Orange Is the New Black Season 3 Review: A Second Take

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House of Cards and Daredevil are easier to fly through over a weekend than Orange Is the New Black. Why? Because this show is simply better than them. You want to savor it more before saying goodbye to these rich characters before next summer. This third outing delivers more of what we want on a grand scale. It relies on its writers and actors to create an ensemble of misfits unlike any other on television.

Note: Pretty heavy spoilers will be discussed throughout this review. Turn back if you have not completed the entire third season. 

OITNB continues to succeed on the basis that everyone has a story. The riveting flashback format continues this season with a roster of forefront and background characters getting the special treatment. A number of them standout, particularly Leanne’s, Big Boo’s, Chang’s, Norma’s, and Pennsatucky’s stories. Meanwhile, the premiere and the finale try something new by giving us little snippets of flashbacks from the entire cast. Considering they are likely the two best episodes of the season, the new experiment succeeded with flying colors.

Season three doesn’t change much else about the formula though. Alex is back full-time, but is competing with Stella (Ruby Rose) for Piper’s affections. But Alex is also looking over her shoulder in fear of her former partner killing her from the inside.

However, like in season two, Piper’s story isn’t the main focus of the series anymore. The series has expanded to ensure that not one single plot point feels like the main story. Everyone is given equal share, a way of telling the story of Litchfield’s inmates that shouldn’t work but absolutely does. This season also deals with Daya’s pregnancy, Red’s continuing power struggle for the kitchen, a nasty feud between Mendoza and Sophia over their families, the prison guards trying to unionize themselves, Norma reluctantly running a cult, Soso’s depression, Taystee assuming new responsibilities, and a very rewarding team-up between Pennsatucky and Big Boo.

What’s amazing about this show is how each of these stories and others feel equally important. Aside from the Piper/Alex romance and Sophia’s exile, it all culminates in the series’ best scene, which closes out the season. After all the guards quit, workers replacing the fence leave it open for just long enough for someone to notice. The inmates pour out to of the prison yard simply to play in the lake. It’s an appropriately long sequence the ties a neat little bow around many of the season’s stories in a heartwarming and uplifting manner. I found myself not just tearing up but quite literally sobbing out of pure joy as all these characters the show has made me love over the past three years gathered and celebrated their temporary freedom as equals. Race, orientation, and power don’t matter and everyone just splashes around. I’m not sure OITNB will ever top this moment, but I’m for sure sticking around to see them try and probably come close.

This season may have lacked the central conflict surrounding Vee of season two, but it powered through anyway. Occasionally, the season felt light on plot. But even then, the show was never boring. With an ensemble this strong, how could it be? Until next year. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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