Female Friendship Is What “Orange Is The New Black” Does Best

I thought I was finished with “Orange is the New Black” forever.

Our first big fight happened over the violent beating of Pennsatucky by Piper in the season one finale. By the time season two was available on Netflix, I was ready to work it out — but when Vee used Suzanne to beat the hell out of Poussey, I just couldn’t take it anymore. All the gratuitous tit shots, the lesbian male-gaze supportive sex and then all this damn violence. I was over watching women operate using the same systems employed by the patriarchy.

But, it was clear from the start that season three was going to be the season of besties. Finally! There is nothing I love more than a good ol’ friendship story among ladies and season three did not disappoint.

From the jovial opening scene of Pennsatucky driving with Bell and Maxwell, the two female guards, to the final rush of freedom among the entire group, season three covers a lot of emotional territory, most of it compelled by the unique friendships the women have forged with one another. There is a fragility and vulnerability that informs the way the characters interact with one another and it’s the tenderness, and not the ways the reproduce traditional masculine power dynamic, that make their connections all the more powerful. It’s also why I cried at least once in every episode. NOT MAD ABOUT IT.

This season won me back by focusing on friendship and revealing one myth-busting example after another illustrating the way these women rely on each other for support, compassion, intimacy and safety.

Taystee & Poussey

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I was not looking forward to returning to finish season two before venturing into season three. The entire series almost lost me when Vee came on the scene — but when she enacted that vengeful and horrifying violence in the shower, I was destroyed. Like screaming at the screen, slamming my computer shut, lying on my bed shaking with sobs. I was utterly heartbroken that we had lost Taystee to Vee and now she had silently stood by as her best friend was nearly beaten to death. Taystee and Poussey have the most fun and joyous of the friendships seen throughout the series and I hated that a mean girl, bully bitch came in and fucked all that up. But, THEY’RE BACK!

Proving they are the two most authentic BFF’s on the show, they are back to their goofy antics like using their Mackenzie and Amanda alter egos to snark on the politics of white culture. I laugh cried when they held a funeral for the burned books of the library — a silly yet poignant testament to their shared love of reading and the very sad reality of the library’s demise. It all felt so refreshingly real and unapologetically “girly.”

Please let them have a spin off.

Boo & Pennsatucky

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You don’t have to like Pennsatucky to be compassionate about where season three takes her. It begins in the first episode when Boo stumbles upon her during a Mother’s Day funeral ritual for the multiple fetuses she’d aborted. The banter between them, usually fueled by mutual dislike and sarcasm, softens and this shift continues throughout the rest of the episodes as their friendship blossoms.

Boo becomes a protector of Pennsatucky starting with the simple act of convincing her to brush her teeth and later in the season when a guard rapes Pennsatucky, it is Boo who pushes her to acknowledge it. It’s during this process that we see a raw and broken Pennsatucky, one who is not motivated by anger. “I don’t have rage. I’m just sad,” she admits when Boo presents her with an opportunity for revenge. YES. THANK YOU, JENJI KOHAN. Thank you for forgoing the revenge fantasy and instead providing Pennsatucky what she really needed. A friend.

(And thank you Taryn Manning for continuing to bring humanity to someone who was once the most loathsome characters in the series.)

Gloria & Sophia

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This storyline is probably to most evocative of real life exchanges among two women: two mothers, initially brought together over their mutual frustration with being absent to the lives of their adolescent sons.

The camaraderie doesn’t last long, however and it wasn’t until it began to break down that I realized how much I wanted to see this friendship become a real thing. When Sophia, face bruised and bloodied, stood in front of Gloria and silently held her gaze it was one of the most agonizing moments of loss.

The audience hardly ever sees Sophia outside of her salon and her marginalization really sunk in for me this season. Who does she bunk with? Who does she eat lunch with? She ends up in SHU for her own protection. And why? Because some mean girl (MEAN GIRL #1, Aleida) started spreading rumors about her. Rumors that Gloria knew were being spread and didn’t do anything to stop it. Rumors that convinced three women to attack Sophia so violently that it was decided she was sent to isolation for her protection. And that’s where she was when the season ended.

Though Sister Ingall and Taystee both admit to guilt about not standing up for Sophia it is Gloria’s voice, to her clique specifically, that will bear the most weight. I hope the writers develop this arc’s potential for offering insight into the viciousness of girl on girl aggression and transphobia.