Orange is the New Black: season two, episode one

4 stars

Ed Williamson

5th June 2014

Netflix's best original show is back, and for a programme about women in stasis, it doesn't half know how to throw everything up in the air. (Spoilers follow.)

Piper finished season one her transformation complete - the wet-eared ingénue now a full-blown hardened harridan, kicking the shit out of a prone Pennsatucky - and begins the second in solitary, as befits her new status. This could go a few different ways: a murder trial, a new role as Queen Bitch, a revenge plot by the Jesus-freaks. And it still might, but first there's a curveball to face.

Plucked out of her cell and given a standard-class ticket on Con Air, she can't get anyone to tell her where she's going or why. No matter how deep she goes into prison life, Piper's still our eyes and ears (there's still the naivety on show, politely badgering the guards for the bathroom like she's dealing with a waiter who doesn't know if there's focaccia), and her blind confusion is our own. What the fuck is going on? Why is she being taken to prison in Chicago? Where are the rest of the usual cast?

Alone, imprisoned and without ready access to sanitising handwash.

It takes its time filling you in, too, like an old lag who's got nothing but time and doesn't need to hurry. A dialogue scene on the plane about nothing in particular is lingered over for laughs while you tear your hair out wanting to know what's happening.

This is the joy of the Netflix release model: these shows can speed up or slow down at will, with no need to maintain a consistent pace. You'll forgive it when it grinds almost to a halt to explore a few things, because you don't have to wait a week for the next one. But Orange's flashbacks to the outside world are the ace in this hole; a way to move things along while the characters stay still. Piper's childhood memories here show the formative experience of seeing her father with another woman, followed by her mother's whitewashing refusal to listen to this news.

While most of the women's flashbacks show us the crime that got them here, it looks like Piper's are going to be a deeper exploration of the choices she made over the course of her life. Orange has the time to spend on this, and so do we - and it knows it.

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