Orange is the New Black Season 3 Review

Orange is the New Black Season 3

The thing that strikes me as the most interesting is the way Orange is the New Black’s third season has been labelled its lightest season yet. In a lot of ways, this holds true, as the show delivers some of its most bizarre and hilarious storylines this season. However, as the season wore on, I found the show dealing with some of the most uncomfortable truths its ever handled, all while putting our favorite group of inmates through a series of torturous new experiences.

There’s nothing wrong with the humor, mind you; it’s easily one of the show’s stronger selling points. From the Time Hump Chronicles putting Suzanne at the center of a Tumblr-level fandom to Piper’s ludicrous speech about using dirty panties as an opportunity to reclaim a small bit of freedom and power, there were some great moments this year. In that respect, the show did in fact reach some of its funniest highs. And that humor was important, providing moments of levity around the heavier story arcs.

The humor also served as a major focus early on because, more than ever before, the show was lacking a clear, tangible villain. Season one focused on Piper’s acclimation, giving her a series of conflicts with everyone from Red to Pennsatucky. Last year, meanwhile, was all about Vee’s arrival, bringing a destructive drug ring and a whole heap of racial tension to the yard. But season three started with everyone at peace, even as the prison staff dealt with the threat of Litchfield being shut down for good.

So while MCC ultimately emerged as the biggest threat to prison stability, it meant little immediate effect on the prisoners themselves. So yeah, there was an opportunity for lighter moments among the different factions, with Taylor and Alex able to enjoy the couple life and start a panty-smuggling business, or for Norma to spread her wings and bring faith to her fellow inmates.

Ultimately, though, the worm began to turn as MCC’s influence brought greater hardships and strain to everyone’s state of normalcy. It was a series of events that reinforced the fact that, yeah, they’re all still in prison, scrambling for any sense of control or agency they could muster. So moments of seeming comradery between Sofia and Gloria turned into a major rift, one that would end with Sofia suffering a hate crime and being unfairly dumped in the SHU. It led Pennsatucky to trust a poorly-trained, sadistic guard who ended up an aggressor and rapist.

Both of these stood out as major, dark turns for the show this year, ones that don’t have happy or definitive endings. As credits roll on the finale, Sofia remains rotting in solitary, while Pennsatucky’s attacker remains employed and with a new potential victim in his sights. There are happier endings, too, such as Soso finally finding a support network among the black inmates or Black Cindy receiving her mikvah, but even these are darkened by the knowledge that MCC’s meddling is about to see the prison population double. There’s a lot left dangling at the end of this season, and a lot of great threads that will no doubt make for fascinating, tense situations right off the bat next year.

As is, this was a season that did a great job on two major fronts. For one, the show shifted focus from Piper more than ever before, truly broadening its horizon and instead focusing on delightful pairings like Boo and Pennsatucky. She was still a presence of course, but her disconnect from a lot of the major themes of the season – like faith and motherhood – as well as her almost villainous turn by the end, leave me assured the show can continue along quite nicely after her eventual release.

Further, the staff was given a greater focus than ever before, with the senior guards given a lot more personality and depth. Again, the first season’s focus on Piper’s struggle meant that they could only ever play as cogs in the machine, but their expanded role this season gave an interesting new dimension to the proceedings, especially as the threat of lost jobs and plans for unionization ramped up.

In a lot of ways, then, season three of Orange is the New Black was a transitional year. The show still managed to give robust story arcs to a majority of its characters, but it was also discovering what sort of shake ups needed to happen to push the show in new directions. With MCC now in place and Caputo more or less turned to the dark side, it’ll be interesting to see where things go and how when the show returns next season.