The animals, the animals, binge, binge, binge ‘till the season’s done.
So, if you were like me and countless other gay ladies, you binge watched Season 3 of “Orange Is the New Black” this weekend. News on Thursday that the season had been released early caused a small hitch in my marathon plans (my snacks weren’t ready – the nerve). But I stuck to the schedule and I took my pre-planned vacation day Friday to watch the whole.damn.thing. I know some of you prefer the slow-and-steady approach to watching to make the 365-day wait more tolerable. But, me, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
So what struck me about the third season was how it was at once smaller and deeper than previous seasons. I thought Season 2 was immensely satisfying, particularly its karmic ending. But something about creating a Big Bad for this show felt also felt a tad formulaic. What I like about this new season is they haven't gone for another big Vee-type villain (well, aside from for-profit privatized prison corporations…and bedbugs). Instead the writers let smaller, more intimate stories carry these diverse women’s lives forward.
Because OITNB has always been about so much more than one rich, white woman who gets thrown in jail. And, as it did so well last season, Piper again wasn’t the main focus. And this is important because as much as I love the toxic hot mess that is Pipex, the show is stronger when more women get to shine. If anything, Piper’s dirty panty business provides a comedic arc for the season. Not that shit doesn’t get dark. It’s prison, well, TV prison.
This season also continued the show’s precedent of diving deep into the lives of even the most obscure and ancillary characters. Chang? Yep – they go there. Leanne? Yep – they go there, without buttons. (Her Amish storyline was as close to a Morello-like OMGF character revelation as we got this season.)
I also appreciate how the writers tackled anti-trans violence with Sophia’s storyline. Given the very real, very sad statistics about assault and harassment of transgender people, it’s important to show this side of Sophia’s life in Litchfield. It’s not all beauty shop gossip and Vanity Fair covers and Diane Sawyer interviews for most trans folks. Not even close.
Not that everything was perfect. I wish we didn’t have to lose Nicky to max. (She’s coming back, right? Right???) I wish we didn’t have to have yet another graphic rape scene on television. (I know they’re touching on a real-life problem of rape by prison guards, but after watching this season of “Game of Thrones” and “Outlander” I’m tapped out on rape as a plot point.)
But what has made OITNB great continues to make it great – it’s unfailing devotion to telling the three-dimensional stories of a diverse group of women. And that diversity of women’s stories – by age, race, class, education, religion, size, sexual orientation, etc. – is what makes OITNB so unique and so very special. Find me another show that is willing to put so many of these kinds of women’s stories front and center. You can’t. This is it.
So the fact that this season doesn’t have an overriding arc is actually one of its strengths. Instead it’s allowed to be about how these women mark time, since they’ve got plenty of it after all, and find meaning in this place. These women are forced to stand still with their flaws and foibles. And – as the song says – taking steps is easy; standing still is hard.
And I haven’t even touched on Ruby Rose’s Stella yet. What can I say? *low whistle*
So now the only question is which I want more: A “You know I have a thing for soft fruit” or “I will potato her at a future time” T-shirt?
Well, what did you think? I’ll probably have more to say the more I think about the season. But here, in the afterglow, I couldn’t be happier.