Review: 'Orange Is the New Black' Season 3: 'Trust No Bitch'

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The final episode of season 3 of 'Orange Is the New Black' shows the calm before the inevitable storm of next season. Netflix

Since the advent of DVR sent appointment viewing the way of the pager and eight-track player, the mole-people critiquing TV have been scrambling to find a new model for reviews. Netflix’s strategy of dumping entire seasons of original programming onto the Net all at once has only complicated matters further. Do we try to pump out as many reviews as quickly as possible once a show’s online, or ignore the change in the breeze and continue to mosey along at the once-a-week pace? What of spoilers, the pop-cultural scourge? What use does episodic criticism have when the viewer (or, for that matter, the writer) already knows what’s going to happen?

Though it will not be the case for this, the final episode, Newsweek’s reviews of Orange Is the New Black’s third season ran on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the past month. More importantly, each piece has included a Word on the Street section after the review, which specifically worked through various spoilers as they circulated and how they affected our reading of the show. There are two sorts of people left in the world, and our coverage catered to both of them. The binge-watchers got the bird’s-eye view they wanted, and those viewers attempting to savor the season could take it at their own pace. Power to the people.

Episode 13: “Trust No Bitch”

Ten thousand years ago in 1999, The Sopranos ended their first season with Tony and his family taking shelter from a storm in their neighborhood Italian joint. As the highly symbolic tempest continues to rage outside, the Soprano clan huddles together and enjoys a little vino and pasta. Tony proposes a toast: “To my family—someday soon, you’re gonna have families of your own. And if you’re lucky, you’ll remember the little moments, like this, that were good.” In a show that was, at its core, about a man trying to learn how to be happy, the sentiments of his toast land like a Zen koan. Life is scary and confusing and unfair and mean, but sometimes, even if only for a night, it doesn’t feel that way. That’s the most we can ask for.

The moving, rewarding final scene of Orange Is the New Black’s third season is one of those little moments that were good. In no uncertain terms, the day-to-day at Litchfield is about to turn into hell. The final shots reveal that the “new beds” everyone’s so excited to get are bunk beds welded to the current beds, so that Litchfield can accommodate a doubled populace of new inmates. Introducing a slew of new women to the delicate prison ecosystem—and with them, their beefs, fears, insecurities, prejudices, we get the idea—will shatter the status quo and almost inevitably lead to violence. The cramped quarters will enflame tensions, and the audience can already smell the faint aroma of power struggles to come. But there are pressing issues that extend beyond that, as well. Pennsatucky and Boo watch as Maritza, unawares, reports for van-driving duty with unchecked rapist Coates. Aleida and Daya have no way of knowing that the federales have busted into Cesar’s apartment and torn their fragile family to shreds. (The show’s detailed, devoted depiction of the factors that conspire to send children into The System solidifies the comparisons to The Wire that the show has invited all season.) Things weren’t looking too hot for Alex, either, as one of her former employer’s henchmen corners her with a grim stare. Morello and Vince’s surprise marriage, to put it lightly, has embarked upon a path that leads only to destruction. Perhaps worst of all, turncoat Caputo has entered into cahoots with MCC in the wake of Danny’s departure, opening Litchfield up to a brave new world of corporate dysfunction and degraded inmate dignity. Dark clouds are a-gathering.

But those are all problems for tomorrow (or, for the viewers, next summer). For that one miraculous moment, everything feels okay even though it is most certainly not, and that might as well be as good as the real thing. As the collected inmates frolic in the lake, an incredibly rare phenomenon for Orange Is the New Black takes place—they look happy. Splashing around in the water is a gesture of relative freedom, a declaration that even in circumstances as dire as Litchfield’s, small pockets of contentment can still be found. Many of the season’s major characters receive moments of tranquility by the lake, if not resolution. Suzanne and her fan-fic groupie Maureen bond over a suitably odd game of turtle-retrieval, and Poussey tacitly welcomes Soso into her crew with the gentlest touch of her hand. The nonverbal intimacy gets even stronger as Red sidles up to her old pal Norma, in danger of losing control of her flock.

Though the episode’s stealth MVP must necessarily be Cindy, whose impromptu mikvah and subsequent underwater expression of transcendent joy sent dust particles into the eyeballs of viewers nationwide. Up until this final episode, Cindy’s conversion appeared disingenuous, driven more by hunger for slightly-less-disgusting food than HaShem’s acceptance. (Just last episode, she copped to planning on using the Holocaust as a get-out-of-responsibility-free card in place of slavery, post-conversion.) And admittedly, the piercing scene in which Cindy explains to the visiting rabbi what Judaism truly means to her comes out of nowhere. But even if showrunner Jenji Kohan and her writing staff haven’t laid sufficient groundwork, Cindy’s mikvah still delivers a huge emotional payoff. It’s the crowning moment in a scene full of catharses.

Perhaps the most significant detail of all is who we don’t see at play in the water. Piper’s conspicuously absent from the revelry, because she’s off threatening to turn into a worthwhile character. Piper began the series as an audience surrogate, illustrating how an ordinary (read: non-criminal) sort of person might function in the prison environment, providing Orange Is the New Black with its essential Tobias Beecher-figure. As the third season transitions into the fourth, Piper’s begun to fall victim to the corrosive effects that life in captivity can exert on the soul. She’s discovered a streak of ruthlessness that feels unexpectedly good, and natural. Even in her earliest days at Litchfield, Piper was crafty. But the woman who once concocted her own cosmetics to ingratiate herself with other prisoners has repurposed her talents to darker ends. Exploring the option of Kingpin Piper could make for a quick fix to the show’s most glaring problem: what to do with a protagonist who’s constantly outshone by her deuteragonists.

“Trust No Bitch” has no interest in closure. If anything, it throws open twice the doors that it closes. Season 2 ended definitively, with Vee splayed out by the side of the highway and Rosa speeding into a cancerous oblivion like Slim Pickens atop an atomic bomb. The prevailing mood in season 3’s closer is ambivalence; the episode leaves the audience to stare down an uncertain and troubling future. But us, here, we have no obligation to end on such a dispiriting note. We have the luxury of going back and remembering the little moments that were good. This season, Orange Is the New Black has given viewers a lot to be thankful for. We can look back on the budding friendship between Boo and Pennsatucky, or Chang’s contentment in solitude, or O’Neill waxing rhapsodic on the benefits of the long way home. As the prisoners brace for impending anxiety and turmoil, we hold fast to the precious little material in which we can find comfort. And after that, the viewers do the same thing as the inmates, albeit in a less hostile environment than Litchfield. We continue living. And then we try to find a new show to tide us over until this gigantic, generous, vital, occasionally riotous show returns once more.