Review: Orange is the New Black, Season 3

Orange is the New Black, starring Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon and Kate Mulgrew

Warning: Spoilers for seasons 1-3

One of the three major shows on Netflix (along with House of Cards and Breaking Bad), Orange is the New Black is notable as being one of the few shows on TV with an almost entirely female led cast – apart from a few of the guards and the odd husband/boyfriend, men don’t have much prominence save in a few flashbacks. But this isn’t a bad thing, and the show has arguably one of the best casts on TV, with seldom a weak performance. And, no, this isn’t just a show for women, I’d recommend guys watch it as well.

Is it a comedy or a drama (or a softcore lesbian film)? To be honest, it can be all three of these, and the fact the show is hard to define isn’t a bad thing. Season 3 has the most split focus of the 3 seasons so far, with multiple subplots rather than one overriding plotline – but I thought this was a big improvement (unlike those reviewers over at Den of Geek – who pissed me off criticising this season to the extent I’m now reviewing it just to voice my disagreement). Season 1 was mainly based on how the privileged Piper Chapman (Schilling) adjusted to living in prison for the first time, and her relationship with Alex (Prepon) a lesbian ex-lover who grassed up Chapman to the police for her involvement in a drug ring Alex ran. Season 2 expanded things a bit, with new prison inmate Vee being the focus as the most despicable villain this show has delivered so far, while Chapman dealt with the breakdown of her relationship with her fiancée Larry on the outside, as well as loneliness after Alex got released.

Season 3 is a different beast – with the three main villains of season 1 and 2 (the perverted prison guard Mendez, the inmate Vee and corrupt prison boss Natalie) gone or limited to cameos, the show spends more time on its supporting cast – even the minor characters like Chang and Norma, who had little to do in seasons 1 and 2, get flashbacks in 3 which enrich their characters.

The major subplots? There’s a religious cult that develops around Norma, one of the inmates who despite being mute has a natural ability to connect with and sooth other inmates, which provides its share of both drama and ludricous comedy, but manages to avoid repeating season 1’s fanatical christian plotline. Joe Caputo, the prison manager, becomes a key player this season as he struggles to keep the prison open, appease his staff and the new management and remain ‘the good guy’ he has been striving to be all his life – probably the most cohesive plot arc of the season. The funniest plot without doubt had to be ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren writing overtly sexual sci-fi fiction which becomes a hit among both the prisoners and a few of the guards, and redeemed crazy eyes in my opinion after I grew to hate her due to her association with Vee in season 2. The fake conversion of the black prisoners to Judaism in order to get the superior Kosher meals also provides plenty of laughs, while their adoption of prisoner outcast Soso in the final episode was heartwarming (and will hopefully make Soso a less annoying character in season 4). Pennsatucky and Big Boo are also a surprisingly affecting odd-couple friendship, and Pennsatucky herself has gone from one of the main antagonists in season 1 to one of the most likeable characters in season 3 – it’s amazing what the right pairing and a few flashbacks can do.

As for Piper, after ensuring Alex got re-arrested at the end of season 2, here they resume their twisted yet loveable relationship (now even, having both screwed each other over – both literally and figuratively) but there’s a few new elements in the mix: Alex’s new paranoia that her former drug boss is out to murder her for betraying him, Piper’s new enterprise which involves selling prisoners’ used panties to online perverts for profit (surely both the weirdest and the funniest idea OITNB has ever come up with!) and Stella (Ruby Rose) a new inmate who catches Piper’s eye (and that of most of the viewers judging by the comments i’ve seen!). This new love triangle isn’t as wearisome as the Larry-Piper-Alex one in season 1, and Piper is far less annoying than in previous seasons as her character becomes both colder and more ruthless – a welcome change from the insecure mess she occasionally became in earlier episodes.

Overall, season 3 is definitely my favourite of the 3 so far, the comedy is at its apex and the drama took a step back after getting slightly too dark last season, and Piper and various other characters have become much more likeable.

Season Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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