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GRAY IS THE NEW BLACK

By Erin Maxwell

The third season of Orange is the New Black was released on Netflix a day early, giving fans of the show the opportunity to binge watch the entire new season over the weekend.

Season three took an interesting turn for the ladies of Jenji Kohan-created show continue to grow into fully-realized characters, it becomes clear that nothing is black or white (or orange) in Litchfield Penitentiary, but a muted shade of gray.

SPOILERS

While Piper Chapman took a backseat to a fewer of the colorful characters last season, this year she is front and center, and looking a little less wide eyed and innocent.

While previous years had the WASPy blonde play with her status as a “victim” of her circumstances, this year, Chapman is in complete control. And being a bit of a bitch about it.

At the end of last season, Chapman framed her on-again, off-again girlfriend Alex Vause by sabotaging her parole and sending her back to the cell block and into her awaiting arms. This year, Chapman’s moral compass continues to waiver as the upbeat former drug mule decides to try her hand at the front-end of the smuggling business as the prison inmates are used for cheap slave labor in the fancy undergarment industry.

Discovering an online market for used panties, Chapman uses her fellow inmates, guards and family to create a stank undies empire.

Along the way, she loses her love for Alex, as well as a small part of her humanity, as she goes on a power trip.

But Chapman isn’t the only character who can no longer fit neatly in a “good” or “bad” category.
Many of the main characters are undergoing change in season three, as the audience is shown that no one is a “villain” or a “good guy.” In an environment like the prison system, the skills it takes to survive, or just exist, are tested.. This year, OITNB explores the people the inmates used to be and how prison and their choices have altered their very being.

Former show bad girl Tiffany ‘Pennsatucky’ Doggett is no longer a crazed former meth head lashing out on anyone with a different belief system than her. Well, she is still a former meth head, but her burgeoning friendship with Big Boo and the events of the last two years has given the feisty felon a better sense of self and understanding.

This year, the show explores her childhood and the person she used to be, giving her depth of characters. From a mom who used her for welfare fraud to a teenage prostitute who would sell her ass for a six-pack of Mountain Dew, Doggett is no longer a caricature of a backwood white trash druggie with an ax to grind against the educated.

Instead, she’s now funny, but not to be laughed at. She is also wise…in her weird little backwoods way. Actress Taryn Manning and the writers of the show dug deep this year, giving Doggett real struggles and tough decisions that move her beyond the holy-rolling asshole she used to be.

The most surprising part of the new season has to do with the detail given to all the players. Former background players are now given a chance to shine as many of them get their tales of woe explored by the drama.

Silent Norma was a cult member and was just one of a guru’s many wives. And prior to her status as a small-minded junkie who ran the prison laundry, Leanne was a member of an Amish community and was very much loved by her parents. Oh, and she speaks German. And before Alieda was joined by her daughter Dayanara in prison, she was a mother who was actually trying to be a good mothers, but failing at every turn.

The gray area that now colors the convicts paves the way for the show’s true villains: Corporate green.

This season, Litchfield Penitentiary is sold to a private firm MCC, who makes many changes to the cell block, creating tensions for now only the prisoners, but the guards who run the outfit. As the inmates have to deal with a new boil-in-a-bag dietary plan, bed bugs and an ill-trained and incompetent new staff, the former senior staff have to deal with cut hours, less pay and no medical benefits. As life grows bleaker and bleaker for the folks who both run and live in Litchfield, feelings of isolation, anger and depression begin to mount, causing mistakes to be made and bad decisions to occur.

New characters and humor, such as the prisoners’ obsession with Crazy Eyes’ new talent for writing erotic sci-fi stories and the alcoholic squirrel problem, become highlights as the growing issues with the prison become more serious. The humor lies the foundation for the drama as the swelling problems head towards eruption.

Season three of Orange is the New Black takes the audience on a journey.

It takes preconceived notions of the former seasons and turns it on its ear, giving the viewer something new to ponder. A true sign of a great show.

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