Hi! We're Project Derailed! Making nerdy content on the internet!

Review: Orange is the New Black season 4

Warning: massive spoilers ahead

Wow. Just wow.

This season was an interesting one for sure, but I don’t know how I feel about it. I think that they planned big moments carefully, but the details and aftermath were all over the place. This has recently been a problem with Orange is the New Black, and this season is no exception.

First of all, the big moment in the show–Poussey’s death–breaks my heart. She was one of my favorite characters and I feel like she was the character with the most to give to the story. Once it happened, however, it was obvious that all of the signs were there. Things just don’t go right for Orange is the New Black characters. Once Judy offered her a job once she got out of prison, we all should have known something was going to happen.

That was always the thing about Poussey though. More than Piper, Poussey was the character that I feel most of Orange‘s audience could relate to. She didn’t participate in a massive drug ring. She wasn’t mentally ill. She never hurt anyone. She was put in prison because of a bullshit law and a bullshit situation. She shouldn’t have been there in the first place and that is where she died.

Now, the reaction to this is about what you would expect. Poussey was beloved, and the inmates knew that her death was the result of Piscatella’s overly forceful tactics, which they were peacefully protesting in the first place. There’s a clear right thing to do here. In their own messed up way, MCC came to this conclusion. Bayley should have been fired immediately. It doesn’t matter at that point that he was “a good kid” as Caputo liked to say. Poussey was also a good kid. Things happen and they hurt other people and sometimes there is punishment regardless of intention. This just shows Caputo separation from the inmates. While he wants and tries to be their champion, he also relates to Bayley more than any of the inmates. He believes that he can’t save Poussey, so he must save Bayley. But that’s just not how any of these systems work.

I personally think that Caputo was in the best place to make a deal with MCC. He should have Jamie Lannistered the situation and done shady things to get the right outcome. By putting the blame on Bayley, he could have also implicated Piscatella. Even if all of the other guards stayed, taking out Piscatella and handpicking the replacement would have gone a long way towards fixing the deeper problems.

The other issue here is how Bayley’s plot was handled. I know other people disagree with me (which I’ll get to later), but Bayley made me hate him this season. You can’t even defend what happened with Poussey because it’s a continuing pattern for him. In his flashbacks, he just seems awful and stupid. It’s like he wants to be good and he knows right from wrong, but he’s either too dumb or too scared to do what’s right. Bayley isn’t the hero for telling Caputo the next day that guards were making inmates fight. He’s only one very small step above the guards who made them fight. He knew it was wrong. He knew he didn’t like it, and he still let it happen. There was no real attempt to stop the guards. His solution was to tell on the other guards later. That is despicable. Bayley is a bad person. The show tries to make him more complicated by making him so dumb and easily intimidated that you have to feel a little sorry for him, but, really, this doesn’t work when it comes to Poussey.

What we ended up with, however, was Piscatella having more power than ever. In the typical season’s end cliffhanger, Daya is pointing a gun at two guards. This moment is weird. The audience sees Maria and Blanca resorting to more desparate measures throughout the season. They’re also much tougher than Daya. The only indication we have of Daya changing is Gloria telling her to stop hanging out with Maria. Daya goes from being a quiet, artistic follower to pointing a gun at guards. Is this supposed to tell the audience that the inmates hated the guards so much that any one of them would have resorted to murder? If it is, it was done in a sloppy way to get more drama. This just isn’t in Daya’s character from what we have seen up until this point.

To backtrack to the beginning of the season, Piper accidentally started a white supremacy group. Oops. Classic Piper.

This is extra dumb for many reasons. How did Piper not know what was going to happen? She’s been in prison for months, and she has seen how divided people are based on race. How would messing with the Dominican girls not turn into a white pride thing? Piper is supposed to be naive, not stupid. Even if she had an idea but just didn’t care, then it would have felt more put together. Instead, we have a racist system of guards encouraging Piper to create a group that’s supposed to investigate illegal activity in the prison but is really meant to keep an eye on anyone who isn’t white, turning Maria in for something she herself started, and getting some Nazi followers that she tries to discourage only by avoiding. Then she acts surprised when everyone thinks she’s a Nazi. It just doesn’t make sense.

