Orange is the New Black: Season 2

Set in a fictional American women’s minimum security prison (Litchfield), the arrival of Orange is the New Black garnered a lot of well-deserved praise for its portrayal of women so rarely seen in TV or film. When asked what they thought of season one, Readings staff pointed to the amazing cast, made-up almost entirely of women – women of varying ages, ethnicities, sexualities and social classes – and to stories of experiencesotherwise given very little attention.

Our introduction to the world of Litchfield minimum-security prison was with white, middle-class, fish-out-of-water Piper. In reviews of season one, Piper was described as an audience surrogate, but show creator Jenji Kohan more tellingly described Piper as a Trojan horse. In season one Piper’s disorientation was our disorientation, but in season two we see immediately the extent to which Litchfield has become a familiar world – for Piper and for us.

The first episode sets the season’s tone, undercutting the expected narrative as Piper is isolated and sent away from what has become the relative safety of Litchfield. It is a wonderfully unsettling start, which establishes for the audience how comfortable we have become in the prison we think we know. Capitalising on that familiarity, season two widens its scope and moves its focus to characters we were only just starting to know in season one, to others who had barely registered at all and, most unnervingly, to characters we thought were familiar, making us realise how little we know them.

If season one was Piper’s descent into darkness, season two is our arrival in this new world. A world in which the titular protagonist remains important but in which there are so many important protagonists. As Piper and fellow inmate Nicholls take stock near the beginning of the season they spell out the overarching mandate of this series: Piper comments, ‘I spent a lot of time wondering if it would matter if I died.’ Nicholls replies, ‘In the macro sense, no. You’re one cheerio in the bulk box of life. But you f**king tickle me so I think it would matter.’

Marie Matteson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.