When Orange Is The New Black began, animosity practically ran Litchfield Penitentiary. Remember the war over which group would own the kitchen? Or that bizarre period when Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) accidentally led a white supremacist gang? Well, ever since the season 5 riot, many of those tensions subsided, as the entire OITNB population faced far greater enemies — like MCC, the private corporation that now owns Litchfield, and the sadistic CO Piscatella (Brad William Henke) — than figuring out who would be running an illegal panty ring. That’s why the final shot of season 5 shows an array of inmates from all backgrounds standing together to weather whatever will come.
Yet, when Orange returns for season 6 on Friday 27th July, one feud will seemingly soldier on as the remaining Litchfield inmates move from low-security “camp” to the maximum-security facility down the hill: the one between Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) and Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel). We know as much since the full-length trailer for season 6 suggests Gloria and Maria will have a blow-up so large during an upcoming episode, they are pulled away from each other, kicking and screaming. It’s the only time in the entire preview, which is filled with images of the new max women beating up on fans' longtime favourites, a Litchfield woman goes up against a fellow Litchfield woman.
The explanation for this apparent bad blood can be found in the final episodes of season 5.
So much was going on with Orange’s hefty, often confusing riot arc that it’s easy to forget there was an entire subplot about Gloria’s teen son Benny Mendoza (Tyler Alvarez, aka Peter Maldonado in American Vandal) and his dire hospital visit. It's first revealed in “Full Bush, Half Snickers” that Benny was assaulted by gang members, leaving him battling a brain haematoma in a coma with a dislocated jaw and a number of missing teeth. Although Benny is holding on in intensive care, Gloria becomes increasingly worried her son will die while she’s helplessly trapped behind bars.
Gloria, in desperate mum mode, slowly stitches a plan together in order to be with her son. Under Joe Caputo’s (Nick Sandow) recommendation, she calls up MCC to request furlough to go to Benny’s hospital. Executive Jack Pearson (Michael Bryan French) tells Gloria she can see her son if she releases the CO hostages, who are currently the major bargaining chip in the riot. Essentially, Jack wants Gloria to torpedo the entire riot, whose negotiations may actually lead to real, revolutionary change for Litchfield’s inmates, in exchange for a few minutes with her son. Gloria agrees and begins setting up the hostages for an escape, bringing them to the Poo, one step closer to the fence, where she can help them flee.
This is where Gloria and Maria’s relationship is forever changed. With the hostages in the perfect position for escape in “Breaking The Fingerboard Ceiling,” Gloria calls Benny’s hospital room and speaks to him over the phone, even though the child is unconscious. Gloria repeatedly promises her son she will “be there real soon.” Through tears she adds, “Imma be there when you wake up.” Maria, also a mum desperate to be with her own child (although Baby Pepa is totally healthy), overhears Gloria’s phone conversation and asks what’s going on. It seems like an innocent-enough interest, so a distraught Gloria unveils the full story of Benny, MCC’s furlough promises, and her step-by-step escape plan (cut a hole in the fence and run through it with the hostages).
“You do what you gotta do, you know?” an apparently supportive Maria responds. “You don’t owe nothing to no one in here.”
Then, Maria does what she has to do, and steals Gloria’s plan. At the end of the episode, Gloria goes to enact the escape scheme and realises all of the hostages are already gone, and a hole has been cut in the fence. Of course, Maria is the only other person who knew that was Gloria’s strategy, so she immediately realises Maria betrayed her. That also means Maria knowingly stole Gloria’s single chance chance to see her son, who is uncomfortably close to death. Now, Maria is officially Enemy No. 1 for Gloria, even after we learn Benny’s surgery went well and he is okay — it’s not like Maria knows any of that. For all she knows, Benny could be at death’s door, and his mother will never get a chance to say goodbye.
As we find out in penultimate episode “Tattoo You,” Maria’s betrayal was all for naught anyway, as the governor's secretary (Gita Reddy) tells the inmate that MCC had no power to promise anyone — including Gloria or Maria — time off her sentence in exchange for the hostages. Now neither mum will have a chance to see her child.
Gloria and Maria’s past tensions only make this situation worse. If you think back to season 4, you’ll remember these two also went head to head over the soul of Daya Diaz (Dascha Polanco). Gloria attempted to be the best prison mum she could be to the constantly in crisis Daya following her biological mother Aleida’s (Elizabeth Rodriguez) exit from Litchfield, but Daya rebuffed Gloria. Instead of listening to the older woman’s solid advice, she was seduced by Gloria’s gang activities, which escalated from illegal panty selling to actual drug dealing.
It’s likely Daya’s time in Maria’s gang is what gave her the misdirected confidence necessary for picking up CO Humphrey’s gun (Michael Torpey) and eventually shooting him, which began the chain of events that eventually led to his death. And, it’s likely Gloria partially blames Maria for Daya’s newly bleak future. After all, she ends season 5 turning herself in for the shooting. Although this lengthy catastrophe may be a year or two years old for viewers, it’s been mere days for Gloria and Maria in Orange Is The New Black time.
So, don’t expect these two to be friends when they return for OITNB season 6.