This is exactly the problem with Netflix Originals. We wait an entire year for a new season, and then when it's out, we blast through it in the blink of an eye, and before you know it, there's another season to wait for. Orange Is the New Black is the very form of this problem!
Orange is the New Black Season 3
Season 3 flew by at such a pace that I hardly feel like I've watched a pre-defined season at all; I've simply experienced a little more of Orange is the New Black and that's that. Now I have another year to wait, and only the memories of season 3 to reflect on. Let's do that shall we? From the good, to the bad, to the Norma!
Good: More Flashbacks!
The use of flashbacks has always been a strong point for Orange is the New Black. Countless times have I assumed I would never be able to connect with a particular character, before being shown a brief snapshot of their childhood that makes me go "ohhh I get them now!" It never even has to be a tragic backstory; just something that exhibits someone's character as complex and shaped by the bigger world around them.
Season 3 actually cut some flashbacks down to under half a minute. Images of Soso playing the piano or Boo getting electrocuted almost acted as their own little visual poems with knowledge of the rest of the series, and it was great!
Bad: The music
It may be something that many viewers don't even pick up on, but the use of music in Orange is the New Black is something that has dogged me from day one! Right from the moment Dayanara and Bennet begin their relationship, an overly sentimental and on-the-nose score pervades. I thought Season 3 might change things up, but sadly not. My issue with this is grounded in the fact that Orange is the New Black already has a compelling and powerful emotional core, and any music added on that is superfluous, and assumes I just don't get it.
I think we can all agree that Norma had perhaps the strangest implementation in Orange is the New Black Season 3. The show has grown accustom to throwing curve balls, and the plot-line involving mute kitchen assistant Norma becoming a messianic figure to many inmates was no different. Never mind that this a brilliant examination of the way people sometimes valorize what they can't understand, or impose value on a religious figure that can't talk back; it gave us toast-Norma! It's a holy relic, it's tasty, and I want it on a t-shirt!
Good: The Time Hump Chronicles
Yeah, we all knew this was gonna appear. Suzanne's initial creative writing efforts were teased at wonderfully in the main trailer for Orange is the New Black Season 3, but no one could have expected the influence her rather high concept, smutty scribblings would have on the entire show. It exposed Poussey's dependence on intimacy, examining the nature of an author's relationship with their popular work, and ignites the possibility of romance between Suzanne and a caring fan. What started as a bit of a goof morphed into a well-rounded character arc, and it exhibits exactly the way Orange is the New Black can make moves you never expected! Also, I can't wait for someone to go ahead and write their own real-world version of this!
Bad: Piper's mob
I wouldn't call this entire storyline a failure, as it provides for some of the best comedic beats in Season 3. Piper's interactions with her brother, and the sheer gusto with which she approaches the enterprise of selling used underwear is pretty funny! The only problem is that it relegates Piper to a jokey sub-plot that somehow still doesn't make her any more likable after selling out Alex at the end of Season 2.
While Alex pushes on the with the real thrust of danger in the season (seriously, what happened in that greenhouse?) Piper is dithering around in what should be a light-hearted jokey storyline. Somehow, with her getting Ruby Rose's Stella sent to Max in the final episode, she comes out of the entire endeavor more ruthless and uncaring than she was before. It only makes matters worse that Piper is completely absent from the Season's joyous celebratory finale!
You'd think the constant undercurrent of incompetence this show places upon the prison staff and the privatized penal system would be building to some kind of disaster (I mean worse than Sophia getting thrown in the SHU). At the last minute, Orange is the New Black has Season 3 culminates in an exhibition of pure unbridled freedom, as a wire fence is opened by unwitting workmen. It's nice that Norma is the first to notice the hole in the fence, as she is able only to seize the chance for freedom, but not communicate it to her fellow inmates.
It's amazing how the scene of the Litchfield inmates essentially escaping smashes through the worry of consequence. The image of Uzo Aduba gleefully running into the water is one of the most beautiful I've seen recently put to television, and it allows the scene to just go on and on in celebration of these characters bonding. Only in the last moments of season 3 are we shown the prison population being doubled, as busloads of new inmates are marched into Litchfield. Boy is season 4 gonna be interesting! Let the waiting begin!