As someone who has spent no time at all in prison, and isn’t a woman, I feel especially qualified to examine the motivations of characters on a program set in a women’s prison such as “Orange is the New Black.”
Most of you have likely finished your binge watching by now of the surprise Netflix hit, which had all episodes of season two released on June 6th. For those of you who haven’t STOP READING THIS. THIS WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FROM THROUGHOUT THE SEASON. OKAY SERIOUSLY STOP. Having just wrapped up the season myself last night, I figured there was no better way to jump into the blogosphere then to rank the major characters of the show heading into season three next summer.
Full disclaimer, Orange is the New Black isn’t my favorite show, and season two was a bit of a letdown from the show’s first effort. Jenji Kohan has a reputation of starting strong and fading miserably (see: Weeds) so let’s hope this show doesn’t jump the shark any time soon. For now, it’s still in good shape, but often times the character motivations this season didn’t seem to match, and the narrative often felt misplaced. That said, it’s still an entertaining show, but my apologies if I come off harsher then some of you may be. Anyways, to the list.
*Not pictured: Vee (because she’s likely dead), Black Cindy, Watson, Yoga Jones, Sophia, Aledia Diaz, Gina, Norma, Leanne, Angie, Maria, Flaca, Maritza, Blanca, Anita, Chang, Jimmy, Pete, Freida, Irma, Taslitz, (wow there’s a lot of characters on this show), Pornstache, Fischer, O’Neill, Bell, Luscheck, Mr. and Mrs. Chapman, Mr. and Mrs. Bloom, Crystal, Cesar, Cal.
Sorry can’t do everyone and most of them had little to no development worth mentioning this season.
1). Rosa Cisneros
After that last scene was there really any doubt? Between her not-so-surprising badass backstory, her adorable bond with a fellow cancer stricken teenager, and her overall attitude towards dying in prison, there has been no more interesting, sympathetic character this season than Rosa.
When she inevitably does pass away (assuming she eventually comes back and doesn’t make it out on her own, which I suppose is possible) it’s going to be tough for viewers to handle, after going through an entire season with her and following along her and her final months in Litchfield. Plus you know, RUNNING OVER VEE WITH A VAN.
2.) Galina “Red” Reznikov
Red had her moments of weakness in season two for sure, but I don’t think any character grew more than she did over the thirteen episode arc. From losing her family and being forced to fend for herself, to getting it back only to see Vee attempt to destroy everything she loved, Red was arguably the most important character to the plot in season two. Even more so than Piper.
Not to mention, we see a different side of Red then we did during the first season with regards to her relationship with Piper, who she previously had tried to starve to death. Allowing herself to open up to Piper about her sons and her restaurant allowed the viewer to sympathize with Red, something that was difficult to do in the first season.
We also got to see that Red can still be a ruthless son of a bitch when she needs to be, nearly strangling Vee to death before stopping herself. I wish from a character perspective that she had gone through with it, only to see how the rest of the prison would have reacted, but Vee’s attack on her ended up being a necessary plot development to turning the black inmates against her once and for all.
3.) Poussey Washington
Poor Poussey. We spent almost the entire season two feeling bad for her and deservedly so. First she was rejected by Taystee romantically, than rejected by her even as a friend. In her flashback we see she had her heartbroken by a bass commander who couldn’t accept his daughter’s sexuality. Then for good measure she was threatened, beat up (by Crazy Eyes), yelled at, and ostracized by those she once believed to be her sisters.
Thankfully, Poussey retains her fighting spirit through all of this, and her character receives a happy ending with Taystee breaking free from Vee’s reign and returning to be her best friend.
4.) Nicky Nichols
“Orange is the New Black” often glossed over serious issues such as drugs and addiction in season one while trying to retain its comedy roots. In season two however, the show took a big step forward through the character of Nicky, who had to face her demons head on thanks to the evil Vee.
