Considering how prominent she has been in the media, both for her own sake and to promote Orange is the New Black, I expected her to be all over Season 2. It wasn’t the case, and it was a real downer.
Actually, most of the season was, to be honest. The only bright spot was that we got to see more of Lauren Lapkus as timid-but-not-so-timid Fischer. And Samira Wiley as Poussey never fails to charm me with her sweetness. I hate to use the term “sophomore slump,” but it really rings true here. The complex sisterhood from Season 1 was reduced to a smattering of cheesy territorial disputes and an overload of character inconsistencies. Let’s break it down.
A ghost from Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) past appears in the form of Vee (Lorraine Toussaint). The two of them compete for other inmates’ business with smuggled goods, and it escalates quickly from petty to dangerous. Toussaint is magnificent and regal and impossible not to watch, but I began to resent her because her storyline seemed to take away screen time from the already-bursting-at-the-seams cast. Of course, it makes sense that her arc would be pretty lengthy; she’s got legitimate history with multiple inmates and it’s not like people hop in and out of jail for one or two episodes. Her presence just took over the show — maybe intentionally, since she took over the prison, too — and it felt like the writers were dangling a shiny new toy in front of the viewers because they couldn’t think of ways to flesh out the other characters, aside from their occasional “flashbacks” (which felt forced at times, too).
On the lighter but equally unnecessary side, Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) compete for pussy. It’d be funny if it didn’t bring out such shitty desperation from two otherwise lovable characters. This competition didn’t seem to be worth as much screen time as it got, either. In fact, it might have been more interesting if the other characters had talked about it in Boo and Nicky’s absence. Watching people brag about themselves is low on my list of life’s pleasures.
Taystee (Danielle Brooks), usually a calm, welcome diversion from the insanity of the prison, assumed the role of an unbearable flip-flopper. With the arrival of Vee — her guardian many years ago — her loyalty see-saws between her past and her present (Poussey) to such an annoying degree that it’s unwatchable. The choice is so clear — Poussey is the most lovable person in the prison, I’m sure — but Taystee is powerless before Vee, unable to recognize her own agency and power and instead reverting back to the child Vee assumes she still is.
Healy (Michael J. Harney) gets more time in the proverbial ring this season, a creative choice I agree with, because I think the prison’s administration is just as fascinating as its inmates. But he see-saws his way through the season too, splitting his time between lending an ear to inmates in need and lashing out at them for no apparent reason. It’s impossible to build trust in the guy — as a viewer, let alone a pawn in the fictional system — when his reaction to any one issue is unpredictable. The end result is an unlikable, icky mess — and a character that adds almost no value.
Daya (Dascha Polanco) used to be my favorite character, but Season 2’s yo-yo behavior moved her way down the list. Though her inconsistencies don’t result in high-stakes situations — she already had her A story moment in Season 1 — she’s still frustrating to watch. Maybe her emotional turbulence could be attributed to pregnancy hormones, but I don’t buy it. I think the writers were trying to manufacture drama where it didn’t exist; she and Bennett (Matt McGorry) should be way past the early-romance bullshit and working together to figure out their lives. They’re supposed to be adults.
Of course, I’m not done with this show. Not even close. I’m too invested in the stories of Alex (Laura Prepon), Lorna (Yael Stone), Nicky, Sophia and Poussey not to see this one all the way through. But my expectations for Season 3 are pretty high. They should be — the acting talent is too strong and the writing pool is deep. I’ll dive in eventually; I just hope they go for it, too.