“It’s sardine time bitches”
Season 3 of Orange is the New Black left us on a very sudden shift in the prison dynamic with the old prisoners frolicking in a lake, the old guards quitting and influx of bus-loads of new prisoners. Season 4 picks up right where we left off, as everyone comes back in from their fleeting moment of freedom to the uncomfortable new reality.
I was not fully sold on OITNB last season as it felt like it was meandering through plot and if I am being honest, I can barely remember what happened outside the finale and I am happy to say that this season rights the ship in a phenomenal way. Having been renewed for another three seasons, the show can allow for main characters to take a back seat for long stretches of episode, if they are not integral to the main story being told. That does not mean they are left by the wayside, they are just able to have them fill out the world and provide amusing and often heartfelt asides amidst the ongoing battle between prisoners and guards. To help fill in the holes left by the old security team, a new group are sent in from the maximum security prison and they bring with them a whole new way of running Litchfield.
Having been bought by MCC, the prison has become privatised and with Caputo as its new warden, he tries to do what is best for the prisoners while being met with the heartless corporate face of people wanting to run the most profitable prison they can. Season 4 tackles a lot of subjects that usually spark controversy, from prison overcrowding, racism and women’s rights in and out of jail. Each story is handled really well because the time is taken to establish both sides of the story by fleshing out each character involved. Even the skinheads have a sort of goofy side to them, although it is their only tiny redeeming quality as they are intentionally one of the most grating parts of this season.
Speaking of (and without any spoilers) Piper Chapman is now feeling like she is the new big boss on campus after her dealings with Stella last season and her burgeoning panty fetish business. Through her brimming overconfidence she becomes embroiled in the world of prison gangs, coming up against the Latinas and inevitably getting in way over her head. The show begins to bring Piper back to the likeable side of personality this season, and bringing her back into everyone’s orbit. Alex is left to deal with the aftermath of her crisis from last season which drives a lot of the drama this season. There is also the introduction of Judy King, a famous TV chef who was dropped off at Litchfield in the season finale. She instantly creates a commotion and changes dynamics of the prison and she is used to explore what the introduction of a privileged prisoner does to a privately owned jail. A few of the smaller stories involve Big Boo trying to help Pennsatucky move on from being assaulted by Coates, Tastee becoming Caputo’s personal assistant and the oh-so-sweet new romance between Poussey and So-So (it is so god damn adorable!).
Orange is the New Black has confused Emmy voters ever since it began as to its classification as either a drama or a comedy, and the show balances the two so deftly it is easy to see why. It is hard to speak about the best parts of the season without spoiling the show, but rest assured it definitely brings the comedy, the heart and the shocking moments that have become associated with the show. The show stays true to its characters while introducing new ones who also feel real. This may be my favourite season OITNB has done and with at least three more years ahead, it shows no signs of slowing down.