Orange is the New Black felt different this time around. The tone was lighter, more comedic than before and there weren’t as many “holy shit” moments. Where the previous two seasons have been largely plot focused, season three was more interested in exploring its characters and their day-to-day lives at Litchfield. The best aspect of this shift was how it allowed the cast to truly become an ensemble. When I look back, there is no particular storyline that dominates the season. Piper no longer drives the narrative – she doesn’t even show up until about 10 minutes into the premiere – and in giving her character that freedom, she was more enjoyable than ever before.
While I’m not prepared to say that this season was bad, it was definitely missing something. I just didn’t get that excited feeling at the end of each episode when you’re frantically reaching for the ‘next’ button thinking, “OMG I have to know what happens next!” Everything just felt a little tamer, slower-paced, and overall a bit underwhelming. While all of the backstories were as heartbreaking as usual, many of them seemed to lack that gut-punch factor so common in the first two seasons. I mean, remember when we learned that Lorna Morello was never actually with Christopher? Season three just didn’t have any of those big, defining moments.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of great content covered in these 13 episodes. Motherhood, sexual identity, gender identity, religion, spirituality, rape, abortion, capitalism, and of course, the prison industrial complex were all well explored. Hopefully, upon second viewing, that missing quality will become clear.
With my reservations about the season out of the way, let’s briefly review the major happenings. In the coming weeks, I’ll dive deeper into the key character/story arcs for a more detailed analysis.
One of the more predominant story-arcs dealt with Litchfield itself. When Caputo discovers that the prison is going to be shut down, he approaches a corporation that may be interested in investing. Though their tour of the facility goes as wrong as it possibly could, the corporation decides to takeover. Litchfield is now a private, for-profit prison, the consequences of which are countless. The corporation’s complete disconnect with the actual operation of a prison – not to mention the fact that it views both the inmates and staff as little more than dollar signs – leads to numerous money-saving decisions that seriously reduce the quality of life for everyone at Litchfield.
First, the existing staff has their hours and benefits cut. Then, several new guards are hired at a lower pay rate and are given little to no training. This combination of apathy from the senior guards and the inexperience of the poorly trained new guards, ultimately leads to what has to be the easiest prison-escape of all time. There has probably never been a happier scene in all of Orange then when the ladies of Litchfield were splashing around in that lake together.
Much to the dismay of Red – who was just making her triumphant return to the kitchen – pre packaged, boil-in-the-bag meals are introduced to cut food costs. Despite the appetizing names given to the new food, it has the consistency of diarrhea and a taste that was described as, “like brown.” The most interesting change made by the corporate over-lords was the introduction of a new job that pays $1 an hour – which is almost 10 times more than what most prisoners were being paid. The women were chosen at random for the new job, which is sewing underwear for a company called Whispers that the corporation owns, so essentially it’s a sweatshop. I love the position clearly being taken here and the commentary on how fucked up for-profit (all?) prisons are.
One of the “lucky” ladies chosen to work in the sweatshop is Piper. Early on she notices that there is an excess of material being wasted that the corporation doesn’t seem to care about and she makes herself a pair of the panties. After an enlightening talk about fetishes – panty sniffers in particular – she gets the brilliant, yet fairly unpleasant idea for Felonious Spunk: used panties from prisoners. Capitalizing on the horrible new food menu, she buys up all the Ramen noodles in the commissary and offers the flavor packets inside them as payment to the women who wear the underwear for her.
Piper’s man on the outside is her brother Cal, who happened to know quite a bit about the panty sniffing market already. With Larry and Polly no longer a part of Piper’s story – thank goodness – Cal and his wife provide an excellent, far more entertaining replacement. That said, I will never look at miso the same way again thanks to those two. Felonious Spunk is an instant hit and as the season progresses, Piper continues to grow her business. Mirroring the story of the prison guards, the panty-ladies unionize with Flaca as their leader. They demand real money for their work, forcing Piper to turn to Red for organized crime advice.
Speaking of instant hits, The Time Hump Chronicles was a definite standout for this season. Suzanne’s sci-fi erotica – described as “two people connecting with four other people, and aliens” – is deemed too raunchy for a drama class production, but the inmates can’t get enough of it. Suzanne is constantly hounded for more chapters and a fan base for the story quickly forms. What makes this so amazing is that, despite the story’s extreme pornographic nature, Suzanne has never even had sex. She essentially made up all the content from pop culture and the world around her.
Aside from the hilarious conversations surrounding the story itself, the best things to happen as a result of Time Hump are the relationships Suzanne ends up creating. Firstly, Poussey finds it in her heart to forgive Suzanne for the brutal beating she gave her under the command of Vee. For much of season three Poussey was dealing with an emptiness left by a lack of love. When Suzanne explains that she felt love from Vee, Poussey can easily sympathize. Secondly, Suzanne’s biggest fan ends up being interested in more than just what happens next in Time Hump. I can’t wait to see that relationship explored further next season.
Norma-Lovers & Kosher Meals
Spirituality and religion were at the center of several storylines this season, both in the past and present. It’s a popular belief amongst the inmates that Gloria and Norma were responsible for Vee’s disappearance, and they have since acquired many ‘followers.’ While at first it seems that Norma has misappropriated the Latin culture for her own benefit, when we get a glimpse into her backstory we learn that a different kind of spiritual healing is in fact a part of her past. We also finally discover the reason she doesn’t speak: she has a severe stutter.
Looking for acceptance, a young Norma joins a spiritual cult. Even when their leader, Guru Mac, is revealed to be a fraud, Norma remains faithful to the cause. She brings this type of faith with her to Litchfield and though the group that forms around her is initially positive, things quickly turn sour. Some of the members want the group to be a recognized religion so that they can be privy to the rights that go along with it, but others are just looking for community. When Norma realizes that her group no longer provides the kindness she sought to foster, she decides to call it quits.
Kosher meals become a popular alternative to the pre-packaged gruel when the inmates discover they can order them under the protection of religious freedom. Of course, the majority of the people taking advantage of this aren’t Jewish, and eventually a Rabbi is hired to interview the inmates and learn who is actually entitled to them. While at first Cindy is just in it for the ‘better’ food, she eventually decides that Judaism might be just what she needs. After watching Cindy play a mostly comedic role, I was blown away by her moving speech to the Rabbi about how she feels that she “finally found her people.”
Still to come in the following weeks:
- Big Boo & Pennsatucky’s friendship.
- The flashbacks of Chang, Leanne, Flaca, and several others.
- Bennett and Nicky’s early exits from the season.
- The feud between Gloria and Sophia, and the resulting trans phobia in the prison.
- Daya’s baby dilemma.
- Alex’s increasing paranoia.
- The ridiculous hotness of the new Australian inmate, Stella.
- Poor, lonely Soso.
- Morello’s spontaneous marriage.