It is once again time for us to visit our favorite inmates at Litchfield prison, where drama is never in short supply. This season sees the prison at the cusp of change as the prison goes from public to private, and the changes its bringing are not the most welcome. One of Netflix’s best and brightest series premiered to a lot of fanfare, and those fans will not be disappointed.
Let’s take a look at Orange is the New Black, Season 3.
Vee and Miss Rosa are dead, Red and Alex are back, and Litchfield is closing, and fast. There’s a lot going on at our favorite upstate New York prison. There are a lot of subplots going on, so rather than try to give you an entire overview of the season and inevitably miss something or someone important, I am going to go through the all the subplots quickly in three sections: The good, the bad, and the ugly. This is, of course, SPOILER TERRITORY so if you haven’t finished the season, skip to the end of the section.
The Good: The prison gets bought by a private company in order to remain open but part of the deal is not only more inmates but also worse food and worse guard. Piper finally starts accepting her dark side and begins running a crime ring of sorts — running a used panty ring. However, a sexy new inmate and love interest for Piper named Stella steals her money as she is getting out soon. Despite Piper’s feelings for her, she places contraband all over her room and gets her sent to maximum security. Piper’s new motto is “trust no bitch” but she’s now determined not to get played anymore.
Red returns to run the kitchen as she wanted though she can’t cook as she used to, save for secret dinner parties she has, and divorces her husband after finding out her store has closed. Norma forms an impromptu cult and stars as its main deity, which she would be really good at it since she was in a cult for much of her life. Leanne is revealed to be Amish, surprise of surprises, and was dragged into revealing a drug ring involving other Amish teens during Rumspringa, which angers many people in her community. She ultimately leaves to spare her family the disgrace, which is incredibly heartbreaking.
Pennsatucky and Big Boo become better friends, to the benefit of both. Big Boo’s past is revealed about how she has always had to defensive about her butch lesbian status. Pennsatucky’s story is the saddest with a look at lower white class understandings of sexuality and sexual abuse. At one point, she had a boyfriend who broke her out of the sexually and emotionally damaging cycle of trading favors or goods for sex, but once he leaves she falls right back into it. She later befriends one of the new male guards who begins to show aggressive and dominating tendencies, and ultimately he rapes her. She and Big Boo are out to get revenge until they ultimately decide that it is useless and gets Pennsatucky out of van duty by having her fake a seizure.
The biggest surprise though is Mei Chang, who has been running around the in background of the show only to prove that this is how Chang essentially gets away with lots of infractions. She once worked helping her brother smuggling in rare items from abroad, acting as sort of the unseen partners. Chang even has a secret stash in a shack where she watches Chinese language dramas and eats oranges. I do hope we see more about Chang, her smart movie references and how she got caught.
Daya finally has her baby and her mother Aleida had tried to essentially sell the child to Pornstache’s mother. Bennett, for no reason and without a word, disappears after proposing to Daya, leaving her alone and afraid. The whole story follows Aleida’s understanding of motherhood and how it ultimately “destroys her life” though it is ultimately her own selfishness that ruins her children. Aleida ultimately lies to Pornstache’s mom by saying the baby died and tells Caesar to come get the baby, but after a raid is taken into foster care.
The Bad: In the wake of Vee’s disappearance, Crazy Eyes is still reeling from the loss while Poussey is still lashing out about her treatment and working through her alcoholism and loneliness. As they both come to understand each other’s pain, Crazy Eyes not being treated like a person and Poussey’s pain, Crazy Eyes (now referred to as Suzanne) begins writing an erotic fiction that gets passed around the prison and gets her a certain level of fame. It feels a little out of place in terms of the whole prison drama and honestly, it adds so little to the plot and has so little humor that I wish they had skipped it all together. There’s also a bit where many of the women try to avoid the terrible food by asking for the kosher meals only to be interrogated by a rabbi.
We learn a little about Caputo’s story and it’s about as uninteresting as it sounds. Essentially, he’s spent his whole life trying to do the right thing and it ends up screwing him over in the end. His new bosses, who have no idea how to run a prison, also grind the story down. Morello starts writing to men on the outside in an attempt to quell her loneliness and give her something to do. And yes, she does end up marrying one of them, after he goes to beat up her former love, Christopher. Nichols is caught with the drugs from last season and is sent down to max. We also learn that Flaca went to prison because she gave a kid a fake drug and he killed himself.
The Ugly: Alex is coming apart at the seams now that she’s back in prison, terrified of assassins hiding around the corner and, for a while, pissed that Piper ratted her out to her probation officer. It’s a slow downward spiral that once she finally breaks out of is when shit really hits the fans: turns out Kurba really did send someone to get her, though we don’t know how it ends.
Meanwhile, Mendoza and Burset are at odds. Gloria wants to see her rebelling son more to try and keep him in control, so Burset agree to ask her wife to bring him up as well as her son. However, Sophia’s son start acting out in more violent ways, which she then blames on Gloria’s son. When Sophia pushes Gloria and gives her a black eye, Aleida starts spreading terrible rumors about Sophia which get her jumped and later put in SHU for her own protection. It’s a rough subplot in which both women are hurt and are trying to protect their pride as parents, but we won’t know how it all plays out till next season.
Brooke Soso is at the end of rope, feeling isolated and getting little to no help from Healey, who is more concerned with edging out the new counselor than helping Soso. She attempts to kill herself after believing she has nowhere she can go, only to be saved by Poussey and Taystee, ultimately joining their group.
Ultimately, in terms of plot, Season 3 is a very strong season, better than season 2 now that the overarching villain is finally gone. No longer is there a war going on but rather people just trying to cope with change, which makes for better and more complex drama than a thinly veiled villain. Weirdly, it makes for a much more interesting drama and decisions, especially when tensions are rising as sentences go on longer. This proves that the writing team is able to keep the trend of quality seasons and storylines. I will say that if you’re looking for raunchy sex, you’re probably better off watching House of Cards instead, but there’s still violence galore.
The cinematography is as top notch as ever. Not much has changed in terms of the previous seasons in the visuals but why mess with quality? The directing and editing are both still excellent, and the music is good though I wouldn’t venture to say great. The performances given by the inmates are all phenomenal, but there are a few standout performances. Kate Mulgrew is excellent as she rebounds back into prison life, Laverne Cox gets more screen time and every second of it is a joy. Both Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria (Pennsatucky and Big Boo) are in peak form this season with both of their stories and their developing friendship.
The third season of Orange is the New Black might be the best to date and it just goes to show that regular human drama is enough to sustain a good show. It’ll be especially interesting to see next season when the prison will be more crowded than ever and the guards are on strike. It’s all about privatization, corruption, and a whole lot of economic exploitation.
– Great acting.
– Strong editing and directing.
– Strong stories overall.
– Some plots were not as strong as others.