I guess this technically counts as a review, but considering that this will be more along the lines of stray observations and discussion instead of what you’d expect in a review, I decided to put it into quotes.
So the new season of OITNB has been out for over a week so I figure everyone who wanted to has at a minimum at least started to make progress on the new season if not already finished it. I found it to be rather enjoyable and i’ts a piece of media that invites its audience to engage critically with it. I’ve been mulling over that latter part, as well as the season from a more technical point of view. I feel like my thoughts are in a place where they’re coherent and meaningful enough that I can write a post like this.
First off, my general verdict/review: While this season is different both tonally and to a lesser degree, structurally from season 1, this is still very much the same show at it’s heart. If you didn’t like the first season, then don’t watch this, you’ll just be frustrated. At its core the show still has the same writing, acting, and focuses on social issues that aren’t seen much of anywhere else on television with characters who are very much flawed. The one over-arching criticism i have of it as a whole is that it felt clunky at times.
That being said, below are my more specific, and thus spoilery observations/responses to parts of the season. So have some spoiler space
Alright then let’s get into it with no particular order aside from when I think of it:
1. This season very much feels closer to The Wire in criticizing institutions and their harmful actions in the name of self interest. We saw this a bit last season with its effects on the prisoners and a bit on how it spreads out from there. I’m specifically referring to Poussey’s monologue to Tatysee after the latter winds up back at Litchfield. Instead this season opted to use Caputo as a lens to look at it from the administrative side. This isn’t strictly speaking a bad thing, in fact the more things that can reach The Wire’s quality and social commentary is a good thing. While this isn’t to say that it reaches the same level as The Wire, ti gets an A for effort at the very least. It’s execution is a bit murkier.
2. This is partly because the showrunners clearly don’t have the same background as the creators of The Wire did, but part of is also a matter of different tones and story conventions. What I mean by this is things like Rosa being a bankrobber or Gloria’s abusive boyfriend being coincidentally killed in a way that could be supernatural vengeance is more on the fantastical side. It’s not a bad thing, merely a difference that both shows understand and work with for their own advantage.
3. I disliked Vee, she was flat and utterly evil. Her main advantage was in how she affected people around her: Red, Suzanne, Poussey and Tastyee all had wonderful material based around her presence and actions but Vee herself is not really a character. A better description would be a plot device. SHe served her purpose and I’m glad that she’s gone.
4. I’m still annoyed that we didn’t see what Poussey did to get arrested, while her flashback sequence was interesting, albeit the parallels were a bit grating, this still annoys me. You can say the same thing for Red, arguably moreso for Red.
5. I really, really hate the season opener. Between Piper effectively alone, ignoring the rest of the characters whose lives we left mid-sentence, coupled with a groan inducing SYMBOLISM made this a painful hour to get through. Although two points in its favor: 1. from what I can gather is actually something that happened to the real life Piper more or less, I haven’t actually read the book yet. 2. This kind of move is something you can only really do on Netflix or maybe, maybe AMC/HBO. Streaming it means it’s only a matter of looking at the next episode summary to see that the attention goes back to Lichtfield. AMC/HBO et al. cause it’s ballsy and with the proper execution is artsy critic bait.
5a. Piper’s lawyer is terrible.
6. I don’t dislike Piper. It helps that her sins are repeatedly called out by other characters. The only two characters I actively hate are Larry, Healy and I guess technically Vee but see above. Everyone on this show is varying degrees of terrible, but they’re by and large trying to be good people on some level. It makes the show a lot more enjoyable instead of being mired in terrible people who do terrible things repeatedly like say It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I admit that I’m also a bit more lenient towards the prisoners for being terrible people, cause they’re in prison. It sucks and you do what you have to do.
7. More on the characters I actively hate. Larry is a self centered dick who’s main arc last season was based upon exploiting Piper’s incarceration for his own advancement. The whatever you want to call it between him and Polly read to me more as a groan inducing way to keep him relevant to the story instead of anything, organic or meaningful. His scenes are dull and I don’t care. Healy on the other hand, is basically a MRA who had no qualms in allowing a murder he could stop from happening. His one saving grace is that his material is more engaging, which is to say at all. I don’t hate Pennsatucky cause she’s stopped being a meth addled self righteous zealot and seems to be trying to be a better person.
8. A theme of this season seemed to be couples are evil or stupid or something. Cause Larry/Polly and Daya/Bennett were some of the worst material.The former for keeping Larry around and the latter cause those two are just so, goddamn, stupid. Daya/Bennet had the saving grace of varying quantity of dumb, so not all of their scenes were bad.
9. I could’ve done without the continued use of Pennsatucky’s former lackeys from last season as the white trash comedic duo. They just didn’t do it for me.
10. I don’t think they had much of a plan in Season 1 for a lot of stuff. Clearly Vee was retconned in, a touch awkwardly in my opinion. Morello’s situation feels like a retcon based on a throwaway line from either Nicky or Boo in the first season. I feel like there are some other things that didn’t sit quite right with me from a continuity stand point but I can’t think of anything specific. Conversely, it seems, and I hope, that they have a lot more planned with Season 3 based on the sprawl that happened.
11. I have no idea what they’re planning to do with Brook, the contrast angle to Piper didn’t last long. Her flashback(s) should be interesting to say the least. or they’ll be ungodly grating, either or.
12. I have no opinion on Alex. After the opener I was fully expecting her to only appear in flashbacks if that. I was surprised by the fact that she showed up in the current day. While she’s pretty high up there of irredeemable characters, there’s a certain element of alienness to her circumstances that makes it hard to be invested.
13. I really hope they don’t use that backdoor of perjury to extend Piper’s sentence. If the show keeps going after she gets out, then it keeps going without her. I thin based off of the vague timeline we have to work with they’re giving themselves enough room to keep the focus on Piper for a while. This is based off the assumption that season 1 was 3-4 months, 1 month time skip, 3-months for season 2 means we’re roughly halfway through Piper’s 15 month sentence.
14. I liked the sprawl of season 2, more of that and less of a focused arc like season 1 for season 3 would be great. This seems fairly likely given that the producer wanted to use Piper as a way to get to tell stories about women lacking the same kind of privilege.
15. I found Red to be the most compelling story this season. Her adjustment to life and her own seeking redemption were the most engaging things. I didn’t think this last season for a few obvious reasons.
16. Characters who haven’t had flashbacks yet/characters I expect flashbacks of: Brook, Boo, Red’s second from S1 who’s name I’m blanking on, Anita, Norma, Flaca, Flaca’s friend who I’m blanking on right now. More Red and Piper/Alex flashbacks but I’m not sure who else actively needs flashback in this vacuum of speculation.
17. There’s definitely a comparison to be made in House of Cards and OITNB structure as a series made primarily for Netflix. I’m in no position to make any sort of definitive statement but it’s something to consider at the very least.
If you have any feedback or would like to discuss any of these points further then feel free to comment. Until next time, where I either talk about Solforge or Defiance in all likelihood.