flashback. 

Were you hooked from these first four episodes. How quickly did you binge them?

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Reader Comments (16)

Finished it in two days.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I saw the first four episodes on the day of release. Then the next five episodes on Sunday. Keeping the rest to watch this coming weekend (it's SO HARD though).

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I'm on episode 10 right now. Really liking it but I enjoyed the first season better I think. Was very happy to find out more about Morello, though. She's my favorite. i want all audiobooks to be read by her.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

I still have a couple to go.

Were we supposed to pick a shot from every episode? Cause I only picked one for the whole season. Here it is

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConrado

they all gay ass motherfuckers

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterfack

Taryn Manning is totally unsettling in her role. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near Pennsatucky.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

I actually tried to hold myself back so I could enjoy the season over a longer period of time, but it was just too good. I impressed myself though - started on Friday night and ended last night, so at least it took me three whole days instead of two. :-) Nathaniel, you must have been beside yourself with all the amazing actressing from all shapes, colors, and sizes on this show.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjtagliere

I watched it in 3 days, but I will rewatch the season again, more slowly. I agree that this was a better season than the first. Episode four was one of my favorites; Morello's story was a shock.

I don't know if I would say that I liked Pennsatucky more this season, but I liked the fact that the writers seemed to have a bit more empathy for her this season.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I LOVE the show… but am I the only one that feels such a difference in the sets and filming style? It feels so fake and self aware to me… I really feel like I'm on a set watching them film it. The first season was nothing like that. What changed??? And am I the only one that noticed it?

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterShane B.

jtagliere -- you are correct that that fills me with joy.

June 10, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

My shot is here

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMary

BTW-I adore the tub shot.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I've only gotten through the first four episodes (all this weekend) but it's because I am trying to extend it - TV is a wasteland right now (with only So You Think You Can Dance and the end of the Game of Thrones season to keep me company) so I'm trying to keep this going as long as I can until more good stuff comes along.

That shot of Morello in the tub though, with the veil getting all soaked and see-through, is easily my favorite so far.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Denny -- i wanted to do that too but the boyfriend ws desperate to get through them before he left to see his parents so we're almost done. only 3 episodes left.

June 10, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Mary - i like your choice. unexpected.

June 10, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

"I'm on episode 10 right now. Really liking it but I enjoyed the first season better I think. Was very happy to find out more about Morello, though."

I agree, the first season really benefited from that fish out of water feel. Piper was thrown into this foreign situation, reacting and figuring it out.

This season is really not about Piper at ALL. Its for about Taystee, her crew, her foster mom and Red. Instead of episodes and flashbacks focused on Piper, this season spreads the wealth around - which results is some fantastic episodes (such as ep # 2) but also some very weak ones that remind me of when Lost would give flashbacks to a character I did not care about or like at all.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

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