I admit, I wasn’t overly excited for the latest season of Orange is the New Black. Being one of the earliest Netflix incarnations, I felt that given the pedigree of recent dramatic efforts, the prison set series would potentially return feeling stale and lacking in new inspiration. This feeling was, in part, due to the rather lacklustre efforts of season three. When on form, season three was excellent (Pennsatucky and Boo’s burgeoning friendship stemming from the worst circumstances for example), but too often featured Piper, whose privileged character has become increasingly irritating.
Watching the first five episodes I was pleased to see that not only does the show demonstrate a clear return to form, but its writers are willing to undertake a number of risks that may not prove palatable to the regular mainstream viewer (showcasing a scene in which a dead body is chopped up to the sounds of Papa Roach for example).
The writers have also seen fit to showcase and develop its most interesting and engaging characters, dispelling with those who are more one dimensional. Piper for example, originally the show’s protagonist, has been, thankfully, increasingly sidelined and her appearances in season four are, thus far, relatively fleeting. When she is featured, her belief that her actions of the prior season have somehow imbued her with strength and power, are held up as laughable and the audience are encouraged to find her interactions with her new bunkmate as ridiculous.
The show is depicting some interesting dynamics in regards to power, or rather the lack of power, both in terms of corporate and race. The prisoners, when confronted with newly employed aggressive guards, find themselves invasively frisked under the pretence of discovering contraband. Piper, when hoping to assert her newly established and wholly fragile dominance, ends up, through her ignorance and naivety, inciting a white power movement within the prison.
Whilst there may be an increasing plethora of Netflix created programmes, some of which are seriously lacking, it is pleasing to see that the writers of Orange is the New Black are continuing to invest themselves in creating a quality series that is aware of the importance of acknowledging wider societal contexts and issues.