The Coincidental Critic

Exploring the art of storytelling.

Orange is the New Black Season 4: New Blood. New Rules. Same Award-Winning Brilliance. (SPOILERS)

orange-is-the-new-black

Orange is the New Black is one of the best TV shows ever created.  Every year, I am amazed by the talented cast and crew.

Acting

How can there be so much talent in one show?  Everyone in the cast gives 110% to his or her performance.  They fully embody their characters, making each one come to life.  Sometimes I forget that the show is fiction.  Orange is the New Black has the best ensemble acting I have ever seen.  I have never grown so emotionally attached to so many characters before and it’s because you can tell the actors love their characters just as much as we do.

As usual, Uzo Aduba stunned this season.  She brings the character of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” to life and makes her one of the most interesting characters on the show.  I was also really impressed with Lori Petty’s (Lolly) performance this season.  We dug deep into Lolly’s character, particularly exploring her mental illness.  Petty did a great job at creating a possible-schizophrenic character that the audience could easily sympathize with.  In some scenes, Lolly’s reaction to her surroundings was so intense, I wanted to believe that her hallucinations were true just so she wouldn’t seem so crazy.

Writing

Of course, the acting wouldn’t be nearly as great if there wasn’t a good script backing it up.  The writing in Orange is the New Black is amazing.  The dialogue is very organic and interesting.  It’s filled with substance and meaning, but still delivers hilarious one-liners.  I appreciate that each character has a unique voice.  Overall, the show is well-written and expertly executed.

Themes

I never pegged Orange is the New Black as a comedy (as it is categorized for the Emmy’s), and after this season, it definitely can’t be considered a comedy anymore.  Season four of Orange is the New Black was darker than any season to date.  There was murder, a tragic death, mentally disturbed guards, drug lords, branding, racism, drug addiction, mental illness, Healy’s almost suicide…the list goes on and on.  There were less funny moments to shelter us from the horror.

A heavy focus this season was on mental health.  This was primary explored through the character of Lolly who hears voices and suffers from paranoia.  We got inside her head, understanding what she experiences day-to-day.  Lolly wasn’t the only one to suffering.  Morello’s mental illness started up again when she began questioning her husband’s loyalties.  Her paranoia about her romantic relationships is exactly why she ended up in prison in the first place.  It was heartbreaking to see Morello acknowledge her paranoia, but not be able to stop it.  Along with this, the writer’s continued to explore drug addiction through Nichols’ storyline.

This season, Alex had to deal with the aftermath of killing someone.  She did it in self-defense, but obviously, murder is not an easy thing to do.  It’s not natural.  Alex’s actions haunted her throughout the course of the season.  Through her storyline, the writers explored the mental toll murder takes on the killer.  This is unlike most TV shows which usually glorify murdering a “bad guy.”

I’m glad that the writers spent a great deal of time this season exploring the hispanic culture.  In particular, they highlighted different nationalities under the hispanic umbrella, noting that they’re not all the same.

This season of Orange is the New Black explored what happens after prisoners are released from prison.  Aleida was released and found herself without money, a job, or her family (her children were all in foster care).  She had to live with her ex’s baby mama because she had nowhere else to go.  This illustrated the difficulties people face when they are released.  A lot of them have nothing and just end up right back in prison.

Plot

This season, there were several new backstories from characters we hadn’t explored yet: Lolly, Maritza, Maria, Blanca…  We also learned why Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” probably went to prison.  And we learned why Healy became a counselor.  I was also impressed with how the directors transitioned to these flashback scenes.  Several times, the directors would use something in the present to connect to a scene in the past.  For example, when the MCC investigated Poussey after her death, they found a picture of her on Facebook.  In the next scene, we flashbacked to the moment when Poussey took that picture.  Another example was when Blanca said that she was going to take a shower because she was smelly and the next scene was a flashback of her in the shower.  These clever transitions helped keep the plot flowing smoothly even when there were time jumps.

Pennsatucky is starting to become one of my favorite characters.  Out of all of the characters in Orange is the New Black, she has developed the most.  This season, we followed up on her rape from last season.  Pennsatucky confronted her rapist.  He was very upset and revealed that he had no intention of raping her.  It was interesting to watch the two of them work through what had happened and come to terms with it.

Piper’s storyline was odd this season.  She kept up the underwear business (which I didn’t know was still going on until a few episodes in).  After competition with Maria and the guards’ discovery of a secret panty business, Piper closed up shop.  Then, she somehow accidentally became a white-supremacist leader.  I’m still not entirely sure how that came to be.  It just seemed so all of a sudden.  I also didn’t quite understand her relationship with Hapakuka.  It was an extreme love/hate relationship and Hapakuka just seemed like a waste of a character.  She didn’t offer anything to the show.

I’m disappointed that Sophia barely got any screen time this season.  Last season ended with her being sent to the shu, so I had assumed her storyline was going to be a prominent one this season.  I was wrong.  We barely saw her during her time in the shu. All that we know is that she self-harmed herself.  Eventually, she got out and that was it.

The big event in season four was Poussey’s death.  Poussey was my favorite character and the most innocent character on the show.  She was genuine and kind to everyone she met.  I can’t believe they killed her off, but it was definitely unexpected.  She was the one character guaranteed to get sympathy from every viewer. Her death was tragic.  As we watched her struggle to breathe under Bayley’s body weight, I eventually realized where the scene was headed.  Unfortunately, incidents like Poussey’s death do occur so I think it was important to include on the show.  Poussey was petite and overpowered.  And the aftermath following her death only intensified the incident.  They didn’t call the cops for several hours so her body wasn’t removed.  And when Caputo finally spoke to the media about the murder, he did not mention Poussey’s name.  Instead, he mentioned that Bayley was a victim.  Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the news lately, this happens.  The victim card gets thrown around and the media refrains from mentioning the actual victim in the situation.  Watching Taystee’s reaction after Caputo’s speech only heightened the drama.  It was powerful to watch her run down the hallway screaming.  (I do wish there was a bigger focus on Poussey and Taystee’s friendship this season.  They spent less time together than usual and unfortunately, that made the ending less powerful than it could have been.)  The cast and crew did a great job at allowing the audience to understand every character’s perspective on the incident.  We saw how it affected the other inmates and some of the guards, such as Coates.  The writing and acting allowed us to understand why characters felt certain ways, just like why Caputo sympathized with Bayley.

Season four ended on a huge cliffhanger.  After Taystee listened to Caputo’s press conference about Poussey’s death, she basically started a riot which ended with Daya holding a gun to a guard’s head while the prisoners egged her on.  Unfortunately, we never found out if she pulled the trigger or not, and we have to wait another year to find out.  Personally, I am not a fan of these types of endings because there is absolutely no conclusion since it cuts off mid scene.  It would have been better if the season ended after Daya made her decision and that way the next season could start with the aftermath of that decision.  The ending was such a tease.

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