Thankfully but perhaps unrealistically, Nicky was able to battle through her addiction even when heroin was well within her grasp. Natasha Lyonne deserves a lot of credit for portraying Nicky’s struggle, as well has her relationship with her prison “mom” Red. While Red is in the hospital, Nicky explains to Piper that it’s “different when it’s family” and we see truly what her unlikely relationship with Red really means to her inside the walls of Litchfield. We also saw Nicky play the part of a shoulder to cry on when Morello was dealing with the fallout of her relationship with Christopher.
Aside from that we got plenty of the usual Nicky antics, especially while competing in a sex-off with Big Boo (which…I mean I’m not a lesbian but is that seriously a competition?) even trying at one point to hit on Fischer. Her sex scene with Soso though has to be the season’s most hilarious. I could do without her nymphomania running rampant in season three, and instead would like more focus on the things about Nicky that really make her interesting and likable.
5.) Daya Diaz
Daya spent the entire season two struggling with her pregnancy, but it was more than just her physical pain that was troubling her. Diaz and Bennet’s relationship hasn’t always been the most popular story arc on the show, but I think Dascha Polanco and Matt McGorry do a great job portraying their relationship as a real one despite all of the circumstances that prevent them from truly being a couple.
Diaz is after all correct, when she tells Bennett he needs to stop being a pussy and own up to knocking her up. The story arc with Diaz sleeping with Mendez was my least favorite from the first season, it just seemed way too over the top and unnecessary. However, Diaz feeling bad for Pornstache this year at least made up for it a little bit. Mendez was a bad guy sure, but did he deserve to have his life ruined for the sake of Bennett’s? It’s entirely questionable, and Diaz coming to her senses made her a much more likable character.
6.) Sister Jane Ingalls
I can’t say I was surprised Sister Ingalls went to jail for activism, being a nun and all I assumed it wouldn’t be a violent crime. However, I can’t say I expected her to be as self-absorbed in her backstory as she was, although I did think it actually made her more likable and gave her more depth.
Sister Jane joining the hunger strike was inevitable, but her character motivations being a bit more skewed than we might have expected was a clever twist. How much of Ingalls going on the hunger strike was because she believed in it, and how much was it because she wanted the adoration of her fellow inmates, and even her former colleagues? It’s hard to say, but I can say I enjoyed Ingalls much more this season than I would have predicted.
7). Sam Healy
I suspect this is where I will stray the most from some people. Many people I’m sure would still have Healy down near the bottom of their list based mostly on how much of a huge douchebag he was throughout the first season. However, no character has done a bigger 180 between seasons that I can think of ever than Healy has between OITNB’s first and second year.
Think about Healy’s character arc in season two. Sure at first he covers his bases with Piper and Pennsatucky by strong-arming them, but after that he does the following: attempts to salvage his marriage and goes out of his way to be friendly to connect with his wife and her friends, goes to therapy to deal with his anger issues and deep-seated physiological problems, goes out of his way to both grant Piper furlough and pass the weekly newsletter through the ranks, attempts to help create a program to help the inmates deal with their personal issues, just as he is dealing with his own.
I don’t know how you could come out of this season not liking Healy and really truly feeling for him. To Kohan’s credit, that felt nearly impossible at the end of the first season.
8.) Lorna Morello
Like Crazy Eyes who we will see down further in this list, Morello is a tough character to rank due to her obvious mental illness.
Nothing in season two shocked me more than Morello’s story arc in which we found out that the infamous Christopher was not only not Morello’s actual boyfriend, but someone in which she had stalked, and threatened, after going on just one date.
How Morello ended up in a minimum security prison and not a mental institution is beyond me, but inside the prison walls she was her usual fun-loving and adorable self which made her dark turn all the more shocking.
Morello did some fucked up things to Christopher (the scene in which she breaks in to his house is especially heart breaking and disturbing) and I can’t say I wouldn’t have reacted the same way he did when he went to visit the prison.
At the same time, you still end up somehow feeling bad for Morello, who clearly lacks the mental capacity to understand why her feelings for Christopher aren’t reciprocated.
9.) Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson
It was a difficult season for Taystee fans who had grown to love the character throughout the first season and into the second, culminating when she won the job interview contest early on in the season.
However, once Vee enters the prison walls, Taystee is unable to fully recognize Vee’s cruelness due to their past history. It doesn’t take long for her to follow in Vee’s footsteps and eventually terminate her friendship with Poussey.
We learn through flashbacks just how much of a stranglehold Vee has over her, as Taystee, never knowing another true mother figure, continues to believe that Vee will come through for her even when so many times she has not.
It was tough to watch Taystee turn into such an unlikable character, and it was slightly disappointing to me that it took Vee kicking her out of the family for Taystee to finally come to her senses. Still, Taystee did manage to break free of Vee at the end of the season and mend her friendship with Poussey, which is one of the best on the show.
10.) Joe Caputo
We already may be seeing some foreshadowing on how much Caputo will be able to follow through on his good intentions for the inmates come season three when he takes charge full-time and has to deal with the bureaucracy that comes with running a prison.
Caputo is at times tough to read. On one hand, he really does seem like a good guy, and someone who wants to help out the inmates as much as he can. He doesn’t want them to have to deal with poor conditions, and seems like he will work earnestly to help improve the lives of the inmates.
On the other hand, there is something a little off about him. You certainly can’t blame him for anything regarding Figeruoa as she was obviously up to her head in wrong doings and needed to be pushed out one way or another (it was also amusing to see him try to comfort her when she reveled her husband was cheating on her, even though he still planned on destroying her career). Still, he makes two moves that are hard to stomach. First he fires Fischer, essentially for not agreeing to his advances. While this can be seen as a blessing in disguise for Fischer who was obviously in the wrong career field, it’s still troubling. Second, he wants no part in Bennett’s confession to relieve Mendez in the season finale. Again, while Mendes is a horrible person, he doesn’t deserve what’s coming to him. Caputo is the only person who can help him out, and he immediately washes his hands of it.
11). Gloria Mendoza
We didn’t get too much of a look into the latino community in the prison this season, as much of the focus was on the white’s led by Red and the black inmates led by Vee. We did however dive slightly into Gloria, the head cook, and her backstory.
We found that Gloria was collecting food stamps from the government to help pay the bills trying to support her children, she also suffered at the hands of an abusive boyfriend. We are left to wonder the state of her family once she enters the prison walls.
Inside Litchfield, Gloria manages to remain relatively neutral, which probably is a good idea for her not to cross Vee. She does however gain some points from the audience at the end of the season when she helps Norma in her plot to get back at Vee.
12.) John Bennett
Bennett is in a tough spot for most of season two, but that doesn’t always mean we always sympathize with him. You can tell he really does want to try to make it work with Diaz. He isn’t shying away from being a father and wants to help her out as much as he can.
At the same time though, he wants to have his cake and eat it too. He got himself into this mess in the first place by getting Diaz pregnant, at which point his ability to enforce the prison rules as a guard kind of went out the window. Still, feeling the need to impress his bosses (and pornstache) Bennett almost gets himself fired by tearing apart the bunks and threatening the inmates like a madman. Then he throws one of Diaz’s friends into the SHU when they try to blackmail him.
Still, by the end of the season despite knowing that there is likely a promotion in the near future due to Caputo taking over the prison, Bennett does the right thing and confesses his misdeed to the new assistant warden only to be told to keep his mouth shut about it.
It will be interesting to see next season how much Bennett and Diaz push to get this information out or if they have a change of heart.
13.) Piper Chapman
Some people love to hate on Piper. I get that to an extent, but I don’t feel she deserves all of it, especially after season two. In fact, Piper was likely aided by fading into the background a little more this season.
