*WARNING: This review contains spoilers*
If you managed to binge-watch the whole of season three within a month like I did (partly so you only had to pay for one month of Netflix), there might be a bit of a gaping hole in your life now because despite its lukewarm beginning, the new season of Orange is The New Black was pretty damn good.
Does it rival with season one and two however? I’m not so sure. One of the biggest disappointments of the first few episodes of the Netflix original series set in Litchfield Penitentiary was the anticlimactic reaction to Vee’s gruesome death.
To recap, Yvonne “Vee” Parker was the main cold-hearted antagonist of season two who served as a motherly figure to Taystee. Vee and Tastyee knew each other outside of prison when Vee used Tastyee and other young people to carry and sell drugs for her and even went on to have RJ (Tastyee’s brother for all intents and purposes) killed for starting his own business.
Straight from the word go, Vee’s electric and dangerous presence demanded attention as she started a war with fellow matriarch Red and slowly but surely manipulated, betrayed and hurt everyone around her. Vee eventually met her sticky end when cancer patient and escaped inmate Miss Rosa knocked her down with the prison’s van.
Since Vee had a hold over pretty much everyone in Litchfield before her death in the finale of season two, you’d expect her demise to at least be a bit of a talking point among the inmates at the start of season three. But the evil dictator is hardly mentioned.
Another loose end from the previous season that is glossed over is the prison break of Miss Rosa, terminally ill of cancer who managed to escape in a prison van. Did Miss Rosa fulfil her wish and die peacefully in a comfortable home surrounded by loved ones? Did she get as far as the end of the road before crashing the van and dying in the collision? Could she still be alive? Despite her brief appearance in Joe Caputo’s backstory flashback, these are questions that the audience are still asking.
Another new development of this season is that Alex Vause, Piper Chapman’s long time on/off girlfriend, is back at Litchfield and more paranoid and terrified than ever as she is convinced that former drug-dealing boss Kubra is after her for selling him out during his trial in the previous season. Alex and Piper soon rekindle their old flame which quickly turns into an almost disturbing love/hate/rage/revenge sexual “arrangement” when Alex finds out that it was Piper who landed her back in prison.
When the tempestuous couple get over their latest in a long line of tit for tat betrayals, another threat to their relationship rears its ugly (or should I say good looking?) head in the form of newcomer Stella played by model and actress Ruby Rose.
The role of flashbacks is an important part in the building of character backgrounds in OITNB and it’s a great way for us to see what makes characters tick. Their use in season one and two was impeccable and provided a depth that most sitcoms don’t offer. But this time around, there seemed to be too many glimpses into too many backstories to provide any clarity. The flashbacks often seemed rushed, brief, convoluted and, on occasion, seemingly irrelevant to the “now” of that particular character. It seemed that the makers of OITNB tried to fit in the backstory of everyone, all squashed into one season and while a lot of them were still compelling and fascinating, their execution was a bit hasty.
This season of OITNB is a bold, violent and passionate slow burner, tackling several more important LGBTQ issues as Tiffany Doggett is the victim of a chilling rape by the new creepy and menacing prison guard Charlie Coats and Laverne Cox expertly portrays Sophia Burset in the face of a transphobic attack.
With new characters, new relationships, a shakeup of the prison system and a spontaneous mass escape and euphoric ending, OITNB season three may be a bit different from its predecessors but it is definitely worth a binge-watch.