TV REVIEW: ‘Orange is the New Black’ – Season 5

With a full blown prison riot, the inmates of Litchfield find themselves in a dangerous situation as they seek justice for their fallen friend

| June 15, 2017

Spoiler Warning for Season 5 of “Orange is the New Black,” as well as all previous seasons.

Jessica Pimentel as Maria Ruiz and Dascha Polanco as Daya Diaz. (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Television/Netflix)

Cliffhangers are nothing new to television, but the ending of Season 4 hit viewers with a game-changing one on the heels of multiple plot twists. Simply put, this cliffhanger and series of plot twists was a catalyst for “Orange is the New Black” to enter a whole new era. Season 5 is a completely different animal, but still manages to balance the humor and drama perfectly while telling a gripping story about the quest for justice. With a full scale prison riot, the ladies of Litchfield must do what it takes to stay alive and make their quality of life better.

A year ago, viewers were punched in the gut with the heartbreaking death of Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) at the hands of CO Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) during a peaceful protest. This set of a chain of events that culminated in Daya (Dascha Polanco) holding CO Humps (Michael Torpey) at gunpoint as her fellow prisoners watched on. Did she pull the trigger? Season 5 picks up exactly where the story left off and that question is answered immediately as Daya shoots Humps in the leg, prompting the inmates to lock down the prison and take control of everything. Litchfield has seen its fair share of chaotic situations, but this takes the cake; there is essentially anarchy as the prisoners have free reign to do as they please. The shooting of Humps really isn’t the main plot of the season, but rather the jumping point for all of the characters’ storylines. Daya struggles severely after realizing what she has done, but she ultimately becomes an annoyance as the season progresses, mostly because of her being irritated by the riot and her apathy of everyone else’s issues; still, her situation is saddening, especially the subplot with her newborn daughter. Outside of Litchfield, Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) gains information about the riot and Daya’s role all the while giving hilarious profanity-laced interviews on the news.

Season 3 takes place over the course of 72 hours, creating a packed 13 episodes that do a great job at providing strong stories for each of the characters. “OITNB” may have started out as Piper’s (Taylor Schilling) story, but has since evolved into an ensemble that allows for each character to have their moment in the spotlight. Piper is still present though as she and Alex (Laura Prepon) disagree on their involvement in the riot; Piper wants to be more involved in the justice side of the riot, but Alex wishes to stand on the sidelines and wait for it to be over. I’ve never been a fan of Alex, but it is interesting to see this divide, one that is especially relevant in today’s political climate. There are also significant developments in their relationship as Piper wishes to settle down with Alex, a sign of her excellent progression as a character. This season also features relationship drama between Nicky (Nastasha Lyonne) and Lorna (Yael Stone), with both clearly having feelings for each other, but struggling to commit; Nicky’s addiction and Lorna’s mental illness play into their dilemma. Lorna and Nicky decide to put themselves in charge of the medication, allowing for some enjoyable bits of humor, but also some strong messages about mental health and the pharmaceutical industry.

Yael Stone as Lorna Morello, Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Nichols and Vicky Jeudy as Janae Watson. (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Television/Netflix)

It wouldn’t be “Orange is the New Black” without a little Red (Kate Mulgrew). This season finds her scouring the prison for information about the despicable Piscatella (Brad William Henke); with the help of Blanca (Laura Gómez) and some vitamins AKA speed, Red finds embarrassing photos of Piscatella, but also some disturbing information about his time as a guard at a men’s prison. Through flashbacks, viewers finds out that Piscatella murdered a prisoner before being transferred to Litchfield. Kate Mulgrew and Laura Gómez have impeccable on-screen chemistry and their characters working together is a surprising highlight of the season. Also up to some antics is the all-star team of Flaritza AKA Flaca (Jackie Cruz) and Maritza (Diane Guerrero), who have used their newfound freedom and an iPhone to document their daily lives via vlogging, effectively becoming overnight YouTube sensations; these two characters have always been more on the humor side and that is especially true this season as they worry more about their makeup tutorials than the dangers of the riot. Still, Flaritza is an inseparable team (at least until they’re separated in the finale) and their conversations are some of the most entertaining.

This season doesn’t just stick to lighthearted material and Taystee’s (Danielle Brooks) quest to secure justice for Poussey Washington (say her name and say it again) is absolutely powerful. She isn’t in this alone, however, as Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), Janae (Vicky Jeudy) and Alison (Amanda Stephen) work hard to compile a list of demands and conduct negotiations to assure that life in the prison doesn’t return to the hellish state that it was in, which allowed for Poussey to be killed. Their demands include better healthcare, more work opportunities, well-trained guards and of course, hot Cheetos…and Takis. Seeing this group of women working together to build a better life for themselves is inspirational and serves as a testament to their strength as characters; not only do they provide support by defending each other, they are there for each other emotionally, forming a strong and impenetrable family bond. There is terrific humor in this storyline, but it is also the most serious with Taystee pushing everyone to stay on track and never forget that they are fighting in Poussey’s memory. Make no mistake, this is the season of Taystee, without a doubt; Danielle Brooks delivers her best performances this season (specifically in Episode 5 “Sing it, White Effie” and the finale “Storm-y Weather”) and the Emmys would be absolutely ridiculous to overlook her next year.

Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman, Danielle Brooks as Taystee Jefferson, Vicky Jeudy as Janae Watson, Adrienne C. Moore as Black Cindy and Amanda Stephen as Alison Abdulla. (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Television/Netflix)

There are plenty of other emotional storylines this season, but two stand out as being especially moving as they deal with parents being in prison and away from their children. The first is that of Maria (Jessica Pimentel), who is initially a proud supporter of the riot, even assisting in the capture and humiliation of the hostages; as the season progresses, Maria realizes that if she ever wishes to get out of prison and be with her daughter, she may have to step back and let the others handle things. She has always been one tough character, so it is incredibly refreshing to peel back the layers and see a more human side of her as she makes decisions that will affect her future. Maria finds herself connecting with Gloria, who is the other prisoner that is forced to be away from her children during this difficult time. A few episodes into the season, Gloria finds out that her son Benito (Tyler Alvarez) is in a coma after being beaten up; Gloria struggles to figure out a way to be with her son and ultimately makes a deal to release the hostages in exchange for furlough. Obviously nothing ever goes as planned and Gloria must face fellow inmates Ouija (Rosal Colón) and Pidge (Miriam Morales), who have sworn their lives to guarding the hostages, going so far as to snort coffee to stay awake; that is some crazy dedication.

As for the other inmates, Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) goes on trial after shooting off Leanne’s (Emma Myles) finger, with Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) defending her in Litchfield’s version of “Law and Order.” Speaking of Leanne, her and Angie (Julie Lake) are the two worst characters in the series and this season proves it as they are given more screentime than ever to be painfully stupid, aside from their random change of heart in the finale. As for Boo, she is slowly forming a romance with MCC’s Linda (Beth Dover), who finds herself trapped in the prison riot and forced to live under the alias “Amelia Von Barlow.” This is another hilarious storyline as it isn’t completely clear how Linda is feeling about being trapped, but it almost seems like she is enjoying her time. Another standout character this season is Frieda (Dale Soules), who’s survivalist background comes in handy as it is revealed that she has a secret bunker in a closed off section of the prison. After inviting Gloria, Norma (Annie Golden), Gina (Abigail Savage), Anita (Lin Tucci) and Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman) to hide out with her, hilarity ensues as the group of women get high, feast and have meaningful discussions away from the stresses of the riot.

Jackie Cruz as Flaca and Dianne Guerrero as Maritza. (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Television/Netflix)

I just have to talk about the Season Finale, because it is truly a masterpiece and it affected me in more ways that I anticipated. Not only is it my favorite finale of the series, but it is one of my all-time favorite episodes. The riot comes to an action-packed end as a SWAT team enters Litchfield and rounds up the prisoners using any means necessary; they are violent, rude and have little regard for the safety and emotional well-being of the inmates. The dead body of Humps is discovered, the beautiful book memorial for Poussey is destroyed and the majority of the prisoners are dragged outside and are left wondering about their future. In the bunker, Black Cindy, Taystee and Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) have a powerful heart-to-heart before joining the others in the pool area. Taystee is angered when she spots Piscatella being held prisoner and immediately grabs Frieda’s gun before holding him at gunpoint and blaming him for the death of Poussey; she realizes that Bayley won’t be prosecuted and she can’t do anything about that, but she has Piscatella right in her sights. She ultimately drops the gun and breaks down as Black Cindy comforts her, with Red choosing to release Piscatella in an act of humanity. The SWAT team has cleared out the building and is now headed straight for the bunker, ready to use deadly force if necessary; in a poetic bit of irony, Piscatella is shot in the head by an untrained officer just as Poussey was killed by an untrained guard. In the pool, Frieda, Suzanne, Black Cindy, Taystee, Red, Piper, Alex, Nicky, Gloria and Blanca join hands and await their capture or death as the screen turns orange; after all the division and conflict, these ten women have kept their dignity and joined together to face their future. Yes, the season does end on a cliffhanger and it is absolutely possible that someone will die…but we have a year to worry about that; the use of The Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build a Home” adds to the emotion of this final scene as fear, hope and sadness are present on the faces of each character.

“Orange is the New Black” has been consistent in quality throughout its seasons, but the latest batch of episodes places the series in new territory. With no rules, the characters and story go to wild and ridiculous places while still remaining grounded in reality with its tales of friendship, struggle, adversity and humanity. The death of Poussey was a necessary jumping point for the series to reach new heights and make bold statements. The acting this season is spectacular with Danielle Brooks and Uzo Aduba delivering some of the best performances on television. Balancing humor and drama isn’t always easy, but this season nails it and may just be the darkest, yet most lighthearted run yet. It isn’t clear where the series will go next, but I am eagerly anticipating the next season to see what happens after this crazy riot. Will everyone be separated? Did the inmates have any effect on the prison system?

Season 6 of “Orange is the New Black” will air some time in 2018, but until then, all five seasons are currently available to stream on Netflix.

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Television

Jeffrey Kopp is the Arts & Entertainment Editor of the Niner Times. He is a sophomore double majoring in Communication and Political Science, with a minor in Criminal Justice. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead.”

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Jeffrey Kopp is the Arts & Entertainment Editor of the Niner Times. He is a sophomore double majoring in Communication and Political Science, with a minor in Criminal Justice. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead.”

Twitter