What does make sense is the actions of Red and her family. They know what Piper did was wrong, but they can’t let one of their own leave disfigured like that. Piper still knows what the brand originally was, and she has to admit to others (unless she lies) that she was branded in prison and has multiple prison tattoos. From last season to this one, Piper got several festering wounds, one of which is her plot.

Additionally, Pennsatucky’s rape was resolved I guess? This plot has been strange from the beginning. I’m not one to tell anyone how they should react to rape, but Pennsatucky’s actions are all very awkward. This season, it was almost as if the writers were trying to retcon the rape and say it was more in a grey area than it actually was. Coates seems confused when she confronts him about the rape, although, from the original scene, it is clear that he knew what he was doing. Then, Pennsatucky, despite Boo’s protestations, decides to forgive him.

Pennsatucky was raped twice last season (once in a flashback), so this may be her not wanting to carry this weight anymore. This is understandable, but the way it’s written makes it seem like Pennsatucky is trying to convince the audience that this best choice and that Boo is just being overprotective. Then she becomes his comforter when Poussey dies as the result of violence from a guard? I just don’t get where they’re going with this. Hopefully, the show will keep this plot up and try to resolve some of these issues or at least have some sort of payoff for Pennsatucky. Usually, Orange is better at this than that. This season felt a lot like they focused on making very nuanced moments for the main plot and just let whatever happen with the subplots.

Now, to address other reviews.

I’ve seen this article shared many times on social media. I was honestly a bit surprised when I read it. There have been some elements of this throughout the show and I agree with many of the points, but I just didn’t get that out of the show. However, I am the audience member mentioned in the title. Despite the fact that I don’t agree with all of the author’s argument, I think I learned a lot and have become a more conscious viewer. And the fact that I’ve seen this shared so many times tells me that there’s something I’m probably missing.

The main point I disagree with is the author’s point about Healy. I think that the show tries to make most of its characters a mixed bag of good and bad things. Healy is all over the spectrum with this, however. He genuinely wants to help, but his own proclivities prevent him from helping in any substantial way. He is racist, sexist, and homophobic. He’s everything that the viewer wants to hate. If he was just that, then I wonder what the point would be to having him. Is this a show that needs someone like that? Piscatella seems to be filling that role, and, honestly, it isn’t adding much to the show. The villain in the show should always be the system. The other characters have conflicts with one another, but, ultimately, it isn’t what the show is about. We aren’t supposed to like Healy, but we should also recognize that bigoted people aren’t little balls of hate all the time. That, to me, is what makes them scarier. It’s how people like Healy get into power.

This article also made me consider things I would not have thought of otherwise. It didn’t occur to me that the black women in the show are used only “for pain or comedy” as the author puts it or that all of the couples are white or interracial. This is one of the hardest things about being an intersectional feminist. It’s easy to say “Orange is the New Black doesn’t have all white cishet characters! It’s intersectional!” but there’s so much more to it than that. And it honestly is sometimes hard to recognize.

While I can recognize the way in which I and all women are disadvantaged, it’s harder to shift to the mentality of thinking ways in which I may be privileged, but other women are not. This is especially applicable to this show and my watching of it. What I saw as a very positive show for me wasn’t for everyone. It’s just another reminder to me, and hopefully to others like me, that, in order to be a feminist (and to be a feminist, you must be intersectional), you have to listen to others and not assume everyone else has the same experience. It’s not intentional or malicious, but it is there.

I am totally open to discuss on this season or intersectional feminism if anyone wants to leave a comment or contact me on social media.

Fiona L.F. Kelly (@FionaLFKelly)
Fiona L.F. Kelly is a writer, editor, and podcaster. She has published numerous articles about all things gaming and pop culture on websites all across the internet, was also a writer for Trinity Continuum: Aberrant 2e, and has been published in books and magazines. She is an editor for the pop culture and media website GeekGals.co. In addition to her writing and editing, she has also been a guest and host on several podcasts. She hosts the Project Derailed podcast Big Streaming Pile, produces and performs on Fables Around the Table, and plays the githyanki pirate Rav’nys on Tales of the Voidfarer. Buy her a coffee: ko-fi.com/fionalfkelly

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard