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Orange Is The New Black - Season 4 - Review: "There's no justice"

It’s that time of the year again when you spend two days binge-watching a whole season of OITNB as you text your friends asking what happened to each character last season because it’s been too long for you to remember. By the end of the first half of the season, it was clear OITNB was taking a sharp turn towards a darker and more serious tone this year, following a relatively lighter and happier third season.

Season 4 explored the backstories of some old favourites like Bianca, Maria, Maritza, Suzanne as well as newbies like Soso and Lolly. Now that we’re this far into the show and the supporting characters have been developed so well, it’s clear we no longer need (or even want) to follow the show through Piper’s perspective. Yet she had a relatively big part in the first part of the season, for better or worse.

In the first episode, she is revelling in her new found status of being ”gangsta”. She gets upset when she realises no one asked her to come out to the lake and when the women are brought back into the prison they are all introduced to the new blood: a new wave of inmates as well as Captain Piscatella from maximum security.

Cindy meets Alison, her new Muslim bunkmate and arch nemesis. After fighting over their territory they find common ground in their mutual hatred for Scientologists. Poussey meets Judy King who’s been mistakenly assigned to her bunk and Maria asks Piper if her new friends can get a job in Felonious Spunk but she refuses sharply and calls them “a bunch of thugs”. As a result, Maria starts a business of her own and Piper’s clientele starts to drop.

To protect her business and of course, herself, she pays a visit to Captain Piscatella in 4x5 and expresses her concern about a “cluster” of Latinas forming and making the prison an unsafe environment. She assembles a task force for him to keep the prison danger and gang free and by 4x6 she has a fully formed army of white supremacists. Like when Cersei Lannister gave all the high sparrow too much power. Meanwhile, the CO’s start discriminating freely and only carry body searches for coloured inmates.

Piper’s high inquisitorial squad inform an officer about Maria’s illegal panty business and ends up getting her arrested with 3-5 years added to her sentence. Maria promises to end Piper’s life and even though she keeps telling herself she did what she had to do, Piper realises the colossal mistake she made.

At Nicky’s welcome back party, Stephanie approaches Piper and asks if she can come outside so they can talk. “I’m sorry I can’t help you but I’m rooting for you, too.” Stephanie says, echoing Piper’s words to her, as Maria’s girls take her to the kitchen and brand a swastika on her arm. It's what it takes for her to learn her lesson and stay out of trouble and in 4x8 she reconnects with Alex. The two spend their time fantasising about shakeshack burgers, and hang out (and make out) without any more Nazis or murders.

Lorna’s storylines were pretty brief this season; mostly centering around Vinnie, the mysterious shower pooper and a relapsing Nicky returning and trying to seduce her back to the dark side. In 4x12 she announces that she's having a baby with Vinnie after she accused him of cheating and he called her insane. Nicky kisses her on the head even if she doesn't believe her and Vinnie have a real chance.

As Piper started to become more vicious, Maria also became more and more determined to become “la jefa”. In 4x2, we see glimpses of her childhood and her relationship with her loving and proud Dominican father. She never understood his obsession with national pride and refused to have any part in it. She faces the same issues in the present when more Dominicans are sent to Litchfield and they start fighting with the new racist white inmates.

The never ending overcrowding causes tensions rise as Bianca gets into fights with Sanky, who calls her a brownie during the football match. Later in 4x2, Sanky and Jennifer gang up and push her down the stairs. Even though Maria initially tells her to keep her head down, she gets revenge for Bianca in the end and after a lot of hesitation, she joins the new group of Dominicans.

Maritza tries to tell Maria that she’s scared of getting caught smuggling drugs in the van but Maria tells her it “ain’t about want, it’s about need”. Proving how brilliant she is, once again Maritza purposefully sabotages one of the drug deals and when Maria demands an explanation from her, she tells her this was bound to happen. In 4x5 we flash back to Maritza's con woman beginnings.

Maria slowly turns into what she hated the most and ends up dragging everyone down with her, especially Daya who’s left alone when Aleida is released from the prison in 4x10. Before leaving, Aleida asked Gloria to keep an eye on her. Daya tried to make friends and prove she’s tough by joining Maria’s group in the salon and the season ends with her about to shoot a guard in the head.

That final scene is the result of guards completely abusing their power in the second half of the season and while it took a while for Piscatella and the Guards to disregard Caputo’s orders, they were by far the most dangerous threat to the women of Litchfield.

