‘Orange Is the New Black’.
(photo credit: PR)
Sometimes there is a bizarre confluence of events, where a work of fiction anticipates a real-world situation. This has happened with Orange Is the New Black, the fourth season of which was just released by Netflix on June 17. It is now on HOT Xtra VOD for free and on HOT Plus from Sunday through Thursday at 10:50 p.m.
Jenji Kohan, who created the series based on a memoir by an educated woman who spent a short time in prison, seems to have a knack for topicality. She also made Weeds, the series about a broke middle-class woman who turned to dealing pot, which seemed to anticipate the realestate market crash crisis of 2008.
Much of the new season of Orange Is the New Black turns on the decision that the show’s heroine, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), makes to align herself with a white supremacist clique, in a strange mirror of how Donald Trump has stirred up dissatisfied whites against Mexicans in the US. She and the other whites fight the prison Latinas over control of a business that involves the sale of a commodity that I don’t think I can mention in a family newspaper, but if you saw Season Three, you’ll remember it.
Piper’s older white friends refuse to play along, and Lorna (Yael Stone) tells her, “I don’t think racism should be a group activity — it’s private.” Like the gangster she aspires to be, Piper becomes increasingly cold to her subordinates, one of whom accuses Piper of throwing her to the wolves.
“I wouldn’t say I’m throwing you to them. I would say that wolves exist, which I am helpless to defend you against....I can’t help you, but I am rooting for you,” Piper tells her. The irony of her revving up white hatred against Latinas to make money seems like such a clear reflection of Trumpism, that you might suspect that Kohan had manipulated the US elections somehow.
Other than Piper’s corruption and the heavy toll it takes on her, there are several other new major plot lines and even more back stories of different characters.
Judy King (Blair Brown), a celebrity chef a la Martha Stewart, is imprisoned for IRS fraud, which leads to various complications, including a plot by the black inmates to sell a photo of her to the tabloids.
Even the Middle East crisis is played out in miniature at Litchfield, as Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), who converted to Judaism in the last season (at first only to get the better kosher meals, but then out of sincere feeling), has a new Muslim roommate, with whom she spars uneasily, until the two eventually bond.
Finally, we learn why Suzanne aka Crazy Eyes (played by Uzo Aduba, the show’s breakout star) ended up in prison.
Lolly (Lori Petty) is extremely touching as a mentally ill inmate, who says, about the voices in her head: “I know they’re not real, but that don’t mean they got nothing to say.”
In addition to all the other stories, the show’s overarching, and very timely plot line is how the MCC corporation now runs the prison as a for-profit business. Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow), the prison’s warden, a man with good impulses and intentions, collapses under the pressure of keeping the budget to a minimum.
He attends a memorable for-profit prison conference, where attendees play with laser stun guns and get toy handcuffs as swag. Meanwhile, the population at Litchfield nearly doubles, while their jobs are taken away and replaced by useless “training” that tuns them into an unpaid chain gang — more creeping Trumpism.
It should come as no surprise that one of the strongest episodes, Episode 12, was directed by Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men.
At times, the show’s sweep and social criticism reminded me of the best of Robert Altman’s films, like M*A*S*H if it were set in a contemporary women’s prison.
This series says more about America today than anything except for the nightly news.
The show’s incisive social commentary and brilliant writing make it far more sophisticated and more touching than almost any contemporary movie. Orange Is the New Black is must-see TV.