Previously on Orange is the New Black
There’s a very evident feeling of renewed purpose and energy flowing throughout the first three episodes of Orange is the New Black season four. The stories are more appealing, the dialogue is funnier, and the few emotional moments we’ve seen have really hit their mark. Of course, there’s still plenty of time for this to change for the worse, but it’s a relief to be able to say I genuinely enjoyed this new beginning. It’s not that season three was awful but it wasn’t great, either. It had its moments – particularly the story of Cindy becoming Jewish – but overall, it never truly captured the same spirit or boldness the show displayed so effortlessly in the first two seasons. So far, season four already feels more like the good old days. With one clear exception: there’s a lot less Piper, and thank goodness for that. The once leading lady of OITNB has become just another member of the show’s expansive ensemble, which to a certain extent has made her a lot more tolerable.
Perhaps this is merely a result of seeing her in smaller doses – it certainly helps. It could also be that taking her character’s self-delusion and inherent entitlement to the next level is sure to make her eventual, and highly inevitable, downfall feel more satisfying than ever. Piper has never had a problem with confidence, but the power she feels after getting Stella sent to Max has only served to inflate her extra-large ego. She thinks she’s “ganster, like with an ‘a’ at the end,” which is highly laughable, since no one seems to know, or give a shit, about what she did. There’s also something to be said, however, about her lack of interactions thus far with Alex. The on-again/off-again soap opera that was Chapman and Vause reached the point of tedium very early on. Allowing their characters to each explore stories without the other has been a definite bonus.
I never understood Alex’s fascination with Piper, and I for one am happy to see the show’s dependence on their bond has basically been discarded. For better or worse, she’s formed a new bond with a new blonde: Lolly. It’s not something you’d call a friendship, but when you murder someone together, you’re kind of linked for life. Watching them navigate through this experience as a team, more or less, has been a nice inversion from their relationship last season. Lolly is an infinitely more enjoyable character now that we’re done with the infuriatingly boring mystery of whether or not she was out to get Alex. Her instant transition from cold-blooded killer mode to asking Alex if she wanted to join the ladies in the lake was the perfect example of the dark humor we’ve come to expect and love from OITNB. It remains to be seen if Lolly will be able to keep her composure about the murder, though. Frieda, the Golden Girl who helped them chop up the body and bury it, has suggested they may need to kill her, too.
It’s possible Lolly’s death would even go unnoticed, at least for a little while. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration but Caputo, in his new role of warden, is already off to a rocky start. The prison break, the C.O. walkout, the transfer of more than 100 new inmates, and the arrival of a fairly high-profile celebrity all came within the same 24-hour period and he’s clearly overwhelmed. “Hiring” Taystee to be his assistant will certainly be a fun new role for her character, but I’m not sure how beneficial it will actually prove to be. Caputo’s solution to the noise and stress caused by the sudden overcrowding – earplugs and breathing exercises – is pathetic, but it may be all he has at his disposal. OITNB has always touched on political issues, but the systemic problems with prisons themselves will be a very interesting aspect to explore. Especially now that Litchfield is a for-profit one.
The inmates, as Aleida puts it, aren’t people anymore, they’re bulk items. So, their comfort isn’t really a high priority. Nearly everyone is struggling to adapt to life with their new bunkmates and all the complications associated with the increase in population. Judy King, the Martha Stewart type character, is the only one who won’t have to do much adjusting. Though it’s all very hush-hush, King is getting very special treatment. Most notably in the form of a private room with only one other inmate, while everyone else is packed in like sardines. A particularly regrettable part of it all is how close Poussey came to being bunkmates with King, before Caputo was directed to do otherwise with her. As the racist scumbag Healy put it, and likely what the bigoted executives were also thinking, that cellblock was too “urban” for her.
After a series of unfortunate, star-struck moments, where Poussey couldn’t even utter the word hello, she finally got to meet King. Unfortunately, it was at the request of Brooke, who told King that Poussey comes from a life of poverty and was raised by a crack-whore mother. Of course, we know this couldn’t be further from the truth, but as we delve into more of Soso’s backstory, we discover that she’ll say just about anything to get what she wants. Before this, it was easy to think Brooke was naïve and misguided, but now we see just how manipulative she can be. Aside from learning that, the time spent on exploring Brooke’s days as an activist wasn’t overly entertaining, and it made me wonder if OITNB should do away with the character backstories as a whole. The premiere stayed firmly in the present day, and it was so engaging I almost forgot about this regular feature of the show.
It could be that the backstories of season three just left a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, some of them were very enlightening, but they never seemed to complement the episodes that contained them the way they had done so clearly in previous seasons. The two we’ve seen so far do seem to fit better within their episode’s narrative, but out of those two, Maria’s story was the more interesting one and not much happened. Also, I’m not sure there’s any justification in giving Brooke a second backstory. There are several original characters we still know so little about, and a plethora of new faces who could have been given the screen time. Since it’s unlikely the show has given up on the backstory, all we can hope for moving forward is that they continue to be relevant to the present day, and that they give equal opportunity to all the characters.
Orange is the New Black S4E1-E3 = 8.2/10