In this case, racism is being manifested through men in positions of power who use violence and aggression to get what they want. The new guards arrive in 4x3, after Caputo pitches hiring Veterans to fill the missing correctional officers’ places. Deconstructing the American war hero narrative, these guards are incredibly abusive and extremely racist. It all starts however with the man in charge, openly gay Officer Piscatella, who behind the facade of an authoritative and experienced guard, is a racist and misogynistic bully with anger issues.

The new group of guards has wonderful gems like Officer Dixon who calls Taystee Jigaboo because he grew up in Memphis and thinks he “gets” black people. He drinks jaeger in raw eggs with his buddies as they jack each other off. There's officer Stratman, who makes Bianca get up on the cafeteria table and stand there as a punishment for telling him he can't control her body and for refusing to shower. This of course hilariously backfires in his face because he underestimates Bianca who manages to stand there for days.

Last but definitely not least we have the slimiest and most perverse of them all: Officer Humps. In 4x9 he leads Maritza into the guard’s house and presents her with two choices: to eat a dead baby rat or a glass full of dead flies, with a gun to her head. In the next episode, Maritza is puking in the bathroom as Stratman tries to excuse what Humps did to McCullough (the only sensible and female guard) by calling him their “weirdo roach-liquefying kid brother” McCullough reminds him that when a girl gets raped at a frat party, it’s everyone’s fault for letting it happen.

The apotheosis of their reign occurs in the final two episodes. As they continue to spread fear, an incident in 4x10 allows Piscatella to have free-rein over the prison. While Construction 101 is in session Piscatella gives permission for the workers to tear down the greenhouse.

As they dig up the garden, the instructor uncovers the severed arm that belongs to the guard/hitman that Alex, Lolly, and Freida cut up into pieces. The officers are all losing their sh*t, suddenly scared the inmates are going to murder them: “You got us here with gangsters and murderers” who exactly are the gangsters and murderers I wonder, them or the inmates?.

Caputo instructs them to hold down the fort and not overreact but as soon as he’s gone, Piscatella does exactly what he was told not to and conducts a full investigation. Red, Freida, Alex and Piper get together and consult as the guards begin reading out a list of inmates that have to come with them. Unfortunately, poor Suzanne is called in for questioning along with Red and we find out why in 4x11.

When Suzanne’s sister leaves for the weekend to go on holiday, Suzanne goes to the park and invites a young boy to her house for popsicles and videogames. When Dylan asks to call his dad, she refuses to let him go home and so he tries to escape by climbing out of the window, to the fire escape. She chases him trying to explain she’s not a bad person but he slips and falls off before she can get to him. This episode was unbearable to watch.

It’s Red’s time to be interrogated and she jokes that it reminds her of the Kremlin. She asks Piscatella who the dead girl in the garden was, brilliantly pretending she was not aware of the murder. “Do you literally have that little regard for human life?” he sneers while Humps and Stratman are saying how much they enjoy the sight of inmates behind glass and won’t even let them go to the bathroom.

Humps enters the room and tries to start a fight between the inmates. Despite Sanky persistently asking him to leave her alone because she doesn’t want to fight Suzanne, he keeps insisting. Maureen volunteers to fight Suzanne instead while Suzanne is literally holding her hands up. She’s pushed around against her will and snaps when Maureen uses her insecurities against her: “You’ll always be the person that everybody laughs at.” Suzanne ends up severely injuring her, to Humps’s sociopath-like amusement.

Healy finds Lolly in her makeshift time machine holding a potato. “I’m just trying to travel back in time. Back before I killed that guy” she says with a child-like honesty. He tells Piscatella she killed the guard and he sends to psych. It was heartbreaking to see Lolly being locked up, especially after we were given a chance to know her better.

After Healy steps in as her counsellor in 4x4, we meet a younger Lolly in a series of flashbacks. She used to work in a newspaper and was an overly eager and quirky journalist who always wanted to expose the truth. The voices started to take over and she was checked into a home from which she escaped and lived on the street.

She was lovely and friendly to everyone but got pulled over by police officers for panhandling coffee. The voices took over once again and she tried to pull out her noise stick which the officers mistook for a weapon and arrested her, since this is America we are talking about.

Seeing Healy caring for someone with no hidden ulterior motives was kind of sweet. In 4x6 they walk together on the grounds and they discuss why they decided not to have children. He tells her his mother was a lot like her: “locked in a fake world that no one else was part of even though it looked exactly the same.” Dr. Psycho’s origin story is unravelled in 4x4 when we see baby Healy’s father explain to him that lesbianism is an evil disease. And thus the monster was born.

The reason why the final two episodes served as the climax and were so damn good is because they managed to unite all the women against the guards, despite their differences and hatred. After having witnessed what Humps and Stratman were doing to Suzanne, Sanky and Brandy ask for Taystee’s help to end all the fighting.

They reach out to Maria and the head of each group meets at the library: Red, Sanky, Maria, Taystee and Stephanie (representing the others) are joining forces to take down Piscatella. Stephanie suggests a peaceful protest and despite that they all like the idea, they can’t seem to agree on anything and the whole thing falls apart before it even starts.

Brooks is ecstatic about the protest, but Poussey is more excited about getting out and having a future with her. A future which we are all teased with and are given a false glimmer of hope. She hurts Soso's feelings because she believes the protest will never work. Poussey was the only person who didn’t even want to protest in the first place.

Piscatella threatens to take all his men and leave if Caputo suspends Humps. Bailey sits in the chapel and asks Donuts if this place has changed him at all. He believes it hasn’t, seemingly forgetting about the fact that he raped Tiffany multiple times. That rape plays an important role in season 4 as we see her fighting to let go and move on. In 4x2 Donuts still, has absolutely no idea why she’s upset until she asks him if he’s raping Maritza as well.

Donuts defends himself by claiming he didn’t rape her because he loved her and that’s different and we get a very self-aware response from her: “But that didn’t feel any different.” He finally apologises in 4x8 and while it’s not heartfelt and does not change the past, it brings Tiffany peace. Boo’s adamant that even if he apologises for what he did, he will always be a rapist in her eyes.

Meanwhile, Piscatella won’t let Red fall asleep for a second because “prison wasn’t built on humanity” and he addresses the whole cafeteria to tell them that they are criminals who deserve nothing. He drops Red on the floor and a really amazing moment of solidarity follows. Soso exchanges a smiles with Poussey for one last time as all the women stand up on the tables and chairs. Maria declares they will not move until Piscatella no longer works here.

He calls for back up to get them down and the peaceful protest turns into violent chaos. Poussey tries to stop Bailey from hurting Suzanne but he pins her to the ground. Suzanne then tries to free Poussey by grabbing Bailey who’s kneeling on her and holding her down with a chokehold. All the women gather around to see what has happened. Taystee screams and breaks into tears as the screen fades to black instead of orange.

The finale deals with the fallout of 4x12 and opens with a flashback of Poussey, who’s just moved to the US and is getting on a bus with her friends. The greatest country on earth, huh? Back to the depressing present, Piscatella gives his testimony calling Poussey extremely violent right after we’ve seen her playfully fight with her best friends in a flashback. Amazing juxtaposition.

Taystee, who’s been promoted to Caputo’s assistant in 4x3, goes to Caputo’s office to see if there’s anything she can do and finds out he hasn’t called the cops or Poussey’s father. He can’t even get anyone to get her body out of the cafeteria floor. “So where’s the criminal? He in jail?", she asks. At MCC the P.R. bros are having a hard time trying presenting Poussey as a vicious black thug because she was an actual angel.

Judy is being released to avoid getting caught up in the mess and refuses to say or do anything about her own friend’s death. Jones begs her to make a statement but she leaves because, “They kill people here”. We see who she really is and what she really cares about. Like Cindy says as soon as sh*t gets messy, she conveniently disappears.

In the final flashbacks of the season, after getting lost numerous times and meeting a group of lovely Drag Queens who show her around, Poussey runs into a group of fake monks on light up bicycles. They get down by Hudson river and Poussey talks about her past.

Caputo is about to give out a statement but pauses to finally call Poussey’s father. Healy, Daya's mother, and the whole country is watching the news as he classifies any allegations coming from inmates as not credible and fully defends Bailey’s actions. He fails to stand up to the queer black girl who was murdered during his watch and he doesn’t even mention Poussey by name. This leads to one of the most powerful sequences OITNB has ever done: An actual protest unfolds as Judy, Humps and McCullough are standing in the middle of four angry crowds marching towards them.

