There’s something in the water in Litchfield…

 Maybe it’s the flexibility of the Netflix model, allowing for more time to smooth the kinks in scripts and editing. Maybe a long year of trial and error gave the actors better insights in how to portray their characters the best. Maybe creator Jenji Kohan and her team of writers had a huge, collective epiphany on the direction of the show. Whatever it was, "Orange is the New Black’s" second season returned with a vengeance, kicking everything from drama to character development up a dozen notches.

[Warning: Spoilers to Follow]

We rejoin Piper Chapman, the uptight yuppie in jail for carrying drug money for her ex-lover? girlfriend? Alex Vause, as she comes off her time in solitary for last season finale’s altercation with Pennsatucky a little tougher and ready to readjust to prison life quietly. But when Alex is suddenly released upon condemning testimony against a former boss, Piper has a new slew of insecurities and anger to deal with.

But Piper isn’t the only one who’s readjusting to a new way of prison life. Red has to find purpose in her life after losing her kitchen and her dynasty. Daya is still racked with the guilt of getting an innocent correctional officer Mendez (aka Pornstache) fired while her pregnancy gets further along. The entire prison status quo is wracked by the arrival of Vee, Tastyee’s maternal figure and a rival of Red's, who knows the powers of manipulation and is hell-bent on rebuilding her empire within Litchfield.

What was refreshing about "Orange is the New Black’s" newest season is that it is no longer just Piper’s story. The storyline has manifested into the collective tale of all our favorite inmates, from cancer-stricken Rosa to new head chef Gloria to Taystee’s dynamic duo counterpart, Poussey. This season added depth to the characters we already knew and expanded the ones who hovered on the sidelines last season.

This was the season everyone was asked to step up their game with their character portrayals, and the actors met that demand with grace, poise and emotional intensity. It’s obvious that each actor settled into her character’s skin, breathing the character rather than just playing her. These characters have grown to be so multidimensional, so beautiful in their complexity, that there was a point I forgot that these women were in prison. They have grown past the inmate stereotypes into something more deserving of our time.

In this second season, the show continues to strike the balance between comedy and drama in all the best ways. While I believe this season to be darker than the first (don’t underestimate the power of Vee), the show got to be more heartwarming, too. For example, while it faces its trials, the friendship between Taystee and Poussey remains to be one of the best, strongest aspects of the show, reminding us there can be something good behind bars.

I will maintain that "Orange is the New Black" still may not be for everyone. It can be hard to watch such rough conditions, uncomfortable to see the struggle or relate to their challenges. But Kohan’s hit show succeeds in giving us a new perspective on prison life. In its ability to humanize the people we may not think about every day and present interesting plotlines that keep you wanting more, "Orange is the New Black" should be No. 1  on any fan’s Netflix queue.