The ladies of Litchfield prison are back for Orange Is the New Black's darkest — and possibly best — season yet.
With all 13 episodes of season four dropping on Friday, Netflix has sentenced many fans to a summer weekend spent indoors binge-watching the latest shenanigans, affairs and — in season four's case — atrocities happening inside the TV prison's walls.
Orange Is the New Black fans are of a highly consuming breed: More than half of all OITNB watchers have re-watched at least one full season since it launched, according to a new Netflix study shared with The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday. The streamer even polled 1,613 fans prepping for the new season and found that 41 percent planned to re-watch all three previous seasons in June.
While the data speaks for itself, reviews for the critically acclaimed series have also promised fans quite possibly the most addictive season yet. THR's chief TV critic Tim Goodman said the season could enter OITNB "into that rarefied realm of top-five best series discussions."
The Hollywood Reporter has seen all 13 episodes (full disclosure: in two days) and, without spoiling any specific plot points, can reveal that Jenji Kohan and her band of writers have created a provocative and timely season that will tackle many hot-button social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement. When levels of brutality and racial injustice boil over, it creates the series' most gut-wrenching ending yet.
In usual Orange fashion, the season starts with a bang and fills its first half of episodes with lighter viewing, while heavier plot points lurk in the background. But after episode six there's no stopping the momentum, and nothing will prepare for the final two.
Here is THR's expert guide on how to devour season four. (Note: The Rounds can be broken up by hours or days, but beware of season spoilers launching by Monday.)
Round One: Episodes 1, 2, 3
The first episode ties up the most burning questions leftover from season three into a neat little bow, that then threatens to unravel. After a premiere of twisted events, the following two episodes move on from season three and set up several new threads, further introducing new characters and giving the old ones some of the season's most enjoyable interactions. Since there's no such thing as watching one episode of Orange Is the New Black, lump these first three together and bask in the feeling of being reunited with old friends.
Round Two: Episodes 4, 5, 6
As the season continues along its journey, the middle episodes build on the new points of tension that will explode during the back half. Not only do these three contain some of the most comical moments (see also: outrageous scenes in episodes three, eight and 11), they also heavily foreshadow the darkness on the horizon for the overpopulated prison. A new relationship takes center stage and a broken one finds closure, while an oldie-but-goodie duo continues to heat up. Most exciting in this set of episodes are the status updates that finally come for some of the show's most-missed characters.
Round Three: Episodes 7-13 (*For the non-diehards, take a beat between episodes 9 and 10.)
Netflix kept the back-half of the season close to the chest and there's many reasons why: Each episode gets darker and darker, delivering back-to-back shockers to some of the biggest fan-favorites. Without identifying who, key inmates fall victim to Kohan's creative storytelling on some of the most timely of social issues — including culture wars and mental health, racial and transgender injustice — and become casualties of a deeply broken prison system.
Tensions truly start to bubble in episode 10, and the flashback fans have been waiting for arrives in 11. The penultimate episode, which by any other standards could have served as a season ender, delivers a blow that will rock the OITNB fanbase to its core. The finale guides fans through the necessary emotions, while setting up season five (which Kohan has already called "bananas") and delivering a momentous final moment.
Season four of Orange Is the New Black is streaming now on Netflix. For THR's complete OITNB coverage, including cast interviews, keep up with The Live Feed here.
Check out more from "Orange is the New Black" in the gallery below.
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