Monday, June 15, 2015

OITNB Season 3 Review: Standing Still Is Hard

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.


Marcy said...

So glad to get your impressions so soon post-binge. While there wasn't a big-Vee villain this season, I would venture to say Piper has transformed from flawed but somewhat sympathetic to utterly unlikable. What Pennsatucky was to S1, Piper is to S3. Her treatment of Alex - with regard to both Alex's fear/paranoia of getting shanked as well Piper's dalliance with Stella - was nothing short of shitty. And while Ruby Rose is quite something in and of herself, there was *no* chemistry between her and Schilling, imho. Maybe that's just my loyalty to Alex/Prepon throwing cold water on it though. Overall, I thought S3 started strong, wobbled in the middle (the Norma-worshiping grew tedious), and then wrapped up in a wonderful way with the lake scene. Meanwhile back in the greenhouse...? Let the contract negotiations begin!

Jillian Madison said...

I am only on episode 8, and the Lesbian Police will probably show up at my door any second for saying this... but... I'm not enjoying this season at all.

1. Piper and Alex are like completely different characters. All the electricity and chemistry you felt between them for the last 2 seasons was gone. The hate-sex scene in the library was not hot; it felt creepy and awkward and forced to me. They've gone from hot characters I immediately wanted to wife, to characters that make me cringe the moment they come on screen. Not good, writers, not good.

2. The dirty panty business isn't funny or cute, it's just nasty. And like Piper would do anything with even a hint of impropriety that might extend her stay at Litchfield by 5 minutes? Let alone something as stupid as that? Not buying it for a minute. Also, the phrase "you have a strong brew" made me throw up in my mouth and has haunted me for 3 days. In a bad way.

3. The bedbug thing wasn't creative either; it just felt like a bunch of writers were sitting in a room saying: "how can we make the lesbians happy by having the characters show more skin? IVE GOT IT, BEDBUGS." No, no, no.

4. And most importantly: Alex/Piper offer one of the most interesting, complex, lesbian relationships ever seen on television... and it is being shoved into the background for, what, things like Chang and Flaca's episode-long backstories? Characters who before this season had - what, 3 lines total? No. This is a total fail and a complete miss to me.

I don't think it's a plus that there is no villain this season. It just brings to the forefront that there's no plot and no character development happening at least halfway through the season. There's no intensity. There's no excitement or humor or drama. And after only 3 seasons the whole thing just feels phoned in, like we the audience are supposed to be happy that they just showed up.

I will never stop watching, and I'm a fan, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with the way things are going down.

Okay, Lesbian Police, I'll be waiting for you.


Anonymous said...

I'm happy that they're focusing on other characters. Piper/Alex/Stella bored me silly.

pecola said...

@JM: It's a fail that the show's doing exactly what the show's been doing for the entirety of its run? When I think back to last season, some of the most affecting backstories come from those characters who were previously, just window dressing (Rosa, most notably). It is, undoubtedly, my favorite thing about the show...

Piper and Alex, on the other of the things I dislike most about the show. Piper sans Alex, I found tolerable, but together? I find them neither interesting nor complex.

lucretialive said...

Brave comments JM, I haven't seen season 3 yet... not because I can't but because I am afraid it will spoil the sheer enjoyment of the first 2 seasons by going 'bottom-up'. Your review has made me curious and I too will look critically at how the story develops from here on in. Thanks for your candid remarks. No lesbian police but thankful lesbian co watchers :-)

Middle Girl said...

I'm through episode 7 and am enjoying it very much. I didn't start watching until after Season 2 was released and so, binged S1 and S2 together. I made a conscious choice to take this season in smaller doses and am glad I did.

I won't pit this season against the previus two. Each had their highs and lows and as a S3, this one works more than most (other shows) that are or have been on air--so far, at least. These characters so richly drawn. The backstories are pitch perfect.

Kaz said...

I just finished Eps 5 and so far this is an excellent season. I did not like the overly dark second season too much. Vee and her using of the prisoners was important to show, but I perfer the comedy side of this show. The show needs to evolve and so do the characters and so far Im liking what Im seeing.

I miss Pornstache. He was a bad guy that was also very funny.

Jillian Madison said...

