On July 11, 2013, Netflix introduced the world to the soon-to-be sensation “Orange is the New Black”. Not only did it cement Netflix’s reputation for quality television shows, alongside others like House of Cards; it became a showcase for strong characters and comedic, but serious and heartfelt situations. Created by Jenji Kohan, the writer behind Weeds, the show has been praised for its realistic and respectable characters and has become a huge hit online.
When I got a Netflix account just over a month ago, I delved into the world of Orange is the New Black, a show that had been heavily recommended to me by multiple people. I figured that I would give the first season a try, not knowing that I would be as engaged in it as I became. One thing that fascinated me in this female driven show was the depth of every character, regardless of gender. Women in male-driven shows are often only there as either a love interest or the surprisingly impressive female who usually just ends up dating one of her male colleagues. On the other hand, men in female driven shows are old and stingy, the perfect man or total dirt bags. Orange is the New Black is different in that characters of both genders are multi-sided and the perfect balance between consistent and unpredictable.
This Friday, the new season is set to debut on the famous streaming site. So much happened in the last 13 episodes that it is easy to get lost in the mix. For those of you who need a quick refresher before the second season is available and don’t have the time or the bandwidth to re-watch all 13 episodes, here is a quick recap of what happened to all of our favourite characters last season and what is to come in Season 2.
Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling)
Chapman ended up in prison because of her involvement in an international drug ring a decade earlier. The show’s central character is forced away from her friends, family and fiancé and into minimum security prison for a 15 month sentence. Having gained a reputation for being educated and uptight, Chapman has trouble fitting in at the prison. She does end up joining the Women’s Advisory Council, where she manages to have the authorities reopen the track. Throughout the season, she has her ups and downs with other inmates, such as Red, the head of the kitchen; Miss Claudette, her roommate; Crazy Eyes, an unstable friend who is in love with her; Pennsatucky, a religious fanatic who lies to get her into solitary confinement; Janae, a former track star and co-worker at the electrical shop; and most prominently, Alex, her former lover who got her into the drug ring and named her to the authorities in exchange for a shorter sentence. Chapman is periodically visited by her fiancé, Larry, who wrote about her experiences in prison for an article in the New York Times and spoke about them in a radio interview. After it is revealed that she rekindled her romantic feelings for Alex, Larry tries to rush into marriage, but ends up breaking off the engagement. At the end of season 1, we see Chapman reaching her lowest point in the show and feeling like she has lost everything, before she gains the upper hand during a physical dispute with Pennsatucky.
Alex Vause (played by Laura Prepon)
Alex is Piper’s ex-girlfriend, who is also in prison for her involvement in the drug trade. Having been raised in a poor and broken home, she joined the drug trade after a disappointing meeting with her father and resented Piper when she broke up with her just after her mother passed away. At the beginning of the season, she tries desperately to regain Piper’s trust and friendship, eventually succeeding in rekindling their affections when Piper is released from solitary confinement. Eventually, Piper chooses her fiancé Larry over Alex, abandoning her once again. But before Piper comes running back to her when Larry ends the engagement, she has already been approached by Nicky, another lesbian prisoner who is tired of being shut down by a straight woman choosing her fiancé.
Sam Healy (played by Michael Harney)
Healy is a prison guard and Piper’s supervising counsellor. We find out that he is married to a Ukrainian immigrant who is waiting for her green card; she clearly does not think very highly of him. At first, he seems affectionate and sympathetic towards Piper, stressing that she should be wary of lesbians in prison who will try to have sexual relations with her. He is ridiculed for not being tough enough on the inmates, doing and saying what he feels is necessary to get people off his case. His feelings towards Piper change when Pennsatucky lies to him about Piper and Alex having oral sex in the showers and, when he sees the two dancing together at Taystee’s going away party, unjustly puts Piper in solitary confinement, but is forced by Caputo, his boss, to release her. This scene was a turning point in Healy and Piper’s relationship, seen when he tells Larry about Piper and Alex and purposely turns a blind eye when he sees Pennsatucky attacking Piper in the season finale.
Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (played by Taryn Manning)
Pennsatucky is a prisoner driven by her religious beliefs. She was arrested after shooting a nurse at an abortion clinic, after having her fifth baby aborted. She did not think she could get off drugs and maintain her health during her pregnancy. She is a harshly conservative fundamentalist, verbally showing her disapproval for lesbian prisoners and Sophia, a transgendered female prisoner. She grows jealous of Piper after she is chosen for the Women’s Advisory Council and locks Alex in a dryer, an act that ends up having serious consequences for her. Alex gets some of the other inmates to play a joke on her to make her think that she has God’s healing powers. This culminates in an incident involving a juvenile visitor that gets her thrown in the psych ward. Piper reveals the nature of the plan and Pennsatucky is released, but when Piper refuses to be baptized in exchange for forgiveness, she holds a violent vendetta against Piper that ends up backfiring in her face…literally.
Miss Claudette Pelage (played by Michelle Hurst)
Miss Claudette was brought to America illegally to work as a cleaner when she was very young. She grew up to eventually run the business, and when she killed a man who assaulted one of the workers, she was thrown into prison and separated from Jean Baptiste, the man who brought her to America who she is in love with. She is introduced as Piper’s roommate, and while her obsession with cleanliness causes a rift between the two at first, they eventually get along. When Jean Baptiste comes to visit her after many years, she decides to appeal her conviction, but when the appeal is denied, she falls into a depression and attacks Fischer, one of the security guards, after which she is transferred to maximum security prison.
