Netflix, which originally meant to be an internet based library of films for a fixed price to replace the old video store industry, has in recent years turned Production Company. Orange is the New Black is indicative of this change and season four demonstrates just why Netflix are doing so well.
Since 2013 the show, adapted from Piper Kerman’s memoirs from a minimum security prison, has broken new ground by winning an award in both the drama and comedy categories at the Emmy’s, tackling issues concerning US prison standards and being central to the ‘binge watch’ age. Series Four thus had to keep this momentum going and ensure Netflix remains the leader of the online streaming market. So with 13 episodes in which to do this how does it go about such a task?
…a real question was asked of the audience: In prison how far would you go to survive?
Well without giving much away we re-join the shows go-to protagonist, Piper, whose prison experience in season three took an unexpected turn with her becoming an actual criminal, something she always argued she wasn’t despite her position, and our ‘hero’ becoming the villain. It was a complex shift, a real question was asked of the audience: In prison how far would you go to survive?
That question formed the center piece of this season with murder, gang rivalry and a particularly brutal revenge attack scene all taking place in the first half of the season. As always the shift between characters was perfectly balanced with every episode making sure the audience kept up with the progress of all characters whilst being presented with a ‘case study’ of sorts for the episode; one character honed in on with flashbacks from their life building a picture of their history and their persona which explains a large part of that episode. To call Piper the protagonist is merely utilising the terms of convention, every character has a key stake in this show and their lives are clearly demonstrated as being complexly interwoven, as would happen in the macro-environment of a prison.
… the show is a mirror in which America can see all its flaws.
As the series developed it showed another aspect of it that has made it so successful, its social awareness. This can be anything from references to odd aspects of American culture that inmates, when distanced from, can come at from very different angles producing some fantastic comedic moments, but also the tensions rife in American society.
Throughout the show’s running it has focused on the fierce racial tensions within the prison and the huge gulf between the guards and inmates, each faction locked in a fierce game with each other, both coming to a terrifying climax in season. The abuses of the US penal system are laid to bare, the sickening disposition of some men towards women is examined and the position of black people in society are presented to the audience; easy to watch, one hour episodes that have become an education in and a metaphor for US society. The show is a mirror in which America can see all its flaws.
And so as series four concludes it amounts in what is the most dramatic season finale yet, impressive given the cliff-hangers the previous three seasons have ended on. For a show about a prison the audience is constantly rooting for the inmates in their quest that is as old as America itself, the quest for liberty, equality and fraternity. For the success to continue Netflix need not do much. Continue the original writing, keep with its stellar cast that include so many incredible talents that are beginning to spread through the industry and then win some more Emmy’s next month. Given season four’s success it seems these three and more will be very attainable indeed.
By Arran Byers
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