Welcome to TV Club’s coverage of season four of Orange Is The New Black. Reviews will be posting daily at 2:oo pm EST, leading to the review of the season finale on June 29. These reviews are written from the perspective of having only seen up to the episode in question, and so we ask that you respect the pace of other viewers and avoid spoiling details from future episodes in your comments.
One of the most distinctive qualities about Orange Is The New Black is its unwillingness to introduce characters as we’ve come to expect from television shows. There are a lot of new faces around Litchfield in season four, but very few of them were introduced with traditional efforts to have us remember their names or learn anything about them. This goes for the new influx of inmates as well as the new guards, creating a game of spending scenes focused on people’s chests to get a glimpse of their ID or the embroidery on their uniform.
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This is not new for the show: after all, Blanca was first introduced as a crazy woman talking to Diablo on the toilet, before eventually becoming fleshed out and now emerging as a central force of civil disobedience. But the longer the show runs, the larger the gap between the characters we’ve spent four seasons with,and the random people who are just being introduced becomes. The show has conditioned me to expect that any character could emerge as significant, but it has also conditioned me to fuss over which one it might be, which can get a bit tiring. Am I supposed to know the two white women who we see here talking about the new education classes forcing them to learn empathy for other people? I know I’ve seen them before—and one of them is the NeoNazi who would go back and tell Hitler to take the Suez Canal—but am I supposed to be paying closer attention? Is the other’s illiteracy going to become some type of plot point? How closely should I be paying attention to every small moment in a show that is sometimes just about observing prison life?
I don’t feel bad about not learning the new guards’ names: they’re all awful people, and so I imagine most viewers have come up with demeaning nicknames to mentally distinguish between them. But I feel some guilt about dehumanizing the new inmates in the same way: in my case, I’m trying to write through these reviews as efficiently as possible, and that’s meant not stopping to pause and learn names, or scanning through guest credits.
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But should I feel guilty if the show itself isn’t giving us the information to learn their names? The show could have given us much easier access to the names of the women on Maria’s crew, and they could have done much more work to clarify the name of Piper’s bunkmate so that we didn’t run into this problem. The show is choosing to offer little clarification as to the names of these characters, so should I really feel any guilt over this?