Galina “Red” Reznikov (played by Kate Mulgrew)
Red is the head chef at the prison kitchen. She and her husband were involved with members of the Russian mob, with whom they had their ups and downs. Red holds a lot of power in the prison, showing that she is able to deny food to prisoners when she is not at peace with them. She also helps some of the drug addicts in the prison get clean. But when Pornstache, one of the guards, discovers her kitchen smuggling operation, he forces her to bring drugs into the prison for his own personal gain. Red successfully executes a scheme to get her revenge, ending with Pornstache being suspended, but it is Pornstache who has the last laugh when he convinces Bennett, one of his co-workers, to reveal the hidden drugs in the kitchen, causing Red to lose her job. She attempts to sabotage Mendoza, who took her place in the kitchen, but ended up seriously hurting a good friend of hers, turning everyone against herself, and being starved out by Mendoza the same way she did Piper.
Larry Bloom (played by Jason Biggs)
Larry, Piper’s fiancé, is an aspiring journalist looking for his big break. His parents don’t approve of Piper or his lack of a “real job”, but he goes on anyways. Throughout the season, he struggles in his loneliness without her, moving forward in the current season of Mad Men and spending time with all of their friends in relationships without her. He tries to submit an article about a masturbation technique called “edging”, recommended by Piper’s brother Cal, to the New York Times, but his article is rejected. When the editor suggests that he writes about his life with his fiancé being in prison, he pursues it, with Piper’s permission. This leads to an appearance on a radio show, where he talks about stories that Piper has told him about other inmates. Many of them listen in on the show, where some are happy to have been mentioned and others are insulted about what Piper said about them. In an angry phone call with Piper after the interview, he reveals that Healy told him about her and Alex getting back together and how his father discovered that Alex had named her. He tries to move forward with Piper towards marriage, but when he realizes that he does not want to be afraid in a relationship, he breaks off his engagement with Piper.
Nicky Nichols (played by Natasha Lyonne)
Nicky is a former drug addict from a rich family who was neglected by her mother. At first, Piper is intimidated by her mild sexual advances, but they become friends when they start working together in the electrical shop. Throughout the show, she is seen having a sexual relationship with Morello, a straight woman who is engaged and constantly seen trying to plan her wedding while in prison. Morello eventually breaks off the relationship out of guilt, even though her fiancé has not visited her in ages. Nicky later grew jealous when Red chose to support Morello in the WAC election instead of her, causing her to reveal to Pornstache how drugs were coming into the prison. She felt betrayed because she saw Red as the mother figure that she never had growing up. Their tension is later settled. At the end of the season, we see Nicky beginning to develop a sexual relationship with Alex, after both of their relationships with straight women didn’t work out.
Sophia Burset (played by Laverne Cox)
Sophia is a transgendered inmate at the prison. Formerly a firefighter, she transitioned to a woman with the support of her wife and without that of her son. She is arrested for credit card fraud and works as a hairdresser in the prison. When her hormone dosage is reduced, she fights to get it raised again, knowing that she has sacrificed too much to slide back now. When she finds out that her wife, Crystal, is seeing the new preacher in town, she grows hostile at first, but is convinced by Sister Ingalls, a nun who she had befriended in prison, to give Crystal her blessing to move on.
Dayanara “Daya” Diaz (played by Dascha Polanco)
Daya is an inmate with a strained relationship with her mother, Aleida; this relationship is further complicated when the two are reunited in prison. Daya does not like that her mother neglected her and her siblings in favor of lavish social outings and Cesar, her drug dealer boyfriend who operates out of their kitchen. Daya falls in love with Bennett, one of the guards, and the two begin a secret relationship. It’s all cute and innocent until Daya gets pregnant. While her relationship with her mother improves after this, it puts her and Bennett in a complicated position, since Bennett runs the risk of losing his job. Red ties Daya into her plan by telling her to have sex with Pornstache and prove it so that people would think that the baby was his. The plan works and Pornstache is suspended, but when Bennett finds out about the plan, he resents Daya and stops showing affection towards her. This plays out until the finale, when he jumps to her aid after the accident in the kitchen.
Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (played by Lorraine Toussaint)
Crazy Eyes is a mentally unstable inmate who falls in love with Piper when she first comes to the prison. Kind and well-intentioned, she comes off strongly towards Piper, much to her discomfort. When Piper tells her that she is not interested in her in that way and that she would rather be friends, Crazy Eyes seems okay at first, but then creeps over to Piper’s cubicle at night and urinates all over the floor. She eventually backs off and the two develop a good friendship, where she confides in Piper that she doesn’t like how people call her Crazy Eyes. Everything between these two is better until Larry’s radio show, where he mentions that Piper was scared of her and after that, Crazy Eyes resents Piper and does not forgive her for her cruel words.
Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (played by Danielle Brooks)
Taystee is an inmate with a larger than life personality. Her job at the library has helped her to become knowledgeable and well-read. She is a representative on the Women’s Advisory Council, but is more focussed on having fun and spending time with Poussey, a good friend of hers in prison. Mid-season, she successfully appeals her conviction and is released, but has no real family, since she has been living in institutions her whole life. She commits another crime and is put back in prison, since it is the only place where she really feels that she belongs, and becomes Piper’s roommate when Miss Claudette is transferred.
Season 1 definitely had its ups and downs, and by the looks of the trailer, Season 2 has its fair share of action to come. It premieres June 6th on Netflix. Here is the trailer showing some of what’s happening in the new season: