Published Jun 15, 2016Jenji Kohan's Netflix hit Orange Is the New Black captivated binge-watching couch potatoes across three seasons with its unique blend of drama and comedy, incorporating elements of everything from romance to thrillers to toilet humour.
Season 4 picks up where Season 3 left off, with most of the female inmates of Litchfield enjoying a splash in the freedom lake — except for the show's initial (and ever more insufferable) protagonist Piper Chapman, who's left alone and oblivious indoors, while her paranoid ex Alex Vause is cornered in the greenhouse sorting out her own murder-y melodrama.
Despite the limiting setting of a walled-in penitentiary, there's no shortage of dramatic storylines in the latest season, with flashbacks continually giving viewers added insight into the past lives of the prisoners — not to mention literal truckloads of new characters.
We catch up with old favourites like a newly compassionate Pennsatucky, a hilarious-as-ever Taystee with an important new job and an increasingly menacing Maria Ruiz, but Litchfield's latest additions, like pampered celebrity chef Judy King, Tova's new bunkmate Abdullah and the previously introduced, but suddenly crucial Lolly, prove themselves to be immediately memorable too.
Authority figures — especially ones of the white male variety — continue to get skewered, with warden Joe Caputo, counsellor Sam Healy and guard Joel Luschek continually proving themselves to be racist, misogynist, corrupt and/or incompetent morons, despite fractured glimmers of redemption for each of them.
With so many different subplots brewing, the most interesting stories don't always get enough screen time (incredibly brief glimpses into the lives of inmates like Sophia Burset in the SHU, and Nicky Nichols and Stella Carlin over in max security, prove to be hinting at some of the most fascinating episodes to come), but there's still impressive attention paid to portraying the kinds of moving, terrifying and hilarious human alliances that can arise from absurd and desperate situations.
The latest episodes continue to showcase the writers' and actors' ability to delicately reveal and expertly manipulate the ever-shifting balance of power, whether it's the dynamic between individual characters, religious factions and ethnic groups, or between those behind bars and those in positions of authority.
Managing to strike its own balance between social criticism and humour, there's still enough substance in Orange Is the New Black to keep viewers locked up for another season.