Season 6 of Orange is the New Black premieres on Netflix on Friday, July 27. Click here for a refresher on what happened at the end of season 5 (which was, as you’ll recall, a wild season). Did Orange is the New Black get its groove back? This season is bursting with new characters, quippy dialogue, and more than one devastating twists. Hold on tight.
Well, we’re back, folks! The animals are still trapped, the cage is still full. If anything, the theme song of Orange is the New Black is extra fitting for the premiere of season 6, because the women have never been so significantly treated like animals trapped in cages as they are this season, which is set in a maximum security prison (aka “max”).
Season 6 begins a week after the prison riot of season 5 ended. Episode 1 flashes back between the present day and the raid of the pool, where 10 of the inmates had been keeping Piscatella (Brad William Henke) hostage. Knowing that an investigation was to follow, the inmates and the guards each construct different stories around What Really Happened during that raid. To review, this is What Really Happened: Thanks to Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) goading, Piscatella entered the prison during the riot and tortured Red and her family; then, Frieda (Dale Soules) rescued them and kept Piscatella hostage in the abandoned pool. Red’s gang tortured him, then released him. On his way out of the prison, Picatella was killed by a stray bullet fired by another guard, Natoli. Remember: The inmates from the pool don’t know that Piscatella was killed — or that they’ll be framed for his murder.
The CERT team who busted into the pool room and the 10 prisoners create stories to cover up What Really Happened. In the inmates’ version, Piscatella had been holding them hostage. Herrmann (Jason Altman), the leader of the CERT team, adjusts the crime scene to indicate that Piscatella had been murdered by the women.
Only Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) and Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) know that Piscatella had been killed — and not by them. The last women left in the pool room, Cindy and Suzanne see the CERT Team move the body. As such, Cindy and Suzanne try constructing their own version of events: They were in the closet the whole time, and avoided the pool house.
So, those are the sides, and those are their stories. The rest of the episode focuses on the new social dynamics present at max. Spoiler: They’re awful. Gone are the friendly-ish and schlubby guards who had donuts and flirted. These guards are depraved. They make sport — literally — of their prisoners. Two of them are gathering intel for the draft of this season of Fantasy Inmate, a game in which guards compete with their inmates (seven points for attempted suicide, for example). CO Ginger (Shawna Hamic) writes notes as four inmates talk on the phone — she’s surprisingly good at gleaning information from the calls, and picks up right away on each woman’s particularities. This isn’t her first rodeo.
But compared to what the other guards do, she’s harmless (and gives halfway decent book recommendations). The guards in max exhibit a flair for sadism. For her role in killing a guard, Daya is beaten up regularly. Another guard beats Taystee (Danielle Brooks) up for no reason. After Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) and Maria (Jessica Pimentel) get into a fight during their recreational hour, the same guard uses the inmates for his recreation. He and a henchman hose them down in the shower and force them to make out. (If you’ll recall, Mendoza and Maria’s rivalry reached a head when, last season, Maria freed the hostages that Mendoza had been smuggling out so that she, Maria, could cash in on the deal Mendoza had brokered with Jack Pearson (Michael Bryan French) about getting freedom and seeing her son. It didn’t work. Jack had never been authorized to make such a deal in the first place).
Already, I can tell the violence against women this season will be brutal. Plus, in their current cells, the inmates are separated from each other. They can’t rely on their old bonds and families for support, which is what kept them strong until now. When Piper speaks to Daya through the vent, it’s the closest this episode comes to intimacy.
So, in these circumstances, how are our girls doing? Like, really doing? In a word: badly. Frieda attempts suicide, and then is restrained in a straightjacket that looks like it cannot be legal. Daya is being beat up regularly, and also hit on by a new inmate called Daddy (VIcci Martinez), not that Daya is interested. Suzanne is struggling to negotiate the truth and the story Cindy’s making her tell. Piper is searching everywhere for Alex (Laura Prepon). Eventually, she lands in the hospital ward after Red’s new roommate, Badison (Amanda Fuller), trips her to “help” her look for Alex in the hospital unit.
Back to Badison, whose real name is Madison. Badison provides Red with what she needs above all: an adversary. Red shines when she’s in combat. Though if I’m not wholly convinced that Badison will be a match for Red. Her “badness” seems flimsy, an act. Red, on the other hand, is still all steel — even in these circumstances.
Any flashback revelations? Only that Cindy and Suzanne were there to witness Piscatella’s body being moved to the abandoned pool.
Orange is the New Black, so far, is proving to be a strange show to recap. So much of the pleasure of the show comes in the comic details, not in the plot points (many of which can be summarized in a sentence). Orange is the New Black excels at creating idiosyncratic and memorable characters, and then allowing their personalities to fill up the boredom of confinement. This counts for guards and inmates.
Of course, there certainly is plot. We can boil down the main themes this episode into the following. After getting off the phone with the governor, Mark Bellamy (Michael J. Burg) announces that he and his two-person team have less than seven (7!!) days to discover who started the riot, and who murdered the guards. The governor is under pressure from both sides: The union and police rights organizations who demand justice for the two guards’ deaths, and the ACLU, which demands prison reform. At this point, Hermann decides it doesn’t matter who actually did started the riot – three people are going to decide who did it through a shoddy investigation.
The investigators’ goal is to assign two murder charges (each a life sentence) and three raid charges (each an additional 10 years on their sentences) to some of the 10 women captured from the abandoned pool. Daya has already taken the plea for a murder sentence and will spend the rest of her life in prison. As for the other women? Hermann says, “Let’s prosecute a rainbow shall we?” They don’t care who actually did it — so long as the optics are good, and it looks like women from all factions are going down.
Essentially, the main women in OITNB are about to be framed for starting the riot — and over the course of the episode, each woman comes to this conclusion independently. Using some intense lying tactics, Mendoza and Ruiz try to convince the investigators that they were responsible for saving the prisoners, and the other was responsible for starting the riot. The ridiculously gullible investigators don’t know who to believe, though Jack Pearsons’ corroboration of Mendoza’s story lends her some credibility). At the end of the episode, