ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK Season Four Review
Not since Yvonne “Vee” Parker’s drug-slinging and manipulating reign of terror in season two has there been such an exciting season of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. This time around, series creator Jenji Kohan and her team of excellent writers have traded season three’s slower pace and character development emphasis for a new season full of intense and genuinely surprising storylines and moments. Instead of focusing on smaller skirmishes between the prisoners of Litchfield, season four goes all in and delivers explosive moments that change lives forever.
This season of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK has pumped the accelerator, moving this acting vehicle into full speed. What makes this new season so great is the fact that the conflicts that arise leave indelible marks and bring earth-shattering implications on not only the prisoners, but on the whole prison of Litchfield.
These ladies just can’t catch a break… ever, really
The most culturally topical season of this show yet, season four dives deep into controversial themes that include race war, a broken prison system, stigma of mental illness, drug addiction, religious extremism, and rape. Although heavy, the writers tackle these themes with tact, knowledge, and respect. In one especially shocking moment during season four’s penultimate episode “The Animals,” a prominent message from the Black Lives Matter movement (“I Can’t Breathe”) is brought directly into fruition.
By season three’s end, Piper is a dirty panty king pin. Piper successfully runs an illegal prison scheme selling the used panties of her fellow inmates to pervy men. This season holds an interesting and absorbing evolution for Piper: a return to humility. Piper’s want to acquire respect and keep a reputation as a ruthless boss gets her into a lot of trouble. When Piper makes a power play that completely backfires on her, she learns a very tough and (physically) painful lesson.
Feminism’s least favorite controlling prison guidance counselor Sam Healy has a new toy to play around with
Although Piper goes through her most challenging season of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK yet at Litchfield, there are plenty of other stories that hold and keep your attention. Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) is desperate to escape the isolation she finds herself in. Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) hides a murderous secret that threatens to bubble to the surface. Litchfield warden Joe Caputo struggles to satisfy management and properly care for the prison’s population. Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) rises to power as Litchfield’s new drug overlord. A Martha Stewart/Paula Deen hybrid celebrity prisoner named Judy King (Blair Brown) causes a stir when she receives special treatment. A brand new corrections officer Desi Piscatella (Brad William Henke) increases tensions between guards and inmates with his oppressive, unfair, and frankly racist policies.
What season four of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK has done so masterfully is breathe new life into an aging show. When multiple buses full of new inmates descend upon Litchfield in season four’s premiere, it becomes apparent that overcrowding will be a huge source of season four’s conflicts. There are many new inmates (and guards) to meet this season, but Kohan and her team of writers do a stunning job of not overwhelming longtime fans. There is plenty of time to develop and continue the narratives of our favorite characters, but also to meet new personalities.
It’s completely amazing to me that the character anchoring this show is also the least likable
Not only does this season deliver insightful new information about the women of Litchfield (how did Suzanne, Maritza, and Lolly end up in prison?), but it also plays with its tried-and-true format. Usually, every episode of this series is composed of two parts. The first part is the action of Litchfield, so basically what is happening in the prison day to day. The second part of an episode usually includes a focus on an individual character, and through flashbacks it is shown who they were before they became incarcerated. In a surprising move, season four is not restricted to this format. Multiple episodes include not a single flashback. In episode ten, “Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull,” an inmate is followed out of the confines of Litchfield prison as she attempts to figure out life after prison.
With a renewed focus, a return to form, and genuinely surprising moments, season four of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK is a delight from start to finish. This season also has one hell of cliffhanger that will have you begging for more.