Orange Is the New Black (Season 3) (Netflix) Review | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Orange Is the New Black (Season 3)

Netflix

Jun 11, 2015 Web Exclusive
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For the third year in a row, Netflix’s original series Orange Is the New Black debuts on the streaming service in the middle of summer, establishing itself as the go-to distraction from warms days and beach parties. Netflix knows by now their subscribers are more likely to forego sunshine and June breezes to shutter themselves inside, close the curtains, and binge watch a show about a grim women’s prison in just a few sittings.

There are plenty of reasons Orange has kept up such surprising and universal appeal. Of course it’s well executed, hilarious, and often poignant and moving. It might be the most politically important TV show currently in production, a cast of downtrodden and diverse characters in one of the most fringe and susceptible to oppression institutions in modern America. And Orange makes good use of its political capital by never spending it too fast or too often, instead unraveling constructs with subtlety and patience, often with a heavy dose of self-deprecation.

Thankfully, there is barely a shift in quality from one season to the next. This series does improve by shifting the focus away from Piper (Taylor Schilling) and emphasizing the diversity and talent of the cast as a whole. It shouldn’t be any surpriseseason two made some pretty hefty plot deviations away from Piper, and the much talked about finale centered mostly on secondary and background characters. And yet, this approach of peeling away the vestiges of Piper’s life outside Litchfield is actually a pretty significant Piper-centric development in its own way. It’s really only months into her sentence, but already Piper has lost most of the identity she clung to for the majority of season one. She now even checks herself when she slips back into the smug know-it-all that got her into trouble in the past. Piper’s dissolution as a lead character mirrors her sense of identity.

Clearly Netflix knows that the supporting cast is the reason people keep streaming. They are incredible, even if some of their plotlines are somewhat uneven. It turns out, there’s not as much room for growth in prison as we were initially led to believe. Characters whose arcs in the past have been somewhat melodramatic are left now to simply simmer in a sort of purgatory, neither troubled by their previous follies nor saved by any sort of resolution. Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) is a perfect example. In season one she was Piper’s white-trash foil, hellbent on violence and maniacal judgement. After a stint in solitary confinement, she’s changed for the better, but that just makes her more boring. Red (Kate Mulgrew) goes through a similar phase. Now that her season two nemesis Vee is out of misfortune, but resorts to cheaper and safer political maneuvering. Her tenacity is still there, but without all the risk.

All of this character settling makes the series noticeably lighter, but more dedicated to hitting the heavy emotional marks. Episode one drives this home, somewhat heavy-handedly, with a Mother’s Day picnic and a series of brief vignettes showcasing various characters’ and their relationship with motherhood, a theme that shows up now and again in the following episodes. There are some truly beautiful moments in this episode, juxtaposing the bliss of children with the stark reality of the characters’ lives and asking, which of these is more lasting?

Motherhood, as a concept, or social construct or whatever, is inescapable for these women. Their relationships with their own mothers are mostly strained, and it is a useful tool to understanding them as characters. But only because we’ve already been with them for a couple of seasons already. If the show had started off with that premise, it would not have played so well. Here, three seasons in, it is wonderfully delicate, but effective. The picnic ends with a prison lockdown, and every inmate is forced to the ground as a coarse reminder that at the end of the day, even their complications with motherhood are another aspect of their identity that now belong to the state.

Netflix sent the first six episodes as screeners, and as the plot moves away from Mother’s Day the series’ flashbacks still revisit the theme, interplaying their maternal relationships with the ones they’ve built in prison. Again, it’s an idea that would not have worked any earlier in the series. This far along it feels organic and revelatory. Orange Is the New Black makes good on its promise for binge-worthy television, by doling out the rewards for marathon viewing in evenly spaced plot developments and mild tension. Season three makes no significant step forward, but improves by spreading its charm out to the supporting cast. (www.netflix.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 4/10



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