To really understand Orange Is the New Black, you must first understand “The Scorpion and the Frog.” The old fable goes: A scorpion begs a frog to help it swim across the river by sitting on his back; frog says, “No, you’ll sting me,” but scorpion promises not to. Halfway through the journey, in the middle of the river, scorpion stings frog. “You promised you wouldn’t—why? Now we’ll both die.” “I’m a scorpion. It’s my nature.”
If season one was about accepting the truth about yourself—Piper coming to terms with the fact that she made the choice to help Alex; Taystee returning to prison because the real world made her feel worthless; and Sophia committing to her male-to-female transition—then season two is about accepting the truth about other people. But in order to accept it, the challenge is to first be able to see it in its ugliest form.
Within the first six episodes, Piper is unceremoniously screwed over by Alex yet again, in the same manner she shafted her the first time; Morello (in what’s season two’s most surprising storyline) is forced to deal with the reality of Christopher; Poussey and Officer Caputo (in separate cases) deal with unrequited love; and Officer Bennett begins to realize that in order to have a life with Daya, he needs to have a life with her entire prison family.
However, there’s no character more difficult for all of the inmates to decipher than newcomer Vee. Played with menace by new cast member Lorraine Toussaint, Vee is a former drug queenpin—and Taystee’s employer/adopted mother—who is obsessed with restoring the order of her past prison experience, when she ran Litchfield years ago. She’s smart, she’s versatile, and most importantly, she doesn’t broadcast her intent.
While the other Litchfield prisoners sense this and are apprehensive about Vee at first, they’re manipulated into believing in her goodness. To the black inmates, Vee is a stern mother goose who offers them protection, gentle talks about self worth, and plates of chocolate cake (literally). To those outside her group, she acts as peacekeeper, offering to make amends within the racially prison to project the illusion that she’s looking out for the best interests of the all women. She even sheds a few tears (for effect). Vee is so calculating, yet her flashback scene so sincere, that even the audience can’t place her right away. Is she genuine or is she a monster? Or, more complicated than that, is she actually a scorpion who fatally believes she can be better than she is?
That is to say, Vee is the most representative of the show’s direction this season; keep your eyes on Vee. While season one felt like miniature character studies seen through that particular character’s own eyes, season two leaves more up to the audience to decide. Less subjectivity, more lost-in-the-woods. The show, with its deliberate method of giving the audience only bits and pieces of Poussey’s and Crazy Eyes’ stories, among others, asks the audience to piece these characters together themselves, just as the inmates must discover each other.
Orange Is the New Black isn’t asking you to see your reflection in its characters anymore. Rather, it asks to take a long, hard real look at them. It asks you to be the kind of frog who can see past whatever delusion the scorpion is selling, and call bullshit.
Tara Aquino is the editor of Complex Pop Culture and a #VauseMan shipper. She tweets here.