The third season of “Orange Is the New Black” is some next-level shit! That’s not just an apt description — it’s also how one of its dynamic characters is bound to describe it.
This Netflix series is truly changing the face of television while, ironically, not airing on television. The third season, now available to stream on Netflix, manages to have a completely different personality and tone from the previous two seasons. It continues to deliver intelligent political commentary, hilarious comedy and a lot of heart. It defies genre as it can best be described as an antihero soap opera. But that doesn’t showcase how much it has to say without feeling trite or overloaded politically. Instead, it explores hot-button topics like feminism, sexuality, rape, gender and the prison system through the eyes of a group of female prisoners and the people around them.
What showrunner Jenji Kohan truly understands is how to make people fall in love with her characters. This season manages to provide a payoff for some of the most-deplorable characters on the show, and “OITNB’s” expert use of flashbacks provides thrilling origin stories that both explain character motivations and endear them to the audience. By the end of season three, you just might love even your least-favorite character. How about Leanne (Emma Myles), the shit-starting former meth addict and gnarly teeth owner? Then there’s Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn), the obscenely mouthy Millennial. There’s Caputo (Nick Sandow) the cry-o-philiac, office-masturbating deputy warden. Big Boo (Lea Delaria), the self-serving super-lesbian, gets a heartwarming origin story. Even the utterly ruthless Aleida Diaz (Elizabeth Rodriguez), aka Worst Mother of the Century, might make you cry.
The genius of “Orange is the New Black” is that it says so much without saying it. It’s like the old writing adage goes: Show, don’t tell. The writing team and this amazing collection of underappreciated actors is doing just that. Whether it’s exploring the struggles of the prison system by seeing the deplorable living conditions of these women or exploring gender politics through how they interact with men, “OITNB” doesn’t read as being explicitly political with a ton of talking-head moments. Instead, it does a lot just by it’s choices. The past two seasons have done a lot of the representation of Latinos on television by acknowledging the different cultures and lifestyles of people who come from 50 different countries. Laverne Cox has been an amazing blessing to the trans community, but her character gets more to do than just deliver a message. The show also deals with the complexities of rape and consent in a very smart and heartfelt way.
What makes “Orange Is the New Black” so amazing is it corrects all of its mistakes and makes them seem like strong choices. Season two was dark, really dark. But it provided this season with an opportunity to be a quirky and emotional response to that. As the characters work to pick up the pieces, we see them more as full-fledged human beings. No one is just one thing. Suzanne Warren (Uzo Aduba) is more than just “Crazy Eyes” — she’s a complex women with mental illness. You start to see how Piper (Taylor Schilling) isn’t just a WASP, she’s a borderline “Gone Girl” soul-eater. Even Doggett/”Pennsatucky” (Taryn Manning) shows some real depth of character and provides a genius entry into that aforementioned important dialogue of rape and consent.
The only negatives that could possibly be found in season three is that there wasn’t a thorough pay-off for the character of John Bennett (Matt McGorry). Given the actor’s commitment to ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder.” it was clear he’d have limited time for “OITNB,” but here’s hoping he can give him a thorough send-off if he does leave the show. Also, it’s pretty insane to imagine that in an all-female setting, a stunning and sensitive beauty like Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) would be single. Who are we kidding?
Ultimately, the key to the success of “Orange Is the New Black” is how organic it is. The mysteries or annoyances of one season get paid off in the next. In the end, you’re left with truly rich and dynamic characters who are where they are for the poor choices they’ve made, but also from some fundamental moment from their past. Their imprisonment works as a metaphor for the struggles we all face as people while also providing the perfect location to get a cross-section of women and explore the different dynamics of what it means to be a woman. With all that factored in, “OITNB” has the perfect amount of levity and humor.
Christian Cintron is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.