Melissa Binges: ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK Season 3

As one of Netflix’s first forays into original content Orange is the New Black came out around the same time I did. It was one of the first shows I ever watched that had more than one lesbian character in it and I fell in love with it for so many different reasons. It was smart, hilarious, culturally aware and had an actual trans actress!

This season was a little…different. A little off. It was still hilarious – at one point Piper gives a motivational speech to the others encouraging them to dirty their underwear so they can sell them online.

                       Sisters, we may be incarcerated but our panties will travel the world!”

But it was also a little fucked up. Am I the only person who doesn’t want to see rape scenes on a TV show? The first season had instances of rape as well but there was something truly jarring about watching Pennsatucky get violated by not just one man in her past, but then AGAIN by a guard in present day. Sure, it completely changed my opinion of her character. I used to not have any empathy for her, but now I understand most of the motivations behind her behavior. I just don’t understand why a show that draws such a strong base of women, especially culturally aware women, would use rape as entertainment. It seemed quite out of character.

Whether it’s Piper’s panty business or the acquisition of the prison by a for-profit corporation, one main theme of season 3 was corporations and organizations. I loved the show’s take on the privatization of prisons and all the issues that arise when a for-profit company steps in. My favorite bit was when Caputo was explaining the need to provide books and materials to help the women understand their cases and find jobs when they get out of prison. The company shot it down almost immediately, clearly demonstrating that they have no interest in making sure prisoners don’t end up right back in their arms a few years later. They even hesitated at the prospect of restocking the library with any sort of literature, as if to suggest they didn’t think the women needed creative outlets. Another horrifying example of the flaws of a for-profit prison was when Angie gets accidentally released because of a system mix up and complete lack of foresight for hiring competent personnel.

A lot of people are complaining that Litchfield felt more like a “summer camp” this season and while I think part of it was the fault of the writers, I believe it was intentional to illustrate the chaos Litchfield was experiencing. Everything felt more lax, out of control, and unrealistic because there was no communication between the original administration and the current owners. Of course that’s going to create an environment where more people can get away with stuff. It’s clear the new company running Litchfield is all about the bottom line and not about the prisoners at all. If prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation, for profit prisons are diametrically opposed to that line of thought.  The more women that come, the more money they make.

This season also tackled motherhood,responsibilities it requires, and the challenges of raising kids while behind bars. We see several mothers this season struggling to accept the lack of influence they have over their children’s lives, especially Gloria and Sophia who have to watch as their sons mature into teenagers. I thought the sub-plot between those two characters was really interesting. We saw two mothers helplessly trying to deal with the fact that they fucked up their kids while only being able to speak to them in a crowded room with no privacy, no ability to discipline, and no respect. On the season premiere, one woman’s husband decides the baby should stop coming to visit because she’s “starting to understand” what it means to be in prison. How hard must it be to try to raise a child to be good, to be better than you, while stuck behind the bars of society’s final judgement?

We also see other instances of motherhood, both figurative and literal. Taystee realizes she’s the mom in her group, responsible for their well being and their representation in group discussions. Red loses her surrogate daughter when Nicky gets sent to max – a bitter disappointment to me as Nicky offered a lot of comedic relief. Then of course, Daya has her baby this season. Her main battle is whether to give her child to her abusive stepfather who aims a gun at his son as motivation to eat his fries or the mother of a rapist prison guard. Not sure who’s the best bet here. Regardless, motherhood and the adaptations prison forces upon that role is one theme of Orange is the New Black that keeps me coming back, because it’s a topic often neglected in mainstream media.

Season 3 was my least favorite season so far, but it was still entertaining and thought provoking. The backstories were fun – complete surprise that Leanne was Amish, but it explains her desire to be part of an exclusionary group. We finally got to learn more about Chang and Norma. There were hilarious moments – Caputo and Fig, Poussey and the squirrel, the Latina crew’s conversations are always quote worthy. And while there were season wide themes, the lack of a central focus or plot line did not work well. But at the end of the day I’d say this sort of extensive character study is well worth the watch. Especially if it’s a weekend, I-don’t-need-no-friends, marathon.

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