Season Three of Orange is the New Black fades to gray


Over the first two seasons of “Orange is the New Black”, viewers have become gripped by the dramatic conflicts of the female inmates of the Litchfield Correctional Facility, a fictional federal women’s prison in upstate New York.  As the inmates grappled with issues both inside and outside the compound, fans delighted in getting to know the eclectic mix of women serving time at Litchfield. Last Thursday, Netflix released the third season of OitNB.  Although the most recent addition of the Emmy winning ‘dramedy’ introduced some new faces and gave us more backstory about our favorite characters, it didn’t do much more than that, failing to deliver on the dramatic promise of the previous seasons.

“Orange is the New Black” follows Piper Chapman, a wealthy New Yorker who is sentenced to 15 months in a federal women’s prison for smuggling drug money across the border for her drug dealing ex-girlfriend.  While seasons one and two are dramatic, heartbreaking and captivating, season three falls flat in comparison. Throughout the five days it took me to watch the 13 episodes, I kept waiting for something more exciting to happen, yet all I got were a few new characters and backstories.

In season one, viewers are introduced to the inmates at Litchfield and follow as Piper tries to navigate her life inside prison while maintaining her ties outside of it. The drama is heightened when Piper discovers Alex, her drug dealing ex-girlfriend and the person who named her in court, is serving time in the same prison. The tension rises as Piper tries to navigate her relationship with her fiancee, Larry, in New York, while simultaneously rediscovering her feelings for Alex.

In season two, most of the drama is centered around Vee, the captivating and extremely manipulative inmate who weaks havoc with her every move. Vee immediately takes advantage of the vulnerable Crazy Eyes and forces her to be a part of her contraband business in the prison. Vee attempts to manipulate the friendship between two other inmates, until they turn on her and rat out her drug business. Vee makes more enemies at Litchfield in one season of OitNB than many characters have friends.  The murder of Vee at the end of season two by a fellow inmate was a highly dramatic way to finish the second season, but it also meant the elimination of the central source of drama at Litchfield.

With an absence of significant conflict, season three instead focuses on the overarching themes of family and motherhood that ties all the inmates together. The first episode, ‘Mother’s Day,’ dives into the pasts of many inmates and their mothers as the prison holds its own Mother’s Day celebration. However, because nothing can ever go quite right at Litchfield, the day is cut short when an inmate’s daughter goes missing, and all activities are ceased. This scene gives us a glimpse into the myriad ways the inmates deal with motherhood, but it lacks the dramatic tension of the murders and gang fights of season two.

Throughout the rest of the season three, viewers get insight into more lives of inmates and are able to sense the development of characters they might have hated at the beginning of season one, yet have come to revere. The plot of season three is interesting, and raises discussions about transphobia, faith, and the dynamics of relationships. It lacks the tension and excitement that seasons one and two offered, however.

Season three lacked the excitement of season one, and the drama of season two, making for an interesting yet sometimes dull addition to the otherwise captivating and groundbreaking program.