One of the truest marks of a great show is how it does coming off of one of its best seasons. For a lot of shows, seasons 3 and 4 can be tough – the show is established in its first season, and usually hits a good pace in season 2, and can sometimes struggle to keep up and maintain focus in season 3.
After an amazing sophomore set of episodes, Orange is the New Black came back earlier this month with a solid season, albeit one that lacked some of the momentum of its predecessor.
Notably lacking a “big bad” like Vee, the show bounced around, alternately showing the current situations and origins of the women of Litchfield. At times funny (Felonious Spunk) and at times poignantly sad (who knew we could feel so much for Pensatucky?), it played out like a series of vignettes.
All of the characters are evolving, and it speaks to the strength of the writing that they can grow and reveal new aspects of themselves without losing the audience. Take Pensatucky (Taryn Manning), for example. This season, we find her a quieter, softer version of herself – dare I say humbled by her experiences, she is questioning her sense of self and learning to accept that there are some gray areas in life. Her friendship with Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) seemed odd at first, but by the end of the season, it was one of my favorite storylines. Life has hardened both of these women, and yet somehow, in the end, they make the right choice with the donut-pushing, rapist guard, Coates.
Most surprisingly, I was touched by Black Cindy’s (Adrienne C. Moore) conversion, which started out as a way to get kosher meals, and ended up as a sincere coming of age moment for a woman who, as the new counselor Berdie said of the inmates, seemed to have the emotional maturity of a child.
These high points were offset by Piper’s (Taylor Schilling) evolution. While her new criminal enterprise was amusing at times (her prison yard rallying cry was memorable and her conversations with her brother brought some levity), I didn’t completely buy her newfound lack of empathy and hardened attitude. And although I love the addition of Ruby Rose (beautifully androgynous and captivating on screen as Stella), her talent seemed to be wasted in the love triangle with Piper and Vause (Laura Prepon). Frankly, I just didn’t care that much.
Overall, I’d give the season a B-. I enjoyed it and devoured the episodes, and there is plenty to look forward to next year. Is Vause going to make it out of that garden shed alive? What will happen when the celebrity chef joins the Litchfield gang? And how will all the inmates (and guards) deal with what looks to be a massive influx of new prisoners?
I’ll definitely be tuning in to find the answers to those questions, with the hope that there is a little more focus.