My week in pop culture probably looked a lot like yours. It was spent gobbling down episodes of season 4 of Orange is The New Black. Truth? I resisted this show in its early days. I was repelled by the very idea ( I mean another prison show?) and interviews with the author of the source material had me rolling my eyes into the back of my head. But two summers ago, I gave it a shot and I’ve been hooked since. The writers do some pretty magical stuff when it comes to having us not only relate to but fall in love with criminals who are far from model citizens. Season three was criticized for not having enough action and for being too literary and melancholy. Which is exactly what my Irish bookish ass loved about it. I thought the season finale was pure poetry.
Season four picks right up where it left off and the ride is nonstop from episode one. More intense, higher stakes and the no-holds-barred discussions on everything from rape to race to homosexuality to transphobia are fast-flying and brutally honest. But what the show is really about is people and relationships. As we started the season last week, Michael said, “Aww. I’ve missed all of these people!” Flaca, Sophia, Gloria, Lorna, Taystee aren’t just prisoners. They’re people, which might be the bigger point the show is trying to make. And people we’ve gotten to know and enjoy doing time with over the past four seasons. For me, the one I find myself missing in the long year in between seasons is Red. Galina Reznikov, or Red, played with tough as nails Russian intensity by Kate Mulgrew, is the bad ass prison mama we would all want on our side if shit got real. And we’re lead to believe that Red is amazing cook which endures her to my heart even more.
For all of her toughness and drolly dished out one-liners, Red is also a hotbed of raw emotions. From heartache to betrayal, we’ve seen Red go through a lot over the last four years. Mulgrew gamely takes on the task of letting Red become a three-dimensional character. She rarely lets her guard down but when it comes to addict and perpetual hot mess Nicky Nichols, she a fiercely protective mama bear.
Nichols, played by Natasha Lyonne, is Red’s “daughter” on the inside. Red has seen Nicky struggle with drugs and is continually heartbroken when Nicky does what addicts do and lets her down. A lot of Nicky’s struggles with drugs are based on Lyonne’s own which I’m sure makes the performance even more powerful. Naturally, I identify with Nicky and Red. Who didn’t I let down when I was loaded? Who hasn’t had their heart-broken by an addict? And aren’t they’re thousands of us who want to help someone struggling with drugs or alcohol but don’t know how? As relapses sweeps through my own recovery community this summer, Red’s helplessness over Nicky’s addiction feels more timely than ever. Without giving anything away, I will say having this dynamic back is one of the few reasons I think this season is one of the best.
Another thing to love about Orange is The New Black is how it’s given a lot of overlooked actresses a real chance to shine. Mulgrew was previously known to most as Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager gets to sink her teeth into a character with a lot of layers. But it’s not just Mulgrew. Laura Prepon and Lori Petty’s characters are thrust head first into a really juicy storyline in season four which gives both actresses a chance to really knock our socks off. Prepon uses some dramatic chops we never saw coming when she was on That 70’s Show while Petty’s portrait of a woman struggling with mental illness is at once hilarious and devastating. The show also gives dozens of amazing Latina and black actresses a platform to do incredible work and become stars in their own right.
I have a handful of episodes left and I’m savoring them. By now, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m no Netflix novice. It’ll be a year until I get to spend time with the women of Litchfield again. Therefore, I’m taking my time. Elsewhere, in pop culture I’m reading my first Stephen King book. Okay. That’s a lie. I read On Writing like 15 years ago but nothing before or since. Yup. No The Shining. No Carrie. No Misery. But I’ve seen the movies? I know. It’s not the same thing. That’s why when I saw the first Dark Tower book and I grabbed it. Not usually my genre but I’m kind of open to whatever that isn’t the news these days so I’m giving it a shot. It’s good page turner stuff and has a bunch of wryly placed thoughts about God, revenge and isolation.I’ll let you know how it turns out. Of course I watched the Game of Thrones finale and I loved it. Listen, this season is getting some flack about setting too many plots in motion but I feel like it set out to entertain and deliver the goods on long burning storylines and for me it did just that.
But what are you guys watching? What are your thoughts on OITNB? Tell me your GOT gripes! And lastly, give me a good juicy somewhat trashy summer book recommendation!