Netflix’s strategy of releasing full seasons of its shows in one fell swoop, and the binge-watching that it encourages, could doubtless be read within the context of the societal expectations that it utilises and exacerbates. That twenty-first century need to have everything immediately, an insatiable appetite that has made impatience the defining feature of our world. And yet, faced with the opportunity to devour the third season of Orange Is The New Black in a brutal feast of excess, I challenge anyone not to give into the temptation. Like an addict for the various drugs circulating the female-only prison of Litchfield, once you have had your first fix you cannot stop.
The second season, with Vee as the overarching villain and focal point for the plot, felt far tighter and more focused than the third season manages to. Here, part of the problem is that the format of the first two seasons – with one figure filling the role of chief antagonist – has been reworked. This is understandable. Carrying on with the same format of a single person as villain for each series would have inevitably have led to the show becoming both predictable and to similar. Further, each subsequent series would need to up the ante in terms of the antagonist’s personality, which would have led to OITNB becoming increasingly unbelievable (certainly if they were going to try to top the incredible Vee of the second season).
However, whilst the change of direction makes total sense from the perspective of the show and its potential longevity, it also causes problems. For, in addition to the slightly anticlimactic nature of season three’s plot when compared to season two, there is also the problem that the progression of the underlying storyline of season three feels slightly disjointed.
One prime example occurs a few episodes into the season. As the episode ends, we discover that Litchfield is about to be shut down due to a lack of funds – our erstwhile group of characters scattered to the wind amongst the American penitentiary system. The episode concludes on this apparent cliffhanger, seemingly setting the scene for the drama that will carry us to the end of the series. And yet, within less than an episode, a white knight (well, more like grey!) has swooped in to acquire Litchfield. Abruptly putting a stop to that problem. It jars, and is one of a few moments within the season, when the viewer is led to believe that something will span the season, before suddenly getting a resolution.
This slight sense of disconnect carries through to the overarching storyline, where the corporation that acquires Litchfield takes on the role of pseudo-villain. A soul-sucking money-machine whose only aim is to monetise the prison and gain profits from its shareholders by shaving margins – which inevitably affects the lives of the inmates. Whilst effective in a political sense, the inherent problem with this is that a corporation is, by its very nature, faceless. And, as a ‘villain’, it is removed from the prisoners – they cannot fight it in the same way that they did Vee. And thus it becomes depersonalised as a struggle.
At the conclusion of season two, Vee and Rosa die. Added to this, Piper’s fiancé Larry Bloom (love him or loathe him) is absent from the third season, and brutal guard Pornstache Mendez and embezzler and former Executive Assistant to the Warden, Natalie ‘Fig’ Figueroa are also largely absent. Then, within a few episodes, two other major characters (who shall remain nameless to avoid spoiling the plot) depart abruptly. Likely this was due to other commitments, however it creates a noticeable character void.
This is partly addressed through the evolution of a number of characters who had previously been ciphers. In particular, the evolution of Black Cindy, Joe Caputo’s lone battle against the corporation, along with the burgeoning friendship between Boo and Pennsatucky, stand out in season three. Further, it also allows Piper to finally evolve away from her fairly self-centred characteristics from the first two seasons – here finding herself becoming a crime boss within Litchfield.