Review: ‘Orange’ Returns… Welcome to the Fun Zone

It felt like the internet exploded on Thursday night when Netflix dropped the third and incredibly anticipated season of the hit series Orange is the New Black. They called it early release for good behavior, and fans of the binged show were thankful that their goodness was rewarded. Even the advertising for Orange’s third outing featured smiling characters on Catholic sanctuary candles. There’s goodness everywhere, and the new collection of episodes kicked off with a seemingly brighter (dare I say, warmer?) first episode.

It’s Mother’s Day, and the inmates of Litchfield are getting ready for a field day with their children. A mini golf course is constructed out of a desktop fan and some cardboard, and they plan to have a piñata and games. Piper (Taylor Schilling) isn’t so much ready to welcome her mother, but she is eager to see the newly admitted Alex (Laura Prepon). They share a cuddly and intimate scene in the chapel, but Piper doesn’t explain that she is responsible for Alex’s parole officer walking in on her holding onto a gun when she was hiding out in Queens. This relationship will never have complete honesty, will it?

The second season of Orange raised the stakes in the drama department. The second half felt especially claustrophobic and intense. Even though Lorraine Toussaint’s Vee was struck down when we left off, it seems the inmates are ready for a renaissance of sorts. Some of the inmates share therapeutic sessions together. Perhaps the outdoor setting for the majority of the episode makes everything seem more colorful or maybe the collective anticipation of loved ones extends through the screen and affects the viewer of this particular season opener. Newly appointed warden Caputo wants to start a new chapter at the prison. He hires a new female, African American therapist/prison guard (“these are complicated ladies in a complicated place,” he tells her) much to Healy’s dislike.

Uzo Aduba’s Suzanne is the only member of Litchfield who is upset over Vee’s departure, and she’s obviously not accepting her death. Vee was the closest Suzanne had to a mother figure, so it’s natural that Mother’s Day could bring the worst out of her. Sophia’s relationship with her son, Michael, continues to grow, and she disagrees with his stepfather’s advice on how to shave (“Are you going to trust a man who shaves just his face or a woman who shaves everywhere”). Not all the bonds are strong, though. Daya is shocked that her mother only tells her how motherhood ruins your life, and the frustration leads to even more tension between her and Bennett. Boo even has an oddly warm talk with Pennsatucky about abortion towards the end of the episode before an abruptly sad moment between Maria Ruiz and her boyfriend. No matter how much light is brought into Litchfield, we are reminded that that light can be extinguished at the worst times.

Fans of the show are huge fans of the flashbacks where we learn more of the character’s lives. Normally, each episode focuses on one or two characters, but this one (written by creator Jenji Cohen) features multiple slivers from Aleida, Poussey and even Healy. Is this a new way of relating multiple characters for each episode? For the most part, each character gets a little limelight, but Cohen doesn’t roll out the red carpet for each one like a traditional drama would. It seems like these ladies will always be around. It’s a calmer, softer opening, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost its bite.

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