On June 12th Netflix released the highly anticipated third season of Orange is the New Black. From season 2, we knew that Alex would return to Litchfield (no thanks to Piper), Daya’s baby was set to arrive at any moment, and that the prison’s social hierarchy was getting a shake up with Vee’s supposed death. There was a lot to work with here, and we couldn’t wait for season 3 — especially with the advertised introduction of Australian eye-candy, Ruby Rose. But this season of OITNB fell flat. Very flat. Vee-run-over-by-the-van flat.
1. “What is the driving plot?”/ “Where is this going?”
A question I disturbingly kept asking myself over and over again. I hope it’s not Piper’s prison panty scheme. I hope it’s not the private corporation taking over Litchfield Prison. I hope it’s not the guards’ struggle to keep their jobs. None of these are compelling or interesting enough to keep our attention for an entire season.
2. Too many backstories of random minor characters
They don’t drive the plot, yet we still know their stories. If we get glimpses of everyone’s lives from Boo to Norma to Caputo, how do we know who to follow? Whose story adds directly to the larger plot of season 3? This ambiguity contributes to why season 3 lacks a clear driving force and felt like it was both everywhere, but going nowhere at the same time. Okay, in a perfect world, we hear everyone’s narrative and they are all valuable to a greater understanding, but THIS IS NOT HOW YOU FRAME A TV SHOW.
3. But we don’t have narratives of characters we DO want to know more about?
re: Crazy Eyes. Poussey. Poussey. Poussey.
4. Where’s Bennett?!?
Is it believable that a man who just proposed to his pregnant GF would just leave her and their baby? Is this consistent with the Bennett we know from season 1 and 2? Nope. Nope. Not sure what the writers were trying to do here, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume Bennett was either abducted, murdered, or both.
5. An awkward romance between Piper and Stella (Ruby Rose)
Lez be honest, this romance was yes, kind of hot, but mostly underdeveloped and forced. Literally one or two episodes before they get together, Piper declares her love for Alex to her family and suddenly, over her panty business and talk with Red, cheats on Alex? Also, who is Stella? What is she doing in prison? Nothing quite tips us off to a useless minor character like the fact that the entire season would effectively be unchanged without Stella. Ruby Rose may be talented and gorgeous, but she is underutilized as the one-dimensional, uninspiring Stella, who does little more than inspire our libidos.
Other notable awkward romances: Red and Healy, Suzanne and Maureen. Speaking of which, …who even is Maureen?!
6. Cindy converts to Judaism
Adrienne Moore, who plays Cindy delivered a fabulous performance this season, but it was not enough to account for the lack of her character’s development. Simply, we never see Cindy take a genuine interest in Judaism beyond it granting her edible meals. Although we don’t know if Cindy sincerely wants to be Jewish, we do know that she has time and time again worked the prison system to her benefit. Therefore, it’s not surprising that we’re naturally skeptical of her tearful conversion speech to the Rabbi. Through a flashback, we know she came from a “fire and brimstone”-spouting Christian family, but it doesn’t elucidate her religious or moral development, nor does it show how she has “finally found her people.”
7. No strong antagonist
In season one we had Pennsatucky and in season two we had Vee. The brilliance of season two lied in the fact that Vee was the villain who we loved to hate. She was a complex, power-hungry psychopath and damn, did she keep our attention the entire season. A big problem I have with this season is that literally every character is either likable or someone with whom we can relate. Pennsatucky, Leanne, Fig, even Danny—we sympathize with them on some level. So, who’s left? Who’s the weak-ass antagonist of this season? –The corporation. Nothing is quite as intangible, boring, and unoriginal as making a greedy corporation your antagonist. Then, problem is that our protagonists, the inmates (and the prison guards) can’t interact with the corporation; there is no room for dialogue or push-back. After all, we have prisoners with minimal rights up against a corporation, the greater operating system that controls their lives.
8. Why is Piper evil now? Are they trying to make Piper into Walter White?
If so, that doesn’t happen over like 2 episodes. Why does Piper suddenly feel the urge to be a ruthless crime lord? To prove herself to Alex? So other inmates won’t shit on her? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine, but the one thing I do know was that it took Walter about 5 seasons to become a sociopathic bastard.
9. Too much educated white Feminist language
Okay, we get it. The show’s writers are educated white feminists. –But not every character would have access to that kind of language and theology. It is refreshing to hear some feminist thought from a character we wouldn’t expect, but this season has been a little overkill on the white feminism. Big Boo gets a speech on being “invisible” to society and whips out a passage from Freakonomics. Taystee comments on violence and sex in the media. Cindy and Watson get their dialogue about the underrepresentation of darker-skinned black women in magazines. Soso gives her commentary on Asian imprisonment: “You know what sucks? Belonging to a race that doesn’t commit enough low-value crimes to be relevant in a place like this.” And… well, literally every word that comes out of Piper’s mouth.
10. Fairly tactless pushing of a social agenda
Don’t get me wrong, I love shows that advocate for underrepresented minorities and seek to enhance the visibility of disadvantaged groups in the media. However, it felt like season 3 of OITNB had a kind of “social checklist” for which it tried to touch upon every remotely relevant social issue. We touch on rape and abortion with Pennsatucky, racial tension and community outreach with the Diaz’s, and the systemic inefficiencies of privatizing prisons among others. As a Chinese American, I was elated that Chang’s back story was finally revealed. However, to introduce the “token” Asian character’s story, only for it to be completely irrelevant to the overall storyline is gimmicky and disappointing.
Let’s just hope that season 4 brings back the momentum of the first two seasons. In the words of Regina Spektor, “You’ve got time,” OITNB writers. Pick up the pace next season!