Last year I “borrowed” a friend’s Netflix for a couple months; it was helpful when my limited Lafayette cable was boring. The world of video streaming was brand new to me; I was pretty satisfied just watching old episodes of Digimon and classic Black movies, but most of the world was abuzz with the service’s original programming. House of Cards was praised almost universally for its smart writing and engaging plot lines, but it wasn’t until another show, Orange is the New Black, showed up on my social media that I was drawn in by the funny and dramatic stories of diverse women in a low security prison. I binge-watched the first two seasons and waited like everyone else for season three to be available. I forced myself not to binge (I spread it out over about two weeks by watching an episode a day) even though I was ready to see what became of the Litchfield ladies after Vee rocked their worlds. I have to say though, after watching S3 I am…disappointed.
First off, if you haven’t figured it out yet this is gonna have spoilers for all three seasons. So if for whatever reason you haven’t finished them all stop reading now, slap yourself for missing out, and go to Netflix to catch up. Now that that’s out of the way, I have to emphasize how disappointed I was in this season. Besides a few good dramatic moments (like Nicky getting sent to max and Sophia going to SHU for no reason), it just felt like it wasnt living up to its potential. OITNB is usually hailed as “good TV”; it was thought provoking and sophisticated in many ways without sacrificing entertainment. It took a world we don’t really hear about, women in prison, and brought it to the forefront. While it never tried to be super-lifelike or super-gritty, there was a lot of reality in it. Prisoners may become attracted to their captors/guards and defend or even love them (there’s a whole psychological term for it). There is a hierarchy in prisons that must be followed for a prisoner’s safety, and various types of contraband are as common as seeing a naked body. Most importantly though, there is a very real realization that even as time sort of stops for a prisoner on the inside, the rest of the world keeps turning. People get older, some people die, kids get older and babies are born.
Perhaps one of the biggest overarching storylines was Dayanara Diaz’s pregnancy. Daya had just got to the prison in S1 and soon after was impregnated by a young guard named John Bennett. As Daya got bigger and the stakes got higher, many people predicted that the birth of the baby would be a big part of the season. Some people (like me) further theorized that the third season would be focused mainly on the Latina women as a result. It only made sense; the first season focused a lot on Piper, Alex, Red, and to a lesser extent Nicky and Pennsatucky. The second season lived up to the show’s name by putting Taystee, Vee, Black Cindy, Poussey, Janae and of course Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in the spotlight. We had focus on the white women and the black women, so it was time for the Latina women, right? Not quite.
This is probably my biggest complaint about the season; the Latina women were robbed. All the ingredients were there for them to take center stage: Daya was gonna pop any day now, Gloria was in charge of the kitchen and her spat with Sophia made her a major player, Maria lost access to the baby she loved so much, and we even had an early on focus on Flaca that set her up as ambitious and conniving, which honestly, would have made her starting a prison panty business a lot more logical than Piper doing it. Using the Latina women as an anchor would have given the season a connecting thread that it so desperately needed. S1 we focused on getting introduced to the sides of prison life through various white women; the beginners Piper and Alex, and vets like Red, Nicky, Lorna and even Pennsatucky (to some extents). S2 gave us Hurricane Vee, who hate her or really really hate her, showed us how easily people can be manipulated in order to survive physically or emotionally. We saw the faction of black women be built up, split up, and reunited all in one season. What did the third season have?
Sure, religion and motherhood were two major recurring themes this season, but it never really felt like the season was built around them. We often got conflicting messages about the two and often the themes were mixed in between random flashbacks. Focusing on the Latina women would have helped to focus all of that chaos. Gloria and Sophia’s feud, Maria losing access to her child early on and Aleida and Daya’s relationship (as well as Daya’s relationship with her baby) should have been a much larger focus point than dirty panties, and with Santeria playing a big part in bringing down Vee and inspiring Norma to start her own religion, you’d think that the woman who regularly practices it would be talked more about. The main people who pushed forward what could have been the season's focus points were pushed to the sidelines, which didnt happen in the past two seasons.
What the season did talk a lot about was the MCC, a private corporation that started managing the prison early on. While yes, big name corporations taking over institutions having no clue how they work is a major problem, is this show really the place to make that statement? This season spent way too much of its time focusing on the guards and staff (we get two flashbacks of young Healy and an entire episode dedicated to Caputo for crying out loud!) and talking about how the MCC was draining the life from Litchfield and not nearly enough actually showing the people in Litchfield. Should a show that brings problems with the prison system to the minds of the average person spend time trying to fight capitalism too? The show already focuses on so many issues that the women themselves face; trying to incorporate the guards and their issues with unions and pay is ambitious yes, but what was an ambitious move really has done nothing but leave a lot of people disappointed with the season.
I’m not writing off OITNB though, at least not yet. They have an entire year (S4 won’t premiere until probably this time 2016) to get things back on track and focus on the women who made this show popular in the first place. By no means should the show stop focusing on issues, since we live in a world were TV shows are almost expected to address issues and make statements. OITNB, however, has plenty of criticism about the treatment of prisoners in general to speak on before it steps into the much bigger monster of the prison industrial complex. Whichever way the show decides to go, though, is going to have to step it up or completely change its approach to survive. Like Scandal is learning, the criteria for good TV is being raised and those who don’t reach that standard are being heavily criticized. OITNB has the potential to remain at the top, but it’s gotta do something quickly before the next good, diverse, thought provoking Netflix original comes up and takes its place. Like the theme says: Taking steps is easy, but standing still is hard. If they stand still too much longer, well, orange may just go out of style very quickly.
What did you think of this season of OITNB? What were some of your highlights and lowlights? Remember to comment your questions, comments and concerns below and like, share, and subscribe!