Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Worthwhile Theme Is Nailed Home In Orange In The New Black Season 4!

The Good: Wonderful message, Good acting, Good character development
The Bad: Beats the theme to death, Far too many characters to service them all well
The Basics: Orange Is The New Black Season Four expands the cast and illustrates the severe issues with for-profit prison systems in America.

Orange In The New Black is a show that my wife loves and I have watched repeatedly with her. It was fairly surprising to me that I had not yet reviewed the fourth season of the show. Orange In The New Black Season Four aired in June and I've watched it a couple of times now, but I watched it while I was on vacation from blogging. The surprising thing to me about taking so long to review the fourth season of Orange In The New Black is that I enjoyed it so much and it has the most universally-relatable theme of any of the seasons. Instead of following Piper whining, exploring the characters with a very insular war within the prison or dealing with the melodrama of Piper and Alex's on-again/off-again relationship, season four of Orange In The New Black is a belabored exploration of the problems that come with a for-profit prison system.

At times, it means that Orange In The New Black Season Four beats that theme to death and it utilizes characters who were previously insignificant to flesh that out, but it gets the point home.

The fourth season of Orange Is The New Black picks up on the same climactic day that ended the third season (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the fourth season without referencing where the third season ended. The fourth season of Orange Is The New Black is a theme-driven episode that explores what happens when Caputo gives up on doing right at Litchfield Minimum Security Prison to get laid by another executive and the inmates in his care suffer as a result of it.

Opening with MCC's new batch of inmates arriving at Litchfield on the day that most of the inmates have fled through a hole in the fence, Alex Vause is nearly killed by the guard her former employer has placed in the prison. Rescued by Lolly, Vause survives and has to dispose of the body, which she does in the garden. Caputo brings in a team from the maximum security prison building down the hill to recover the prisoners and he manages to get everyone back. While Litchfield takes in the celebrity Judy King and creates a double-standard for care in order to keep good public relations, Alex works to protect her business interests, which puts her in (metaphorical) business with the new white supremacists. Putting the angry authoritarian Piscatella in charge, Caputo cedes control while letting his current girlfriend railroad him on the projects he wants to initiate in order to make life better for the inmates.

Caputo's big education project is decimated for "vocational training," which has the inmates working to build new dormitories for future inmates. While building the new dorm, the construction crew bulldozes the garden, which exposes the body parts buried there. To protect themselves, Red and Frieda throw Lolly under the bus, which makes Vause feel guilty. Harassed by Burset's ex-wife, Caputo and Sister Ingalls expose the fact that Sophia has been unjustly detained for months. But Caputo's reliance on Piscatella leads to an inmate revolt that has sudden and tragic consequences.

The fourth season of Orange Is The New Black transitions Maria Ruiz and Blanca Flores to the forefront of the narrative and Diaz (Daya's mother) manages to get out. The three characters who had been largely insiginificant eat significantly into the screentime previously devoted to characters like Healy, Warren, and Morello, who are severely diminished in the fourth season. Sophia and Nichols are absent for the bulk of the season and Sister Ingalls is a virtual non-entity. The real surprise is how Flores goes from being - essentially - a one-bit joke in the first season to being a significant character who entirely redirects the momentum of the fourth season.

Orange Is The New Black Season Four also smartly reduces the melodrama between Piper and Alex. Vause is preoccupied with her guilt after killing the would-be assassin she used to work with and Piper is obsessed with saving her business from the third season. There is a blink-and-you-miss-it line that destroys the third season's business and the consequences of that essentially set off a gang war between different ethnic groups in the prison.

All the while the situation in Litchfield is deteriorating, Caputo cedes more authority to Piscatella, which is a tragic mistake. Piscatella asserts authority over the inmates and trusts in the least-competant guards MCC could hire - including a slacker, a lovesick rapist, and a psychopath who abuses inmates. In many ways, Orange Is The New Black Season Four is an exploration of the natural abuses that happen when the corporate bottomline motivates people in the care and service industries and in that way, there is a strong psychological horror component to the season as disparities in care and abuses run rampant in Litchfield.

