“Orange is the New Black” begins its third season outside of the prison. The environment of Litchfield Penitentiary can feel heightened, like the characters have to be outrageous to come up to the level of their surroundings. Taking an inmate out from time to time and putting them in the real world goes to show that, no, in fact these characters are naturally outrageous and Litchfield is the only location that contain it.
The things Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) says, and believes, while she and the guards shop for Mother’s Day supplies remind us this show isn’t interested in being politically correct. It isn’t even interested in being in good taste. The main goal of the show and series creator Jenji Kohan has been to showcase a group of people who have been marginalized or completely omitted from depiction in popular culture – and damn if the end result isn’t incredibly entertaining.
In what might be a rebellion against the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for categorizing the show in the drama category for all future Emmy consideration, Jenji Kohan’s script for the season three premier is packed to the gills will hilarity. The relationships between the characters and the different power dynamics have been so well established in the previous two seasons, the show is simply able to spin these characters around each other and watch what happens.
There are a few story lines left over from last year that are briefly touched upon in this episode — Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) and Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) trying to get their hidden drug stash to the outside so it can be sold, the aftermath of Vee’s (Lorraine Toussaint) death and how it affects Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba), and the new direction in the way the prison is run thanks to Caputo (Nick Sandow) taking over. All ideas, characters, and stories ripe for exploration this season, but the premier is more interested in focusing on the big picture rather than any of the smaller stories.
Framing the episode around Mother’s Day festivities at the prison is a smart storytelling device. It offers an emotional shorthand for us to get quickly reacquainted with these characters. Poussey (Samira Wiley) had a strong relationship with her mother and Taystee (Danielle Brooks) has vowed to stop looking for a mother figure after she was cast aside by Vee last season. Everyone has some kind of relationship with their mother, even if that is no relationship at all.
What is great about seeing yet another holiday unfold in Litchfield is we get to see the inmates and COs interact in a slightly more relaxed manner. Luschek (Matt Peters) won’t ever be nominated for any congeniality awards, but he tends to remember, more than any other prison employee, that the inmates are still actual people. His interaction with Piper (Taylor Schilling) while building a hacked together mini-golf course for the visiting kids is, of course, hilarious. Luschek is rude and his comments come across as condescending, but the undercurrent of the conversation is rife with the subtext the entire Mother’s Day plot is all about.
If the inmates aren’t reminded every so often that there is a life on the outside, they will get caught in the cycle and psychology of the system. Piper says that when she gets out, she’ll have no money, no job, and no prospects. It can seem like life outside is scarier than life on the inside – we’ve seen this cycle play out on the show before. Bringing the kids into the equation brightens up everyone (well almost everyone, there is nothing sadder than watching Poussey sweeping up a broken chili pepper piÃ±ata and spotting the exact Calvin and Hobbes cartoon she read with her mom). That brightness makes it look like there might be hope for the inmates when they get out after all.
One person the brightness definitely doesn’t impact is Alex (Laura Prepon). She violated her parole last season by keeping a gun in her apartment and she finds herself right back in prison alongside Piper. The fact Piper called in the tip on Alex that caused her to get caught is a significant shift in their relationship. Piper now has a major secret, something that could irreparably destroy their slowly mending relationship. It’s basically inevitable that there will be a prison-shattering confrontation between these two when the secret is finally revealed, but for now I’m excited to watch the calm before the storm.
Welcome to our weekly coverage of “Orange is the New Black”! Every Friday, we’ll be discussing two episodes at a time, episodes two and three next week.
Did you find the comedy in the premier successful? What do you think about the new Piper/Alex dynamic? Are you planning to binge watch this season or take it slow? Let’s discuss the premier below!