*Warning Slight Spoilers*
I felt fairly neutral about the season three finale of Orange Is The New Black so did not have high expectations for season four but, I have to say, it blew me away!
Right from the start the focal point became about racial difference, something that up til now, has been more of a sidenote treated in the same way you would a racist uncle at a family gathering. He's acknowledged, but his prejudice is always kept as a periphery issue to the more important task of entertaining everyone. But this season Racist Uncle got told. There was a resounding acknowledgement this season that people of another colour are not the actual enemy- injustice is.
This is solidified in the season's emotional yet perfectly handled finale death, highlighting the very relevant #blacklivesmatter campaign.
Similarly, the issue of Doggett's rape, which critics felt was handled with far too much humour last season, is addressed again. The complicated emotions of someone trying to guide themselves back to some form of normality is well played and Doggett's tearful discussion on the difference of pain and suffering is heart-wrenching.
I also think viewers would have appreciated the subtle nods to some of the other well-known TV shows such as Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and the 'meth heads' are even shown discussing Breaking Bad! It seemed like the producers really had their ears to the ground when writing this season and it so paid off.
I may be biased but the inclusion of a hijabi, on one of the most inclusive shows on television, is a win whether you like the show or not. Watching the new inmate, Alison Abdullah, I could for the first time totally immerse myself in the Litchfield experience. I found myself thinking about how I would act in her situation. Even more so because her character was entirely down-to-earth and believable. She wasn't shown to be a zealot constantly praying or sharing words of wisdom with her fellow inmates. She read books not exclusively about Islam and even participated in a money-making scheme some of the other African-American inmates organised. She. Is. Normal. And I can't tell you how awesome it is to see a 'normal' Muslim on TV.
I've seen a few complaints about the fact that she doesn't seem to be that practising of her faith but, guess what, she's in prison... she can't have been that much of a 'good Muslim girl' to be in there now could she?! To be fair a lot of the women seem to find themselves at Litchfield as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time but I don't remember one character wholeheartedly believing they were 100% innocent- so why should her story be any different?
And if you dare mention the 'T' word, I'm facepalming for you right now.
The mock Palestine-Israel mediation scene between Alison and Cindy/Tova was genius and just summarised for me how well the entire season managed to explore really serious issues without making us viewers want to slit our wrists because of how crap the world is right now.
My favourite Alison moment is right at the end when we finally get a glimpse of her hair. And what a beautiful shocker it is! *Spoiler Alert* - it's bright red! This was when I mentally fist-bumped until my metaphorical arm fell off and I think to get exactly why you have to be a hijabi yourself having experienced the same assumptions that we make about Alison while watching. Her red hair symbolised, for me, the fact that we hijabis are independent, empowered women with our own minds and style and we don't give a tiny rat's behind what anyone else thinks.
I really felt the producers had taken the time to speak to hijabis IRL to get this character as balanced and relatable as she is and I cannot wait to see what season five has in store for our new sister.
Don't get me wrong, Alison is not really what you would call a role model for Muslim women but then again why does every hijabi in the public eye have to be? The inclusion of hijabi characters in mainstream entertainment is a step up from invisibility and, for now, I'll take it!