Orange is the New Black: Season 6
I’m late to write this but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
To be honest, the reason why it took me so long to start season six in the first place is because the previous one was so lacking. Season five had its highlights (any scene with the brilliant Uzo Aduba) but the overall pace was slow and the plot was thin. Despite all the opportunity for entertaining storytelling, the overarching plot line of “Justice for Poussey” was weak and didn’t become a sustainable source of captivation until over halfway through. Because of this, I wasn’t exactly eager to watch the new season. I put it off for a month. Sorry not sorry.
When I finally did start watching it, the first episode was really good. The second episode was less good. I was suddenly worried I’d be falling into the same lackluster trap I’d endured last season, and abandoned watching for another two weeks. However, when I finally did pick the new season back up, I was mostly pleased.
Big Bad Women are no new image to Orange is the New Black. Red was the OG Big Bad Woman with her infamous tampon sandwich. From there, we’ve seen numerous other scary women come and go — remember V, and how she had her own son murdered but not before she seduced him? Technically, he was “adopted,” but it was still fucking gross. — Big Bad Women are to be expected in a show about a women’s prison, but this season featured two, and they were inciting a violent turf war, also, they were sisters. It was just dirty and complex enough to keep the season going.
When the season starts, we see that everyone has been moved to Litchfield’s maximum security prison. I would like to say that if there is any truth to this season about the state of security in real life maximum security prisons, then those places are about as secure as a swipe-to-unlock phone. The amount of drugs, weapons, and semen that was exchanged during this season was RIDICULOUS. I’m used to security being loose in the previous seasons, but I thought this was Max?!
As the episode(s) goes on, we learn that Suzanne’s mental health is severely failing due to her lack of routine and medication; Frieda has tried to kill herself in an effort to get away from Big Bad Woman #1, Carol; Daya is getting her ass beat by the guards and so is Taystee; and Piper thinks that Alex is dead. The ladies of Litchfield are suffering and loyalties are tested as women turn against each other when being interview on who started the riot.
As the season progresses, we witness a number of highs and lows: we watch Suzanne muster the strength necessary to get herself the help she needs but we also watch Daya become addicted to heroin. We watch Caputo finally find his voice (both in love and justice) but we also watch Taystee get pinned for a murder she didn’t commit. We’re constantly being pulled during this season, cheering on our incarcerated champions, but also writhing as we watch them succumb to their human failings and the failings of the system.
Things that really shook me this season: Lorna’s actually pregnant. Maybe I’m rude, but we all know that Lorna tends to have… delusions. So, when she first revealed she was pregnant, I rolled my eyes and waited for the reveal that she’s been faking it (I was also down for a good hysterical pregnancy plot twist). But it never came! She really was pregnant — now my concern is “will the baby survive?” The season ended with Lorna in a high stress situation which seemed to trigger some sort of reaction in her womb. Our final look at her is her being helped down a hall while she screams in pain and blood stains her crotch. Lorna is seven months pregnant, so there is a chance that this just might be the baby coming early. Fingers crossed, y’all. Because if Lorna miscarries, it’s going to destroy her as a human being, and I don’t think I can bare to watch her suffer like that.
Another moment (or whole character arc) that left me shook: Blanca. It seems like every season, the writers of OITNB pick a character to really shine a spotlight on and let us get to know more intimately. Last season it was Pennsatucky (officially rebranded as Doggett), this season it was Blanca. Though I still would have loved to learn even more about her, we got a pretty close look into her mind and motivations. We watched her love with Diablo stay strong, and when it was revealed she was going through early onset menopause, we all prayed with her that she would get pregnant. I was already in love with her, but this new season officially cemented her in my top five. She’s bad ass and she’s bae. So, that’s why I was so S H O O K when it was revealed she was not getting the happy ending she fucking deserves but was instead being loaded onto a bus waiting to take her to an Immigration Detention Center.
Side note: How fucking stupid is Linda Ferguson? When rebranding your prison to make it look less abusive and morally corrupt, how the fuck do you think adding an immigration detention aspect is going to help?
When I tell you that my jaw dropped when I saw the screen fill with ICE officers, I mean it literally dropped. The writers of OITNB did an excellent job of pulling the rug out from under us. When Blanca is telling Piper that whatever they’re in line for is destined to be bad for her, we all think we’re partaking in a delicious slice of dramatic irony. Oh, no, Blanca. We think. You’re in for the best news of your life. Little did we (viewers and Blanca included) know that that was not the case, and the true irony is that Blanca was right all along. OITNB tries to do its part in staying relevant with what’s going on in the real world, and they hit it on the head by adding an immigration component to the plot. I just wish they didn’t have to do it to one of my faves.
Speaking of devastating things happening to my faves: Taystee is pronounced guilty for killing Piscatella. I can’t say I’m surprised — this is the show that had the courage to brutally kill off Poussey and make us watch almost all of the murder unfold — but I was still hurt. In a world where I am reminded every single day of the injustices constantly being done unto Black people, it would be nice if our media could sometimes be a beacon of hope instead of a bleak reflection of the actual world we live in.
There are a lot of things to be said about this season. Like its predecessor, it made sharp statements about our justice system and all the way it fails those it’s supposed to help. From Taystee’s trial to the guards’ sick games of Fantasy Inmate, it does well at illustrating the many different ways the system can — and does — fail. In addition, it continued its longtime theme of reminding us of all the privilege afforded white women, even within the prison system. But despite all the tragedy and injustice that happened, it also left us with the idea that humans just might be ultimately good after all.
Earlier in the season, Ruiz wrestles with the concept of being a good person and a guard responds with a story of when he once intentionally injured a bird, then was forced to nurse it back to health. The story is supposed to serve as an example of how there is no such thing as “good” and “bad” people. We all have the freewill to choose what’s wrong and right — you’re a good person because you choose to be, not because you’re hardwired in a certain direction. Fast forward to the season finale: the “warriors” of C and D block have assembled outside for a kickball tournament. Both sides have been instructed to incite a bloodbath. Before the game begins, Daya throws a rock at what appears to be a crow and injures it. When Ruiz goes to help it, it gets up and flies away. This is symbolism in itself. Crows are a sign of death and this kickball field is supposed to turn into a war zone. The crow flying away is foreshadowing that there will be no bloodshed on this field today. Ruiz intervenes and manages to get the kickball teams rearranged so that C and D block residents have to play together. At the moment when the battle is supposed to erupt, the women choose to pocket their shivs and just enjoy playing kickball in the sunlight. Things are not perfect and we can’t say if this turf war is over, but we’re left with the reminder that despite all they’ve endured, these women are still human, and humans just might be good after all.
As much as I’ve enjoyed this five year journey, I hope they end OITNB soon. It’s been a great ride, but it’s time to dismount. If they want to end the series artistry intact, they’ll wrap up as many ends as possible in the seventh season and let the series end with its dignity. If they want to end the series on a money grab, they could easily make a spinoff featuring life in the new PolyCon immigration detention centers. Only time will tell which direction they choose to go in, but either way, I’ll be watching.