The fourth season of Orange is the New Black (OITNB) is as complex as it is visceral. It bluntly throws the truth of American society at your face and barely gives you enough time to process the harshness of the reality. OITNB season 4, as all previous seasons have done so well, will rip your heart out, make you laugh, cry and scream at your television (laptop?) in agony within moments of your preceding emotion. Whatever you felt towards our beloved all female ensemble it goes without saying that the fourth season of OITNB is the show’s best.
Arguably OITNB’s strongest ability is to fit in the linear story of Litchfield day-to-day life whilst presenting us with a flashback for a prominent character all without making the episode feel too overstuffed or convoluted. The writers gave us a funny yet strange backstory to Maritza (Diane Guerrero), a truly heartwarming yet devastating flashback for the paranoid Lolly (Lori Petty), and finally provide a ‘why’ to the sentencing of Suzanne/Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba). Certainly the show’s flashbacks are loved by fans but they prove to be extremely important to the show’s narrative which encourages viewers to see criminals less as criminals and more as people who made poor life decisions due to unfortunate circumstances.
Apart from the constant yet needed flashbacks, OITNB’s fourth season continues to be extremely character driven storytelling. In Season 4 Alex faces the emotional repercussions of taking a life, Red and the entirety of the cast face unjustified harassment by the menacing Commanding Officer (CO) Piscatella, Nichols returns to old habits of addiction, Soso and Poussey form an unforeseeable relationship, the power shifts to the Latinas at the hands of Ruiz, Caputo is morally divided and the list goes on and on. Indeed the amount of stories at hand is somewhat Game of Thronesesque, but again is handled extremely well by a paced writing style that permits breathing room from scene to scene.
What is to be revered the most by OITNB’s latest season is how the writers brilliantly emulated the social state of America in the walls of a woman’s prison. Racial tensions continue to become more and more intricate (I mean that woman has a Confederate flag tattooed on her neck) as it is in the USA . Throughout the season we are witnesses to disgusting acts by COs that force inmates to do things at gunpoint, force inmates to fight against each other and ultimately promote violence in the prison. We are even provided with a flashback of Litchfield’s most innocent CO, Baxter Bayley (Alan Aisenberg), which sees him ironically getting arrested. The purpose of this was to continue the season’s (show’s?) theme of injustice in the American system as he was evidently released without any charges; also highlighting the nation’s debate on ‘white privilege’. The pay-off of all this is found in the season’s penultimate episode which sees the death of **spoiler****spoiler** Poussey. Like many innocent lives that were lost in the real world, Poussey died by peacefully protesting the lack of civil rights in the prison with all the other inmates. A death that was harsh yet was justified in order for the show to properly assert its season/series intent to throw reality at our faces.
Elaborating on all that the fourth season OITNB had to offer is extremely difficult. On top of its mirroring American society, and compelling character arcs, there’s a subplot expanding on the inhumane actions of corporate America. There’s a beautiful and somewhat spiritual sendoff of Poussey’s character that was written in a flashback of course. In a season of gut punching scenes, we are left with things literally spiraling out of control (due to the conventional 360 shot). With Dayanara pointing a gun at two COs, the morally corrupt, there’s no telling where season 5 is heading. But before we rush and ponder the show’s future, it’s clear that OITNB sesaon 4 was absolutely stellar television.