Based on a true story, beautifully crafted characters are the heart of this enthralling series. But, I’d be committing a grave injustice if I didn’t first extol the merits of each and every actor and actress on the show. Great characters like “Crazy Eyes”, Counselor Healy, “Pornstache”, and Miss Claudette, and even the smallest part, all feel more alive because of perfect casting and exceptional performances.
Kohan has again created whimsical, darkly complex, and brilliantly flawed characters that demand attention no less than his masterfully disguised social commentary. Kohan’s characters are both realistically, as well as exaggeratedly human, and they’re dialogue is nothing less than mesmerizing. The characters are so well-crafted that the line between sympathizing with them and condemning them is completely indefinable.
Stealing the show is Red, the Russian inmate and head cook played by the incomparable Kate Mulgrew, known to Trekkies as Captain Kathryn Janeway. Having seen very little of her work outside Star Trek, I was somewhat surprised by how skilled she is. Her expressiveness is matched only by her ability to portray fear and tenderness within the same scene, even the same line.
What starts out as a black comedy eventually ventures into the territory of dark drama, and yet still manages to cleverly invoke laughs along the way. The major plot lines are relationships between the characters, and are brought to life with both heartwarming and shocking moments between characters you’re never quite certain are wholly decent or criminal.
Each episode builds on the anticipation left by the last in a way that leaves you no choice but to let Netflix auto-play the next episode. With only thirteen episodes, a few sittings are all you’re going to need, but when you’re done it will have felt like you’ve been watching the show for years. The cliffhanger at the end of the season is so unexpected, and every familiar storyline turned either upside down or inside out, that I can honestly say I’m jonesing for more.
My three favorite episodes are the “Chicken” episode, the “Scared Straight” episode, and the season finale. These three exemplify the best of OITNB, which is its ability to seamlessly sew together drama, comedy, tragedy, humanity, society, and morality into a wonderful bit of storytelling, and manage to use a chicken as a poignant metaphor!