Since the runaway success of OnDemand television shows, and the popularity of binge-watching shows, streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have been looking for instant successes to drive their popularity. In Orange is the New Black, Netflix has one of its key shows. Set in a women’s prison, it centres on the lives of the prisoners and how they learn to cope in the harsh prison environment. The show’s initial focus was on the story of Piper Chapman, who had been imprisoned on drug trafficking charges, but has since grown to really utilize the strong cast.
Season 4 picks up minutes after where season 3 ended. The inmates have escaped through a hole in the fence and are enjoying some freedom in a nearby lake. The big cliffhanger of season 3 was the unknown fate of Chapman’s former lover, Alex Vause, as she is cornered by a hitman sent to kill her. The show’s premiere quickly re-establishes the characters we have grown to know, and introduce some new inmates and correction officers.
The show also introduces the character of Judy King, a celebrity who is in Litchfield prison on tax evasion charges. She is looked up to by the other inmates, but some become angry over the special treatment she receives. King’s character is played by Blair Brown, famous for her role in the sci-fi show, Fringe, and she adds a mature touch to the cast, complimenting the Russian character Red well.
The season’s latter half is a lot darker than the first few episodes, and there are some events that will shock many audiences. As a divide forms between the ethnic minorities and the Caucasian prison population, the tension in the prison is palpable. One scene in particular really highlights the fact that this show is not always a comedy, it has the potential to turn into a very dark drama.
As the season progresses, we learn more about the characters we have learnt to love. Each episode gives another piece of the puzzle through flashbacks as we start to understand what has led to these ladies being in prison. In particular, the episode focusing on the character, Poussey, is hard hitting and will stay with many audience members for a long time. What this show does best is to tell the inmate’s stories without any judgement.
Season 4 also gives more of a voice to the new correction officers. The show introduces the character of Piscatella, the lead correction officer who is the closest the show has come to a villain thus far. He rules Litchfield with an iron fist and his role in the season’s climax will change the show forever.
So now we are left with a huge cliffhanger, a changed Litchfield and lots of questions. The show won’t be back until June next year at the earliest. How much further the show will run remains to be seen, but we’re all in for the ride.
Director: Jenji Kohan
Scr: Jenji Kohan, Piper Kerman
Cast: Taylor Schilling, Danielle Brooks, Taryn Manning, Natasha Lyonne, Uzo Abuda
Prod: Jenji Kohan
Music: Scott Doherty
Episode Runtime: 60 minutes
Number of Episodes: 13