Orange Is The New Black‘s third season debuted on Netflix exactly a week ago, and we finally finished watching all 13 of the show’s best and most emotionally challenging episodes yet. After what many fans regarded as a sophomore slump, the hit series came back with a bang for its junior season, delivering on all fronts. [Editor’s note: Spoilers below!]
OITNB‘s script was tighter than ever, with plenty of funny quips worth rewinding to watch again — Crazy Eyes’ (Uzo Aduba) foray into erotic writing is the gift that keeps on giving — as well as devastating moments that were truly painful to sit through.
This season of OITNB was arguably the best yet: The complicated backstories of minor characters were finally developed, the numerous plotlines were tightly woven together rather than being redundant or superfluous, and the lack of a super villain made life at Litchfield seem more realistic. Instead of good vs. evil, each of the inmates experienced both selfish and compassionate moments, challenging the viewer’s sympathies. Plus, the addition of newcomer Stella Carlin (Ruby Rose) added a layer of complexity to Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex’s (Laura Prepon) relationship, and allowed viewers to see just how ruthless Piper can be.
While the season was solid, there was a depressing undercurrent that can’t be ignored. Sure, the episodic arc was tighter than ever, but Litchfield’s corporate overlords made a far more sinister adversary than any inmate with a shank, and none of our favorite characters were able to catch a break.
Not only did the typically chipper Soso (Kimiko Glenn) spiral into acute depression and attempt suicide, Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) was raped, Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) was hauled to Max, and Sophia (Laverne Cox) was locked in SHU despite being the victim of a hate crime. Even Dayanara (Dascha Polanco) and Bennett (Matt McGorry) –– who had previously been proof-positive that love can flourish even in a prison setting –– were ripped apart at the seams, with Bennett ditching Daya and their unborn child.
These scenes were almost too heartbreaking to watch, and while mitigated by moments of pure comedy gold, the season had a somber feeling that many fans haven’t been able to shake. As Gloria (Selenis Leyva) said during the finale, Litch brings out “the worst, most selfish parts” of its inhabitants –– but the show’s final message was one of hope as the prisoners had a brief taste of freedom. No, we didn’t learn Nicky, Sophia, or even Alex’s fate, but the moment of mutual lakeside friendship between the ladies of Litchfield offered viewers a beacon of hope to cling to during hiatus.
Oh, and Piper as a stone cold criminal mastermind was pretty brilliant.
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