Finally, we can get back to prison! Our new sentence at Litchfield kicked off with a gruesome bang in the season 4 premiere of Orange Is the New Black, full of strict new guards, an overcrowded new cast, and a graphic murder.
The episode kicks off where season 3 ended — all of the inmates are enjoying their brief moment of freedom by frolicking in the nearby lake. All of them, that is, except for Alex, who we see getting strangled in the shed by the hitman that her murderous ex-boss Kubra Balik sent to kill her. Psychotic conspiracy theorist Lolly (who bonded with Alex after the latter lied to say she was a federal agent working an inside job at Litchfield) happens upon the strangulation and attacks the hitman, brutally stomping on his throat until he loses consciousness, then she nonchalantly asks Alex if she’d like to go to the lake as if nothing happened. Now, Alex and Lolly are in cahoots to hide this body and convince Kubra that Alex is dead.
Also not at the lake is Piper, who is so high on power after framing ex-lover Stella and sending her to max in the season 3 finale that she thinks she’s running the prison now. “I’m a gangsta, with an ‘A’ at the end,” she says, laughably convinced that’s a suitable phrase for a “gangsta” to say. Also delusional are (newly appointed warden) Caputo’s prison guards, who childishly squeeze into their riot gear to try to get the prisoner’s back inside, only to be intercepted by a team of clearly much more qualified guards brought over from maximum security.
Surprisingly not delusional is Suzanne. When her new love interest Maureen convinces her to escape into the woods rather than return to prison, Suzanne hesitantly follows, only to be met with the crushing fact that she might have run off with the one person more divorced from reality than herself. When Maureen announces an abandoned shed they happen upon is made of gingerbread, Suzanne plays along by licking it, but when Suzanne breaks from the fairy tale story in search of water, Maureen can’t let go. It seems clear that Maureen is attracted to Suzanne as a fount of outlandish creativity, helping her escape a reality she seems to refuse to come to terms with. When Suzanne realizes this, she runs screaming back to prison, telling the guards that find her “She wanted a fairy tale. I didn’t; I wanted dinner.” Same, Suzanne.
But Suzanne might not have been so eager to get back in Litchfield if she knew about the overcrowded and strict new living conditions. Somewhere around 200 (Caputo’s chronically incompetent guards can’t get an exact count) inmates are now calling Litchfield home, along with an intimidating crop of no-nonsense new guards that would even make Pornstache seem tame in comparison. The new guards are led by a burly man named Dezi Piscatella, who develops a rivalry with Red right off the bat by messing with her kitchen schedule. Word to the wise — don’t get between Red and her kitchen.
Martha Stewart Judy King[pagebreak]
In the midst of this cafeteria scene, we get to check back in on the developments and loose ends from season 3: Morello got married, Pennsatucky is uneasy near C.O. Coates after he sexually assaulted her (and Big Boo offers her silent support), and Poussey has welcomed Soso into her group of friends (although Black Cindy and Janae seem to have issues with her). And finally, we re-meet what will likely become the most important new face of season 4 — the very clearly Martha Stewart-inspired cooking personality-turned-inmate Judy King (played by Blair Brown). With a frazzled Caputo unable to keep tabs on his bursting-at-the-seams prison, Luschek takes it upon himself to keep King company, and the pair hit it off fast. When Caputo finally does get around to dealing with King, we find out that he’s given her an air mattress in Healy’s office rather than assigning her a cell, to keep her happy.
Judy King may be getting the royal treatment, but Piper isn’t being treated like the “gangsta” queen that she thought she would be after her stunt with Stella. Her tough girl act isn’t really working on anyone — when she tries to intimidate her new bunkmate into taking the top bunk, she’s undercut by her saying she has bad knees, and Red stepping in. To make her even sadder, she finds out her infinity tattoo is infected. Oh, Piper… But our de facto protagonist does get some redemption before the episode ends. It turns out Flaca has told a group of badass new inmates (the leader of which boasts about having killed three fellow prisoners) that Piper runs things at Litchfield, and they pay some respects to her in the cafeteria. It’s unclear whether the dangerous new group of women want to join up with Piper or take her down, but for now, Piper is just happy someone is taking her seriously as a threat.
And finally, we come to the corpse that Alex and Lolly left in the shed. Well, turns out it’s not actually a corpse, which Alex discovers when she goes to check on the fallen hitman in the middle of the night. Apparently, Lolly’s throat stomping brutally injured the man, but didn’t kill him, and Alex is left to suffocate him, fighting back tears as she quietly takes his life. In the morning, Alex and Lolly go back to the shed to find that Frieda (the gruff old inmate who works in the shed) has already discovered the body and offers to help them dispose of it out of boredom. What follows is an incredibly gory scene, in which we see the three women dismembering the corpse with garden shears as blood spurts everywhere. The episode ends with Alex and Lolly burying the body parts in the sunflower garden as Frieda looks on, and the scene fades into the credits as the sunny, crass Folk Uke song “Motherf—er Got F—ed Up” bops along.
Overall, the premiere seems to foreshadow one of the darkest seasons of the show, which is saying something for a series that’s gone very dark in the past. The influx of unrepentently power-mad new guards and that grisly murder and dismemberment story certainly don’t bring in the chuckles for a show that is still technically labeled a “comedy/drama.” In fact, the only real bit of lightness came from Piper’s delusions of thugdom, which it seems will become less funny and more dangerous sooner rather than later. The dark premiere could also owe something to the relative absence of more amiable favorites like Taystee and Big Boo — we’ll probably get a bit more laughs in upcoming episodes. But for now, Litchfield feels scarier and darker than ever.