So what did we think?
Let's start with where we find ourselves. When we left at the end of season 2 Red had been well and truly damaged by her encounter with Vee. Vee had left (the prison, this earth and her little crew). Piper, continuing to nurture her self-involvement, had snitched on Alex to her parole officer. Rosa had run off with the van to end her life as on her own terms. Nicky had stolen all of Vee's heroin. Sister Jane had ended her hunger strike and Caputo had taken advantage of a disgraced (corruption) Fig and become the temporary new warden, forcing Bennet to stick to the Porn-stash 'raped' Daya story in the process.
So that's not everything but the highlights I guess.
Some of these stories are developed further in season 3. The fall of Fig and the outcome of the financial situation for the prison has a huge impact and Caputo must look for outside help, which comes with it's own consequences.
Vee leaving her gang results in a void that must be filled somehow and although this is not a major storyline, the process of how it gets filled is enjoyable to watch. Particularly when Tastee and Suzanne are sharing a dynamic which has Suzanne carrying all the grief for the two of them. The psychologist in me was particularly happy about this one.
Red and her band of gardening geriatrics become increasingly important in the prison and I must say that having witnessed Red's fall from Grace, it was enjoyable to watch her getting back onto her feet, slowly but surely.
Daya and Bennett's story continues and I particularly enjoyed the exploration of Daya and her own mother's (Aleida) relationship as Daya gets closer to motherhood herself. Aleida get some much needed third dimension to her character, although we never get to see why she chose being dismissive to her children as a form of self-protection over other potential options. It is also interesting to see some of the fall out of Daya's lie about Porn-stash.
Another storyline that I particularly enjoyed was the development of the unlikely friendship between the extremely christian Pennsatucky and the particularly butch lesbian Boo.
Finally Suzanne starts writing a little book that gets some attention from other inmates, despite her limited writing skills and questionable understanding of human relations ("it's love! It's 2 people connecting...with 4 other people, and aliens!'). This felt like a poke at 50 shades, which is something I thoroughly love making fun of!
However I had a number of criticisms -
Piper - just piper. She spends a lot of this season having sexual encounters of one sort or another, which may be some attempt to reingratiate her with the audience. But for me, it didn't work! By the last episode I just cringed every time she was on the screen. She continues to become more self-involved and self-serving than ever and if this is some attempt to bring the audience along in a walter white-esque fashion well it's not working. (However I do enjoy that the show itself acknowledges this in the form of Piper's brother directly pointing it out).
The Sophia alienation story - This happened far too quickly for my liking. I completely see how it could happen and the unspoken prejudices would emerge, but I was disappointed that they didn't spend a bit more time on this and explore more of the impact of Sophia's transgender experience and the delicate nature of acceptance within the Litchfield community. It's a challenging subject but with Laverne Cox (Sophia) (and her advocacy, intelligence and involvement with the trans community) on the team I think it could have been given more depth, but maybe not.
I guess my biggest gripe is with Piper. She was the star of the show. Now it has reached a stage where I'm hoping that George.R.R. Martin guest writes an episode just to unfortunately and unexpectedly off her and leave us with the rest of the characters. This may be an unsupported opinion amongst the rest of the OITNB community and maybe that's the point. Perhaps it's a reverse Breaking Bad where the audience is supposed to grow to hate Piper over time. It's all possible I guess!
So that's not everything but I don't want to get too spoilery. Would I recommend watching it? well yes. It's entertaining. There's great writing, acting and wonderful characters. Naturally they left us hanging with some bits for a season 4. Although I noted that there was a finality to the last episode that left me feeling it could end there, if it had to. I think no matter what they do OITNB, like any illegal drug that could land you in prison, will never be as good as the first hit/season. But so long as they are going I will still dedicate a weekend to it each summer and hope that someone shanks Piper.......... what?? who said that???? whistles and walks away ;)
All pictures property of Netflix, reproduced here only under fair use for product review