While season three begins to touch on the complexities of life in a privatized prison, season four of Orange is the New Black delves deep into societal and personal issues of the prisoners of Litchfield.
Typically categorized as a comedy-drama series, season four has only a few brief moments of laughter. Though the series has been unable to compete as a comedy in the past at the Emmys, season four truly gives the drama designation merit.
However, there is no genre debate this time around, as creator Jenji Kohan has given life to the most gripping, painful and emotionally exhaustive season yet. That is not to say that past seasons did not have moments of tragedy or despair, but speaks to how tense and dire the situation has become for the prisoners of Litchfield.
Season four seems to be business as usual for Joe Caputo as he clumsily stumbles to navigate his new corporate role with MCC, as the day-to day-operations are delegated to a new captain of the corrections officers, Desi Piscatella. While Caputo is off juggling what MCC determines is best for themselves and what he feels is morally right, Piscatella and his team of guards run the prison with an iron fist.
Though it is initially implied that Piscatella means well and has the prison in his best interest, it’s quickly shown he is willing to go to the extremes as a means of ensuring order. These extremes often involve systematic racism, codes of silence, torture and sexual assault — all of which are major topics of conversation in the real world.
Meanwhile, Piper looks to push her power and influence further through the means of attempted intimidation and bribery. To no avail, Piper looks to new networks of inmates to help her build her empire. However, much to the discomfort and horror of the other inmates, this new empire forms into something Piper couldn’t foresee. The formation of this new social circle has major implications for not only Piper, but also for the entire prison.
Though season three touches on the disadvantages of privatized prisons, season four illustrates the corruption of MCC, the private company that took over operations at the prison. A large number of new inmates are transferred into the already-crowded Litchfield Penitentiary in an effort to maximize profits. The phrase from the show’s theme song “trapped, trapped, trapped ‘till the cage is full” shows an accurate portrayal of where the prison is moving. A majority of the transfers are Latina, shifting power relations upon their arrival and affecting racial tensions for the others.
A new face that only further adds to the racial tensions is the character Judy King, a seemingly “Martha Stewart-esque” character that has been convicted of tax evasion. To put it lightly, Judy is treated differently from the general population – and this only further perpetuates the racial tensions at Litchfield. Despite the issues of race and classism that are well-illustrated, Judy King is more than a caricature — she becomes a bridge between the guards and prisoners, both of whom she creates alliances with.
Though every character has relevance and depth, at this point of the series not all are able to have their own narratives centralized. It’s really a shame as the dialogue among the prisoners and the guards has always been a brilliant part of the series. Despite unrivaled character banter among other television series, the brief moments of relief often only lead to further tension, anger and violence despite originating from kernels of comedy.
The tension and imbalance between the prisoners and the guards has always been a major theme of the show, but in season four, a death, and how it’s dealt with, demonstrate how volatile Litchfield has truly become. The situation in no way gets resolved by the end, but rather, intensifies. Audiences will surely be satisfied with season four, but will without a doubt anxiously await the release of season five and long for the closure that lacked this season.