Piper is still self-serving and arrogant, but so are most of the characters on OITNB. Piper has been fucked with enough on the show to at least earn some sympathy points. This season, she grew into her own inside Litchfield. Instead of viewing it like a death sentence like she did in the first season, she now views it as her home for better or worse. The telling moment for me during this season was Piper’s devastation when she was told she would need to transfer to Virginia. As bad as Litchfield is for her, she has created enough of a bond with her fellow inmates that she really doesn’t want to have to leave.
Not that she has much to go home to now anyways, with a family that still is struggling to deal with her incarceration, and her now ex fiancee Larry now dating her ex best friend Polly, Piper’s best relationships may very well be with her friends inside the prison. This includes her unlikely new bunkmate Red, who Piper feels comfortable confining in. She even goes out of her way to visit Red’s old store when she is granted furlough.
Piper’s new attitude in prison is what warmed me up to her more this season. It’s clear she has very little fucks left to give and she displays this by nearly threatening to kill Soso early in the season, and not taking any shit from Red when she moves in to be her new bunkmate upon returning from Chicago.
Still, Piper’s relationship with Alex is what continues to prevent her from being an overall likable character. First, she let’s Alex influence her again and ends up getting screwed by lying in federal court. This was such a head scratcher for me. Just when it seemed like Piper may be turning the corner from Alex, she falls right back into her trap. Piper going out of her way to stop Alex from running was also worrisome and felt like a huge stretch just to get Laura Prepon back to a full-time cast member. I understand Piper after losing Larry completely needs someone to be there for her, but Alex? I just don’t get it.
14.) Alex Vause
Speaking of Alex, with her likely return to being a full-time inmate next season, her inclusion on this list is necessary despite her limited role this season.
Unlike Piper, Alex’s motivations seem clear from the start. She doesn’t hate Piper, she may even still love her to an extent, but for Alex it’s about doing whatever she needs to do get her ahead.
I don’t buy Alex the argument that Alex purposely screwed Piper in Chicago, but I don’t think she thought twice about it either when she was guaranteed that her testimony will put her former drug lord boss away.
Like I mentioned, it feels a bit cheap to bring Alex back into the fray full-time, and I suspect she won’t react well to Piper selling her out.
15.) Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren
I suppose a lot of people would have Crazy Eyes higher on their list, but I was never a huge fan of her character. Unlike Morello, whose mental illness may take a while to realize, Crazy Eyes is clearly mentally unstable to anyone who spends even a few minutes with her.
I get that the show is portraying the prison system as corrupt, but I still have a hard time believing at this point that Crazy Eyes could stay out of the loony bin. In terms of her character arc, she like many of the black inmates was under Vee’s spell. However, Crazy Eyes had it worst of all, even agreeing to take the fall for Red’s attack because Vee manipulated her into thinking she had done it.
There’s a difference with feeling sympathy for a character and actually liking them. I can’t help but role my eyes every time Crazy Eyes gets a scene, I’m sorry but she just doesn’t do it for me.
Also, as someone who has been craving attention her whole life, and previously had fallen in love with Piper, do I really buy that after one meeting with Vee, Suzanne would reject Piper’s invitation to go to the movies with her? Not even a little bit.
16.) Carrie “Big Boo” Black
Like Crazy Eyes, I don’t exactly get the fascination with Big Boo. To me she’s a filler character at best, and at worst can really bog down the episode.
There isn’t anything wrong with trying to portray different types of sexuality in the prison, and Big Boo fills the expected “butch lesbian” stereotype. However, she has never struck me as particularly well-meaning or funny and this continued into this season.
The sex off with Nicky was what it was, but her betrayal of Red later in the season confirmed her character’ stupidity to me. What exactly did Big Boo think she was going to get out of selling Red’s smuggling secrets to Vee in the long-term? It seemed like a not well thought out plan that ended up ostracizing her from her family, and for that matter from Vee.
