[This is a review of the Orange is the New Black season three finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
It's hard to top the season two finale of Orange is the New Black, which closed on a scene of Rosa pulling off a daring jailbreak in the prison van, killing Vee along the way and driving off towards the horizon to the tune of "Don't Fear the Reaper," but the season three finale 'Trust No Bitch' attempts to pull off a similar vibe by having the rest of Litchfield's residents make a break for temporary freedom.
That's not really the plot point that this episode is building towards, however. The big reveal is the fact that Litchfield's new corporate overlords have seen fit to double its population - a move that's nicely foreshadowed by the mention of new beds (i.e. bunk beds) for the dorms, and Red's mention that the kitchen has received a double order of 'food' for the month. One of the reasons that Orange is the New Black season three has felt so scattershot is the attempt to find time for every character in the massive cast to have their own subplot, so hopefully doubling the prison's population won't mean doubling the main cast in season four.
Speaking of season three's many character arcs, the finale is largely dedicated to wrapping up the most prominent of these, and that unfortunately means the introduction of Toast Norma. Setting Norma up as the figurehead of a new prison religion is easily one of the worst ideas of this season, and is symptomatic of the series' dramedy tone moving towards a greater dose of comedy that is then difficult to blend in with the drama. Brook Soso attempting suicide by overdosing on allergy medication is just the right mix of funny and sad, and trying to link it to the silliness of Toast Norma disrupts that careful balance.
The other big religious conversion of this season, Cindy deciding to become a Jew, seems practically sensible in comparison to Toast Norma. After spending so many episodes apparently only pretending to be interested in Judaism for the sake of delicious kosher meals, Cindy does a sudden about-turn in 'Trust No Bitch' and decides that she actually wants to become Jewish because she feels a sudden deep connection to the religion. And she also really wants those kosher meals. But mainly it's the deep spiritual connection.
Despite ostensibly being the protagonist of the series, Piper has also been one of the least likeable characters on Orange is the New Black since the series began. With that in mind, it's actually quite refreshing to see her embrace her evil side in the season finale. Having become the godmother of smelly prison panties (via the ingeniously named website Felonious Spunk), Piper discovers that her money has been stolen and that the culprit is her sexy, illustrated new prison fling Stella. After hearing about Stella's money woes, Piper decides to solve them by having her sent down to the maximum security prison two days before her release. At least Stella doesn't need to worry about finding a place to live any more.
This is a very different Piper than the one we met at the start of season one, and it's honestly a little bit difficult to buy her tough nut act, but the change is understandable. Piper now has no fiancé or job waiting for her on the outside, so in a way it's smart for her to build a nest egg - even if it's a nest egg made out of funky underwear.
Speaking of vaguely evil characters, the hapless Sam Healy is forced to confront the possibility that getting the prison's only decent counsellor suspended and handing out antidepressants as a first resort might mean he's not great at his job. After finally giving up on trying to forge a proper marriage with his mail-order bride, Katya, Healy stirs up a new romance with Red and in turn she waters his ego flower. It's hard to know how to feel about this development, since Healy is a character who triggers equally strong feelings of pity and loathing, but perhaps the two of them will make each other happy.
On the other side of the bars, Litchfield's Director of Human Activities and poster child for nepotism, Danny Pearson, throws a tantrum when forced to confront his overbearing father and quits from his position, leaving Caputo left with the moral choice of whether to climb the corporate ladder and take on the responsibility of screwing over his colleagues. Which he does. Caputo's backstory has unfolded nicely over the course of this season, and this move - along with its disastrous fallout - feels like an inevitable conclusion to Caputo's struggle to save his soul.
Another interesting development in this finale is Lorna Morello proposing to her penpal boyfriend and getting married soon after, which is very sweet if you forget the fact that she stalked and tried to murder the last man she fell in love with, and a big step in her new relationship with Vince was convincing him and his friends to go to Christopher's house and beat him up. Let's hope marriage mellows her out, or Vince could become her next victim as well as her next great love.
Overall this was a somewhat underwhelming finale to a somewhat underwhelming season, but at least it sets up some potentially very interesting things to come in season four. Let's hope this was just a bump in the road rather than the start of a downhill slide.
For more on Orange is the New Black, read our season three premiere review and look out for our full season review later this week.