Let’s just be free for a second. It’s going to be the last time in a long time.
Orange is the New Black Season 3 SPOILERS ahead.
That line from Poussey in the season finale of Orange is the New Black seems to not only summarize the third season, but suggest of major things to come next year. Indeed, season three was as beautiful as any calm before a storm. After the dramatic tension of the Vee storyline that carried the plot through season 2 was wrapped up, this year’s edition of Orange regrouped the ladies, letting the characters and relationships drive the story more than any strong through plot. As these characters are all so rich and interesting, it was a very solid and well executed choice, delivering perhaps the strongest season yet, with pure writing and strong performances.
Themes also took the place of a driving plot — religion, enterprise based on prisoner labor, and motherhood were strong connecting threads that pushed the stories along. The critique of the prison industrial complex was stronger than ever, bringing in an examination of the effects that corporate, for profit prisons can cause. Money, underpaid staff, cutting corners to save, and taking the easy way out instead of recognizing basic human decency, for starters. Though this show is a comedy, the writers of season 3 spared no criticism of this way of handling prison life, and good for them. While the corporations who run such prisons bank on the apathy of citizens who don’t care or don’t consider if criminals are happy behind bars, Orange presses every bit of the issue — even if they are not happy, shouldn’t they be healthy? Safe? Shouldn’t the guards who keep them inside the jails have proper training, and systems that check to make sure escape is impossible? It’s impossible to leave season 3 without being affected by the injustice of the justice system.
Religion and its purpose became a focus as Norma, the silent prisoner and Red’s shadow for two seasons, developed her own sort of benevolent cult that slowly became less benevolent, and more exclusionary, while Cindy’s conversion to Judaism started as a joke to get better food and ended with a monologue that left me sobbing with its sincerity (*Team Emmy for Adrienne C. Moore*). This seemed to cover both sides of how religion — not only in prison, but in life — can leave some people unable to live up the expectations of a divine force, while others find great joy and comfort from it, even while struggling.
And, the Dayanara baby storyline finally came to a head, which brought in many other angles for several other characters of what it means to be a mother — an adoptive mother, a grandmother, a mother who used to be a father. In fact, the first episode was all about Mother’s Day in prison, where we enjoyed flashbacks of a number of characters when they were younger, looking at their connections to their moms, silently asking the question if anything in these moments led to into prison. It was fascinating to see how each woman, from Daya to Sophia, dealt with their individual problems with their children — none of them similar, but each coming down to the same conclusion: they just could not be everything they want to be for their kids from inside prison walls, and that is an exhausting reality.
There are simply too many characters on Orange to recount each individual storyline, but a few notable ones stood out. Piper’s dirty panties business brought back memories of Jenji Kohan’s greatest strengths from her Weeds years — the comedy and craftiness of the criminal enterprise. Taylor Schilling deserves an Emmy for a particularly rousing speech at
one moment where Piper tries recruit ladies into her ring. It was nice to see Piper have a story that was mostly disconnected from her relationship drama, though that was certainly there.
Suzanne’s sci-fi fantasy erotica viral sensation was also hilarious to watch. Often on the outside looking in, Suzanne/Crazy Eyes found popularity letting her rather unique imagination run wild for a change, writing stories that made her a bit of a celebrity inside the prison, leading to a hyperbolic study into the trials and tribulations of the blockbuster author, even down into fan fiction territory. This was probably my favorite side story, because it actually kind of made me want to read whatever Suzanne came up with next in “Edwina’s” crazy adventures.
While last season the big friendship storyline went to Poussey and Taystee, Big Boo and Doggett’s friendship was another strong point of the season. Watching them bond was terrific — two people who used to be on opposite ends of the …everything spectrum coming together as friends, and it was definitely a season where Doggett needed an ally. Without spoiling too much, Doggett has a particularly dark storyline and knowing Big Boo was around to help her through it, even in a harsh, brash way, was interesting television. These are two women who would never be friends outside or prison — or, maybe they would? There’s something kindred and tender about their pairing up, and I hope to see more of it in future seasons.
The season finale episode was particularly strong this season — by some miracle, Orange always seems to take their absurd storylines and stick the landing. But, this time, they really outdid themselves. There is a sequence at the very end that is possibly my favorite I’ve ever seen in any comedy ever — a moment that brought on the quotation from Poussey at the start of this review. Spoilers ahoy, but by some accident, or bit of divine intervention, men who came to cut open the fence in the prison yard for repairs didn’t seem to realize they would have to contend with a flood of inmates who’d be curious to know what was beyond their prison — in a flood of realization that they could all run out into the lake just beyond the fence, the women rushed to a brief moment of joy and freedom to play and swim in the water, a sequence that evoked such elation and happiness that I had to pause it a few times just to go back and rewatch a few moments again. These actresses gave it their all with no abandon, showing the audience exactly what the face of relief looks like — even if it gets them in trouble, even if they will be punished, this moment where they could just be women again would be worth it.
And, but the looks of the last few moments of the episode, where two bus loads of new inmates arrive to join Litchfield — Poussey may be downright prophetic with her assertion that this elation won’t last forever, and season 4 will bring some very new changes and challenges.
It can’t get here fast enough.