After what feels like forever, Orange Is the New Black returns on Friday for its second season. Cue the rejoicing: It’s been almost a year since we saw our beloved Litchfield inmates, and we have missed them dearly. So in honor of Friday’s premiere — and in recognition of the fact that there’s not a whole hell of a lot on regular TV right now — here’s your binge-watching guide to reacquainting yourself (or, gasp, watching for the first time).
Tuesday, June 3
Episodes 1, 2 and 3, “I Wasn’t Ready,” “Tit Punch,” “Lesbian Request Denied”
Welcome to prison, folks; please squat down and prepare to be dehumanized. Orange uses the well-established pilot formula of having the audience’s first experience with something be the main character’s first experience with it too, so we spend a lot of time, particularly early on, just learning about prison culture alongside Piper. And one thing made very clear in these first few episodes is that prison is about deprivation, but not just in the obvious “you’re in, you know, prison” ways. Piper spends a lot of time and energy worried about food (thanks to her accentual feud with Red, who runs the kitchen), clothing (thanks to different-colored prison uniforms and MacGyver-ed prison shoes), and shelter (thanks to Miss Claudette’s cell-cleanliness rules). Those are basic human rights that even the biggest fan of retributive justice should still want to provide. There’s a lot of humor on Orange, but there’s also a lot of pure suffering and desperation. What’s engaging and impressive about the show isn’t just that the different characters have vivid, rich personalities and substantive dignity — it’s that they have it in the face of such degrading circumstances.
Wednesday, June 4
Episodes 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, “Imaginary Enemies,” “The Chickening,” “WAC Pack,” “Blood Donut,” and “Moscow Mule”
Five episodes might be a lot to some people, but just remember that pain is weakness leaving your body. Power through! You can do this! If you need a break, feel free to do a jumping jack. This middle section of the series is where things go from “yes, this is a good show” to “you know, I think I’m in love.” Part of that is learning more of the characters’ backstories — Daya and her mother, Nicky, Watson, Yoga Jones — and part of that is seeing their more-relaxed dynamics, particularly the relationship between Poussey and Taystee. We can think about the first chunk of episodes as asking the question what do you need? and these next episodes as what do you want?. Daya wants love. Watson wants to run on the track. Piper wants to feel useful. Larry wants to feel like his own person. Red wants to eat a chicken that is smarter than other chickens and to absorb its power. Bennet wants to feel like a “real” man. People will do just about anything to have their needs (food, shelter, safety) met, but when it comes to wants, no two people have the same “enough’s enough” threshold. We all need food; we don’t all need a super chicken. Orange spends a lot of time on wants because that’s how we get to know our characters, by what they’re willing to give up and by what they expect others to give up, too.
One of the things I love about OITNB is that it doesn’t use prison as a cheap metaphor for our own personal shortcomings: Aren’t we all in our own kinds of prison, if you really think about it? No, no, no, hell no. We all have problems, we all have anxieties, and we all have some needs that go unmet by the people who say they love us — and none of that is the same as being deprived of your actual, literal freedom. That said, incarceration does not remove those other stumbling blocks, and the show goes to great lengths to show us that, both by depicting the characters as individuals and human beings while in prison, and by showing us their lives before they were locked up.
Thursday, June 5
Episodes 9, 10, and 11, “Fucksgiving,” “Bora Bora Bora,” and “Tall Men With Feelings”
We’ve established the first two themes of OITNB. Now in the build-up to the season finale, the question becomes not one of needs or wants, but of connection: Who cares? That’s not rhetorical. These three episodes are all about who cares about what you want, where you are, if you’re safe, and how it feels to know that you’re being cared for — or not. Taystee’s release should be joyous, but it removes her from the only real support system she has; Piper’s time in solitary makes Larry’s “This American Life” story seem both very touching and totally worthless. Healy’s misery is acute, but he metabolizes that sadness into abuse, ruining any real chance of human empathy. An inmate’s death should be a big deal, except it isn’t, because the people who care (other inmates) are totally powerless against the people who don’t (the prison administration).
Friday, June 6
Episodes 12 and 13, “Fool Me Once” and “Can’t Fix Crazy” (and then start up season two)
Season two’s new episodes will go live at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning, so if you are a real A+ binge-watcher, you’ll have already rewatched everything before this week and are prepared to start up with new episodes right as Thursday turns into Friday. But if you are of only moderate television endurance, save up episodes 12 and 13 for Friday night, so that you can smoothly segue right into the new episodes (which, without spoiling anything, pick up not too long after the end of season one).
For much of the first season, Piper’s enemy is simply incarceration itself; as the series goes on, and Piper acclimates as best she can to her surroundings, a more pronounced adversary emerges in the form of Pennsatucky. She’s the opposite of Piper in a lot of ways — ostentatiously religious, seemingly uneducated, poor. She pushes the final question the show addresses in these last two episodes: Am I who they think I am? That’s a question many people, regardless of a history with the criminal-justice system, have to contemplate, but when the answer to that question can come with a literal life sentence, it has more weight. Crazy Eyes doesn’t see “Crazy Eyes” when she looks in the mirror; she sees Suzanne. Pennsatucky sees herself as a faith healer, haters and sinners be damned. Red sees herself as a woman of power and dignity, but that changes when Gloria takes over as head of the kitchen. The season ends with the Christmas pageant, with the heretofore mute Norma singing a clarion verse of “I Saw the Light,” demonstrating yet again that people contain multitudes. Black Cindy is an expert in both biblical exegesis and “shot to the twat” hand-to-hand combat. And Piper sees herself as above a lot of the prison violence and infighting — right up until the moment she’s not. She’s just the vanilla goody two-shoes who accidentally got caught up in a bad scene in a bad moment, except that she’s also a manipulative drug-runner who sought plentiful advice about how best to assault a fellow inmate. No one is just one thing! Such is life. Such is Orange Is the New Black.