By: Mike Dodd
Welcome back to Litchfield it’s time to hand in your belongings, submit to a search, and sign away your freedom. For the time being anyways, or at least for the time that it takes you to marathon your way through 13 episodes of the acclaimed Netflix series Orange is the New Black.
Season 4 of this Emmy winning show sees many changes to the lives and surroundings of the inmates and employees of Litchfield prison in upstate New York. After having a lackluster third season that was less than well received by critics and fans of the series, does this new season live up to the hype? There is no easy answer my thoughts is that season falls somewhere in between love and indifference.
There have been many changes to this season of the series with the addition of a new set of inmates and corrections officers to more fully round out the cast, which has been dwindled down over the previous seasons.
The cliffhanger of season three showed the entrance of the new inmates just as the guards were walking out and all hell had broken loose. With inmates flowing through a break in the fence to the freedom of frolicking in the lake, an attack on a beloved character from a person from her past, to the send off of old prison management and the ushering in of a new warden. It was interesting to think of what would happen from there. That is what this series does best. It always leaves you wanting more, with suspenseful conflict that flows as a continual story from one season to the next.
I will miss some of the old characters, as with one swoop all of the guards that have grown on me as characters have been replaced with new so called trainees with no experienced guards to train them. All that remains is Luschek, in all his messed up glory. Although I am glad that he did survive the big cut, as he is one of my favourite characters, for the most part because of the fact that he could very easily become an inmate himself with all of the rules he breaks and his ability to manipulate people and situations to his favour. MCC (the new management of the prison) has cut costs and corners and found some lovely new candidates for worst prison employee, far worse than Luschek ever was.
From the timid to the sadistic overbearing this new crowd proved to be very ineffective and corralling the old inmates as well as the problems that come with the addition of new inmates and all the power struggles that it may entail. I will not spoil all that these new guards bring to the table; all I can say is that I know I would not want to be controlled by this group of morons.
There have also been many changes in the life of the beloved main character Piper Chapman, as played by Taylor Schilling. She has had quite the roller coaster ride in her time at Litchfield Prision. In the beginning she was this frightened slight woman unsure of what was to happen. Then she morphed into the power “Mob Boss” role, where she ruled all of her fellow inmates with an iron fist. Last season Piper transitioned herself to an even higher power role within the Prision by starting a business within the prison walls, selling used women’s undergarments online to the highest bidder. She was the Queen of Litchfield, commanding her army of inmates to do her bidding.
The fourth season ushers in harder times for the Queen Bee. She has seemingly lost the love of her life as her quasi girlfriend Alex Vausse drifts further and further away, the new inmates are seriously challenging or ignoring her so called authority, and finally a betrayal within her ranks sees her final downfall. By the end of the season Piper struggles to maintain her sanity and safety because of all of the changes that have gone on within the Prision over such a short time. There is so much more that contributed to her fall from her pedestal but that shouldn’t be spoiled. You’ve got to watch it all unfold to fully appreciate this transition.
Now on to the business of the new inmates at Litchfield. In the previous seasons racial tensions has been a theme but this season the issue of racism moves to the forefront. The new inmates usher in a new dynamic, where before all things remained equal among groups, where now droves of new Latin descended inmates have made Litchfield their new home. This leads to a power struggle where one group seeks to dominate because of their numbers, and a new Queen of Litchfield is set to ascend the throne.
Also moving in for a short stay at the prison is Judy King, a famous chef and television star that I’m pretty sure was modeled after Martha Stewart. A presumed racist, she makes a lot of faux pas because of the stereotypical Southern American way she is portrayed. This leads to an interesting storyline where because of her infamy she is able to make her stay behind bars a lot more cushy. There is also an intriguing pairing of King with Yoga Jones who shows that she may be spiritual but she is no stranger to the finer things in life.
There definitely has been a change in this season of Orange is the New Black, it’s a lot darker than the previous seasons. The show has always been serious but with lots of comedic elements, but now it seems to embrace its darker side and delves in to even more dark corners of the correctional system. The feeling of danger is very palpable this season especially with the unresolved issues surrounding the unlawful incarceration of a transgender inmate in segregation for their so-called safety. Also introduced are new guards that are former army veterans, many with unresolved issues due to the terrors that they encountered while overseas. ‘
This leads to many hidden dangers as the new guards under the leadership of a very large, burly, hulk of a head guard named Piscatella, go rogue and devise their own methods of punishment for misbehaving inmates. The mismanagement within Litchfield causes many incidences of unlawful and cruel punishments as the warden (Caputo) bumbles about trying to deal with all of overcrowding and the penny pinching of MCC, the corporate firm that runs the prison).
There are far more twists and turns that arise in this season, some very shocking, and some expected. There are characters that have returned from hiatus on the previous seasons, which put together and finish off some of the unfinished business from the past. However, there is no further appearance of Jason Biggs’ character (Piper’s fiancé), which is disappointing as many would like to see where he has gotten to and if that relationship is truly over. There are rumors that he is not expected to come back to the show but I know that many would welcome his return.
For the past four years people have eagerly waited for this time of year because they know with the ushering in of summer surely brings with it the return of binging this favourite Netflix series. That is what most people love about watching a Netflix original series because they can watch it all the way through and not have to wait for weekly episodes. With this series, and the ease and joy that it is to watch, comes the time in May when you realize as a fan of the show that you should rematch the series in preparation for the new season. I have done this every year and I find something new every time. In fact 42% of people who watch Orange is the New Black plan to re watch all of the old seasons before the release of season 4.
Finally my recommendation is that if you have enjoyed the previous seasons of Orange is the New Black, this season is a definite watch. It is definitely different than the previous seasons as it is much darker, there is far less humour,and much more serious topics. However, I think it would be extremely difficult to quit watching this show because you just need to see where the characters will end up. Just slug through the first few episodes as they are much slower moving plot wise but as things unfold all will make sense.
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