Orange is the New Black’s fourth season debuted last Friday and of course it had to be binge-watched. So last night I finished up all thirteen episodes and the time has come to talk about where our favorite characters have gone and what might become of them. I’ll try to keep my thoughts lumped into coherent sections, but we’ve got a lot to cover. If the cage was full for the last three seasons it’s become packed to the gills this year. Fair warning, there are spoilers ahead.
If I had to sum up this entire season in one word it’d be consequences. A lot of what has been built up over the past few years got paid off in full. It has bugged me that it seems like Piper (Taylor Schilling) always got a slap on the wrist instead of getting her comeuppance. Her hubris has been built up to the point where all it had to come crashing down. She had already sent Stella (Ruby Rose) down to max for double-crossing her and now competition in the dirty panty business has set in. This leads to her making questionable alliances with some white supremacists in order to edge out the Latino competition. When Piper plants a bag of underwear under Ruiz’s (Jessica Pimentel) bunk and adds three to five years to her sentence shit gets serious. After getting ambushed Piper is pulled to the kitchen where they brand her with a swastika. As someone who has lost interest in Piper’s storyline this really pulled me back into it.
Next we have Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) trying to keep the ship from sinking after taking over as warden. The company MCC who privatized the prison are tying his hands while he deals with some new COs who don’t know the proper boundaries between prisoner and guard. I’ve always liked Caputo as he is the guy who is dealt a bad hand and keeps trying to make it work. He knows everything the company is doing is wrong, but has to play the game. Although he’s not above breaking the rules to help. It made me happy seeing him use former warden turned activist Danny Pearson (Mike Birbiglia) to get Sophia (Laverne Cox) out of the SHU. The man has scruples most of the time in spite of how the season ended. We’ll delve into that a little more later. It was also nice that Caputo is forced to see his former employees who walked out now in different jobs. He’s basically getting haunted by the ghosts he created.
The big elephant in the room is seeing how Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) escaped her predicament from last season’s finale. While she’s being strangled to death by Kubra’s man Lolly (Lori Petty) comes to the rescue beating the guy down. It’s now time to figure out how to dispose of a body in a prison. With the help of seasoned murderer Frieda (Dale Soules) they’re able to dispose of the body after some cutting and burying. Now Vause has to not only deal with her own grief about suffocating and turning a hitman she knew into garden fertilizer, but the fact that Lori is going even further off the rails than normal. This leads to Alex making questionable choices until she finally breaks down in front of Piper and the two re-kindle their relationship. Lolly on the other hand isn’t so lucky. After digging up the garden to re-route the sewer line the body is discovered and Officer Healy (Michael Harney) knows Lolly was involved after she gave him an incoherent confession he took to be delusions. Lolly is shipped down to max and we’re probably never going to see her again.
Let’s discuss some of the other plots from the series. First is the fallout from Pennsatucky’s (Taryn Manning) sexual assault from last season. This is going to be a controversial and important discussion topic from this season. The fact that when Pennsatucky says to CO Coates (James McMenamin) that he raped her and he is shocked that she sees it that way is disturbing. What’s worse is that in spite of an apology to Pennsatucky we see in their final scene together that this may not be a one time thing. It’s kind of horrifying especially with recent events, but I commend Jenji Kohan and the writers for taking this route. It shows that some men (even as adults) have been so poorly educated in understanding consent that they don’t believe that they’re committing sexual assault. It’s ugly, but it needs to be talked about and if this show can get that started it’s a step in the right direction.
Once again we get a glimpse into Officer Healy’s background. We knew his mother was mentally ill, but we get to see him dealing with it. One of the moments that hit me the hardest from this season was watching Healy commit himself after Lolly’s incarceration into max. The fears that he had the same issues as his mother are now a reality. He may not have always been the most likable character, but his intentions (either in the prison or at home) were to do his best for the women in his life.
The Judy King (Blair Brown) story was probably the weak link for me this year. Sure, it was funny and had some great moments, but in the end it never really went anywhere. The only real positive that came from this entire plot was that one of my favorite secondary characters Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman) got more screentime. King’s only real role on the show was to kind of stoke racial tensions between inmates.
Now to talk about the moment that’s going to be plastered all over the message boards for the next month. The death of Poussey (Samira Wiley) hit extremely hard. She has always been one of the few characters who did her best to stay out of trouble. Aside from her spat with Vee she kept a good rapport with all the inmates. This is probably why they picked her to die. She was the most pure of the inmates and that made her death all the more heartbreaking. Throw in her friendship with Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and her romance with Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn) and we got a whole lot hurt in the final episodes.
In typical Kohan fashion we’re left with a mid-scene cliffhanger for what’s ahead. After CO Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) is let off on Poussey’s death a riot builds. One of the COs was stupid enough to bring a gun into the prison. When he’s cornered he pulls it out, but gets pushed and loses his grip on the gun. Daya (Dascha Polanco) picks it up and points it at the COs. She’s being cheered on to shoot them as we cut to black. Will she shoot one or both of the COs? I doubt it. I’m assuming Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) will talk her down considering Daya’s mother asked Mendoza to keep her safe before she got released a few episodes prior.
As always the cast is firing on all cylinders. I’d say the best performance of the season was Danielle Brooks as Taystee. While I’ve always liked her character this year we got to see her go even deeper with her emotions. I will seriously be disappointed if she doesn’t get Golden Globe and Emmy nominations this year. It was nice to see Kimiko Glenn get more work tossed her way. I did feel that Uzo Aduba got shortchanged, but considering her prominence in prior seasons it’s not all that disappointing. It was painful seeing Crazy Eyes’ flashback episode that showed what got her locked up. I was disappointed by the scaled back amount of time Laverne Cox received, but I’m grateful she’s back. I didn’t mind the loss of previous season’s COs as it usually felt like their plots were always low priority for the writers. And while Ruby Rose was a fun addition to season three I’m glad they didn’t try to find a way to write her back into the series just because of her popularity. Sometimes a cameo is all you need to display a character’s present predicament.
I’d say my biggest problem was using characters this season to represent previous antagonists. Ruiz was basically a less threatening version of Vee and Piscatella was a serious version of Pornstache. While both may have felt intimidating neither of them were original. I did miss both Pornstache and Bennett, but I understand why they’re no longer here. Their stories have been wrapped up, at least for the time being. I was also disappointed by the lack of Piper’s family. Aside from a single call put into her brother Cal (Michael Chernus) there’s no real interaction for Piper with the outside world. This could be to show that the closer she gets to her release the less connected to the non-prison world she’s becomes.
Plain and simply this is definitely a big improvement over season three. Like I said earlier I liked how we got to see so much payoff from all the stuff we’ve seen get built up in past three years. With at least three more seasons to go and about eight months left on Piper’s sentence there’s a lot still to do, but where are we going? Until next June we can only hypothesize. As usual what are your thoughts? What was your favorite part of season four? Did you enjoy the entire season as a whole? What are you planning to binge next on Netflix? As always, thanks for reading.