When Humps reaches to pull out his gun our queen and saviour Maritza tackles him down. Daya quickly picks it up and points it at Hump. Taystee, Cindy, Bianca and Maria are all standing behind Daya and chanting for her to shoot him whilst the camera spins around her. She has the agency and the power now. This is BIG. We're talking Daenerys sails to Westeros with her fleet and dragons kind of big.

Just when you think the emotionally draining final episode is close to an end, the camera pans to the lit up skyline of NYC, Poussey is alone, later that night and her face illuminates as she gazes at the city. She turns around and looks into the audience and gives us one beautiful final smile.

The stories of the women we see on this show are not just mere fiction. It’s the smile that tells you not to ever forget her face. The writers of OITNB didn’t just break the fourth wall, they set it on fire. “Remember all their faces and remember all their voices.” This is the note the fourth season ends on.


OITNB’s social commentary and cultural observations are more current and present than ever. As I’m writing this review, more victims of police brutality have been added to the never ending list in the U.S. The decision to kill off Poussey Washington, resonates with everyone because it’s a terrible injustice and tragedy taken directly from real life events.

In an interview with THR, Samira Wiley discusses the implications of Poussey dying during the end of a TV season that’s exhausted what is widely known as the "Bury your gays" trope. She believes Jenji Kohan along with the other writers of this show killed Poussey by making the world feel a loss like the one experienced by families every day, without ignoring the fact that she was black and queer.

Give the article a read if you’re interested in learning more about this.

Favourite Quotes:

1. "I’m so sick of people saying’ that, man. My loss. Like it was my 100-year-old granny who kicked it. Or like it was some tragic accident instead of cold-blooded murder." - Taystee (4x13)

2. "I believe this world’s a damaged place. If you can find a sliver of happiness, stay in it as long as you can" - Not a monk (4x13)

3. "For instance, for breakfast, he had eggs. Don’t ask me how I know that. I just know. I mean, the connection is so deep, it’s like I’m inside his head." - Lorna (4x2)

4. "What your friend’s name again? Spout? Cylinder?" - Lolly (4x1)

5. "You are a straight, white man. You don’t get to be the victim, sweetie." - Judy to Luschek (4x6)

6. "Hold on. Receipt? Orange juice, toothpaste, AR-15 assault rifle. Looks good!" - Suzanne (4x11)

7. "Pain is always there because life is freaking painful. But suffering is a choice. And you my friend, it’s not my right to say, but you’re suffering." - Tiffany to Boo (4x12)

8. "I’m not trying to sell us short or anything, but it’s like they’re Beyonce and Jay-Z and we’re just Kim and Kanye" - Soso to Poussey (4x9)

9. "Yeah, puppets that reinforce stereotypes that black people are dumb and superstitious. They steal and they love being indentured servants." - Poussey to Judy (4x8)

10. "What kind contortions are your brain acrobats doing up there in your head circus?" - Nicky (4x13)

Rating: 4/5
This season’s focus shifted towards the rise and propagation of racism in the prison and ended with a brutal and heart-wrenching goodbye to one of my personal favourite characters on the show. There is no justice for marginalised groups both inside and outside prisons.

What I loved:
The discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement and the meta-commentary as the prison turns into "some sort of grotesque social experiment”
The show poking fun at the twisted logic of White rights activists and shamelessly calling them for what they are: Nazis
The acting and dialogues effortlessly swinging from laughter to endless tears.
The symmetry between this season finale and last year's: The women swimming carelessly in the lake and the song "Muddy Waters" playing while Daya is holding the gun, the fleeting moment of hope as they enjoy their freedom vs the tension and darkness of Poussey's death

What I didn’t love:
Another queer character dying this TV season
Nicky and Sophia being sidelined for most of the season
The season spent a lot of time introducing new characters that weren’t developed much
Suzanne’s fate, as she deserves a lot more than endless torture and so do all of these women.

Apologies for the delay! I was stepping in for Donna, I hope I did her justice. Let me know what you thought of the review and the season and we will see each other again next year. Maybe I will have stopped crying about Poussey by then. (Probably not)

About the Author - Nick Manesis
Nick is a neuroscience student in Brighton, one of most sunny and hip places in the UK. Most of all he loves badgering his friends about Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars, Game of Thrones and the rest of his favourite TV series. Member of STV since June 2016 and could not be any happier now that he gets to write TV reviews. Goes under the alias of "holyvanderjesus" on Disqus, Tumblr and Twitter.
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