Each season of Netflix's hit series, Orange is the New Black, is amazing. The story lines are gripping, the characters are relatable, or at the very least, realistic. But the part that makes the show truly incredible is the writers' and actors' abilities to bring life in Litchfield much closer to home. This season was no different. This season touched on mental illness, racism, sexual assault, transphobia, addiction and police brutality. All acting and humor aside, here is a list of why season four of OITNB is so important.
1. Addresses mental illness - without glorifying it.
With Lolly, Suzanne (Crazy Eyes), and the flashbacks of Healy's mother, the show shares what life with a mental illness is like. Unlike your typical movie or show, the scenes highlighting these characters' struggles doesn't show a single tear and a deadpan actor saying they're depressed - we see screaming and sobbing, see the characters hurting themselves to try and make up for their mistakes, see the lapses in memory and self, hear the voices in Lolly's head whispering to her. We see their minds turning against them, and them being powerless to stop it. Mental illness isn't pretty or easy; by showing it as it really is, the show gives a nod to all those suffering.
2. Addresses the mistreatment of trans individuals.
The abuse and mistreatment of Sophia Burset has been an ever present theme in the show. This season, the writers and Laverne Cox showed the true hell that trans people go through. After being in the SHU (isolation) for "her own safety" after she was assaulted by other inmates, Burset is left abandoned there. Her family wasn't notified, and any attempts to find or contact her was blocked by MCC. The only person that could help her only did so after she flooded and set fire to her cell and attempted suicide. She was kept hidden from the world, repressed, to force her silence and compliance. Burset was held in isolation for a prolonged amount of time, simply because she was a trans woman that fought to save her own life.
3. Addresses the attempt to move on after rape.
After the rape of Dogget (Pennsatucky) is season three, viewers watched her struggle to cope. We saw the anger, the betrayal, the self-loathing, and the urge for revenge; this season, we saw forgiveness. In a conversation with Boo, Pennsatucky says one of the iconic lines of the season, "Do you know the difference between pain and suffering? Pain is always there, because life is freaking painful, okay? But suffering is a choice." She chooses to let go of all the negative feelings, moving from victim to survivor. While I'm not a fan of the writers making Coates the "good guy rapist," they gave Pennsatucky strength. Not only is this major character development, it's a salute to all the victims of sexual assault and abuse that are doing their best to move on.
4. Addresses police brutality.
The heartbreaking, gut wrenching death at the end of "Animals" was a clear and direct nod to the countless black victims of police brutality. Suffocated = Eric Garner. Body left lying = Michael Brown. Story repressed = Sandra Bland. Yes, Poussey Washington was a beautiful character, full of life, emotion, and potential; a driving force for the good that still remained despite all the bad. And this makes her death all the more shocking and outrageous. Just like how all the deaths of the victims of police brutality should make us feel.
5. Addresses addiction.
Nicky's struggle with addiction has been present throughout the seasons. This season, however, we see how her emotions pull her back into a struggle she thought she had escaped from and see what she'll resort to to get her fix. She turns to sex to pay for drugs; she betrays Red, the mother she'd always wanted and needed; she turns against Lorna, the person she loves and understands above all others; we see her, once again, go through withdrawal. Instead of demonizing her, we can't help but realize how it's destroyed her and how hard she fights to take her life back.
The things they experience - the racism, homophobia, transphobia, assault and rape - flash across our TV and our Facebook news feed constantly. OITNB takes events that seem unreal to us because of the divide between us and strangers and by making them happen to beloved characters, we're finally seeing the horror and suffering these events cause.