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article imageReview: Orange Is The New Black hits its junior year

By Rosemary Richings     Jun 23, 2015 in Entertainment
Season three of 'Orange Is The New Black' paints a painfully raw portrait of people’s overwhelming desire for meaning and a sense of community.
An ongoing plot device throughout Orange Is The New Black’s third season is the usage of flashbacks, which chaotically and sporadically show up throughout the season. This season no longer revolves around Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling).
The overall benefit of these flashbacks is that we get to find out more about the show’s quiet, reserved characters that typically linger in the background such as Norma (Annie Golden), who up until her moment in the spotlight never says a word, and Litchfield’s resident, quirky oddball, Chan (Lori Tan Chinn). By the end of their flashbacks, Norma and Chan transform from background sidekicks to strong, three-dimensional heroines, vulnerably searching for the same thing as their fellow inmates: meaning and happiness, in the confined walls of Litchfield Prison.
All of the flashbacks are sporadically inserted into the overall plot and act as a momentary distraction, ripping the audience away from what’s going on in the foreground, and then throws them back in, without warning. Kohan’s flashbacks are a refreshing means of revealing who Litchfield’s prisoners and inmates really are, but they’re too chaotically inserted into the overall plot to be comfortable for the average viewer.
An important theme of the show’s third season, which keeps the viewer interested from beginning to end, is the emphasis on the characters’ struggles with their relationships with their non-biological and biological family. This theme is emphasized from the show’s first episode to the series finale. Although this theme lingered in the background in previous seasons, it became the centre of attention — and grew in significance for all of the show’s inmates — after the Mother’s Day fair in season three’s first episode. The Mother’s Day fair is a crucial plot device, which opens up the inmates’ wounds that are pretty close to healing, thanks to the presence, or lack of presence of family. These wounds linger, and create conflict throughout season three, with varying degrees of success.
The wounds escalate amongst series regulars — and sporadic lovers — Alex and Piper into an absurdly soap opera-like love triangle. Once Kohan introduces a new character called Stella, played by Australian model Ruby Rose, the love triangle between Piper, Alex, and Stella begins. Alex’s return to prison is an opportunity for the viewer to see beyond her confident, relentless, glamorized, witty exterior. Having the opportunity to see Alex vulnerable, and gain more insight into her motivations, starts off as an engaging plot device, and then it’s immediately undermined once Piper romantically pursues Stella, behind Alex’s back. Once Alex and Stella begin to fight over Piper, and Piper and Alex’s relationship begins to crumble they fight like high school girls in a schoolyard.
Meanwhile, one of the show’s most memorable moments, an ongoing fight between Sophia and Gloria, who are both facing the challenge of being a good mother to their sons from inside prison walls, begins and then escalates out of control. What starts off as harmless bickering, over their sons’ influences on each other, escalates into a hate crime, targeted at Sophia’s identity as the only transgendered inmate in Litchfield. Both women excel at portraying the overwhelmingly vulnerable feeling of not being able to be there for their family, on the outside, through universalizing their overwhelming desire for the acceptance of others, that's frequently hidden behind their strong, confident exterior.
Although Orange Is The New Black’s third season relays way too heavily on sporadically placed flashbacks, every intricate detail fearlessly traces back to the vulnerability, and occasional neediness of the human condition. Orange Is The New Black still thrives based on its ability to universalize the prison experience, while challenging popular stereotypical assumptions about crime, criminals, and authority.
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