Orange is the New Black’s last season ended on quite the cliffhanger as the fate of the entire Litchfield prison was left up in the air. As trailers started to be released in the weeks leading to the season six premiere, we started to get some information on who would be returning. Would this season be as intense as last? It might be hard to top that atmosphere, even if the new setting is Litchfield Max.
The main story of season six revolves around the aftermath of the Litchfield Riot that sees the inmates from camp being sent to various facilities. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is sent to Litchfield Max down the road along with the other inmates suspected in the death of two COs during the riot. As MCC and the feds try to decide who to pin the riot and murders on, the Litchfield crew try to adapt to life at Max where Carol and Barbara Denning (Henny Russell and Mackenzie Phillips) run different cell blocks that are on the verge of a full-blown gang war.
Many found that season five was very controversial with its condensed timeline, pacing, how it left the characters, and the direction of the series. With the impending move of inmates to multiple facilities, it was evident that not every character would be returning. It appears the showrunners wanted to focus on a core group of characters while giving the series a soft reboot to force these prisoners into a completely new and even more dangerous situation.
The problem with that is while their intentions were justified, the delivery was less than successful. Many of the characters audiences have come to love were thrown into supporting roles. The season opts to follow three major storylines: the Governor and MCC’s joint conviction of inmates for the Litchfield Riots, including the deaths of COs Humphrey and Piscatella, the ongoing trial of Taystee and the decades-long gang war between C- and D-block. Let’s look at each individually, shall we?
We learn early on that the majority of the returning characters are part of the Pool 11 and that MCC is quickly trying to pin the Riot and CO deaths on 5 of them. This causes the company to pit these characters, who have seen each other as family, against one another for survival with some being more loyal than others. This is the primary storyline that focuses on the original characters and could have had a more impactful story throughout the season, but a lot of the emotional themes of revenge and betrayal are lost thanks to this storyline feeling like a placeholder between many scenes if anything.
Taystee’s trial is by far the most impactful and strongest aspect of this season as it plays into the serious themes of police brutality, the mistreatment of female inmates and white privilege that had arisen with the shocking death of Poussey in season 4. Not to mention it is also a great topical commentary that feels organic to the story without feeling the need to forcibly chime in on world events. This storyline is so intense and believable thanks to the phenomenal performance by Danielle Brooks who gets her time in the spotlight and absolutely owns it. With her garnering more screen time than a lot of the other older cast members, it would be shocking if she wasn’t at least nominated for an Emmy for this outstanding performance. However, just like the first storyline, Taystee’s trial receives less of a focus than it should as it appears the season wanted to be more of a soft reboot rather than a political-charged drama.
This brings us to the most prominent storyline of the season which centers around the ongoing war between Carol Denning’s C-Block and Barbara Denning’s D-Block. Both these maniacal sisters come across as acceptable villains, although by this point the audience has swayed its focus from prison adversaries to corporate ones. The problem that arises from this is that many of the changes the showrunners try to implement end up falling short and create a season of setup with not much payoff. Many of the returning characters get their five minutes each episode and not much of it is particularly entertaining, especially given that many of the comedic characters were lost in the transfer and there are no real replacements.
There are a few decent new characters, in particular Adeola (Sipiwe Moyo), Daddy (Vicci Martinez), the Dennings and COs Ginger (Shawna Hamic), Alvarez (Nicholas Webber), Hopper and Ward (Susan Heyward), but the negatives outweighs the positives. CO Hellman (Greg Vrotsos) is true to his name in being a shady, truly evil character. His treatment of the inmates was awful to watch and reminds me too much of the unqualified guards in previous seasons. But the worst character of not only this season, but of potentially the entire series is Madison ‘Badison’ Murphy (Amanda Fuller), a very mouthy prisoner with a thick Boston accent. Everything she did just made this season tedious to watch as her corny jokes and constant need to harass somebody made her even more annoying than Piper, which is saying a lot.
The unbearable presence of Badison is only rivaled by the transformation of Daya. This character has been through a lot, but every time she was onscreen, it became difficult to not fast forward it as it was that excruciating to watch. It doesn’t help that Red had gone from prison mom to revenge seeker, Alex was part of the peanut gallery and Suzanne was sidelined for the majority of the season. The lack of Uzo Aduba, an Emmy award winner for this series, shows a lack of focus on the strengths of this show.
With so many rumours surrounding this show, now the longest running streaming show ever, and its eventual conclusion, one has to think where the story might go from here. With Piper on the outside, Blanca being taken into custody by ICE under PolyCon’s newest initiative and Taystee receiving a life in prison sentence, what more can happen to these characters? A time jump might be interesting to see Alex’s eventual release date and see how these characters have fared both in and out of prison life.
This season of Orange is the New Black is a step up from the uneven pacing of last season, but its soft reboot causes more problems than it fixes. While some of the new stories and characters are interesting to watch, the more impactful storylines are sidelined for ones surrounding prison gang violence taking the small group of returning characters that were brought to Litchfield Max and throwing them on the backburner. From its change in atmosphere to its new characters, this is an either love it or hate it season so it’s still worth the watch.
What did you think of Orange is the New Black? Was this season better than the last? Let me know in the comments!
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