Orange is the New Black: Season 4

*Contains Spoilers*

Sitting in front of a computer screen that is no longer sure if I’m still there, I’m faced with the question: “Are you still watching Orange is the New Black?” I’m not sure if I’m offended…Yes, of course I am, I’ve been sitting in the same chair since 7am and Netflix know I haven’t got a life. I’m not ashamed, it’s a well-known fact that Orange is the New Black is designed to be binge-watched, in fact, I don’t think I’d come across the term ‘binge-watching’ until I’d seen the first season of Orange is the New Black in 2013. There is no ‘previously on Orange is the New Black’ because Netflix know you already know what’s going on.

Anyway, it would have been impossible to have cancelled the auto-play after watching episode one. It kicks off the show’s fourth season in spectacular fashion. Already, there is a cause for anxiety amongst the inmates of Lichfield Penitentiary with the privatisation and subsequent overcrowding of the facility. But this is the least of Alex Vause’s (Laura Prepon) worries. Following the attack launched on her from a hitman under the guise of a guard, Vause and fellow inmate Lolly (Lori Petty) dismember and conceal the body under the prison’s freshly planted sunflowers. So quite a grisly start for a series that deems itself a comedy.

The overcrowding of the prison was one of the main storylines this season, and an overwhelming number of prisoners meant that a private company was hired to see order upheld in Lichfield. But order is the exact opposite of what the new guards bring. Orange is the New Black has garnered a bit of a reputation for introducing incredibly hateable characters. But forget Vee, forget Larry, forget Mendez. Piscatella (Brad William Henke) and his team of guards are easily the most hateable characters in the show’s history. Lacking entirely in any form of morality, Humphreys, Stratman and Dixon carry out Piscatella’s orders unquestioned; inmates are interrogated, beaten and deprived of human rights. Their own sadism, Humphreys’ in particular (Michael Torpey) leads some of the guards to conduct their own extra-curricular activities on the inmates and their evil agendas have been difficult to watch this season, especially since they are carried out at the expense of some of our favourite characters (Red, Ramos, Crazy Eyes). Their cruelty eventually leads to what is definitely the most upsetting thing to happen in Orange is the New Black. (SPOILER!!!)

The conduct of the guards in reaction to a peaceful protest in the penultimate episode of the series resulted in the death of one of the best (and my personal favourite) characters. Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) was killed in an incredibly distressing scene that I’m sure wouldn’t have been possible to watch with dry eyes. Her character was crushed under the weight of a guard who was instructed by Piscatella to restrain all those involved in the peaceful protest. The ensuing moments saw the life leave her eyes and the following finale episode was dedicated to her life. It goes without saying that season four has been the most emotionally powerful and heartfelt season to date.

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Elsewhere in Lichfield, Lolly quickly becomes one of our favourite characters this series. Her heart-breaking history and relentless naivety makes her a truly loveable inmate which is why it is so hard for viewers to say goodbye as she is dragged screaming into the mental ward of the prison. Orange is the New Black seems to have taken on mental health issues in a unique way for a series of its kind. Viewers watch as Lolly’s mental state deteriorates from the first episode; we see her behind bars both physically and mentally and we can do nothing about it. But Lolly is not the only character that creator Jenji Kohan uses as a vehicle to discuss the thought-provoking issue, Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren (Uzo Aduba) tugs on everyone’s heart strings (again) in her devastating backstory.

Need another reason as to why Orange is the New Black is one of the best shows on television? It truly champions diversity and equal representation. The cast, almost all female, can list among its all-encompassing roster: Latino actresses, black actresses, gay actresses and transgender actresses to name a few. When any other programme features a character belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, it feels as though they’re role is a tokenistic gesture designated to fill a quota; and a lot of these characters are lucky if they are granted the rare privilege of a storyline. In Orange is the New Black, the story is their sexuality.

Racial tensions were, again, a key theme in this season. The central character of the first season, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), has had a change of character as a result of her stay in Lichfield. Her “illegal panty smuggling business” saw her status rise from mogul to gang leader in the space of a few episodes, and when white supremacists and racists decide to join her gang, Piper realises she is no longer going to be everyone’s friend. The resultant ‘gang war’ is cracked down upon by prison officers who assign consequences heavily. The treatment of ethnic minorities in the prison is not only incredibly upsetting, but true to life in many ways. The state of institutionalised racism that the guards enforce led to a traumatic death this season, and viewers are left to see what happens when small-minded idiots are given power over a group of people.

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Orange is the New Black is the only show I can think of where backstories and flashback sequences aren’t boring and are actually used for a reason. Noughties favourite Lost was heavily criticised for the use of flashbacks as fillers. Entire episodes would be given over to the tedious backstories of characters that no one really cared about. But in this series, the ‘filler flashback’ is never used; backstories are used for a reason. And the backstories in this season were HEAVY. If Councillor Healy’s tale of woe didn’t have you in floods, then Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren’s was sure to. Much of the finale episode was dedicated to Poussey’s life before prison; viewers saw the true Poussey and only then could she be appreciated for the genuine, multifaceted character that she was.

There is no other programme on television like Orange is the New Black. It isn’t just another prison drama like Wentworth, Prison Break or Locked Up. It deals with real social issues and combats current and controversial problems in meaningful ways. Every character has a story to tell, and there are always two sides to the story with Orange is the New Black. I became so hooked on this show over the past week, and with the cliff-hanger that ended the finale episode, I can’t wait for season five.