The cage really is full in season four of Orange is the New Black, as Caputo (Nick Sandow) has to cope with a huge intake of new prisoners and deal with financial strain, a major staff walk-out and escaped inmates at the same time. The first episode follows on from the dramatic series three finale: Alex (Laura Prepon) was cornered by a hitman, celebrity chef Judy King (Blair Brown) entered the facility, Sophia (Laverne Cox) was wrongly sent to the SHU and Piper (Taylor Schilling) got too big for her boots.
Litchfield is now a for-profit corporation with the soulless MCC running the prison and making life miserable for the inmates. New guards are brought in to solve the staff crisis, and the power struggle between the guards and inmates is at its worst yet. It’s hard to believe there could be anyone worse than Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber), but Piscatella (Brad Henke) and his team give him a run for his money. Piscatella’s no-nonsense approach to punishment dominates season four, and his tyranny causes some of the most upsetting events we’ve seen so far on OITNB.Dark themes are prominent in this series, which is what OITNB needs at this point to keep driving it forward. Since Vee’s (Lorraine Toussaint) demise in season two, there has definitely been room for another gang. Maria (Jessica Pimentel) and Blanca (Laura Gómez) seize their opportunity to form a new gang, increasing the tension between the Dominican inmates and the white supremacists. Although it’s quite satisfying to see Piper’s power trip end, Maria isn’t always a convincing leader. Now that Piper isn’t at the heart of the show and her on-off relationship with Alex has taken a backseat, some of the quieter characters like Maria and Blanca have been able to come to the fore. Maria’s rule may continue in season five, but she’ll have to kick it up a notch if she wants to be a credible boss.
The storytelling and social commentary are particularly powerful in this series. We’re finally given the reason why Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) is incarcerated; we get a deeper understanding of Lolly’s (Lori Petty) psychosis, and even a glimpse into some of the guards’ pasts. Telling stories about people is what OITNB does best, showing us that life is complex and hardly anything is black and white. It must be a creative challenge to give so many characters their time in the spotlight, but the writers tactfully let us get to know people at just the right time.Despite the horrific events that occur, the distinctive humour is by no means absent in season four. OITNB’s superb cast has a special ability to make the grimmest aspects of prison life hilarious. The tragedy is infused with comic moments, from Cindy’s (Adrienne Moore) one-liners and Nicky’s (Natasha Lyonne) deadpan humour to Lorna’s (Yael Stone) phone sex and Suzanne’s quest for the Shower Pooper. Judy King’s playfulness makes the distressing situations slightly easier to bear, so hopefully we’ll be seeing more of her in the future.
Season three ended on a high, but this year we’re left with devastation, heartache and anarchy. Season four of OITNB is easily the most difficult to emotionally process and it’s going to take fans a whole year to cope with everything that’s happened. The chaos doesn’t seem like it’s going to calm down anytime soon and the future of Litchfield looks very bleak indeed.