If you haven’t already marathoned the second season of “Orange in the New Black” in its entirety, please note that this article contains spoilers for the first episode.
Piper Chapman’s (Taylor Schilling) world is falling apart with a bang and a whimper. Again. This time, the WASP-cum-convict is leaving Litchfield Penitentiary for parts unknown. At Litchfield, Piper was serving a 15-month sentence for crimes committed 10 years prior on behalf of her then-girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), an international narcotics smuggler. When we saw her last, Piper’s fists were making rather forceful contact with fellow inmate and born-again evangelist Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett’s (Taryn Manning) face. All self-control and some teeth were most certainly lost in the scuffle.
Season 2 commences one month post-brawl. We find Piper at the tail end of a stint in solitary confinement, being forcefully escorted out of her cell and into a van. We have no idea where Piper is headed, and neither does she. Two bus rides and one flight later, Piper arrives for intake at a Chicago detention center. Piper mistakenly assumes that, like her stay in solitary confinement, the transfer is part of her punishment for Pennsatucky’s assault. If only this was the case.
Instead, Piper spots Alex during her allotted recreation time, and, after a barter involving four-day-old underwear, clandestine note-passing and the kindness of a former hitman, the pair are reunited. Alex explains to Piper that they were shipped to Chicago to testify against Kubra Balik, Alex’s former cartel boss, who has been extradited to the United States to stand trial.
Piper can either reveal her relationship to Kubra, as her lawyer insists, or heed Alex’s urging and lie under oath as protection against Kubra’s wrath. Our protagonist, whose rose-colored glasses are tinted not so much by integrity as immense privilege, is now at the center of a morality tale, caught between an unpleasant truth and a perilous lie. Friendless in unfamiliar territory, Piper is left to trepidate in a place where trained cockroaches are the cornerstone of the black market cigarette trade and cellmates are prone to astrological fanaticism and delivering heartfelt Aretha Franklin covers from the toilet.
Piper’s moral dilemma is underscored by frequent flashbacks to her childhood. These scenes augment our understanding of Piper’s personal history, complete with a philandering father and stone-faced mother. Piper the pre-teen was concerned with honesty and obedience to the point of total risk-aversion and social alienation. Piper the adult still struggles to understand that morality exists in shades of gray.
En route to the trial, Piper warns Alex that she cannot lie under oath. This proclamation is delivered with noble intent, but promptly dissolves when Piper takes the witness stand. Under cross-examination, Piper acquiesces and denies that she knows Kubra, committing perjury but honoring Alex’s pleas. In a flashback, we learn that decades prior, upon discovering that her father was having an affair, Piper couldn’t help but tell her mother what she had learned. Soon after, she asks her grandmother why she was punished for revealing the truth. “Sometimes,” her grandmother explains, “it’s not a matter of right and wrong … It’s about keeping things to yourself … and living with your secrets.” Now, at the trial, Piper chooses to live with, and lie about, her secrets.
Alex, who testifies after Piper, doesn’t do the same. We get our last glimpse of her as she is escorted out of the courthouse in civilian clothing. As her lawyer pulls her away, Alex extends a wan explanation. “I had to tell the truth,” she says, and then she’s gone.
It is clear, then, that Alex has betrayed Piper, but to what extent? In this sense, the first episode leaves us with more questions than answers. Can Alex be redeemed? Will Piper seek retribution? What’s going on back at Litchfield?
Most importantly, how many episodes should one watch consecutively before taking a bathroom break? After all, if the premiere offers us anything in the way of foresight, it’s the wisdom to always, always “pee first.”
The second season of “Orange is the New Black” is available on Netflix.