While I find this preface unnecessary I must warn you that by tagging this review as a review it should be clear from the outset that there are SPOILERS below so I must insist that if you have yet to watch season three of Orange Is The New Black then you have no business reading any further.
There’s a powerful word of mouth domino effect that helps shows such as Orange Is The New Black garner their reputation as a must-see. What’s more impressive is that it’s been able to break through to the mainstream pop culture radar having opened exclusively on Netflix without major television backing, it’s earned buckets of awards, sparked busy careers for some of its fresh-faced cast members as well as relighting the careers of some of its seasoned actresses among whom have risen to become role models for communities looking for a real role model to look up to. Names aren’t necessary here because everyone reading will know exactly who I’m speaking of. She made the cover of Time for God sake.
It’s undeniable. With barely a third season under its wing, this show speaks volumes to women (and men) everywhere. It has the power.
I hopped on the OITNB bandwagon somewhere between season one earning itself the greatest word of mouth persuasion that I’ve ever been convinced by, and the season two premiere which left my eye sockets burning from a 12 hour Netflix marathon. This year I would not do the same thing.
I would attempt to pace myself through the allotted 13 episodes the gods of Netflix graces us with once a year at a reasonable rate. Finally, after nearly a week after the release, I have finished Season 3.
How was it? It was great. Few reviews I’ve seen on social media had anything bad to say aside from one Meninist blogger complaining that Larry was nowhere to be seen but we leave that foolishness at the door and shut it firmly behind us. Larry was bullshit and took up far too much time in season 2. This year he is mentioned once. The relief is palpable. What’s also palpable is the vibe after season twos finale which left its villain most likely dead.
Having spent the first two seasons going back and forth between the before and after’s and the in’s and out’s and drinking in Chapman’s adjustment to prison life the writers found room for bigger and broader character development than they ever have before. Chapman is no longer the focal point this year, while it’s her story that walked us through the gates we reach season 3 with a refreshing curiosity about each of the other inmates with screentime dedicated to exploring not just one side of a prisoners personality but reading through their backstory with more delicacy than previous seasons had patience for.
We were on the clock last year, this time the vibe of the storytelling seems to have some more foliage, we no longer feel super sketchy about Pensatucky who’s narrative gets a big healthy shot of development and is at the centre of some of the most touching interactions of the entire season. With season three we expand beyond the good girl gone bad narrative, the ‘how she ended up here’ story arcs are still prevalent but it now extends to the prison staff as well. The writing has gone up a gear and last season’s nemesis Vee is all but forgotten only for the mark she left on Red’s face and Crazy-Eye’s sense of abandonment which takes a while to shrug off, however, she does so beautifully, by distracting herself writing some smut that soon circulates the prison helping her confidence before she gets her reward for being such a good girl honaayyyyyyy.
It delivers everything I was hoping for like Piper and Alex’s love affair no longer being a love affair at all, just a smooth ride into girlfriend-ville with some bumpy hate sex and a pretty Aussie that comes in to stop everyone’s favourite prison boos getting too comfortable. While pretty Aussie is refreshing and has a killer accent the bitch has the blogosphere up in arms over her ‘butch look’ that Miley Cyrus has been repping since before OITNB even aired but that’s none of my business Ruby Rose, you do you girl.
The flashbacks this season are shorter but sweeter, we revisit histories of inmates we’ve already covered before to proceed the developments leading on to some new backstories we had yet to cover (might I add I’ve never enjoyed the flashbacks more than the ones we see this season) such as Nikki’s descent from neglected rich child to junkie to inmate, Boo’s struggle with her butch image from a young age, Chen’s involvement in a bounty-smuggling crime gang, and we finally find out why-sweetie- pie-says-nothing-voice-of-a-Christmas-angel Norma ended up behind bars. By the way, she’s totally in the right for what she did, unlike, one painfully ironic incident with some fake acid and a high school roof (every interpretation is correct).
Some of your favourites have gotten moved around by the time you get to episode 13 and it’s not easy to watch. The time bomb left behind by V in the form of several bags of heroin hidden in the laundry room becomes an issue that cannot be resolved and it still has me feeling upset. What also upset me was Pensatucky’s rape scene in the back of the van. It’s as close to horror as OITNB has ever come, it left me petrified, and foggy eyed and close to trembling, but it was also the most lucid moment all season.
What’s also touching about this season is the friendships being nurtured throughout the season, while I’ve already mentioned Pensatucky it’s important to mention that after finishing the series the one friendship that seems to have benefited the tribulations of these last thirteen episodes is that of her and Boo. Neither inmate has ever been as vulnerable as they are here. The development we see with this friendship says nothing about where they came from, it’s not in any way related to their backstories and this is perhaps what’s so refreshing about their frank talks throughout.
On the other hand, we see Red (who is gifted with some of the greatest philosophical one-liners in the script) spitting the hottest truth tea while she spends her time fighting for her kitchen back by shamelessly flirting with that scumbag Officer Healy who feels he can make a life for her when she get’s out. During this weird relationship development Red drops what is probably my favourite quote of the season;
“You take a woman’s power away. Her work, her family her currency. You leave her with one coin…the one she was born with. It may be tawdry and demeaning, but if she has to, she will spend it. But you’re right, your feelings count too.”
She plays him the way he’s been edging for, for probably years now. I never have time for Healy. We get a glimpse of his backstory but all he cares to remember for us is that his mother was batshit crazy. Which in my book doesn’t justify the way he bullies the new counsellor C.O Rodgers who he ends up talking into a suspension. Luckily we have a deranged Soso who is channelling season 2 Chapman while she silently loses her shit right on schedule and finally tells Healy he’s bad at his job.
I always liked Soso.
Another theme weaved into 3 more heavily than in 2 or 1 is the theme of Motherhood.
So much so that they dedicated the first episode to Mothers Day, a day where Sofia will plant the seed for every fuck up coming her way over the next 13 episodes. Also in Episode 1, we get a charming lesson on how to use your baby to cope if you’re addicted to coke and imprisoned.
We see a jarring depiction of what it’s like to be a mother behind bars and the stain it can have on the psyche when Gloria’s son starts acting out and she pulls him in for a sharp as tack reality check.
We see the way that they’ve had a hand in raising one another to what they are now. In the absence of Pornstache, we meet his delightful string of pearls mother who wants Bennetts abandoned baby which arrives right on time around episode 12.
Of the disappointments in Season three, by far the biggest fuck up is Officer Baby Daddy Bennett!
When Bennett can’t take the heat from Caputo not recognizing his love for Daya as a legitimate thing, he decides not to prove himself, not even to try… No he throws us a flashback with Hollaback Girl inserted and straight up bounces from his duties leaving behind his babies mother and a cot on the side of the road around episode 3. When the Mendoza’s notice he isn’t coming back anytime soon they begin to pull together in their frayed, difficult way and don’t seem to ever really patch up their mother/daughter rift however they feed us enough painful summer camp flashback to make us feel like the hole is somewhat filled before the baby arrives promptly around episode 12.
Just around the time where we realize Warden Caputo’s life could’ve been totally different had he been smart and decided not to be the hero and maybe then he wouldn’t be rewarding me with a sex scene that makes me SO uncomfortable but also tackles a little something for Joe I didn’t notice, I had. There is a lesson in here, which to me proves that ‘Orange’ has been able to code in life lessons to every last story arc they plant, which makes it a worthwhile watch for every demographic I can think of.