I’ve written about Orange is the New Black since season 1. I wanted to summarize my thoughts on this series, collect the most important posts in one spot, and share the results. This Orange is the New Black summary is my attempt to do that. Each headline is a link to the full article.
After viewing season 1 back in July 2013:
Orange is the New Black is a a Netflix original, created by Jenji Kohan of Weeds. I loved Weeds and I love Orange is the New Black. Apparently I am a huge Jenji Kohan fangirl. Kohan takes characters who are flawed, vulnerable, maybe a little off, often of questionable moral inclinations and she makes me care about them. Her characters aren’t Hannibal Lector, but they aren’t Mother Teresa either. They fall somewhere in between those two extremes, in a place where most of humanity struggles to get through the day.
Again, from season 1:
On Piper’s first day in prison, she meets the prison counselor Jim Healy, wonderfully portrayed by Michael Harney. He suggests to her that there is no logic in how long sentences are. Someone who committed a minor crime might get 4 years, while someone who committed a more serious crime might get 9 months. He doesn’t say this is based on race, but studies that compare sentences based on race point to statistics like this.
Jump to season 2:
Lorraine Toussaint, who comes in as a character named Vee, is in 8 episodes. In those 8 episodes she manages to throw the whole prison into quite a state.
Again from season 2:
Vee knows how to spot someone who will be slavishly loyal in return for a glimmer of love, a glimmer of approval. She knows who will respond to family obligations. She knows who will go to the dark side out of a need for power or greed. She knows who will follow without question. She knows who can be tempted by the lure of a longed-for high. She knows who can be bought with bribery, with food, with small gifts.
Still season 2:
Brook Soso. She’s a new inmate on Orange is the New Black. She’s played by Kimiko Glenn, who is at least part Asian. The only other Asian inmate is Chang (Lori Tan Chinn) who was mostly nonverbal in season 1, but does have lines in season 2.
The thread that connects every story – prisoners and prison officials – is that the quest for power carries with it corruption, lies, manipulation, and frequent disregard for the good of others. The Ghandis, the Mother Teresas, the characters like Poussey (Samira Wiley) who resist corruption – they are an anomaly. Most human beings, when given power, succumb to the need to keep it no matter the consequences to others.
From April 2015:
After two years, the most popular characters on OITNB are played by Samira Wiley, Danielle Brooks, Lea DeLaria and Laverne Cox. We no longer have to be lead into Litchfield stories by holding hands with someone white.
From season 3:
The “Mother’s Day” episode started Season 3 on a series of character studies about how women in prison deal with motherhood. It shows the social costs of the war on drugs and the devastating effects on families when mothers are locked up because of minor drug charges. This practice only perpetuates a cycle of neglect and is one of the greatest failures of the idea of mandatory sentencing for drug crimes.
Still season 3:
SHU was used as a quick answer rather than a solution. In both cases, the person who will suffer the horrors of isolation for who-knows-how-long should have been handled in some other way.
More season 3:
Season 3 of Orange is the New Black returns again and again to several themes. My big 3 are the difficulties of maintaining a family while in prison, the need for some sort of spiritual hope, and the need for love.
Okay – Blair Brown. Her first acting job was in 1971. That was 45 years ago. As far as I know, she never kissed another woman in a scene before. All those years acting out lives imagined by men, written by men, photographed by men. Actresses of Blair Brown’s age must look at the roles younger women get now and envy the freedom and depth of women’s stories. Once in a great while, an older actress like Blair Brown wanders into a piece like Orange is the New Black where she can grab just a bit of that artistic freedom and rock it out by playing a Southern white woman kissing an African American Jewish woman. And just a few scenes later, have a threesome.
Poussey says, “I can’t breathe.”
These cases of mental illness will be dealt with as they have in the past – by the other women. There will be no help from the institution.
More season 4:
Orange is the New Black season 4 puts viewers through the wringer. Abuse, murder, death, mental illness, surviving rape, corporate greed. It’s dark and horrifying. There are moments of hope, of light. There are ways of dealing. I thought it would good to end my series of posts on the latest season of Orange is the New Black with something brighter.
The characters must find a balm for their souls. Unless you’re the rare individual like Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) who can take comfort in God, healing comes from less otherworldly places.
The top three big wow, Emmy worthy performances in my opinion were Kate Mulgrew on speed, Uzo Aduba’s mental breakdown, and Selenis Leyva’s moral dilemma. They can’t all win an Emmy, so I’m casting my non-binding vote for Selenis Leyva. It’s time for a Latina to take home a prize.
If Orange is the New Black has not already convinced you that the American justice system is completely broken, this season will get you there.
What I’ve Learned So Far
Six seasons, six years. I’ve devoted quite a lot of fan power to this series about women in prison. There’s one more season to go.
What I’ve learned so far is our prison system, our court system, our sentencing system, and our policing all need reform and change. That knowledge was abstract for me before. Now it’s real and urgent.
I’ve learned that inclusive casts are the best casts. They are transformative for the culture at large, and important for individual viewers.