No character from Orange Is the New Black’s stellar first season had more Netflix viewers buzzing than Sophia Burset, the prison hairdresser whose trailblazing storyline flipped the TV game on its head. That’s why, when Sophia largely missed out on the action in season two, many fans still couldn’t stop thinking about her. (Go ahead—admit that you missed her, too.)
It was a testament to her sheer magnetism that Sophia’s moderate absence on the second season of Orange was so noticeable. There’s a theory that perhaps she was sidelined so that the show could let other actresses (who didn’t steal the show in season one) shine and dive into their backstories, since Sophia had an unforgettable first year. But that theory doesn’t hold up, since almost everyone had a major arc this year except Sophia. It’s upsetting, but it’s also important to recognize that perhaps there’s some logic to that: Sophia’s absence from the prison rivalry war that cast a shadow over season two is in line with the character, and perhaps with actress Laverne Cox herself.
An independent voice in the prison and once a straddler of two worlds, Sophia’s air of aloofness delicately emphasizes the isolation she still faces at Litchfield. Not that Orange has to beat you over the head with this idea, or that Sophia ever lets on that this is how she feels. In a season full of nail-biters and sneak attacks, Sophia’s presence seemed to keep the danger at bay. Was any other inmate as refreshing of a respite from the sheer suspense of it all? Certainly not Alex and Piper.
Sophia still has her moments in season two—when she helps the other inmates find their clitorises, for example. When she reveals her disappointment at not making furlough. When her visiting son—who ratted her out to the cops in the first place—comes to make amends over a game of cards. The combination of comedy and heartbreaking sadness that comes with a single look from Cox can’t be understated.
Cox’s performance seems to get better and better with time, and although it was sad to see Sophia miss out on an A-story this year, it was the repeated realization of her absence that makes it clear how much she’s missed. The less you’re in the spotlight, the more riveting it can be when everyone realizes that you’ve stolen it.