Netflix knew everyone was eager enough for Season 3 of Orange is the New Black that they released it several hours ahead of the June 12 schedule. Buzz had already been circulating on the Internet about the show since Netflix announced back in April that it was already renewed for another season. For those who haven't binge-watched the entirety of Season 3 already, know this review contains SPOILERS. Read on at your own risk.
Season 3 takes viewers even deeper into the prison-industrial complex when Litchfield is set to close, but is instead purchased by a private corporation. There had been rumors last summer that Season 3 would focus more closely on the staff of the prison, and it does follow the prison employees as their hours are cut, incompetent and poorly trained co-workers are hired, and the original workers ultimately attempt to unionize. While from the point of view of the prisoners, the guards are often the enemy, this season does a great job of showing how when the difficult work guards are expected to do isn't valued, it becomes hard for even the one's with their hearts in the right place to do their jobs effectively. When the prison is focused on the monetary bottom line, everyone suffers.
I also appreciated that this season delves into the backstories of some of different ensemble characters, like Dayanara and her mother Aleida, Boo, and Chang. I am enjoying the way watching the series is like peeling layers off an onion. The further we move into the plot, the more we learn about all of the women stuck in Litchfield and the roads which lead them there. The Mother's Day episode was a great start to the season, and dealt with a variety of viewpoints around motherhood quite well. I am enjoying a lot of the new alliances which are starting to develop this season. While Boo and Pennsatucky or Suzanne and Taystee or Soso and Poussey and might seem like strange bedfellows, it actually works. It's interesting the way tragic circumstances can bring people together in unusual ways, and the show handles that phenomenon really well.
I was a bit confused by the way the series dealt with the backstories of Leanne and Norma. It's hard to connect the dots between Leanne, the devout Amish girl, and Leanne, the idiot methhead we were introduced to in Season 1. I'm curious whether a rewatch will connect the dots on that point. Her character was always the sheep following whatever leader asserted themselves most strongly, so maybe it will actually add up in the end or upon closer reviewing. The cult of Norma, however, is one of the low points of Season 3 for me. At first, maybe, it's kind of charming, and maybe these prisoners are just so desperate for literally anything to believe in that they will put faith in almost anyone. I suppose Norma just likes feeling important and special, but I also have a hard time believing that even with a terrible stutter it would be possible for anyone to not say a single word for so many years. I could just be projecting, but even as an introvert, I can't imagine never saying a single word to anyone, even accidentally. But I think I can chalk this misfire up to the antics of Leanne and Angie, who always take everything a bit too far. I had the same issue with the way the prison activism was dealt with back in Season 2.
Additionally, while I appreciate their desire to deal with the very real issues of transphobia in our culture, I also felt that plotline with Sophia wasn't handled well. Again, I think this is because it is Season 3. If Sophia had been attacked that way in Season 1, it would ring much more true. But aside from a little bit of a bumpy start, she's been generally well-liked and at peace with the rest of the inmates. I guess it's possible that a rumor or two started by the right people could incite latent bigots to violence, but it felt like the writers were trying to make a cultural statement instead of the attacks manifesting as a coherent plot point in the season.
And as always, Piper's story is the low point of the plot. Jenju Kohan just clearly has a thing for pretty, privileged, entitled, self-absorbed white women who get in way over their heads trying to do things they don't know the first thing about. At least Weed's Nancy Botwin managed to be somehow empathetic and somehow likeable in the midst of it all. Whether it was the widow thing or the acting skills of Mary-Louise Parker I'm not sure, but it's just not the same with Piper. I mostly just want to punch her in the face and scream, “What are you thinking?!” I don't blame Vause for dumping her at all, and their on-again, off-again thing is also really, really old by now.
Aside from Piper's apparent need to be the Godfather of Litchfield, I actually am really enjoying the panty sales plotline. It makes a lot of sense as a black market for a women's prison, and I'm quite happy with the kink-positive spin Orange is the New Black is taking with it. The fact that it might not be something any of these women would do if they weren't in prison, but that neither the show nor the characters shame the men buying the panties or the women themselves for choosing to participate in the project.
Some of the episodes in the middle of the season were a bit slow, but I think that's normal for any series, and there was enough interesting stuff happening to keep me coming back for more. Season 3 also definitely didn't end with a bang (more of a question mark I guess?), which is a little bit frustrating coming from Jenji Kohan, who is known for her cliff-hanger endings. Overall, however, I really enjoyed both the depth and breadth this season of the series was able to embrace, and I hope that continues moving forward. There are a lot of loose ends needing to be tied up, that's for sure. But at least we know there will be a Season 4 to attempt it.
This review was originally published by The Horn on 6/14/2015.