Okay, truth time. I’m still working out in my head exactly how I want things to go on my blog. How I want to categorize things, how I want things to look, etc. And this is one of them. These Season Wrap Ups, especially when it comes to shows like Orange is the New Black which airs an entire season all on the same day. And I’m a pretty excellent binge watcher when I want to be, so this latest season, for instance, was watched over a weekend. But it seems a little…I don’t know, rushed I guess, for me to post my season premier recap and season wrap up all on the same day. So I waited. I gave it about two months for the show to be available before I wrote up this Season Three wrap up. But I’m not sure if I like this either. Seeing as it’s been two months since I watched the season…
But let’s be real, you’re not here to listen to me think through the logistics of my blog. So let’s get started breaking down Season Three of Orange is the New Black.
Piper’s Diminished Focus
For me, this was a real highlight. Let me be clear, I enjoy Piper as a character. I think she was a good Trojan Horse used to get us, the audience, inside Litchfield Prison. I find her compelling, even when she’s being awful. But I appreciate that, while she’s still the lead character, she’s become more of just one among the many when it comes to the Litchfield inmates. She’s less of an anomaly now, less someone special who doesn’t fit the prison image. She’s not the new girl or the outsider, but a true part of the world. And the decision to eliminate Polly and Larry and her outside life almost entirely (just like most of the other inmates) makes that integration and assimilation into the Litchfield world all the more tangible and potent.
Backstories of Lesser Known Characters
I suppose this really goes hand in hand with the above, but one of the best parts of the show is seeing the backstories of the other characters. Especially ones like Nicky and Alex and Taystee and Red whose backstories are more than a one and done story line. We like these characters and we want to know more about them, and even if the backstories don’t exactly add to anything story wise that’s happening in the Litchfield present day, they add a depth to the rest of the characters, fleshing out these people and their stories and making even the smallest interactions between them mean something more.
Piper Going Dark
I won’t go too much into my feelings on this since I already wrote a whole post on Piper’s character development over the season (read it here), but suffice it to say, I’m here for it. I find her downward spiral, her giving into her more insensitive and manipulative side, to be both realistic and compelling. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that our lead is exposed as someone far less than heroic and instead is someone selfish and self serving and cruel. And, though some people called Piper’s “lack of character development” lazy writing, I found it to be obviously intentional and appreciated when Alex noticed her mean streak and called her out on it. Piper’s developing her negative qualities for sure, but it’s not going unchecked.
Orange is the New Black is one of those shows, unlike ones about families and groups of friends, that are about collections of people who seemingly have nothing in common, but have to come together and form a community anyway. And one of the best things about such a community is the odd couple friendships you end up with. Boo and Pennsatucky would absolutely never spend time together out in the real world, but this prison environment has forced them together and they’ve managed to find some kind of common ground and form one of the sweetest and most captivating friendships I’ve seen on television. And there’s isn’t the only one. I’ve loved the support Sister Ingalls has offered to Sophia throughout the series and I’m so looking forward to seeing how Poussey and Soso get on, whether platonically or romantically (I’m hoping for romantically <3).
Unpleasant Realities of Prison Life
As much as I love the stories of these women coming together and growing together and becoming a community who cherish and support one another, I appreciate that the show never forgets that it takes place in a prison. Maybe it’s not always 100% accurate in its depiction of prison life, but it certainly does well in making the atmosphere and environment one of apathy, carelessness, and inhumanity. The prison is overrun by bed bugs. It’s underfunded to the point of serving inedible food and providing extremely poor medical care. And it’s staffed by under trained corrections officers, putting inmates like Sophia in danger and punishing her for being in danger, and self centered and dispassionate counselors like Healy, who was directly responsible for Soso’s overdose. Not to mention, we’re three seasons in and three corrections officers have proved to be rapists. And that’s just the staff. For all that we love and care about these women serving time in Litchfield, they’re not all angels. Sophia’s treatment towards the end of the season – by both her fellow inmates and the prison staff – was so, so hard to watch, but at the same time contained such terrible, real truths.
The Not So Good
Lack of Through Story
While I’m all for deepening the characters of the guards and staff of Litchfield, there was far too much focus put on them. I like Caputo for the most part (I find him to be the staff member with the strongest sense of duty towards the inmates), but it really seemed like he became the lead character of the show this season, even over Piper. The major story line this season – that of the prison going corporate – was his. And that just doesn’t work. We’re in this for the inmates. The guards and staff can have standout moments, but their overall purpose should be to assist and further the stories of the prisoners. And so while I enjoyed the inmate’s story lines – Piper’s panty ring, Black Cindy’s religious awakening, the cult of Norma, and Sophia, Gloria, and Aleida’s attempts at motherhood – they were very clearly secondary stories. I wanted far more of them and far less of the staff (even if I did cheer when they all started singing “Do You Hear the People Sing.”)
Lack of a Well Developed Antagonist
Similar to the above, the corporate takeover of the prison just never got interesting enough to be the ultimate season antagonist. The buyer never became developed as a person at all, and his motivations never deepened into anything more than bland corporate greed. In Season Two, Vee was fascinating. Her maternal, nurturing side mixed in with her psychopathic manipulations kept me glued to her story. Her developing relationship with Suzanne, her fracturing the relationship between Poussey and Taystee, her rivalry with Red – all of these elements made her someone intricate and complex and above all interesting. That needs to come back.
Losing Nicky and Bennett
So I’m all for characters coming and going. That’s just a part of life, and therefore has to be a part of just about any story. People come and people go. But…when Tricia and Ms. Claudette left in Season One, for example, there was closure. Nicky and Bennett, on the other hand – two very prominent and important characters to the show so far – were dispatched with incredibly quickly and with seemingly no follow up. I kept waiting the whole season for something to come of either of their disappearances, but I was disappointed. I guess getting rid of Bennett made way for PornStache’s mother to get in the mix, but his departure was so abrupt, I didn’t realize what had happened until an episode or two later. I need more follow up on the two of them, more closure. I’m not down with both being gone for good.
Hopes for Season Four
I don’t want to spend this section simply repeating myself, so I’ll start by just saying I hope they fix their mistakes from Season Three: bring the focus back to the inmates, give us someone great to root against, and bring back Nicky and Bennett (and Stella!).
I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Piper’s downward spiral, and truthfully I’m glad about that. I want it to develop, to deepen to the point where she’s almost unrecognizable in her cruelty. And I want it to crush her. I want her, like Vee before her, to rise up and take over the prison in some way and then get so high the only thing left for her to do is come crashing down. I’m very hopeful that Piper ends up being the Big Bad of Season Four (and the Season Five can start her redemption tour).
Throughout Season Three we got to see the setup of the Faux Martha Stewart through the inmates watching her trial on tv. I can’t imagine that was set up for no reason, so I’m optimistic about her celebrity stirring up trouble in Litchfield. I do hope there’s balance when it comes to her, though. Just like the guards this season, she shouldn’t steal too much focus. Instead, it’s important to make new characters like her have stories that are integral to the characters we already know and love.
There’s still several women we know little about. Maritza, Gina, Anita, Lolly, Maria, Soso, Yoga Jones – all characters I’d love to see backstories for in Season Four. And I’m sure there’s always more to tell about those we’ve already seen some of. And if she does come back, I’d love for Stella to become more than just the hot girl Piper hooked up with when Alex got to emotional.
Well, that’s Season Three of Orange is the New Black. Certainly it was the weakest season in my opinion so far, but I’m optimistic for Season Four. Even if I do have to wait until next June for more.