Starting a season of Orange is the New Black a week after it drops on Netflix is like traveling back in time to an indeterminate date in March 1912 and boarding the Titanic. You know bad things are going to happen — it’s just a matter of where and when.
I haven’t been spoiled on any major developments yet, but I’ve seen enough references to plot developments and general story directions to have a clue about a few very unfortunate events to come. I also know which characters will play a prominent or notable role in the season, at least to the degree that they’re worth tweeting about.
A little bit of foresight helps with an episode like “Work That Body for Me,” which bounces in manic fashion around the Litchfield women’s prison, in an effort to pick up as many of last season’s dangling plot threads as possible. For the first time in the show’s history, the new season picks up in media res, immediately after the events of last season’s closing scene, in which most of the prisoners escape through a hole in the fence and revel in a nearby lake. They didn’t say it, for fear of spoiling the moment, but even the prisoners knew the ecstasy of their brief escape couldn’t last long.
If Orange is the New Black were primarily plot-driven, the second season finale “We Have Manners, We’re Polite” might have been unsatisfying. Instead of culminating in a massive prison-spanning battle or a bloody showdown between Kate and Vee, the season ends with an unexpectedly macabre and darkly funny exclamation point, as the ailing Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) takes out the villainous Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) with her car on her way towards a few final weeks of freedom. After an entire season of swirling contraband and shifting loyalties, the season’s principal villain is dispatched in a matter of seconds, learning none of the lessons she probably ought to have learned before she passed on.
But Orange is the New Black is not primarily a plot-driven show. It’s well established that Orange is the New Black has one of the most diverse casts of any “television show” ever. There’s no use making like a broken record and praising the show yet again for opening a space filled by a diverse array of voices and perspectives. The show’s true genius, and the key to its success, is the way in which it takes full advantage of its diverse cast to tell stories about complicated people who have made irredeemable mistakes and yet still retain shreds of humanity.