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Let's talk about where we're leaving Piper, and everyone else at Litchfield, until next year.
The fun of a show with a large ensemble cast is that, as my esteemed colleague Alex Zeidel noted earlier this season with regard to Orange Is The New Black, is the inherent story potential. The more characters you have to work with, the more combinations you can arrange, and the more kinds of conflict or commonality you can explore. The generally inevitable downside of a show with a large ensemble cast is that even though your characters aren't going to be equally compelling, as a producer you still have to service them all (as it were). Since Piper's our protagonist, we have to see a lot of her, and after spending three seasons with her, I still think she kind of sucks.
Sometimes, we get glimmers that the show thinks Piper kind of sucks, too. Piper Kerman's real memoir (of the same name) is the basis for the series, so naturally Piper Chapman is at its centre. But since series creator Jenji Kohan has described the character of Piper as a "gateway drug" for all the show's other, more interesting characters, now that we're all hooked on the pure heroin(e) (sorry, it was right there) of Taystee and Soso and Red, the adventures of the boring old weed lollipop that is Piper feel like kids' stuff. Of course Piper found a way to start her own disgusting Etsy store in prison: that's exactly what a Piper would do, given access to fabric and crotches. But am I supposed to be impressed that she's started a criminal enterprise in prison? Because Season 2's tunnel was a lot more ambitious, (a), and (b) she already almost killed someone back in Season 1. Am I supposed to be horrified that Stella robbed her? Because an innocent Sophia's rotting in the SHU. Am I supposed to be concerned that she might have to give a baby guard a promised Handrew Jackson? Because Pennsatucky's getting raped on the regular.
I really hope I'm not supposed to be invested in Piper's love triangle with Alex and Alex's younger, hotter doppelgänger -- or, while we're on the subject, anything Alex has ever done. Whoever decided one of the season-ending cliffhangers should be "Alex might get killed" is insane, because: kill her. Please. It's not just that Laura Prepon apparently got into the habit of delivering every line smirking from That '70s Show and has apparently never broken it, although that's pretty bad. It's not that she's incapable of credibly acting like she's in constant fear for her life, and that plus going down on Piper is pretty much all she had to do this season. It's that, as her flashbacks revealed, on top of her many other faults she wasn't even a reliable participant in her drug-smuggling operation! They should take her out!
I'm also offended that the show spent any time on Piper/Stella/Alex when these two were so cruelly rent in twain.
Morello's intense neediness notwithstanding, no one was buying into that marriage to Vince, right? I don't know what else Natasha Lyonne needed to be excused to work on, but I hope it was worth it: Nicky's absence was felt, and Stella was a lame substitute.
While I will confess to having found the multiple-episode storyline about the inmates' "randomly improvised Norma-based theological system" a bit tiresome -- particularly once we learned that Norma isn't mute, she's just an intensely self-conscious stutterer who decided a long time ago that it was easier not to try -- I appreciated how the flashbacks to inmates' past experiences of spirituality braided together in the finale. Norma fell under the sway of a charlatan, affirmed by his acceptance of her just as she was. Leanne grew up in a strict, insular community defined by what it eschewed. Cindy's association of faith with eternal punishment primed her to embrace the primacy Judaism places on doing things right in this life. Soso might be more inclined than others are to despair, given that her mother told her when she was very young that there was no heaven or hell. (That Healy is such a horrible counselor doesn't help.)
Messiah Norma might just be Season 3's answer to Season 1's chicken -- the thing everyone wants to believe in, because the alternative is to believe that life is a literally inescapable figurative hellscape. So it's fitting that they share the gift of perceiving fence faults.
For all the inmates who race after Norma to climb into the water (or, in Cindy's case, the mikvah), the excitement and joy obviously can't last. But any break in routine is obviously welcome for a prison inmate and this is obviously the biggest break we've seen the inmates of Litchfield get yet. The carnivalesque circumstances are perfect for setting right relationships that have gone awry: Suzanne and Kukudio; Daya and Aleida; Norma and Red. If Sophia hadn't been sent to
the SHU Protective Custody, they might have mended their rift here too. Some might say the scene goes on a little long, but I was crying happy tears, so obviously I am not among them.
Stella may have taken Piper's post-prison nest egg, but she's given her some things, too. Piper gets the opportunity to demonstrate her power publicly, of course, by planting all the contraband she's ever handled in Stella's bunk and getting her sent to Max. But Stella also gives her not just a white-on-white ink reminder that Piper should Trust No Bitch, but an...extremely literal lesson as to why this is excellent advice. It's the lesson everyone's had to keep learning all season: Nicky shouldn't have trusted Luschek; Pornstache Mater shouldn't have trusted Aleida; Caputo shouldn't have trusted Danny, but then again, Sophia shouldn't have trusted Caputo, and neither should any of the COs. Our last few shots show us that Caputo shouldn't have trusted anyone at MMC -- a lesson that, by now, he'd learned, raise and promotion or no -- as busfuls of new inmates arrive to climb into the new bunk beds. Bad news for everyone who didn't want their already limited living space reduced by half. Good news for an entrepreneur whose biggest problem facing her sour panty business was inventory.