1. To the people saying that Piper/Alex/Stella are "boring" - you're right, and that's part of what I was trying to get at. OITNB has managed to turn something as complex and interesting as a LESBIAN LOVE TRIANGLE into cringeworthy, boring television footage. No easy feat.

@Pecola, Alex/Piper ARE dull. That's the problem. Their characters are simple, juvenile, and boring when they should be the highlight of the show. It feels like squandered opportunity.

2. @Pecola, the "fail" was referring to was the fact the show was sweeping what could be an interesting lesbian relationship under the rug for what I would argue to be insanely boring back-stories. Some history? Of course. But not 30 minutes long, and at the expense of an actual plot, to boot. Oh, and if you thought "Rosa" was the most interesting part of the show, that is kind of sad and just further proves my point about how boring OITNB has become.

3. I wasn't fan of season 2, either. Season 3 has been worse. My friends and I find ourselves saying: "I don't care about these people anymore." That's the worst criticism a show can have. If you are enjoying it, I am happy for you. That's fantastic. But I just wanted to point out that there are many who think the show is going to crap. OITNB garnered this cult-like, blindfolded fanbase of people who will rip you a new one if - GODFORBID - you speak negatively about it, and that bothers me. The second that happens, everything starts getting phoned in.

4. Finally, I don't think the backstories should not be so crammed down our throats. The characters' current actions should offer the majority of the explanation of who they are and what they've been through. But then again, that would require actual writing and plot lines, so...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dorothy!

I too hope to see Nicky in Season 4....which has already started shooting!

Anonymous said...

I'll be honest I don't really care about Piper. Never have and that's largely based on how she's written. I enjoy Alex on her own but so much of her story centers around Piper and Pipex as a couple just isn't enjoyable to me. I watch the show for literally everyone else. There are far more interesting characters to explore and I'm glad the show does that. I love all the backstories. Chang's was one of my favorites this year. But I agree that their was no real "villain" this season. Unless you count Donuts and the federalization of the prison itself. If they were going to have Doggett raped, I wish they hadn't waited until episode 10 and focused more on that storyline early on. As well as on the assault of Sophia. I didn't like that Donuts was left to go on his merry way with the possibility that he could rape another inmate. This is a loose end that needs to be tied up next season.

My biggest complaint with this season is that it made me hate Piper even more than I already did. Those final few episodes in particular just made me want to write her off completely. And yes the Norma storyline dragged on for entirely too long. And I wish we hadn't lost Nicky, who I sorely missed after episode 3.

Anonymous said...

Season 3 was more laid back this go round. I definitely did not miss Vee. There was too much of her even though I do enjoy the actress that payed her.
I will always love Alex. Piper meh. I do thonk some of the back stories ran longer than they should have. I wanted more Crazy Eyes. I wanted to read her crazy story. I love her weirdness lol I missed Nicky. They need to bring her back asap! I love her friendship with Big Boo. Speaking of which, I enjoyed Big Boo's background story.
All in all it was not the BEST season. I got to see a lot more Alex and that made me happy. I will admit the hate-sex in the library was so forced and fake looking. Like some dude's porno fantasy on what lesbian sex is. Uh no!
Stella was sexy. She's the Shane of Lichfield. But she had no chemistry with Piper.
The panty business I thought was a different sl than selling cigs or drugs so I'll allow it lol
They gave just enough of Lori Petty's character to be funny. And the worshipping of Norma dragged on too long. I rather spend more time with Alex suspecting everybody was out to get her.
That's all I got for now. Too many thoughts lol

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this season, which I fully binge watched in one day lol. I love that they focused on certain characters' back stories because it made it feel like they're diverse and real people living in a prison and not just secondary characters supporting Piper's role. Piper's really not my favorite so it's nice to share the screen time with a diverse group of ladies. And now I really want a t-shirt with, " I will potato her at a future time", one of my favorite lines lol.

Anonymous said...

This season did not suck me in like the last two. Very dissapointed, my only jaw-dropping moment was when Alex saw Ayden in the greenhouse. But it was quickly forgotten once the lake scene hit. I guess it was a "nice ending"?? Ehh.....wish there was more drama season for will have to make up for alot. Its expected though, season 1 was slow and 2 made up for the slack....maybe there's a pattern here? Season 4 needs to come out soon.

Unknown said...

I want season 4 Now 😓 And Nikki back. My favourite season would have to be the second one though