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.
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?