Enough time has passed since the new season of Orange Is the New Black was released on June 11 that even casual fans of the show have had plenty of time to finish its addictive and captivating third season. The binge-worthy Netflix original series set at Litchfield Penitentiary is difficult to stop once you start; show runner Jenji Kohan is a master at showing glimpses of an interesting new plot line only to leave it unresolved, demanding the next episode to be watched. With the same amount of compassion and respect it showed to each of its characters over the first two seasons, OITNB’s third season remains just as compelling as its predecessors, perhaps more so. Its heavy drama mixed with timely comedic interjections creates a brilliant tone unparalleled by any other series on TV or streaming right now. Having such a large ensemble cast, it is remarkable that every character is given enough time to become so fully realized and able to create their own unique story, which is why OITNB is by far the most humane show around.
Warning: The following contains spoilers
Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba), Red (Kate Mulgrew), Norma (Annie Golden), Lorna (Yael Stone), Piper (Taylor Schilling), Poussey (Samira Wiley), and Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) are just a few of the many inmates at Litchfield who return for season three. The first episode also sees Alex (Laura Prepon) back in orange after Piper had Polly contact Alex’s parole officer in the season two finale.
Plenty of new characters are introduced in the third season too. Of the new additions, Birdie Rodgers (Marsha Black) provides a great foil to Healy’s insecure masculinity, and is a fresh change of pace in the counselor department, which has too often made Healy (Michael Harney) an exaggerated villain (See season 1 finale). New inmate Stella (Ruby Rose) acts as temptation for Piper, whose deep love and passion for Alex wanes throughout the season. Stella is an okay character, but primarily only there for the service of Piper’s development and lacks her own depth; hopefully she will be back in season four and we will learn more about her backstory. Donut-officer Coates (James McMenamin) is horrible and entirely unlikable in his malevolence towards Pennsatucky, but at least we get to see Tucky and Boo (Lea DeLaria) bond through their brainstorming of his torture, which is one of the best and most surprising relationships to develop during season three. Lolly (Lori Petty), a quirky new character who should get more attention, causes severe paranoia in Alex until it is revealed Lolly is likely a schizophrenic rather than a hired assassin, a troubling and sympathetic revelation for both characters. Mary Steenburgen does a great job as the wealthy mother of George Mendez who wants to adopt Daya’s child. She allows another, more mature element to emerge in Daya, who has always been a largely one-dimensional character amidst a show with so many complex ones, and provokes some interesting dialogues between Daya and her mother Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) about what is actually best for the future of the child (money vs. blood). Lastly, Danny Pearson (Mike Birbiglia) is definitely the worst addition of the new season and his entire subplot with the corporate operators of Litchfield is almost as boring and dull as the Daya (Dascha Polanco) and Bennett (Matt McGorry) stuff from seasons one and two — thankfully they don’t spend too much time on it.
Returning veterans are also given extensive backstories to help bring their characters more to life. Most notably, Chang (Lori Tan Chinn/Teresa Ting) gets her own flashback episode, which is one of the best of the season and gives insight into her life, which until then had been completely mysterious. Still waiting on flashbacks for DeMarco (Lin Tucci) and Freida (Dale Soules) though, two of the best characters of the whole show. Leanne (Emma Myles) and Caputo (Nick Sandow) are also given flashbacks that show what it was like growing up in an Amish family and a failed first marriage, respectively. Leanne’s story helps us to understand her need for outlined rules and rituals within the new spiritual group centered around Norma and Caputo’s reveals his original desire to be seen as a savior and moral martyr concerned for the greater good. Flaca (Jackie Cruz), Pennsatucky, and Big Boo are also given more depth. It is impossible to cover each development with so many characters, but Flaca in season three becomes seen as much more intelligent and ambitious and aside from Gloria (Selenis Leyva) is really the most fleshed out character from the Latina clique. It could be argued that with Pennsatucky’s denouncement of Christian fanaticism and her friendship with Boo she is the character that has actually developed most throughout the first three seasons. She is quite likable now despite being once seen as an evil and intolerant religious oppressor, a pitiful recovering drug addict, and a tragic victim of circumstance and poverty. She has worn so many different hats at Litchfield which has made her one of Orange’s richest characters, giving fan favorites such as Taystee, Crazy Eyes, Red, and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) a run for best character.
Speaking of Nicky, her short plot line is the most frustrating of the season. After seeing more of her backstory she is sent down to max after Luschek (Matt Peters) rats her out for storing heroin under his desk. We only see her for the first three episodes and she may not be back, which is a tragedy because she was always such a great character. Piper’s entrepreneurship in the new panty producing industry takes the prison by storm and allows her to embrace the criminal spirit within and her compulsion to pursue forbidden fruits. It is arguably the primary plot line threading through the third season and is, for the most part, entertaining. Berdie’s new drama class is another great plot line that provides Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” the platform to write her obscene erotica, a la 50 Shades, which also gains a huge following amongst the inmates, who compulsively read the space adventures of Admiral Rodcocker and Edwina. Its awesome to see her have that creative outlet and also helps to curb Poussey’s loneliness in prison, which is another major facet of her character that has been explored for the past two seasons. Poor Soso (Kimiko Glenn) shares this feeling of isolation too and when she has to turn to Healy for advice he throws pills at her instead of listening, prompting her attempted suicide. On the bright side, it looks like she may have found a family out of it, coming unexpectedly from the black girls. Red finds her way back to the kitchen, the one place she can escape to feel a little bit more like the free version of herself, but the new prison corporate bosses switch to pre-packaged meals to cut costs. She has to frequently remind people “I had nothing to do with it”. Sophia (Laverne Cox) grapples with her ability to stay a presence in her son’s life and it becomes difficult for her to perform her parental duties when he begins to curse and act up. Her story in season three becomes heartbreaking when she incurs the wrath of Gloria and the other Latina women who bully her for being a trans woman and, in one scene, resort to physical violence. Also, Cindy (Adrienne Moore) converts to Judaism, “Where my Dreidel at?”.
Those are just some of the most important and interesting storylines of season three, which does a great job of delving deeper into the lives of these wonderfully flawed characters. With no apparent villain this season, its objective aims to show the tremendous good and darkness within each character. It succeeds entirely. Shout out to some great end credits songs as well: here, here, and here. Season four cannot come fast enough.