Packed with poetic justice

Sadly shutout at the Emmys, ‘Orange is the New Black’ continues to wow

Dave Bartlett
Published on September 3, 2014
Barbara Rosenblat plays Miss Rosa, one of more than a dozen characters populating the fictional Litchfield Correctional Facility in the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black.”
— Submitted photo

The final scene of Season 2 of the Netflix original “Orange is the New Black” is so satisfying — in a darkly humorous way — that if the show had end­ed at that moment, it would have been a tour de force.

Of course, the show, which reportedly is bringing in record subscription numbers to the online entertainment service, will likely be around for several more seasons — and it should be. I can’t wait for Season 3.

I noted in July, when I had just started to watch the second season of the show, how much I loved the direction it was taking — moving from the single protagonist of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) to a true ensemble cast, with several interlocking storylines going on at once.

Without question, the narrative arc featuring Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) was my favourite, with the closely linked Morello (Yael Stone) chapters coming a close second.

Rosa is a former bank robber, now dying of cancer in prison. She’s been inside a long time and is past caring about most of the politics of inmate life. What she misses most is the smell of money.

Morello is the celebrity-obsessed Italian girl from Brooklyn whose secret shame is revealed this season. But she faces some hard truths head on — and by the end of Season 2, the momentary creepiness of her past is washed away and she is restored as one of the most likable characters on the series.

And I completely love the increased screen time of corrections officer O’Neill (Joel Garland), especially in the finale when he tries to annoy protesting nuns outside the prison’s back gate by playing anti-nun songs on his banjolele — a ukulele-sized banjo. He had a tough time in Catholic school and although he’s normally a jolly person as guards go, something about sisters sets him off.

Then there is the continuing moral quandary between pregnant inmate Diaz (Dascha Polanco) and her secret relationship with the likeable guard, Bennett (Matt McGorry). That narrative, which began during the first season, builds and boils over a couple of times, and includes the brief return of “Pornstache” Mendez (Pablo Schreiber).

Of course, when Bennett tries to confess, it once again does not go according to his plan. The guy can’t seem to do what’s right even when he tries, nor does he ever catch flak for his indiscretions.

I could have done without the Piper and Larry (Jason Biggs) relationship arc, and the new love triangle, but I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t find it anywhere near as engaging as everything else that was going on.

I partly feel that way about the limited story time given to Piper’s former girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) — the reason she’s in prison in the first place — after the season premiere, of course.

Unfortunately, the show did not win any of the three awards it was up for at the Primetime Emmys a couple of weeks ago, and that is a bit of a surprise. It did win three awards earlier last month at The Creative Arts Emmys.

I’ve also just picked up the memoir the show is based on and can’t wait to see how much of it is based on the real experiences of Piper Kerman. I assume from reading a couple of things about the writer and activist for prisoner rights that much has been changed.

The show really shines because it humanizes the inmates and guards alike and illustrates there is kindness and bravery, sadness and humour — as well as violence, racism and a black market economy — in the prison community.

And it is a community — these may be criminals, but they are still people.

When the prison’s assistant warden, Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), forgets that in a pivotal episode — and ignores an emergency at the prison because she’s too busy playing hostess at her husband’s political campaign fundraiser — it lights a fuse towards a powder keg with a simmering pot of trouble on top.

While I loved the first season of “Orange is the New Black,” the second season was superior because of the way it slowly pulled its focus back from the privileged, middle-class Piper, and did so expertly to broaden the story to a wide-angle perspective to include more and more of the prison population.

Despite some of the horrifying revelations about the conditions in prison, the show does poetic justice very well, especially this season.

And while the cliffhanger that ended Season 1 was an intense place to break, a firm ending to the sophomore season didn’t slake my appetite for more of “Orange is the New Black.”

If you haven’t checked it out and you subscribe to Netflix, start serving time.

Dave Bartlett muses about watching habits, TV shows — new and old — and anything related to whatever he may be watching at the moment. You can get in touch with him at