Before I get started, let me tell you this: SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD! Now you can’t say I didn’t warn you…
If you watch this Netflix show, you know that last season we were left with the girls getting outside the fence and enjoying some lake time. We were also extremely concerned that Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) was about to meet an untimely death. What’s going to happen to Sophia (Laverne Cox), who was sent away to solitary for “protection” as a transgender prisoner? And a big question at the end of season three (for me, anyway) was this: Is Nikki (Natasha Lyonne) coming back? Hang on to your hats, because we get all of that and then some.
The season kicks off to a big surprise for the women of Litchfield. While the inmates have been playing at the lake, they come back eventually (well, most of them) to find their dorm space has been doubled by the addition of bunk beds. A private, for-profit business is now in control of the prison, so the more, the merrier is their motto. (It is way too much like real life, sadly.) You can only imagine how this goes. We meet many new prisoners this year, among them Judy King (Blair Brown), a celebrity inmate chef (sound familiar?). Vause is rescued from the hitman by Lolly (Lori Petty). A comedy of errors ensues from this rescue, because the hitman (disguised as a guard) is killed and—you guessed it—a burying of the body must occur. This has a huge impact on Vause throughout this season.
Officer Healy (Michael Harney) hones in on his pet project for the season, which this year is Lolly. We learn Lolly has some serious mental health issues, as we see her back story and how her illness has been misdiagnosed/not treated for years—again, another issues the prison system overlooks. Healy believes he can “fix” her, as we learn his mother also had mental health issues. Instead of getting proper care such as medication, however, Lolly is left to her own demise in the end.
I was starting to think several shows in that Nikki wasn’t coming back, but suddenly we see her at maximum security. She also has contact in solitary with Sophia. All I am going to say about Sophia’s story is that you are in for a shock, which will anger you. The for-profit prison chooses to deal with Sophia—and the fact she is a transgendered person—by sticking her in solitary confinement. Nikki is finally brought back to the minimum security wing, but we see that maximum has impacted her life. While you see a dramatic change in Sophia, Nikki also has a big change for a large portion of the season.
Piper (Taylor Schilling) is still in the panty-sniffing business run from the prison, as we saw last year. She suddenly believes she is the “head dog” of Litchfield. Sadly, we see this deteriorate quickly while gangs and allegiances are formed. She soon finds herself in the middle of neo-Nazi/Skinhead type of arrangement, which comes back to haunt her. The Latino inmates form a solid force to be reckoned with, as do other parties. It is this group that Piper really pisses off and she pays a dear price. In good news, Alex and Piper do appear back together by the end of the season, as they have really been healthy (well, as healthy as you can be) and supportive of one another.
While I have given some spoilers, I am trying to leave the parts out that you must see. The next is one of those scenes that makes the season. I hate to inform you, but we lose a beloved character this season. Many in the LGBTQ community are very angry about this loss, as we have had too many lesbians “killed off” on television. I agree this must stop. However, I believe what the writers were trying to get across and bring attention to a worldwide problem regarding misuse and abuse of power by people in roles of authority. This individual was the only one this could happen to due to her stature and gentle nature. I cried like a baby; I hate to see this character off the show. However, I will admit this was the only way to make it as effective as possible.
After this unimaginable event, many things take place that are so disrespectful to this inmate. Taystee (the amazing Danielle Brooks) has been given a new job this year, and it is as the new warden’s secretary (the new warden is none other than Caputo, played by Nick Sandow). In true Taystee fashion, she is in the middle of everything. Sadly, she is in the office when Caputo declares the fatal incident an accident; that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, if you will. Taystee was the best friend of the dead character (another hint for you), and she is enraged after hearing this. The show ends with all sides coming together and Taystee leading the charge. Now we must wait one year for Season 5; I am willing to bet that it will be one hell of an opener next year.
In a nutshell, Season 4 is by far the best of the show, hands down. While all seasons have been strong, this slays the other three. This season had two main themes: (1) the lack of mental health treatment inside prisons; and (2) the misuse of power by those in positions of authority, be it a corrections officer or police officer. These are real-life issues that must be tackled. Although those are not the only two themes, I believe they are the two that not only impact the imaginary world of Litchfield, but also us in the real world. I think author Piper Kerman’s influence as consultant was really seen this season, which is a very good thing. If you have not watched yet, grab your favorite snacks and settle in for the weekend to binge watch. It is truly the only way to watch the series that started binge watching to begin with, right? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. | Tracy Fort
Check out Tracy on her internationally acclaimed radio program, The Tracy Fort Show, online at www.blogtalkradio.com/thetracyfortshow or via internet radio apps. In addition to live streams, you can listen to podcasts of previous shows. Follow The Tracy Fort Show on Twitter at @TracyFortShow.