Orange is the New Black Season 4 Review

orange is the new black season 4

On one hand, it feels unfair to boil a season down to a handful of scenes and moments. On the other, when those moments are the ones the whole season has been building towards, well, it’s hard to talk about anything outside of that context. Such was the case with the fourth season of Orange is the New Black, a pivotal year for the show that’s perhaps earned it more media and buzz than it has seen since premiering a short three years ago.

Ultimately, then, the focus of this review is going to come down to the events of the last two episodes, in particular the death of Poussey Washington. It’s an understatement to call this death a hard loss. For the both the characters in the show and the viewers, Poussey has been a beacon of hope and likability. She’s one of the show’s best characters and, as the finale reminds, one of its biggest victims, thrown into prison over a minor drug offense. It’s a minor offense that’s led to her tragic death.

And this escalation makes sense, and tracks with the entire season that came before. More than season three, this year of Orange has explored how problematic MCC’s privatization of the prison truly is. The prisoners have increasingly been treated as less and less human, but the corporate bigwigs, embodied so despicably by Linda, only care about profitability and maintaining a good image. It’s a dangerous mindset that in turn leads to the arrival of Piscatella from Max, the hiring of unhinged veterans as guards, and the continued violation of Sophia’s rights.

So yeah, with so many problems being ignored or escalating through the season, it was inevitable that things would boil over to a tragic degree, and it had to be a major character for us to truly feel the impact. Plus, given the season’s renewed focus on racial issues – and the clear parallels to the Black Lives Matter movement – it makes sense that it would be one of the black inmates.

But Poussey’s death hits hard, and comes at the tail end of a long line of dead lesbian or bisexual characters this season. There’s been an understandable outcry against the loss of yet another character so tragically, particularly given that Poussey is one of the show’s actual LGBT characters, and not just “gay for the stay.”

I’d like to say that the show handles it better than most; the episode was written by lesbian writer Lauren, Morelli, and Poussey is still far from the show’s only gay character. But when dozens of lesbian characters have been killed off just in this television season, does that matter? I’m a straight white guy, so I can’t never really understand how important representation in television is, or how devastating it is to continually losing the few characters I can directly relate to.

Further, while I get the arc the show put Bayley on this season, having him be the one to kill Poussey, accidentally or not, muddles things to an unnecessary degree. Again, it speaks to the idea of MCC’S lack of oversight putting untrained guards in situations they’re not prepared for. But Poussey’s death should be the focus, given the level of that tragedy, and being made to feel remorse for what her killer is going through is more than a little discomforting, as is how much of the following episode focuses on Bayley in addition to Poussey.

Overall, I enjoyed this season of Orange is the New Black. The show introduced a lot of new conflicts that all developed in interesting directions, and gave many favorite characters great material to work with. However, the way things have wrapped gives me pause, and leaves me worrying how much darker things might get next season. Hopefully, there’s some form of light at the end of this particular tunnel, but I understand why so many viewers are ready to ditch the show for good.

For those interested in a particularly insightful look at the season and representation, check out this article from Autostraddle.

What did you think of this season? Let me know in the comments.