Orange is the New Black – Season Four Overview (Spoilers!)

Earlier this year, executives, directors, and writers have been lamenting about how the latest season of Orange is the New Black is going to be much darker than the prior episodes.

“Pfft,” we said. “We’re able to handle anything.”

To our dismay, those pen-touting bastards were absolutely right: This season was going to break us into a thousand, millions pieces, and we’re struggling to pick ourselves up from it. Honestly, I am personally writing this overview from the comfort of my blanket fort after stuffing as much comforting chocolate down my gullet, and crying to Sarah McLachlan.

Orange is the New Black did the unbelievable and we’re still reeling from the final episodes of season four.

Now before I truly wade in like the inmates did at the end of season three, I must warn you, there will be spoilers here. Go watch the season before reading this then come join us in the blanket fort where the candlelight vigil and hymn ceremony will commence…

With that out of the way, I’d argue that season four is the best to date. Second only to season two which was equally mind-blowing. Season four took a running leap into the more visceral deep-end and we’re practically drowning in emotions. There is one big issue I’d like to focus on for a majority of this article but let’s look at the highlights and lowlights of the episode first.

On the positive end, Alex and Lolly’s murder of the former’s hitman spiralled the pair out of control. While Lolly’s mental illness surrounding the act threatens to reveal the murder, it’s her that we ultimately feel sorry for. In the best handled backstory of this season, we see her as a good-natured homeless women (who used to be a journalist) plagued by paranoid schizophrenia and treated poorly by the police and institutes. As she unravels and is sent to Psych, you kind of will the show to bring her back so you can hold her forever.

The return of Nicols was also a treat and her leaps on and off the wagon were crucial in depicting a drug addict. Piper finally got comeuppance for the mishandling of her business. There is a pang of sorrow as she is branded a Nazi BUT she did unwillingly unleash a white power group when Maria setup her own panty business. It’s about time the “lead” of the show saw the brutal consequences of her actions as she was somewhat held back from the violence of the prison. Sophia Burset’s falling apart in SHU despite being in there for her own protection was a harrowing watch as the once fiercely proud trans-character was treated so shoddily by the system. There was also the usual balance between comedy and horror that made it an evocative watch.

As for the negative parts of the show, a brand new tough guard named Piscatella was a great addition to Litchfield but he became overbearing by the final episode. An irritating character who is self-righteous may have begun as a wonderful and intriguing guard but his ruling soon became cartoonish. As for the guard Humphreys – or eloquently named Humps – his sickening intentions with the inmates (to force them into fights or to eat baby mice) was disgusting and completely unnecessary. Judy King was a fine comedic element to the show but soon her Southern drawl and special treatment became irritating.

So this may seem like small coverage of the rest of the season but seriously, the biggest event in season four has weighed heavily on our souls and it is only natural to focus on it.

What big event?

That’s right, actual ray of sunshine and the best character on the show Poussey Washington was killed.

Following a protest by inmates, Suzanne (Crazy Eyes) had a breakdown following the fight she was forced into the episode before. Tackled by the simple and young officer Bayley tried to forcefully sedate her. Poussey – remember, being an actual ray of sunshine – tried to aid and attempted to calm Suzanne down which Bayley misconstrued as hostility, pinning her down with all his weight. Due to the kerfuffle, no one could see that she was actually suffocating and despite her pleas, she died.

That was so difficult to write.

The season had been leading up to this moment and it’s weaving of the narrative worked fantastically. This only enhanced the heartbreak. On the pragmatic side, Piscatella’s iron-fist and his ferocious and untrained staff paved the way for the inmates to take a deafening stand against a harsh and completely inhumane regime. Each prisoner took a stand, placing foot upon table, and saying no, charged with rage and anger.

The emotional side is what gave this event more pain. The season saw Poussey finally happy. After being turned down by Tastyee, pursued by Big Vee, and feeling completely alone, Washington had found solace in Brooke SoSo and even after their fight – ironically about peaceful protesting – the pair seemed set to have a future (Poussey had even found a job with Judy King.) A loving relationship and an actual relationship plans is TV speak for “we’re gonna kill one of them off.”  Sadly, the character out of the pair that would impact audiences more by dying was Washington.

Credit to the writers and performers: Episodes The Animals and Toast Can’t be Bread Again (12 and 13 respectively) were important, crucial, and devastating. They saw many different corruptions on different levels. The officers who rallied to protect Bayley with lies, Caputo who once showed an ounce of humanity to his inmates abandoning them for his officers, and the MCC are ready to bear their fangs and dig through Poussey’s history to portray her as violent thug. When they couldn’t because, again, she was a literal ray of sunshine, they turned Bayley more villainous than he was. Orange is the New Black certainly borrowed from real-life events, mirroring mostly the unjust death of Eric Garner who was strangled to death when he was being restrained and other cases of black and/or LGBT lives dying at the hands of govern institutes.

Juxtaposed against a memorable moment for Poussey – a wild night in New York with drag queens, monks, and more – the episode enhanced how a loving and amazing character was snuffed out by ill-training of the Litchfield guards. Her amazing night out, where promised danced in the skyline of New York, underscored her brutal treatment. The episodes were peppered with images hard to escape from: Jefferson’s breakdown at seeing her friend’s body (complete praise to Danielle Brookes), SoSo being rocked by Nora whilst grieving, and the ultimate riot will echo with you in skilled directing and writing.

So let’s address the actual death itself. There have already been a lot of criticism and praise surrounding the handling of Poussey Washington. On the critical side: Many have argued about choosing this particular character to die. Poussey was an openly gay black woman played by an openly gay black woman who had a minor crime she was repenting for. Involved in an interracial couple that didn’t involve a white woman, Poussey was objectively the best example of diversity on the show. Despite this, Orange is the New Black killed her off echoing the “Kill Your Gays” trope that is still rampant in our media. Not only this but some audience members feel that Orange is the New Black writers were going for shock value and borrowed from actual tragic events without thinking about the significance of the character. Understandably, people are upset.

Pictured: Actual ray of sunshine with Judy King (played by Blair Brown.)

Even more so that they was an apparent attempt to sympathize with Bayley.

On the other hand, the backstory of Bayley and his recoil at the events alongside Poussey’s epic night helped solidify and flesh out these characters, especially as the guard genuinely mishandled the situation, causing a wrongful death. The biggest issue here is that dealing of Washington: The lack of support for inmates, leaving her on the ground for a day, and non-inmates so ready to vilify her. The other argument is that Orange is the New Black has always been steeped in realism and this is not the first black or gay woman killed off (the first in season one was a white lesbian, season two both deaths were a straight Latino and a straight black woman, )  Using a tragic fictional event to open the dialogue about prison practises and police brutality could prove beneficial in the long run though one does have to stress that it shouldn’t take a show to feel empathy with victims of these kinds of attacks. Orange is the New Black has never been unrelenting against its characters and this is a prime example of their “realism.” 

However, you feel about the death, your opinions are still valid and hopefully, this will be used for show creators to tackle how they see characters and for folks to see that this type of oppression is real. Orange is the New Black dealt a difficult card and whether the reaction is good or bad, you cannot deny that it affected you in some way. Poussey Washington, played so indelibly and unforgettably by Samira Wiley (please, industry, shove her in every show ever made), is going to leave a massive hole in our lives when watching season five.

In fact, without her, I don’t think I can. Although you have to. Because season four ended on the mother of all cliffhangers: Daya holding a gun to Humphreys during a prison riot sparked by the mishandling of Washington. We have to wait until next year to find out what happened.

Now, I’m going back to my blanket fort.

No. This is not OK…

What do you think of Season Four?

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