I’d been planning to write my thoughts on the newest season of Orange Is the New Black since I finished watching a few days ago, but my emotions are overwhelming my ability to coherently describe them. So, warning for possible incoherence, albeit of the best sort: fangirl feels with a side of thinky-thoughts.
This is my favorite season of the show, although the season finales are such that, even though season 3 wasn’t the best, that ending with the frolicking at the lake gave me such a high I forgot about any gripes I had.
What I loved about this season:
Less Piper/Alex drama. In the past, especially in season 3, this relationship has been one of my least favorite aspects of the show. I’m not particularly fond of either character, though Piper can be amusing, and together they’re even more toxic. This season found the right balance–in their relationship and depicting it in relation to others on the show.
The exploration of how people are enabled to treat each other inhumanely. Institutions (e.g. a privatized/corporate prison), personal ambition, alliances that lead to group think or peer pressure, victimhood and the cycle of violence, toxic masculinity and patriarchy. As always, these writers know their way around important topics and manage to avoid preaching.
Blanca’s backstory. This was one of my favorites and it perfectly set up Blanca’s resolve and rebellion. Get it, girl.
The finale with its beautiful tribute to Poussey (and New York City). Unfortunately, Poussey’s awful death was spoiled for me one episode before it happened, and it altered the way I would have reacted to it. However, it was devastating even without the shock. She was the perfect character to show the indiscriminate objectification of the inmates–as the corporate media folk say, she’s got the sweetest face and a nonviolent background. It’s doubly tragic because she had a future outside prison. I love that the writers chose to show a joyful last look at her life–it’s both a celebration of Poussey and a way to emphasize the unconscionable manner of her death (and post-death treatment).
The continually nuanced portrayal of race and prejudice of all sorts. Again, the writing tackles sensitive and current topics head-on, with equal parts humor and gravitas. A favorite moment this season was the newly Jewish Cindy’s bonding with Muslim bunkmate, Abdullah, over a shared prejudice against Scientologists (I wonder what Scientologist Laura Prepon thought of that?). Another is the terrible scene where Suzanne is made to fight, but even the white supremacist leader knows it’s wrong. When key members of the disparate races meet to tackle the guards inhumane tactics, their differences ultimately get in the way. Poussey’s death is finally the catalyst that leads to a violent coming together as they begin to riot, separate but united by rage.
The fearless, delicate handling of the aftermath of Doggett’s rape. It would have been easy to vilify Coates (“Donuts”) and have Boo miraculously heal Doggett through friendship. Doggett’s agency is never taken away, and Boo stops withholding her friendship while still maintaining her point of view. Coates begins by Not Getting It, at all, and moves to a place where he understands what he did was rape. The door is open for where the two might go next.
These are just a few highlights; I could go on (Taystee and her new job; anytime Flaca and Ramos are on screen together; the return of Nicky; Morello and Suzanne’s hunt for the shower shitter; Miss Judy’s particular brand of assholery; Poussey and Soso’s relationship…), but these were the standouts.