The inmates and guards of Litchfield Penitentiary Prison are back again! After a pretty dark season with a real villain (Vee) the show takes a turn for the slightly lighter and the comedic notes of the show are stronger and wittier than ever. Especially during the first half of the season the laughs come plentiful and often, and the reason why we fell in love with the motley crew are reinforced and validated.
The new season of Orange is the New Black has no real villain, at least not a “human” one. The main antagonist is embodied by the corporate world and the evils of privatization, and it allows for some really interesting performances by the guards and the higher-ups who run the prison, a nice change that allows for the viewers to get to know the men and women in blue (or grey) that usually get ignored.
That doesn’t mean that the focus is drawn away from the ladies that keep us coming back to the show episode after episode. In fact, quite the opposite is true. As far as back stories go, the running stylistic and narrative device that has come to define the show, they are back – but are a bit more surprising this season because they focus almost entirely on characters that have previously been more in the background. None of the major characters get this treatment, rather we are treated with more information on Norma, the mute kitchen worker, Big Boo, or Pennsatucky, who this season is finally allowed to shine and evolve beyond the pathetic and cringeworthy sidekick she’s been previously. This is especially nice given that Taryn Manning is a very talented actress who flies very often under the radar but over the past decade and a half has continued to turn in very good work in a wide array of roles (as well as being a quite talented singer in the band Boomkat).
Consistent greats like Lorna and Red get really good and especially funny arcs this season that allow the actresses to tap into an arsenal of acting and emotion that came as revelations. Lorna Morello becomes more human and at the same time shows her desperation for validation as she attempts human connections that reach outside the prison walls. Red, still reeling from all the events of the past season, has a new mission in mind to occupy her time and the wily ways in which she goes about to achieve this dream are as funny as they are brilliant.
Newcomers to the show include Lori Petty in a hilarious turn as paranoid new inmate Lolly and Ruby Rose as Stella as a beautiful androgynous inmate who gets into cahoots with Piper. Speaking of Piper, she is still the problematic center of an otherwise stellar and amazing series. I never really liked her – I get that she is our reason into the prison and her viewpoint allows the viewer to meet and get to know the rest of the inmates, but her presence has begun to ware thin. This season she is given more to work with, both in her relationship with a newly imprisoned Alex as well as with a new money-making scheme that occupies a significant focus of the storytelling. Her character is just annoying, entitled, and the very definition of privileged. Her utter lack of self-awareness is what makes her character madding, and it would be alright if she were more of a background character like Soso, but so much screen time is given her that I can’t help but roll my eyes and sometimes scream at the screen every time she come on (at least in my group of friends, hatred for Piper is widespread).
The show is at its best when it gives us a peek at the humanity of the characters. Black Cindy finally cracks a little and suddenly I felt some empathy for a character that usually is just loud and obnoxious. Taystee and Poussey are still there, but are not quite as memorable this season after truly getting a lot of screen time last season. Gloria and Sophia get to play together and off each other a lot this season, and where their characters end up is really interesting.
The show is still the series we all know and love, even as it evolves. It’s easy to see why the show was already renewed for a fourth season. With no spoilers whatsoever, the show leaves off with really interesting cliffhangers and sets itself up for what could be a really fascinating next chapter. Overall, fans of the show will not be left wanting and a satisfying series continues to be as good as ever.