When Orange is the New Black premiered a year ago it was original and daring. Jenji Kohan surpassed the standard of her successful Weeds, complementing a brilliant script with a cast of talented but largely unknown actors. It attracted a devoted audience, which eagerly anticipated this month's release of the second season. Although you couldn’t expect the same feeling of awe provoked by the first episode, it was obvious that much of the show's distinctive ingenuity had been dulled. The season begins in an unfamiliar setting that is initially suspenseful but becomes confusing. Piper is sent to a large prison facility in Chicago where a new series of inmates are introduced, whose unexplained quirks are abrupt and sometimes awkward.
Piper eventually returns to Litchfield, but only after Alex is released from prison. As characters are re-introduced, Kohan highlights their pasts with extensive flashbacks, transitions that can be difficult to comprehend. Time spent re-living their pasts could be better used illustrating present experiences at Litchfield. In an attempt to fill the space Alex left, an incendiary new personality called Vee enters the prison. Her competitiveness, compassion and villainous reign leave the watcher debating whether to support or despise her. The conflict is swiftly snuffed upon Vee's sudden death. Such a curt ending could be seen as a mysterious disappearance or a lazy disposal.
Piper's persona becomes instantly darker upon reentering Litchfield. The whereabouts of her estranged fiancé Larry are well-documented. He’s seen whining about Piper's absence in various settings, often naked in either a gay spa or her best friend's bedroom. His internal strife and selfish journalistic endeavors are interesting, but they don’t help to clarify Piper's loss of innocence. In between these sobering developments, Kohan relies on comic relief from eccentric characters like Poussay and Taystee. Many of their lines seem to be Twitter-ready, relying on trendy topics like rapper Lil Wayne and even less thoughtful anatomical humor. Poking fun at pop culture was likely an attempt to attract younger viewers but much of the time these aimless jokes fall flat.
The second season of Orange is the New Black can be just as engaging as the first, but the lack of focus makes it more difficult to keep up with. Waiting for closure leaves the viewer feeling burned out after so many flashbacks and scenery changes. Kohan's attempt at furthering its complexity is more admirable than it is viable. I like that she continued to include politically provocative elements after acquiring such a huge fan base. Striving to reach out to more viewers leaves devout fans wondering who the hell “RiRi” is and if vagina jokes are still as funny as they were in sixth grade.