Season three of Orange is the New Black hit Netflix last Friday. Like a great many others, I dutifully curled up and binged the full 10 hours in what felt like 10 minutes. This season kicks off with the prisoners celebrating a rather bleak Mothers’ Day at Litchfield. Inmates frantically pull smuggled drug wraps from nappies, curse offspring who were too ashamed to visit, or watch their kids stare disconsolately at a smashed piñata that the prison staff forgot to fill. As Soso mournfully observes, “Oh my God, this is such a metaphor for their lives.”
This initial theme of motherhood certainly sets a precedent for the rest of the series, with some serious digging into the backgrounds of both main and peripheral characters. What began in season one as fish-out-of-water rich girl Piper’s story, has now gradually become Litchfield’s story. Difficult childhoods, violence and drugs are unsurprisingly standard elements of many inmates’ histories. Interwoven with strange cults, arranged marriages, stolen cabs, Amish villages, suicides…We’re granted in-depth, and in many cases complex and surprising, insights into inmates’ individual lives and crimes. It’s an intriguing device, especially for characters like Chang, who’ve really hung in the shadows until now. We’ll never look at any of them the same again. When Red says darkly to Healy, “Nobody here is people,” she reminds us how invisible these myriad stories are when a guard is herding a group of prisoners in uniform.
On a more immediate level, there is the ongoing saga of Daya’s baby, begot by seeming “good guy” prison guard Bennett. Bennett goes suddenly AWOL after a visit to Daya’s deranged, alleged murderer of a stepfather. Cesar gifts Bennett a crib, which he leaves at the side of the road. It’s the last we see of him. Whether he’s got cold feet or his sudden absence is connected to Daya’s confession to Pornstache’s mother–who wants to adopt it–that the baby isn’t Pornstache’s, we’ll just have to wait until season four to find out.
The other major Litchfield romance sparks up again in slightly awkward circumstances, with Alex back and less than happy that Piper put her there. One sweaty “hate-fuck” later and they’re an item again…and then they’re not. Enter new inmate Stella (played by Aussie DJ and model Ruby Rose) to turn Piper’s head. The seduction is going well until Piper discovers Stella has stolen all the money from her clandestine used-panty business. This occurs shortly after Piper lets Stella tattoo “Trust no bitch” on her arm. Ouch. Will there be a hate-fucking triangle in season four?
Meanwhile, prison staff have problems of their own when they discover that Litchfield is going to close down unless a private company can be persuaded to buy it. Caputo pulls out all the stops to save everyone’s jobs, only to discover that he should have been careful what he wished for. Stripped of power by a network of superiors who know little about prisons and plenty about profit, his future at Litchfield seems to be in the balance. Of course, some prison staff have a knack for blaming the prisoners when they’ve fucked up-–and that’s just what Luschek gets away with, when his and Nicky’s plot to smuggle heroin out of the jail is uncovered. Cue Nicky being sent to max and Luschek remorselessly settling back down at his workbench. We’re left wondering how the hell they could justify sacrificing a character like Nicky–but at a loss as to what miracle could possibly get her out of her predicament.
The final dramatic scenes come quite unexpectedly, as most of the inmates escape through a hole left in the fence by the incompetent new contractors. By sheer coincidence, a new despatch of prisoners is arriving on the other side of the prison, as the existing inmates are seen frolicking in a lake. It doesn’t look as if anyone is seriously trying to make a run for it (one imagines they’d have to swim the lake, which is why it’s there), but in these tender moments of freedom we see defenses melt away and those inmates splash and giggle like children. It was at this point I got something very, very sharp and spiky in my eye.