Orange is the New Black review

Starring: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Uzo Aduba

Summary: A group of female prisoners do their best to serve their time done for a variety of crimes in Litchfield Prison, but not everything goes to plan.

Genre(s): Drama, Comedy

Show Summary

Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison (2010), this Netflix original American comedy-drama series focuses on the life of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a woman who’s spent her life in some sticky situations but is now living as a happily engaged New Yorker.

Eventually her past catches up to her, and she’s sent to a women’s federal prison – Litchfield – for a crime she committed ten years earlier for ex-girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon).

After achieving the most amount of viewers and hours viewed during its first week online than both Arrested Development and House of Cards, Orange is the New Black became Netflix’s most successful original series, garnering instant critical acclaim, huge audiences, award nominations and big wins.

Season 3 release date is believed to be sometime in June or July 2015 on Netflix.


Season Recap

Introducing to what many believed would be the main character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), we follow her life as she prepares to enter Litchfield Prison, leaving behind her fiancé Larry (Jason Biggs), her family and close-knit group of friends.

Upon entering the facility, she clashes with prison matriarch Red (Kate Mulgrow) and realises that she needs to be more careful if she doesn’t want to make herself a target whilst spending time behind bars.

Finding it difficult to cope, things only get worse when her ex-lover Alex (Laura Prepon) reveals herself to be at the same prison, but this is a relationship that we’d grow to learn has a lot of twists and turns to it.

Starved by the kitchen staff after causing offence to Red, she wins over the Russian by making a lotion for her back and ensures that her talents are put to good use to keep her in good stead with her fellow inmates.

It doesn’t take long for one of the prisoners – ‘Crazy Eyes’ (Uzo Aduba) – to decide she wants to make Piper her prison wife – something Piper definitely isn’t looking for during her stay. Resisting her advances she moves into Miss Claudette’s cube and realises this is a woman she does not want to get on the wrong side of.

Meanwhile, we’re shown some back story for Sophia Burset’s (Laverne Cox) gender reassignment and as time passes by in the prison, Larry discovers Alex was the one who named Piper to the police – a fact he chooses to keep to himself.

Blissfully unaware of her former lover’s betrayal, Piper begins to look upon Alex fondly once more before getting elected to the prison council. Whilst prison officer ‘Pornstache’ (Pablo Schreiber) is disliked by all of the inmates, Bennett (Matt McGorry) continues to grow close to Daya (Dascha Polanco) and Piper does her best to keep her councillor Healy (Michael J. Harney) happy.

Although there’s a few bumps including the accidental taking of a screwdriver from the prison workshop, things seem to go well for Piper until she gets into a dispute with Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning), and it’s clear from the offset that this is something that’s going to run and run.

As Larry continues to do well in his job on the outside, the publication of his article about having a girlfriend in prison leaves Piper with a bitter taste in her mouth, whilst Daya’s sexual relationship with officer Bennett sees her get pregnant, and Taystee (Danielle Brooks) is granted parole – something that doesn’t last very long at all.

Red clashes continuously with Pornstache and as we see Alex’s past fleshed out and her beginnings in the drug trade come to light, Piper returns to the woman she once saw as the forbidden apple – something it’s implied Larry finds out from Mr Healy.

Bennett worries he could himself end up behind bars after learning of Daya’s pregnancy, and Pornstache manipulates one of the prisoners into selling drugs, before discovering her overdosed lifeless body which he covers up as a suicide by hanging.

Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) and Red vow to get their own back on Pornstache when he manages to evade the law by covering up the prisoner’s death, and things get harder for Piper when Larry gives a radio interview which doesn’t paint her fellow inmates in the best light. Telling her fiancé that she’s in love with Alex, the truth behind her handing Piper into the police comes to light.

Doing her best to make the most out of a terrible situation, Alex tells Piper that it was their break up which lead to her ratting her out, and asks her to choose between living a life on the edge with her over nesting with Larry. Piper decides to choose her man, but when Larry pays an unexpected visit to Alex and learns that it was Piper who rekindled her sexual relationship with Alex, he decides to break up with his fiancée.

Completely alone, Piper slides into depression and when she’s attacked outside by Pennsatucky who’s hellbent on murdering her, she beats her to a bloody pulp – not helped at all by Officer Healy who allows the fight to go on.

With a noticeable lack of relationship progress between Alex and Piper, season two was a different kettle of fish entirely with a new villain – Vee – played expertly by the incomparable Lorraine Toussaint.

Waking up after her violent blackout, Piper is in solitary confinement and whisked away on a bus and a plane to an unknown location, being told absolutely nothing by anybody around her. Landing in Chicago, she assumes that she’s killed Pennsatucky and does her best to adjust to her new surroundings, thinking this will be her new home following a transfer.

Eventually Piper discovers that she’s in Chicago to testify in the trial of Alex’s old drug boss, and the stay is a temporary one, but when Alex suggests that she and Piper lie in court about knowing the drug boss, Piper in her heart wants to tell the truth. Further flashbacks show a complicated past, and as Piper meets Larry’s father Howard Bloom – her lawyer – he strongly advises that she tell the truth, something Alex convinces her to do otherwise on the van journey to the trial.

Lying on the stand means that Howard decides he cannot work with Piper anymore, and when she discovers that Alex did in fact go on to tell the truth, Piper has to face perjury charges and additional time in prison for perjury.

Heavily involved this time round is Taystee, who we see in the past had struggled with finding a permanant place to call home before meeting a drug dealer – Vee – who becomes her mother figure. Working for her in the drug trade, it’s then clear as to why she ended up behind bars and she couldn’t be more confused when Vee joins the prison.

Eventually returning to life at Litchfield alongside a new inmate, Piper realises that things are slowly changing when a past relationship between Vee and Red is hinted at, and the former does everything in her power to become top dog and reclaim power in the prison.

Though many of the black women fall under Vee’s charm, Poussey (Samira Wiley) remains unconvinced and it’s clear that there’s going to be some friction between the pair.

Elsewhere, Lorna (Yael Stone) discovers that the love of her life Christopher is to be married to another woman, and so breaks into his home after taking Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) to her cancer treatments. Showing her past through a series of flashbacks, it’s revealed that Lorna was a scam artist who was never engaged to Christopher – he was simply a man she stalked after a single date and one she threatened the girlfriend of with messages, even trying to put a bomb in her car.

Vee’s posse is getting stronger and they eventually go head to head with the Latinas when they have to infiltrate their bathroom, after staff refuse to fix the one they’re used to using because of budget problems.

Devestated to hear that her grandmother is dying, Piper goes to Healy in the hopes of receiving a furlough, whilst Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) is revealed to be the victim of domestic violence who is in prison for committing fraud through food stamps traded in at the store she ran whilst living her life on the outside.

Valentine’s Day comes around and Red begins to transport contraband through the greenhouse’s sewer drain with the help of her son. She’s not the only one skating on thin ice, as Larry returns to visit Piper in the prison, asking her to become his mole so that he can write exposé articles on the prison’s finances – something she agrees to and begins asking prisoners and guards about, hoping to discover where the budget really is going.

Poussey is revealed to have been in a romantic relationship with a fellow female in Germany in the past, but when that’s discovered by the girl’s father he uses his power to send back her and her family to America.

Meanwhile, Pennsatucky is rejected by her former group of friends and Taystee gets into an argument with her best friend Poussey because of the influence Vee has over her.

On the outside the chemistry between Larry and Piper’s best friend Polly (Maria Dizzia) becomes too much and the two end up sharing a kiss just before her partner returns home from his trip.

Noticing that a prisoner has escaped, Caputo (Nick Sandow) puts up security at the prison and demands all officers keep a closer eye on the inmates, imposing a minimum quota for shots written to be met.

Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) is revealed to have been an airport security guard before her arrest – one that searched through the bags of people travelling and stealing items for her sister’s birthday – a sibling that’s later revealed to be her biological daughter.

Bennett is sick of being taken advantage of by the Latina women and so threatens to give shots to all of Daya’s friends when they continously make him bring in contraband, much to the dismay of the mother of his unborn baby.

