Review: 'Orange Is the New Black' Season 3, 'Don't Make Me Come Back There'

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Episode 12 of season 3 presents a rare narrative miss to tie up loose ends. 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?

Newsweek’s reviews of Orange Is the New Black’s third season will run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next month. More importantly, each piece will include a Word on the Street section after the review, specifically working through various spoilers as they circulate and how they affect our reading of the show. There are two sorts of people left in the world, and our coverage will cater to both of them. The binge-watchers get the bird’s-eye view they want, and those viewers attempting to savor the season can take it at their own pace. Power to the people.

Episode 12: "Don't Make Me Come Back There"

As Orange Is the New Black positions itself for an explosive grand finale, pushing what feels like a baker's dozen of conflicts up to the breaking point, the show springs a few unforeseen leaks. Elements that audiences had perhaps taken for granted during the show's run of glowing episodes during the middle of the season start to go haywire. The writers boil down complex concepts and then force the characters to state them explicitly in the simplest possible turns. Like a Little Leaguer gazing at airplanes in the outfield, the show displaces its focus on extraneous material that does nothing to enhance the hour. "Don't Make Me Come Back There" even muddles the prevailing theme of this season by presenting counterproductive or poorly integrated depictions of motherhood. The uncharacteristically shaky episode isn't enough to erode the audience's confidence in show-runner Jenji Kohan as a storyteller; both in previous seasons and in her previous series Weeds, she demonstrated herself capable of getting her shit together in a fashion timely enough for a satisfying conclusion. Even so, the penultimate installment largely squanders what little time is left on the clock.

To its credit, "Don't Make Me Come Back There" finally resolves the running telenovela of Daya's lovechild with the long-gone Bennett. As Aleida reflects on an illustrious career of emotionally abusive parenting, her own daughter prepares to embark upon a new journey of maternity. Daya's still livid with her mother for auctioning off her unborn spawn to well-meaning Mary Steenburgen, but this episode finds Aleida attempting to redeem herself. In a spectacularly wrongheaded gesture of selflessness, she fibs to Steenburgen's fairy godmother that birth complications have claimed the child's life, so that Daya can raise the boy as her own. The implication that Aleida might even be able to make up for some lost time herself casts this choice as a step toward salvation for the character, but Kohan and her writers seem to have overlooked the detail that Aleida does this without Daya's permission. It's still a manipulative, self-serving, controlling move, and it doesn't support any suggestions that she may be self-improving. Worse still, the creators clearly intend Taystee's epiphany that she's the "mom" of Litchfield's black populace to tie into Aleida and Daya's dramatics, but fail to follow through on that connection.

The episode does a much better job of joining the disparate plotlines of Litchfield's mounting administrative woes and the fatwa that Gloria and the Latina inmates have declared on Sophia. Previously, we've seen the careless and deluded decisions from MCC trickle down to life in the prison, from the empty library to the ghastly bags of material masquerading as "food." But Sophia's relocation to solitary for her own safety hits a new depth of direness. She's made a casualty of corporatization (Soso too, though she's a sadly more literal sort of casualty), relegated to wherever she can be the least trouble to a company that neither understands nor cares to understand her. The scene in which gelatinous Danny finally calls his father out is a ham-fisted train wreck, like something out of a Sorkin screenplay that an executive buried for getting a little heavy-handed with its commentary. But even as Danny makes painfully obvious declarations about what a terrible organization MCC is, he's not wrong. Bad things befall good people under the money-minded yoke of late capitalism; so it has been, and so it shall be.

In the backseat, Kohan advances three subplots, each more aggravatingly inconsequential than the next. The least so is Boo and Pennsatucky's revenge on Coates following the rape two episodes ago, mostly because it allows Tucky to hit a marvelously touching character beat. After all of her suffering, the angry impulse in her heart has been overwhelmed by pure sadness. This woman is light-years away from the false prophet that brandishes a shiv at Piper in the season one finale. It's a real toss-up as to whether Piper's stymied romance with Stella or the nonevents back at Cal and his wife's panty plant are more unnecessary. I can't imagine that writers are unaware of how exhausting and unproductive Piper's love life is. Why they're eating up time with that and the miniature conflict at Cal's (which concludes in a bizarre, troubling apology from his wife for fabricating titillating stories of lesbian encounters) defies reason. To paraphrase Regina Spektor, we've got time. But not a lot.

Word on the Street

For self-evident reasons, the season finale's coverage will not include a Word on the Street section. Over the past month or so, though, this has been a lot of fun. Television doesn't exist in a vacuum, and to pretend that we process it independent of others' reactions is no longer an option. Nobody broke open the season's final hour for me, mercifully, and so we approach the conclusion with nothing but our informed guesses. Just spitballing, but Flaca and Maritza spin off and open a salon where they do women's eyeliner? I'd watch that. (Netflix, call me! We can get season 1 of Wingin' It! [working title] online before the year is out!)