Orange Is The New Black Season 3 Review

OITNB Season 3 void of direction?

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Firstly, I should point out I’m a huge fan Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, and after what felt like an eternity of eagerly awaiting Season 3, I told myself not to binge but to make it last (considering the long wait till season 4). I planned on watching one episode a day; I ended up watching two a day. Ok, so my resolve was weak, but I thought was well restrained considering… So after a week of incarceration, did season 3 live up to my expectations?

The third season returned of Jenji Kohan‘s prison comedy-drama with a lighter feel after the assault that was season 2. Alex is back in Lichfield (thanks to her on/off girlfriend Piper), new inmates (hello Lolly and Stella) and guards arrive. Meanwhile, Pennsatucky and Boo’s odd, yet fascinating friendship continues to flourish among some ill-advised departures. While, Sophie and Mendoza come to blows over their sons. Many will be glad to know Larry is completely out of the picture this season, his character’s exit long overdue having being redundant for a while now. But enough about him…

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I’ve always loved the humour in OITNB, which took a bit more of a backseat amongst the Vee reign in season 2, but what makes the series special is intertwining the light and dark. The comedy provides the light relief and a window into the characters best when there is drama going on around them. This series the theme was ‘Faith’, but it wasn’t really executed well, with the series also lacking a strong story arc.

Don’t get me wrong, I still loved the series and the many diverse characters it encompasses, but I felt the series lacked the direction of the previous seasons and spent too much time on characters that had no real benefit to the story. With the villain of the piece turning out to be Taylor Schilling‘s Piper this series, it all felt a little too safe. There were elements of the pressures and failings of the prison system ongoing, but this time it was shown from Caputo (Nick Sandow) and the guards perspective, which although entertaining to a degree, didn’t resonate quite the same like it did when it was previously told from the inmates viewpoint.

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The story of Norma (Annie Golden) suddenly becoming a spiritual guru, really shouldn’t have lasted past one episode. The only thing it served to show us was how horrible Leanne is and how Poussey feels alone – which we already knew from the second series. It did however lead to hints of a possible friendship/relationship with Soso. Soso’s depression and suicide attempt story did a better job of conveying the message of searching for something (or someone) to believe in. Taryn Manning has done a great job of transforming our views of Pennsatucky, from Bible bashing bully to a character we want to protect against Coates’ attack. The look on Boo and Pennsatucky’s face when they realised Maritza will be taking over driving duties with Coates showed the exact dread we the audience felt.

Although Piper has always been a derisive character, mainly due to ability to be so self-absorbed. She did provide a vehicle to introduce both characters and exposition for the audience in previous series. Unfortunately for Ruby Rose (and to some extent Laura Prepon‘s return), she was given little to work with and relegated to simply being the other woman; a dramatic vehicle to push Alex and Piper apart – again! I’d be more interested to see Alex and Piper navigate a relationship with all the obstacles the entails than this constant on/off again.

The hardest hit this season was when the inmates of Lichfield said goodbye to one of the series best characters, Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), who in episode 3 was sent to Max after trying to smuggle drugs out of the prison. Nicky’s move was an unexpected shock affecting Morello (Yael Stone), whose journey has so far always seemed intertwined with Nicky’s. Alone in limbo, without Nicky to lean on, Morello yet again goes in search of the love she so desperately seeks and marries Vinny. I also can’t help wondering if Piper’s panty business would have had more comic value with Nicky around to dish out her witty retorts. Let’s hope she returns in season 4.

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After what’s felt like the longest pregnancy, Daya (Dascha Polanco) gives birth, but her future husband-to-be and former prison guard Bennett has done a runner after spending the afternoon with her gun-totting family. A flashback also gives us an insight into the troubled relationship between Daya and her mother Aleida, which leads to heartbreak for Pornstache’s mother and an uncertain future for Daya’s baby after Cesar is arrested.

The absence of Laura Prepon‘s Alex was sorely felt during the second season. The promise that she would be in every episode was positive but fell short when she was sidelined to a couple of scenes per episode in favour of minor characters in much of the season. I enjoyed her paranoia storyline, especially seeing her and Lolly (a brilliant performance by Lori Petty) reacting to each other but was disappointed to realise that Lolly was not Kubra’s hired killer. Alex’s pain also highlighted, yet again, Piper’s lack of empathy for others and her selfish personality. Come on Pipes, have a heart! It was a real shame as the previous two series’ had done a great job of seeing Piper grow up and take more responsibility for her actions e.g. In the season two episode when Piper went to her grandmother’s funeral and realised that she didn’t belong in that shallow world anymore. Season 3 seemed to undo that growth and took her back to where she was in season 1. Yeah, it’s Piper, there’s always going to be the tendency to have to be reminded of when she’s being her narcissistic self, but it would have been nice to continue seeing the improvement.

I shall still eagerly await season 4, but with the hope the writers take a long hard look at the first two series to remind them of where they went off course this season, and return with the OITNB we all love.

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Other points:

  • Way too much time and flashbacks spent on peripheral characters (aside from Big Boo and Pennsatucky’s and perhaps Leanne. Although tbh, I wasn’t too fussed with her story either). Keep it to the 10 or so main players.
  • Great to have Alex back full-time. Laura Prepon is a great and experienced actress, give her more scenes to work with.
  • Pennsatucky & Boo’s friendship was a definite series highlight. ‘Mother’s Day’ perfectly showing the light and dark I mentioned above.
  • The test = hilarious.
  • Lolly and her conspiracy theories. Need I say more?
  • Bernie and Baby Goober (sorry, can’t remember his name but I like his nickname) good additions to the guards but in totally opposing ways.
  • Taystee reprimanding Suzanne now she’s unwittingly become the ‘mum’ of the group.
  • Morello and Vinny were cute together. I’m a little concerned about both their mental states though if the relationship fails (which I think we all know is gonna happen).
  • So glad Red was playing Healy. That was getting a bit uncomfortable. Methinks Healy is still holding that torch though.
  • Nicky being sent to Max! Noooo! Bring her back ASAP.
  • Caputo & Fig, just EWWW.
  • Bennett doing a runner. Man up Bennett! Get back to Lichfield.
  • How annoying was Danny?!
  • Whispers. Who cares!