I also could have done without the putting Soso through orientation storyline but I’m sure others enjoyed it.
17.) Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett
Is there really a reason for Pennsatucky to exist anymore now that she is no longer feuding with Piper? Along with generally just being annoying and unlikable, Pennsatucky now no longer even serves a purpose.
That’s not to say Taryn Manning doesn’t do a good job with her, she does, but I just feel like we’ve gotten as far with Pennsatucky as we’re going to get.
The show attempted to include her in the Healy therapy story arc, but we never got the scene that we really needed. One or two scenes showing Pennsatucky really opening up about her past and the issues that sent her to prison would have done wonders for both her character and Healy’s. Instead she remains just a caricature who occasionally feuds with her former friends Leanne and Angie and talks funny.
18.) Brook Soso
This is getting tough, I haven’t really liked a character on here past the top ten, merely tolerated them. I am getting to the point now where I can’t even tolerate these characters.
Soso is a totally unnecessary addition to the cast this season, and exists only to fill the role of “annoying Piper like character” while the latter actually evolves past her season one tendencies.
Does Soso mean well? I guess. At the very least she isn’t violent or inherently a bad person.
But holy hell is she annoying. We haven’t spent enough time with her to see any of her actual redeeming qualities. Maybe if she was presented in a less ridiculous manner, I could feel bad for her when Piper tries to pawn her off for a blanket, or she is forced to shower in front of a guard, or when she is belittled for initiating the hunger strike. But I never do, because Soso is the worst.
19). Natalie “Fig” Figueroa
Based on the fact that she no longer works at Litchfield I’m guessing we’ve probably seen the last of Figueroa on Orange is the new Black. However, considering her role as one of the main villains on this season she deserves a spot on this list, albeit almost at the very bottom.
While Vee was the main antagonist inside the prison, Fig made the lives of our favorites equally as shitty if not worse with her utter disregard for making any sort of effort at fixing the problems the prison had.
Everything Fig did was for her own gain. I don’t feel the least bit bad for laughing when it was shown her politician husband was cheating on her with his own (male by the way) campaign manager. See you never Fig, you won’t be missed.
20.) Polly Harper/Larry Bloom
Okay so for starters a lot of people have always been against Larry, and I thought it was a bit unfair. Sure it was a dick move for him to watch Mad Men, but in the first season I was generally sympathetic with Larry. How would you react if you suddenly found out your fiancee was a former lesbian, who was now going to prison for a drug related crime, and she told you none of it? I thought he actually had reacted surprisingly well considering the circumstances.
Then season two came along and ho lee shit, if they didn’t do every possible thing they could to make me hate Larry. First, he foolishly helps the journalist who is trying to get the “inside scoop” on the misdoings of the prison and tries to elicit Piper’s help. Is he trying to get her more time? Does he give a shit about her ever getting out? This is insanely selfish and initially cooled me on him but then he had to go and hook up with Polly which I mean come on now…
Why does the show even think we care about these characters anymore? Their only purpose was to be Pipers’s support system and now they are no longer that in any way. Why do I give a fuck about their relationship? As someone who just has been cheated on by his fiancee, Larry doesn’t seem to think twice about hooking up with a married woman.
Polly is equally as annoying, her yuppity bullshit on full display this season. God she is a bore, it’s only fitting her and Larry end up together. I could not possibly give less of a fuck about her pregnancy/post pregnancy problems. I would rather watch Soso talk about the merits of her hunger strike for six consecutive episodes then spend five minutes more with Larry and Polly.
Yeah Pete’s a dick I guess, but that doesn’t make them right, and them going to Piper to ask for her permission was just as messed up. Maybe screwing over Alex earned them sympathy points from Piper, but it just made me hate them even more. If you think Alex is bad for Piper, even as her friend, why would you actively help in getting her back in the same prison as Piper? It makes no fucking sense. Let’s just hope they get hit by a tractor off camera before season three starts.