I personally think that the long anticipated third series of ‘Orange is the New Black’ showcases the prison dramedy’s finest writing yet.
With the vitality of its dialogue and the breadth of its character development, each episode has its own individual narrative arc and there are very important subliminal messages integrated within them – three of which I personally feel are worth blogging about.
Everyone needs someone
Plenty of the characters in ‘Orange is the New Black’ rely on other people in order to add meaning to themselves as individuals and furthermore to add purpose to their own lives. Piper Chapman is the most obvious example here, as her binary personas both rely on the presence of other people in order to exist. For example in the outside world, she requires the accompaniment of Larry Bloom to define her ‘good girl’ image and to illustrate her social conformity. In prison, she uses Alex Vause to add substance to her ‘bad girl’ demeanour and to portray her rebellion. When you think about it, a lot of the characters are paired with partners of some kind whether in terms of a friendship, a relationship or even a feud. Maritza and Flaca. Daya and Bennett. Red and Norma. Taystee and Poussey. At all times, they come in twos.
Then, there are the characters who need ‘anyone’ as opposed to ‘someone’. Emotionally unstable inmate Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren looks to anyone for guidance and pines for a leader or parent figure to obey. Some people (namely Vee from Series 2) take advantage of this and abuse her submission, but Crazy Eyes herself is none the wiser. She is just happy to have someone to report to within her life in order to give her that sense of belonging. Similarly, Lorna Morello is fixated with the concept of love and marriage. It is her lifelong aim to belong to someone else and to be considered as their property. It doesn’t even seem to matter to her who that someone may be. Throughout Series 1 and 2, Morello appeared to be hopelessly in love with Christopher however Series 3 sees her eradicate any feelings that she initially had for him. She gives up on finding her happy ending with him and instead redirects her determination towards finding it with someone else.
The fact that she is able to decide when to stop loving Christopher shows how she needs ‘someone’ as opposed to him exclusively. Series 3 shows us that Morello simply yearns to be loved by anyone, as demonstrated by the scenes in which she writes to several men and arranges visitations with them to actively and overtly seek a potential husband. Following the departure of Nikki (the rebellious inmate that she had an frivolous lesbian love affair with), there is nobody left in prison to love Morello in the way that she needs to be loved. This is why she becomes fixated with the idea of finding someone in the outside world instead. In order to be comfortable in her own skin and to live a meaningful life, she needs love. As it is to many other of the OITNB characters, being loved by another person is a gateway to being accepted and more specifically to being accepting of themselves.
We have no control over who we fall in love with
It is made clearer than ever in Series 3 of ‘Orange Is the New Black’ that Piper Chapman and Alex Vause do not want to have feelings for each other. They most certainly do not want to be in love. In many ways they have a discordant relationship but neither of them can prevent the connection that they share regardless of that, nor the force that pulls them together every time they see each other. They are powerless in that there is nothing they can do to reduce the effects of how hard they fall for one another because as the series teaches us, it is out of their hands. They want to despise each other and they try to as demonstrated by their ‘hate sex’ phase. They desperately yearn for the strength to resist one another but their relationship shows that no matter what, love conquers all and overrules even the best of intentions.
Piper intended to be a good girl. She wanted to be straight. She wanted to marry Larry, have children and live a normal, civilised life but she has involuntarily opted for the exact opposite in Series 3. Both Piper’s prison environment and more significantly Alex’s presence within it reminds her of the exciting, turbulent love affair that they shared together ten years previously and she can’t help but crave her all over again as a result. Despite knowing Alex was the person that named her and landed her prison, she wants her back. Regardless of the fact Alex knows Piper conspired to get her back in prison, the feeling is mutual. Vital points that should matter to both Piper and Alex simply don’t, as their bond and more specifically their love overrides them.
The complexity of their bond is portrayed powerfully in Series 3 in a drama class scene in which a ‘grocery store’ analogy is used to explain the complications of their relationship and to communicate their love. It’s one of my favourite OITNB scenes which beautifully portrays the idea that as humans we are completely submissive to our feelings. Our minds can try to fight but our hearts choose who to love. This is interestingly enough supported by the real life story of OITNB writer Lauren Morelli who fell in love with OITNB actor Samira Wiley (Poussey Washington in the series). Despite having recently married a man, she fell for Wiley on set and admits that it happened naturally without her even realising that she was gay. As documented here in The Independent, Morelli and Wiley’s story is real life evidence to support the fact that we really don’t have any control over who we develop feelings for.
Even the boldest people can suffer in silence
There’s no denying that Big Boo is the most overt lesbian character in OITNB. Whilst some of the other characters experiment sexually with each other and remain uncertain on their sentiments towards women and lesbianism, Big Boo is completely at ease with her own individual sexuality. Without beating around the bush (please excuse the awful pun), she knows what she is and she knows how she likes it. More specifically, she has assigned herself to the subgroup of ‘butches’ thus defining herself and expressing herself entirely on the basis of her sexuality.
In Series 3, we get a very intimate insight to Big Boo’s back story. We are introduced to the kind of sex she enjoys, the abuse she has been subject to her whole life as a result and the rejection that she has consistently faced. We witness first hand that her exterior image is extremely different to, and almost a contrast of, her inner self. She may appear to be confident from the outside and comfortable enough with her sexual identity to have ‘butch’ tattooed down her arm, but the reality is that she has experienced the worst kind of discrimination throughout her life. It is heart-breaking to learn that Boo, real name Carrie Black, has been tormented by her parent’s shame and persistent refusal to accept their daughter for what and who she really is. Big Boo has been asked directly by her parents to dress more femininely and she has been shunned by their ignorance. They have branded her persona and lifestyle a silly phase and suggested that she should grow out of it. They have judged her and segregated her. A character that appears to be self-assured, certain and accepting of herself on the surface is actually shown to be insecure, vulnerable and isolated in more ways than one in Series 3 of OITNB.
Lea DeLaria, who plays Big Boo perfectly, has presented herself in a similar light by revealing that Boo’s past actually mirrors her own in many instances. One of the few cast members to be a lesbian in the real world too, DeLaria has admitted that her life has been anything but easy as a result of her sexuality. Here in an interview with Cosmopolitan, she reveals the likeness of Boo’s back story to her own life and admits “I was literally crying when I read the script, because it was exactly my experience”. Through telling Big Boo’s story, Series 3 of Orange is The New Black really adds substance to the theory that you should never judge a book by its cover. It teaches us that looks can be deceiving and DeLaria’s own real life experience stresses this even more so.