One of the earliest success stories of Netflix’s original programming slate, Orange is the New Black has now unleashed its fourth season upon fans who are eager to settle in for another round of binge-watching. There was some trepidation mixed in the with the excitement, however, as the show’s third season was easily its weakest so far, and it was unclear whether things were going to bounce back in season 4 or slide further in the wrong direction.
“Work That Body For Me” picks up right where the last season left off, with the ladies of Litchfield frolicking happily in a lake (which may or may not be filled with nasty pollutants), an influx of new inmates arriving on buses, celebrity inmate Judy King (Blair Brown) cheerfully waiting around for someone to acknowledge her presence, and newly crowned Director of Human Activities Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) desperately trying to secure backup after his veteran correctional officers stage a walkout. Meanwhile, Vause’s (Laura Prepon) assassination is cut short by the arrival of scatterbrained conspiracy theorist Lolly (Lori Petty), who helpfully stomps the hitman to death.
Caputo gets the backup he needs in the arrival of a collection of COs from Maximum Security, led by the imposing figure of Desi Piscatella (Brad William Henke). Piscatella’s reign promises an end to the relatively laidback attitude of Litchfield’s absent veteran COs, as well as the bumbling rule of the new officers who were brought in last season. It also looks like the character will be a worthy adversary for Red (Kate Mulgrew), who is always at her best when she’s got a nemesis to wage war against. Caputo, meanwhile, is all too easily seduced by Piscatella’s promise to be a buffer between him and the troublesome antics of the inmates.
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), Orange is the New Black‘s original protagonist, is now clearly part of the crowd at Litchfield rather than the centerpiece. We don’t actually see her much in the premiere, but it does establish that Piper now considers herself to be scary and “gangsta” (with an “A”) among the prison population, though in reality it seems that most of the other inmates are just humoring her. However, to the new inmates Piper is an unknown quantity, and Flaca (Jackie Cruz) wastes no time in painting a target on Piper’s back by pointing her out as the kingpin of Litchfield.
As Piper focuses on her image, her on-again-off-again girlfriend Alex Vause has rather more serious matters to worry about. When she returns to the greenhouse with the intention of burying the dead body of her would-be assassin, she finds that he’s not quite dead after all. Vause is left to finish him off in one of the premiere’s most emotionally powerful scenes, which reveals that despite her background as a hard-as-nails heroin dealer, Vause has never actually had to kill anyone before.
What this also means is that Vause has never had to dispose of a body before, and Lolly isn’t much help in this regard. Fortunately their cover-up attempts are discovered by Golden Girl Frieda (Dale Soules), who decides that she’s got nothing better to do and may as well spend her morning cutting up a dead body with gardening tools and burying the individual parts underneath some lovely sunflowers.
Mostly, this premiere is all about setting up the conflicts to come in this season. Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), freshly converted to Judaism, bunks up with one of the new inmates, who is Muslim – Cindy greeting her new bunkmate with a frosty “Shalom” and getting “Salaam alaikum” in return. Red, as mentioned earlier, now has to contend with Piscatella’s new regime. Piper is already attracting none-too-friendly attention from the newcomers. And Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) decides that her new lady love Kukudio (Emily Althaus) is a little bit too crazy, and abandons her in the woods.
A definite highlight of this episode was Luschek (Matt Peters) just chilling with Judy King in the break room while they waited for someone to realize she was there. Judy, who has a husband but is taken to Litchfield by her boyfriend, already seems to have her eye on Luschek as a potential prison romance, though perhaps the two of them will develop a more platonic friendship/alliance like the one that Luschek has had with Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) in past seasons.
Judy King’s presence also means that Litchfield is going to be under newfound public scrutiny, which is sure to make poor Joe Caputo’s tenure even more stressful for him. What’s bad for Joe is good for the show, however, as it’s very entertaining to watch the new Warden try to do damage control – accidentally mentioning to her that the black inmates’ wing is nicknamed the “Ghetto” and giving her the celebrity treatment… which amounts to putting her on an airbed in Healy’s (Michael Harney) office rather than making her sleep in a bunk.
Overall, this a strong start to what will hopefully be a great season. Let the binge-watching commence.
Orange is the New Black season 1-4 are now available on Netflix.