Warning! Spoilers for season 2 ahead!
Released by Netflix June 6th, season two of “Orange Is The New Black” shows a different side of popular religion. The audience knows of obvious religious figures on the show — Pennsatucky and Sister — but in season two, we are introduced to different forms of spirituality. Religion is about a god or supreme being, yes, but it is also about a system of worship and a place to put your faith. The women of Litchfield find different ways to contain and preserve their faith in themselves and the world on the outside.
While season one told the stories of inmates being in the wrong place at the wrong time, season two shows their willful participation and addiction to the crimes that put them in prison. Though the crimes were done with a purpose (we all need money, attention, things), they were often repeated beyond necessity just for the thrill of it: Rosa robbed one too many banks; Sister chained herself to one too many fences; and Black Cindy lifted one too many iPads during her job as a TSA agent. These are people who live — and love, like Morello — in extremes.
Unfortunately, the women can’t feed their needs while behind bars. In prison, they lose their gods along with their freedom. Without the ability to feed their criminal tendencies, the women are constantly in search of something else to believe in. The inhabitants of Litchfield prison need a surge of good faith in season two after the hopeless events of season one: Tricia dies from a drug overdose, Pennsatucky tries to murder Chapman with a cross, and Red loses her friends and position as head cook. Whether it’s “the lesbian agenda” for Pennsatucky or Soso’s social and environmental activism (in other words, an excuse to hide her fear of the public showers), every women is on the search for their next spiritual fix. Instead of showcasing religious fanatics like Pennsatucky last season (oh, how things have changed), “Orange” focuses on Sister’s radical christian activism, Mendoza’s witchy version of christianity, and the new false prophet on the block: V.
So what are we, the viewers, supposed to do with an influx of religious figures that our main character, Chapman, does not digest for us? Piper is distinctly irreligious (and Larry’s Judaism seems purely cultural). She doesn’t witness Mendoza’s candle-lighting or Norma’s attempt at spell-casting. She isn’t a disciple of V or Soso’s hunger strike. Instead, the viewer has the chance to separate from Piper — who we already know doesn’t quite fit in with the normal prison flow — and try to understand how the other women in the prison really work. Religion is a huge part of identity, and magic Christians, activist nuns, and a “truth speaker” (as V calls herself) don’t fit with the mold that most viewers will know.
Despite the problems with season two (lack of excitement, no change between the circumstances of season one, and a disconnection between characters that we want to see more from), a deeper, substantial look at the religious lives of the prison women was really refreshing. Religious ideology and faith affect every part of life. Seeing Mendoza lose faith in herself and her religion when she extinguishes a candle with her fingers because she’s afraid that in the end, her voodoo magic won’t save Red or Daya, was something that we could never have understood, fully, without this season’s religious theme.
Want to read other cool OITNB articles? Check this out: “Orange Is the New Black and the Difficulty of Portraying Prison Religion” on religionandpolitics.org.
Image credit: Abbey Hambright, Flickr, some rights reserved