Orange Is The New Black Season Four continues to flesh out the characters in and associated with Litchfield Minimum Security Prison. The essential characters for the fourth season of Orange Is The New Black are:

Piper Chapman – Having gotten Stella condemned to Max, she finds herself on her own as Alex works out her own issues. She falls in with the White Supremacists, who get into a business war with the Dominicans at Litchfield. After she is branded by her enemies, she returns to Red and her friends to try to take a stand for Litchfield,

Alex Vause - After killing Kubra's assassin, she finds herself in the awkward position of having to trust Lolly. She becomes more isolated in her guilt and only when Nicky returns is she able to confess what she did. She and Piper slowly resume their relationship,

Red – She generally lays low until the body is found in the garden. One of her new bunkmates snores, keeping her awake. Piscatella targets her and begins keeping her awake, making her severely sleep-deprived for him to interrogate. When Nicky returns, she throws her a party and soon thereafter is disappointed that Nicky is using drugs again,

Nicky Nichols – Finally released from max after doing sexual favors for the guards there, she returns and starts using crack again. Her new drug habit allows Alex and Piper to come clean with one another. She decides to quit cold turkey again, which Red does not believe will take,

Flores - When Piscatella asserts dominance over the inmates, she takes a stand for inmates rights and reveals the true extent of her willpower,

Daya – When her mother is released, she falls in with the wrong crowd, who is running drugs through Sophia's old salon,

Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” – Pursued by a crazy inmate who loved her writing, she strives to understand intimacy. She has a violent outburst at the worst possible time,

Poussey – As a big fan of Judy King, she is psyched to be able to hang out with her. She continues to develop a relationship with Soso, despite Soso making some ugly assumptions about her past. She starts to look forward to her post-imprisonment time when Judy offers her a position,

Tasha – "Taystee" becomes Caputo's personal assistant, which makes her privy to all sorts of information before it becomes public knowledge. She also begins to act as Caputo's conscience as things go south in the prison,

Lorna Morello – She starts to become paranoid about her husband spending time with her sister and freaks out. Of all people, Nicky is able to call her b.s. when she returns,

Gloria Mendoza – She becomes guilt-ridden over Sophia's "protective custody" in maximum and works with Sister Ingalls to get her freed. She is charged with looking after Daya after Diaz is released and completely falls down on that front,

Doggett – Mortified by the fact that Ramos is now driving the bus and concerned about her safety (fearing that she might be raped by Coates). Coates's constant attempts to apologize lead her to believe he made a mistake, which puts her at odds with Boo,

Big Boo - Upset that Doggett is willing to forgive her assailant, she works on the dorm project as a way to waste time,

Judy - The celebrity is given a separate quarters upstairs at Lichfield and she brings Yoga Jones on as her non-threatening white roommate. Together, they live in relative luxury, with drugs and screwing Luschek. When videos surface from the 1980s that make her appear racist, she purposely leaks pictures of her and Cindy in order to get better publicity. She starts teaching cooking classes until the program is cut,

Sophia - She is stuck in max where she attempts suicide multiple times while Caputo denies to authorities that she is even there. She is saved by Sister Ingalls, Caputo and a smuggled cameraphone,

Ramos - Now driving the prison bus, she is tormented by a new guard who overhears her and Flaca playing a game and uses it to torture her,

Cindy - Her new Judaism quickly fades, though she has a little battle of wills with the new Muslim inmate who shares her cube. She gets into a faux-relationship with Judy in order to boost her status,

Baxter Bayley - A young, inexperienced guard brought in by Caputo and MCC, he was basically a screw up at the local high school who fell into the job at Litchfield. He is poorly trained and after being used by Piper, he stumbles under Piscatella's control, though he tries to stand with Caputo,

Joe Caputo – Turning effective control over to Piscatella, he starts sleeping with Linda from MCC. He keeps pitching programs that are undermined and reduced. After watching his old ally at MCC rally publicly against the company, he starts turning on MCC, getting Sophia released,

and Sam Healy – Fearing that he is ineffective, he takes Lolly under his wing. But, when he realizes he was completely wrong about the mentally ill woman, he has a nervous breakdown.

In the fourth season of Orange Is The New Black, the acting is quite honed. Blair Brown joins the cast and fits in effortlessly with the established cast. Nick Sandow continue to take the role of Caputo to new emotional depths, illustrating greater emotional range as an actor. But, despite the billing, it is Samira Wiley who steals every scene she is in of the fourth season. Wiley's Poussey is given so much more depth and character in the fourth season of Orange Is The New Black.

Ultimately, season four of Orange Is The New Black continues to illustrate growth on all fronts as the series manages to effectively redefine itself.

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
The Flash - Season 2
Game Of Thrones - Season 6
Grace And Frankie - Season 2
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 6
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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