‘Orange Is the New Black’ Season 2 Primer: Who’s Who, What’s What, and Why Is This Show So Special?

Netflix’s second season of Orange Is the New Black premieres this Friday. The following will play out as both a reminder for people who watched Season 1 and a guidebook for those who didn’t. (You should watch it sometime, though. It’s great!)

FIRST OFF, WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK?
It’s funnier than a prison story has any right to be, but it also offers real dramatic stakes and commentary on the fractured, dehumanizing American correctional system. The massive female cast is stunningly strong and unprecedentedly diverse. The series redefines “binge-worthy,” a whole season drops in a single second, the cast has unreal chemistry, and there are tons of lovely little moments, like this one:

And to crib one essential point from our own Andy Greenwald, these delightful, astonishing actresses are “allowed to be just as fucked up and fascinating as TV’s men.”

WHO’S IN CHARGE?
Jenji Kohan. You might know her as the creator of Showtime’s Weeds. She also wrote and produced for Mad About You, Gilmore Girls, and Tracey Takes On … She has seven Emmy nominations and colorful hair.

IS THERE A TRAILER FOR THE NEW SEASON?
Yeah, it came out a little while ago and it’s very good. Here:

WHO’S VEE?
This season’s new baddie, played by Lorraine Toussaint (Any Day Now, Friday Night Lights, Saving Grace). According to the Hollywood Reporter, she’s a “street-wise drug maven who runs children.”

WHO ARE THE CURRENT HEELS?
1. George “Pornstache” Mendez: Drug-running prison guard instrumental in Tricia’s overdose and ruining Red’s Thanksgiving gravy. All-around heinous person with an exceptionally bristly ’stache. He’s been on leave since being caught having sex with Daya, but he’ll be back this season, and he’ll “do horrible things to people.”

pornstache

2. Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett: The easiest character to hate, although it’s not easy to pull it off without feeling a little ugly about yourself in the process. Except for maybe the entire male prison staff, no one on this show is easy to flat-out dislike. Pennsatucky, probably OITNB’s biggest malevolent force, is pretty sympathetic considering how many horrible and vindictive choices she makes. She’s dying for acceptance and desperately clinging to her faith in the hell of imprisonment. She fell into a Messiah complex after shooting up an abortion clinic and getting publicly lauded by fundamentalists in the aftermath. For a while, she thought she had healing powers. (Not enough to cure her serious case of meth-mouth, though.) She led protagonist Piper Chapman toward an unlikely moment of cathartic prayer in the penultimate Season 1 episode, only to try murdering her in the season finale’s closing moments. Also: she is terrrrified of lesbians.

lesbianing

3. Officer Sam Healy: Pathetic, aloof, and often ineffectual, but his homophobia and misogyny lead to a lot of frustration, pain, and undue time in the Special Housing Unit (veteran speak: the SHU). He’s got a Russian bride who’s just biding her time till she’s eligible for a green card. He stooped to a new low in the Season 1 finale, leaving Piper to fend for herself against an armed Pennsatucky in the yard.

Screen shot 2014-06-03 at 10.36.43 PM

HOW BAD ARE THE GUARDS AND PRISON STAFF?

caputo 1caputo 2

That’s about the size of it. Everyone employed by Litchfield federal prison is either completely incompetent or working in active opposition to the rehabilitation of anyone inside.

WHO ARE FIVE CHARACTERS I MIGHT WANT HELP REMEMBERING?
Good question. Orange Is the New Black gets to a Game of Thrones–size cast by the first third of the first season. Lots of ladies — Piper, Taystee, Red, Sophia, Alex — you’ll remember right away. Some have names that will elude you, and others will basically be strangers. Here are a few you should take a second to refamiliarize yourself with.

Susan Fischer: Counselor Joe Caputo is grossly inappropriate with her, and she’s either grossly inappropriate with the inmates or the only guard who has any idea how to conduct her job and be a human while doing it.

fischer

Poussey Washington: BFFs with the indispensable Taystee, but completely amazing in her own right.

Cal Chapman: Piper’s stoner brother who lives in the woods. Fuzzy, full of gems, and once referred to by his fiancé as “fat Bon Iver.”

cal chapman

Big Boo: Played by veteran comedian Lea DeLaria, Big Boo (1) has a puppy and (2) is consistently one of the best characters to share a moment with.

little boo

Luschek: Slovenly head of the electrical shop. Alcoholic douche bag. Strong villain potential.

luscheck

WHOSE FLASHBACKS WILL WE SEE THIS YEAR?
According to Kohan at PaleyFest, we’ll see flashbacks about: Morello (the heavily accented van driver focused on how awesome her wedding will be when she gets out), Sister Ingalls (the nun who chained herself to a nuclear test site’s flagpole), Taystee (the best), Poussey (also the best; see above), Miss Rosa (the woman with cancer), and Vee.

WHOM ELSE WOULD IT BE NICE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT?
Norma (the silent woman who all of a sudden sang in the finale), Gloria Mendoza (new head of the kitchen), Big Boo, and maybe a second helping of Natasha Lyonne’s Nicky Nichols.

WHY IS PIPER IN PRISON?
She assisted with her then-lover Alex’s work for an international drug-smuggling ring. Piper’s direct involvement was limited — she wasn’t scheming up some giant cartel fortune for herself, but she was definitely hauling suitcases of illegal substances.

WHAT’S UP WITH PIPER AND HER FIANCÉ, LARRY, AT THE MOMENT?
“Season 2 is pretty much spent with them figuring out if the damage that was done is too great for the relationship or if it’s something they can fix and get through,” Jason Biggs recently said. Also: “[Larry] wants to support Piper. In the beginning, ostensibly, he’s going to do everything he can to support Piper, but ultimately he realizes that he’s kind of a victim in all of it and he needs to take care of himself as well, but to what extreme, and how far should he take that exactly?”

DO I HAVE TO CARE ABOUT THAT?
No. You don’t have to care about Piper at all, really.

HUH?
There are just lots of characters with much more interesting personalities and pasts. Piper’s the protagonist, but she’s also a way into the stories of so many types of women you don’t generally get to spend time with on TV.

HAVE THERE BEEN ANY ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT NODS YET?

no touching

WHAT ABOUT AMERICAN PIE?

american pie 2

american pie 1

WHICH RELATIONSHIPS CAN I ROOT FOR? (I’M INTO THAT.)
Piper and Larry. Piper and Alex. Nicky and Alex. Morello and Nicky. Morello and whoever her fiancé, Christopha, is. Bennett and Daya (if you can stand the treacly piano theme that comes with their romance, and the fact that Bennett kinda sucks). Miss Claudette and Jean Baptiste. Red and her adorable husband. Suzanne and anyone. Sophia and her wife.

HOW DOES ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK HANDLE PRISON RACISM?
Kind of like this …

HAVE THERE BEEN PRISON FIGHTS?
A few. Daya and her mother. Yoga Jones and Watson. Miss Claudette and Tricia. Miss Claudette and Office Fischer. They’ve all thrown down. Suzanne hasn’t been in a fight, but she’s aggro-peed outside Piper’s bunk and thrown food at/verbally threatened Alex.

ARE WE CALLING CRAZY EYES “SUZANNE” NOW?
Well, that’s her name. Suzy is also an option. Her eyes are distinctive, though, yes.

AREN’T THERE A LOT OF BOOKS ON THE SHOW?
Yes; there’s a Tumblr dedicated expressly to this topic.

black cindy book

Some of the books we’ve seen the guards and inmates of the Litch reading and discussing include: Ulysses; Game of Thrones co-showrunner David Benioff’s novel City of Thieves; Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle; Stephen King’s Night Shift; Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl; Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84; Nick Hornby’s Slam; Christopher Paolini’s Eragon; Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You; The Complete Master Cleanse; and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

harry potter

SPEAKING OF BOOKS, WASN’T ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK ONE OF THOSE FIRST?
Yes. The author is named Piper, although it’s Kerman, not Chapman. It’s good. The show’s really different, but lots of anecdotes did make it into the adaptation.

ISN’T THE SHOW PRETTY INTO FOOD, TOO?
Mm-hmm.

IS NETFLIX GOING TO KEEP THIS TRAIN A’ROLLIN’?
Yes; Season 3 is a go. Laura Prepon is set to return for a regular role.

WAIT, WHAT?
Oh, yeah — Prepon is supposedly in only four Season 2 episodes.

HAS THE REAL ALEX VAUSE GOTTEN ANY PRESS TIME?
Yeah. Her real name is Catherine Cleary Wolters, and she recently set the record straight with Vanity Fair, saying she and real-life Piper Kerman were in more of a friends-with-benefits-ish “crazy mad love affair” than an actual relationship.

DIDN’T JODIE FOSTER DIRECT AN EPISODE?
She did — the first great episode of the first season, Episode 3. And the Season 2 premiere, “Looks Blue, Tastes Red.”

WHO SINGS THE THEME SONG?
Regina Spektor. It’s a cool opening sequence, but, as with Netflix’s House of Cards, it plays for an unacceptably long duration.

SO … IS IT OK FOR ME TO WATCH ALL OF SEASON 2 AND NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE THIS WEEKEND?
It’s like Oprah says, buddy: “There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling.”

Filed Under: orange is the new black, jenji kohan, Netflix, TV

zd-fote

Zach Dionne is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ ZachDionne