Nicholls does her best to convince Poussey to get on Vee’s good side, and Polly and Larry take their relationship one step further by having sex.

Facing a whole new backlash over special privileges, Caputo feels he needs to toughen up and brings Pornstache back alongside firing Fischer. Distrusting Red and her greenhouse, the Russian evades him by taking measures in advance of his greenhouse search.

As we see Rosa’s past it’s shown that she was part of several big bank robberies, and when we come back to the present day she shares a tender moment with a young boy in chemo who she later learns is in remission.

Returning home on furlogh for the funeral of her grandmother, Piper and Larry’s relationship faces a tough test and Larry admits he’s had sex with somebody else. As Red does her best to redeem herself in the eyes of those who formerly saw her as a boss figure, she’s finally rewarded, and a series of flashbacks show the history of Red and Vee’s Litchfield relationship which ends in Red taking a brutal beating.

Pornstache makes his return and Bennett reveals to his boss Caputo that Daya is pregnant, suggesting it’s Pornstache who must be the father. Fired and arrested, his return is shortlived but his obsession with Daya grows and he vows to be a father to what he believes is his unborn child.

Piper learns that Alex’s drug boss wasn’t convicted despite her turning him in, and she’s told that she’s being transferred to Virginia before the elders form a plan to bring Vee’s life to an end – something Red doesn’t know about. Things backfire however when they stab a lookalike rather than Vee herself.

As the rivalry between the old faces continues, several confrontations go on and a vicious storm means the inmates are forced to sleep in the mess hall as the plumbing system floods. Concerned about being attached when the lights are out, both Red and Vee’s gangs keep a close eye on one another.

Finding Vee outside, Red attacks and attempts to strangle her with a piece of plastic, but gives in at the last minute, not able to bring herself to commit the crime and shaking the hand of her former rival, admitting that she and Vee have changed because of Litchfield. Later though Vee breaks that truce and attacks Red from behind with a ‘slock’.

Things aren’t going smoothly for Vee however when her family break apart, turning on her after she becomes paranoid and tries to make Crazy Eyes take the blame for the assault on Red. Figueroa’s (Alysia Reiner) embezzlement scheme is unearthed by Piper who reveals everything to Caputo, forcing her to resign and Caputo to step into his new role as interim deputy warden.

Things get off to a shaky start for him however when Bennett admits he is the father of Daya’s baby, but he suppresses the news in order to avoid an instant scandal at the beginning of his administration.

Escaping the prison via Red’s greenhouse storm drain pipe, Vee goes on the run whilst Rosa’s told her chemo isn’t working and she has 3 to 6 weeks left to live. Intentionally leaving the keys in the van for Rosa to escape, Morello watches on as she takes the vehicle, flees the prison and notices Vee by the side of the road, before intentionally making her road kill.

Our Critic Review

When it comes to getting the perfect balance of comedy and drama, Orange is the New Black is the series that manages to beat all others in offering this expert blend. It’s a welcome and fresh look at the prison system, as an ensemble cast come together and put on one hell of a show.

Becoming invested in each and every one of the prisoners, it’s tough not to have multiple favourites and root for many of those involved despite their sometimes terrible pasts and crimes committed.

Dark and dreary at times yet hilarious and heart-warming at others, Netflix did well to ensure that this original series was the best of its kind, and we cannot wait to see just what season three has in-store.

VIDEO: Fans eager for Orange Is the New Black Season 3 to return will be happy to see Laura Prepon talking about season 3.

Critic Reviews

The show becomes more engrossing as is spins out from her story, fleshing out the inmates, their backstories, and their alliances. You may come for the culture-clash cringe-comedy; it’s the real human stories that will have you captivated. Read Full Review

James Poniewozik, Time

Orange Is the New Black [is] Netflix’s hilarious, addictive, fantastic new series about the goings-on at a low-security women’s prison. Read Full Review

Willa Paskin, Slate

It constantly offers more than you expect, and even when it delivers something either predictable or straight from the “women’s prison drama” handbook, it then counters with something fresh or unexpected. Read Full Review

Tim Goodman, The Hollywood reporter


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