With Jenji Kohan's shows Weeds and to an extent her next one in Orange is the New Black, there tends to be a certain malaise in either the characters or story that is palpable when you view some of the seasons more than other shows for some reason. It's a weird quirk to be sure, but coming into the fourth season I didn't know what to expect, but there were some curveballs thrown the way.
If you'd like to be brought up to speed on the synopsis we've got you covered with reviews of the first and the second seasons. Season Four finds the inmates and correctional staff of Litchfield Penitentiary with a new Correctional Officer who is a disciplinarian. Combined with the integration of new inmates to the prison, some factions or pockets of inmates are even more pronounced. Judy King (Blair Brown, Fringe) comes into the Litchfield fold full-time, joined albeit quietly by Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman, who looks like a doppleganger for Edie Falco if I've ever seen one).
There are some changes to the core cast that have an irrevocable nature to them. Sure, familiar faces like Piper (Taylor Schilling, The Lucky One), Alex (Laura Prepon, The Girl on the Train) and Red (Kate Mulgrew, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins) are still around, but some of the longer term characters have some interesting changes to them as well, some melancholy, others more or less so. In fact, the aforementioned are generally and largely background to the storylines going on in Season Four.
And what are those? Well, some tend to touch on current events like law enforcement violence and violence towards people of color. There are some stories that lean more towards the romantic like the one with Poussey and Brook (Samira Wiley and her Nerve co-star Kimiko Glenn) Others are more haunted, like the one Alex has to deal with.
There isn't anything that stands out in terms of a mindblowing performance, though perhaps Lori Petty (Tank Girl) comes close with her juggling of present day and flashback Lolly in one episode as we see what made Lolly..Lolly. And the core cast continues to put in solid work in different, even darker directions. And when the show ends its fourth season (five has long since been out on Netflix), one can't help but wonder how much further down the hole these characters went before coming out the other side.
To be clear, there are moments in Orange is the New Black that touch on past moments or essence, but this new perhaps more cynical and cold tone, delivered quietly but effectively, certainly holds for promise in the lore of Kohan-created works. I certainly wanted to see more coming out of this experience than I was curious about going into it.The Blu-rays:
Thirteen episodes of the show are spread over three discs and presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with the AVC codec. I don't rewatch shows on physical media from a streaming service for whatever reason but the presentation of the show was pretty good. Color reproduction was accurate and in some episodes (note a hitchhiking biker in the midst of some faux Tibetan monks), the darkness contrast against the yellows of the robes and flashing bike light rims nicely. There is a moment or two of inconsistency or image noise but nothing I was notably frustrated by. Considering original presentation, I quite liked this.The Sound:
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround which sounds more dynamic than I expected. You get numerous prison skirmishes that have quality channel panning and directional effects in them, and the music at the beginning and end of each episode sounds as clear as can be. Dialogue is also consistent and doesn't necessitate much adjusting, and the source material sounds just as good on disc as it does in a home theater setup.Extras:
Commentaries on the seventh, twelfth and thirteenth episodes, generally with the show's writer or director, and a featured performer of same. The tracks are fairly dull, and definitely could have improved with a group track or two, but I get the reticence. A tour of the set (9:59) follows, with introductions, some memorable moments in a particular place, etc. A gag reel (2:03) is included but disappoints.Final Thoughts:
Orange is the New Black gives you laughs, some tears, but makes you straighten up in your chair a little more as a viewer than past seasons did, which was a welcome change of pace for this viewer and perhaps most of the ensemble. Technically it's a nice package, despite the general humdrum nature of the bonus material. And if you're in on the show after three seasons, why stop now?