Why Orange is The New Black Season 4 is the best yet
Unlike the majority of Netflix viewers, I’ve never considered Orange Is The New Black to be among the top tier of television. While the first three series were very entertaining, the show never felt dramatic or consequential enough to be considered a must-watch, despite sharp scripts and a wonderful cast. However, that all changes with the bold, brutal season 4 which pushes Orange Is The New Black into new levels of brilliance.
Though Orange Is The New Black has always focused on the previous lives and everyday activities of its ensemble cast, it’s never been quite as confident or intricate in shining a light on its supporting players; characters who barely made an impression previously are pushed to the forefront, with thrilling results. Of the characters given more focus, Maria (Jessica Pimentel) takes over as the Big Bad of the series, sparring with main protagonist Piper and leading her fellow Dominicans to take over the prison. Like Vee before her, Maria feels genuinely dangerous, and gives Piper an enemy with real potential to harm her. In the season’s most emotional subplot, paranoid schizophrenic Lolly (Lori Petty), previously seen as barely more than comic relief, begins to fall off the rails as her reason for ending up in prison is revealed in tragic flashbacks. She’s still a minor character, but she almost steals the entire series.
While Maria and the Dominicans are the most obvious villains of the series, their motivations are clear and reasonably understandable. The real trouble comes from the prison itself; after the mass guard walk out and increase in inmates that ended season 3, conditions and morale have never been worse. Newly-appointed warden Caputo (Nick Sandow) is more ineffectual than ever, giving up authority to intimidating new Correction Officer Piscatella (Brad William Henke, brilliantly intense), while most of the new guards turn out to be bumbling idiots or abusive psychopaths. The oppressive setting and violent authoritarian regime give the show an unpredictable quality that puts it alongside Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones; this is a world where anything could happen. The uncaring guards, racial tensions, and claustrophobic intensity come together in a devastating finale which is sure to upset a lot of fans.
Where Orange Is The New Black has previously felt cosy and safe (earning comedy nominations at the Golden Globes in the process), season 4 is propelled by harsh drama. The witty dialogue is still there (“I’m bored! Can’t we have a race war? It’ll be fun!”), and the show loves to indulge in amusing side plots (Taystee’s job as Caputo’s assistant, Morello and Suzanne investigating a “shower pooper”), but this is far more consequential than any previous season. No character is safe, whether subject to verbal abuse, gang attacks, or psychological torment from the guards. The brutal plotlines, unpredictable twists, and bold character arcs have finally put Orange is The New Black alongside the very best shows around.
By Harry J. Ford
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