Welcome back to Litchfield Penitentiary for the third season of Netflix’s spectacular Orange Is the New Black. Some fans favour binge marathons whilst others may have the self-control to savoir a few episodes per week. Either way, the third helping of Jenji Kohan’s prison comedy drama has its strengths and weaknesses.
Minor spoilers ahead!
After a much darker and grittier second season, this season is a lot lighter and breezier. The opening episode sees the inmates preparing for a celebration of Mother’s Day, breaking the standard formula of offering a single character’s origin and instead serving small vignettes of several character flashbacks which focus on the relationships with their mothers. It certainly offers a wide range of the different mothers out there, from good mothers to bad mothers, stand in mothers to mother figures, but ultimately this method is scattered and disorganized.
What is clear from the onset is that Piper (Taylor Schilling) is no longer the main character. The middle class Yuppie who once served as a fish-out-water is now reduced to a supporting role. This comes as no surprise considering OITNB has diverse characters who are frankly more interesting than Piper.
Poussey (Samira Wiley), an outspoken and good-humoured inmate, struggles with loneliness and the loss of her beloved mother; Sophia (Laverne Cox), a transgender inmate, encounters hostility from her teenage son, and Daya (Dascha Polanco) faces the prospect of becoming a mother herself and has to deal with the unwanted interest of Pornstache’s mother who is under the impression that she is the baby’s grandmother.
Meanwhile, Piper’s on-off girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon) is reintroduced to Litchfield after Piper evened the score by ratting her out. The dynamics of their relationship is indeed switched; Alex, the once confident international drug smuggler, becomes the vulnerable one. By reintroducing her, Piper becomes isolated from interacting with other characters so their confused relationship strays into tediousness.
The first half of the season seems to be groundwork; the pace begins to pick up when Stella (Ruby Rose) is introduced and soon becomes Piper’s romantic interest. Meanwhile, prison boss Caputo (Nick Sandow) battles the privatization of the prison, tempers flare between paranoid Alex and suspicious new inmate Lolly (Lori Petty), and a dispute over parenting turns physical between Gloria (Selenis Leyva) and Sophia.
Ultimately, what’s missing this season is conflict. Far too many times the narrative simply plods along without any actual direction. Rather than focusing on major storylines, the writers have opted for major themes such as motherhood and faith as mute Norma (Annie Golden) becomes an almost religious figure within the prison.
An irritating plot hole appears when the irreplaceable foul-mouthed Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) is quickly shipped off to Max. Security with barely any mention of her later on in the season; even Nicky’s best friend and occasional lover Morello (Yael Stone) seems to have forgotten about her.
What Orange Is the New Black seems to have fallen victim to is that the writers have introduced too many characters who all want an equal slice of the cake. The balancing act of all these characters seems to have taken a toll on the quality of the programme. For the previous seasons, it was refreshing to see such a diverse and queer friendly cast but OITNB seems to have introduced too many characters to keep track of.
Nevertheless, season three isn’t terrible. Though it certainly has its flaws, there are plenty of heart-warming moments, especially when it comes to the unlikely friendship of butch Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and devout Christian Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning). As Pennsatucky faces unwanted attention from a new guard, Big Boo dishes out several hilariously great speeches. Meanwhile, underrated character Soso (Kimiko Glen) endures severe depression after failing to find her prison family. On the contrary, Uzo Aduba is on firing form as Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren, dishing out perfect one liners – “once you know Santa Claus isn’t real, it’s all downhill from there.”
If you’re looking for a fun and cheerful thirteen hours then the third season of Orange Is the New Black is for you. Alas, if you’re looking for the continuation of grittiness and dark humour displayed in the previous seasons, perhaps stay away. Fingers crossed that the fourth season will return to form!
What did you think of Orange Is the New Black‘s third season?
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