“I don’t trust anybody,” Piper says to Stella as she gazes longingly into her eyes. Stella’s only known Piper for a short time, but we all know she’s full of shit. To be a fan of Orange is the New Black is to know that Piper is an unreliable narrator who can never be depended on to know her own mind works. For that reason, she is consistently irritating, and for that reason, we should all be grateful that the show has navigated away from focusing on her as the main character. Thank Toast Norma for that.
Even still, to pinpoint exactly why the third season of OITNB felt a bit uneven is difficult. It made the right choice in demoting Piper to part of the supporting cast, and once again it displayed its expertise at creating meaningful plotlines for an absurd amount of characters. My skepticism about concentrating on the privatization of the prison system was ultimately made silent through the numerous ripple effects the transition made, like the complications of Sophia’s solitary confinement and the guards walking out, thereby leaving a whole lot of inmates unsupervised. Perhaps the season was like Piper running her panty scheme; it just got too big for its britches by trying to do too much. While the season feels off on a logical level, the visceral, emotional reaction I have to this show was felt more than ever.
This season may have lacked some concentrated dramatic arcs, at which the first two seasons excelled, but it was not at all easy on these girls. It examined the loneliness and depression that can grip someone in a desperate situation. It explored religion as a driving force of decision-making and how doctrine and practice are absolutely different things. It studied impetus for behavior through the relationship between a mother and child.
The characters were put through their paces in this season and forced them to actually learn from the choices they’ve made, and most of them did. Caputo decided to stop being everyone else’s punching bag. Gloria’s sympathy for Sophia came too late. Red’s solution for her desperation was through fostering the thing she loves. Poussey realized her loneliness couldn’t be cured by a group of people, but maybe by one other lonely person. Aleida needed to feel her vulnerability and Daya needed perspective. Pennsatucky found her worth. Until this episode, Cindy’s past was one of the only ones that was unredeemable, until she discovered that her fate isn’t decided until she decides it for herself.
The lake scene was an odd, but striking, choice for the episode’s last moments. How does nearly fifteen minutes of no dialogue round out a season? (And what did all those flashbacks have to do with anything?) But there’s just something so satisfying about seeing all of theses characters that I care about silently running toward several moments of freedom. With the arrival of dozens of new inmates, this is the last time we’ll get to see them as we’ve come to know them over the last three years. It wasn’t as climactic as the finale of season one or as triumphant as season two, but it was the most exhilarating moment that’s ever been featured on this show. The message of the episode may have been to trust no bitch, but the relationships between these characters has been solidified as ones full of love. They have found their people.