THE SERIES "Orange Is the New Black"

WHEN | WHERE Season 3 starts streaming Friday on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT With Natalie "Fig" Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) gone, Caputo (Nick Sandow) steps in as the gentler, kinder -- but still creepy and perverted -- warden of the Litchfield Penitentiary, the all-female correctional Federal prison. Yvonne "Vee" Parker (Lorraine Toussaint) was hit by the van Rosa (Stephanie Andujar) was driving. While Galina "Red" Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew) is on the mend. Savagely beaten last season, she has healed. Meanwhile, look who's back after her brief stay in Queens? Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). Recall that her parole officer, Davy Crockett -- his real name, to Alex's amusement -- caught her with a loaded gun. The third season opens with a Mother's Day episode.

MY SAY Should anyone be too surprised by the news here that nothing much has changed at Litchfield -- that fictional upstate redoubt of recidivism where the term "correctional" is only an ideal and a remote one at that? It's still raw and brutal, still funny, still sad, although maybe just a little bit kinder.

No one seems to be in a big hurry to get out. And while "Vee" staged that seemingly successful escape -- last seen scrambling through the woods, her hair a bird's nest of twigs and mud, just before the van incident -- no one else is rushing after her. That might seem like a paradox for prison inmates, not so much for a Netflix hit. Stability in fact is the secret to the stunning success of "OITNB:" A great ensemble cast and characters who grow in complexity, and humanity, episode by episode.

If you didn't know them after the second season, you will get to know them well in the third: Standouts Selenis Leyva (who plays Gloria Mendoza), Adrienne Moore (Cindy "Black Cindy" Hayes), Dascha Polanco (Dayanara "Daya" Diaz), Sandow, Yael Stone (Lorna Morello) and Samira Wiley (Poussey Washington) have all graduated from "supporting" status to main roles this season.

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At least one welcome outcome of these newly prominent roles will be to push the played-out Piper/Alex story into the background. The third season also promises to explore the back stories of the really interesting oddballs here -- like Doggett (Taryn Manning), Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) and of course Warren (Uzo Aduba). It's too bad Toussaint -- a genuine second season winner -- is gone, but like all Litchfield recidivists, she will definitely be back eventually, too.