Review: Orange is the New Black (Season 3, Episode 1)

All 13 episodes of Jenji Kohan’s Comedy-Drama Orange is the New Black were released Friday on Netflix ready to be binge-watched.

Episode one of season three is funnier and sadder than ever, opening on Mother’s Day which is a few months after the Christmas Episode at the end of season two. Calling itself a ‘kinder‘ Litchfield, the prison allows the children and grandchildren into a day of fun to celebrate Mother’s day. Initially, the atmosphere is elated, as the prison yard is overflowing with games of crazy golf, piñata and more, but the episode is bittersweet. It’s not long until the vacuity and despair of the prisoners and their families’ lives is shown, cumulating when the piñata is broken and turns out to be empty – which Soso (Kimiko Glenn) says is the perfect metaphor for the children’s lives.  The episode excellently balances comedy and deep drama, dealing with loss, mourning, and abortion.

Very few of the cliffhangers left at the end of season two are dealt with in episode one, notably the fate of Vee is not revealed. In fact, there are very little references to the first two seasons. It’s worth catching up on season two first, as little is explained in the first episode. What is clear is the protagonist Piper (Taylor Schilling) is no longer fresh meat in the prison, but a fully established Litchfield inmate.

Characters notably missing are Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber), Polly (Maria Dizzia), Larry (Jason Biggs), or any of Piper’s family. However, Alex (Laura Prepton) is back, roughed up and back in the arms of Piper. A new character, Berdie Rogers (Marsha Stephanie Blake), a sassy female counsellor, employed to work alongside Healy (Michael J. Harney) is likely to be a hit with the inmates and the audience.

Orange is the New Black is still excellently diverse, a rare gem with an ensemble of powerful three dimensional female characters, from all sorts of different backgrounds. Excellently, it’s not gratuitous like other many other prison dramas, while not scared to show illicit sex, brutal fights, and unconventional standards of beauty, it somehow feels genuine and warranted.

Unlike most episodes, which feature one character’s backstory, episode one shows various characters’ interaction with their mothers, or becoming parents themselves. Perhaps the most powerful is Pennsatucky’s (Taryn Manning) mother forcing her to down a bottle of Mountain Dew in order to defraud the welfare system, and Sophia (Laverne Cox) struggling with her relationship with her son.

No other show-runner quite manages to balance comedy and drama like Jenji Kohan does, balancing dark comedy, with comments on society with slapstick comedy and puns. While perhaps not reflective of prison itself, the show emotion in the show feels real, which is due to a superb combination of writing and character.

All episodes of Orange is the New Black are available now on Netflix, and you can buy seasons one and two on DVD now.


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