Images/GIFs via Netflix
After binge watching Orange Is the New Black season three once or twice (okay, about twelve times), there were enough moments to make me think this was the worst season by far (forgive me, Jenji Kohan).
Orange Is the New Black season two gave us the perfect mix of high drama and LOL-worthy moments, and while this follow-up isn’t a huge disappointment on those fronts, the lack of focus, less GIF-able moments and other foibles in the narrative actually had me wondering if, by the time the last scene came on screen, I had really just finished the entire season. Where was the OITNB we love?
Read on for five times season three proved to be weaker than its predecessors.
We’ve all had to deal with her myopic, privileged tendencies over the seasons, sometimes for laughs, mostly inducing eye-rolls, but this season was the worst. Season one’s utilization of Piper as a trojan horse to ease us into an unfamiliar world was effective, and season two’s hardening of her added dimension to the character, but now she just pulls our attention away from more interesting story lines.
The pas de deux with Alex Vause covered very little ground in their relationship and felt stale the whole season, her panty-selling business was silly, and her betrayal of Stella was unforgivable (mainly because Ruby Rose is so swoon-worthy). Taylor Schilling still manages to bring a combination of humor, dry wit, and a dash of humanity to her character, which is a testament to her skill, but nevertheless, we have to concede that Piper’s the new Larry. Ugh.
The Sheer Lack of Focus
Season two had the benefit of Vee anchoring all of the drama and story lines, but it’s understandable why they wouldn’t return to the “Big Bad” formula for fear of repetition. Unfortunately, the themes of motherhood and religion in season three that seemed to link everything together lacked the high stakes and emotional catharsis we had with the first two seasons. Everyone felt a little disconnected from each other, which was a major setback.
And a lot of times this confusion veered the show into sitcom territory, like Morello’s string of prison suitors or Piper’s panty business or Norma’s cult or Black Cindy trying to get better meals by pretending to be Jewish (though, in all fairness, that plot line ends up to be pretty heartbreaking).
Usually a good device to open up (literally and figuratively) the world of OITNB and its characters, flashbacks have been a useful tool throughout its run. And not that this year’s were all bad—a look into Big Boo’s unapologetic story served well for the character, even if it was a little expected. And it was Leanne’s Mennonite and meth past that really gave us a surprise and insight into a peripheral character that make the flashback formula so good.
But a lot of them slowed down the narrative (Caputo’s woes), gave us info we already knew (Alex dealing drugs and partying in Paris) or simply seemed to serve a current story line and nothing else (Norma’s past cult experiences).
No More Nicky
You’re killing us, Jenji Kohan. Though she had a satisfying (but über-condensed) arc in the first three episodes, fan favorite Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) has been shoved off to max, never to return (at least for the rest of season three). What’s worse, her flashbacks just rehashed what we already knew about her addiction and relationship to her mother; had new info been revealed it would have made sense to open up the Nichols archives, but that time could have been better spent exploring her current dynamics with other inmates like Red and Morello before she went down the hill.
A Larger Focus on the Men
Lest we be accused of misandry, there was entirely too much time dedicated to the male characters in this ensemble in season three, with not only prominent story lines for Bennett, Caputo, and Healy, but flashbacks for them as well. Amidst a sea of television shows that would never pass the Bechdel test in a million years, OITNB stood out as a show that focused on the stories of women, all of whom were disenfranchised in some way, to boot. Even though the male characters (most of whom are white, straight and in some sort of authority position) add to the richness of the show, there’s no reason to dive so deeply into their stories when that’s never been a draw for OITNB.
Rumors are swirling that season four will herald a return to form for OITNB and while this season wasn’t as bad as Larry (who was the WORST), we’re still anticipating a better season to binge watch next year.
At the very least, we did get Ruby Rose. Which makes everything better.