Adam Reynoso ’15/ Emertainment Monthly TV
A year since it’s last season dropped on Netflix, Orange is the New Black came back with an early release of its new season and it was just as binge worthy, if not more so than previous seasons. After a darker, Vee-fueled season two, the new season was a transition of sorts and much lighter in tone. It dealt with faith, miracles and the women of Litchfield moving forward with their lives and accepting who they are and the choices they’ve made. And, as always, the show found a way to continue to paint the characters in more depth and also turn the spotlight to more background characters. Even without a clear-cut villain, this season worked because it instead brought the focus back to the relationships in the prison. And of course, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) is back.
The season starts off on Mother’s day when each inmate is handling the holiday differently. For possibly one of the first times, the series uses flashbacks as vignettes for each of the characters to show what the day means for them. After that, the third season continues to navigate the changes going on within the prison. With the new regime, it doesn’t take long before Caputo (Nick Sandow) finds out the prison will soon be shut down due to budgetary reasons, meaning early releases and cost cutting across the board. This plot point propels the overall narrative and leads to the prison seeing another change as a corporation buys it to keep it from shutting down and with that, a new era in Litchfield begins.
As for the individual stories, much like last season, Piper (Taylor Schilling) has very much become more of a supporting character at this point, with the story focusing more on Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Red (Kate Mulgrew), Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning), Gloria (Selenis Levya), Sophia (Laverne Cox) and the prison staff instead. One of the biggest highlights of the season was the continuing friendship between Pennsatucky and Big Boo (Lea DeLaria). Instead of it being about Boo corrupting Pennsatucky, it instead becomes a great example of how these very different women can become close and care about each other without any hostility or agenda. To see the two of them look out for each other is a nice change from the typical type of drama filled friendships in other shows. Pennsatucky herself is probably one of the best developed characters on the show overall. There’s one particular scene where she tells Boo that she shouldn’t be ashamed of who she is. Considering that two years ago, she had a burning prejudice against gays and lesbians alike, it’s a huge stroke of progress. And lastly, one topic that’s been portrayed many times as a way to exploit women in recent hit shows is the topic of rape. However, it is shown through Pennsatucky’s character, with flashbacks and in the present, and the main difference is that it isn’t gratuitous and it’s shown from her perspective. It shows the ramifications and in a powerful scene between her and Big Boo, it allows her to stop excusing it as boys being boys and instead awaken herself to the truth about the situation.
While last year focused a lot on the turf war between Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) and Red, this year the main tension was between the Latinas in the prison and pretty much everyone else. Gloria and Sophia especially had an important storyline as they began to see how their kids were changing while they were in prison. This story really gave insight into how their family’s lives continued to change while they were incarcerated. The building tension as Sophia continued to blame Gloria’s son for corrupting her own son was well done and led to brilliant confrontations between the two women. The storyline ultimately led to a transphobic confrontation between Sophia and those who supported Gloria. The guilt in Gloria’s eyes after the ordeal was genuine and promised more to come between the two when the show returns next year. It’s also setting up Sophia to go head to head with Caputo and the corporate enemies next season when it comes to her own safety and rights.
While Piper and Alex’s storyline was probably the weakest in the season, it did introduce breakout star Ruby Rose as Stella. She bonded with Ruby and it did bring out the darker aspects of her character as she started a used panty business, which was actually pretty comedic. But seeing the change in Piper, it finally projected the dark and bad side that’s only been hinted at in previous seasons. She’s never been as innocent as she claimed to be and if she’s going to be truly unlikable, might as well go all out. She’s fully embodied the idea of white privilege in the prison. Alex, on the other hand, came off as a different character than the inmate introduced in the first season. She’s much more paranoid, rightfully so, but she comes across as the weaker one in the relationship with Piper. She almost seems watered down from the alluring drug dealer from season one. While it was fun to have her character back, it doesn’t feel like the same Alex Vause.
One thing the show did well was that it didn’t just brush off Vee’s influence from last season. She was an amazing villain and her impact continued to touch upon the show even after her death. Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) still longs for Vee’s maternal love and believes she’s coming back. Instead, Taystee’s taken it upon herself to look after her. They’ve grown closer and share the pain Vee brought upon them. As the season continues, Suzanne has a fun storyline as she begins writing a saga involving orgies and sex and aliens, and the inmates love it. It’s a nice way to have Suzanne finally feel accepted by the other inmates.
An unexpected development blossomed between Soso (Kimiko Glenn) and Poussey (Samira Wiley). Together, they fell into the following Norma (Annie Golden) amassed after performing rituals and miracles. They were great examples of how these women needed something to keep them going and Norma provided that. To see Poussey welcome Soso into her own circle of friends was surprising and nice. It’s a friendship that will continue to be explored next season.
Orange is the New Black came back for another strong season that continued to explore the lives of these incarcerated women. With the relationships only continuing to grow, the show has continued to find its stride by allowing other characters to come to the forefront instead. Even side characters like Cindy (Adrieene C. Moore) got a good story with her deciding to convert to Judaism, which seemed to be just a way for her to continue getting couture meals, but instead ended up being a touching story about what it meant to her. With nice subplots such as Lorna (Yael Stone) looking and ultimately finding “love” by getting married to someone who may be her match to seeing the funny antics and sad backstory of Chang (Lori Tan Chinn), the show decided to get back to its lighter tone, and it worked.
Top 5 Episodes of Season 3
“A Tittin’ and a Hairin’” (3×10)
“Trust No Bitch” (3×13)
“Where My Dreidel At” (3×9)
“Ching Chong Chang” (3×6)
“Fear, and Other Smells” (3×8)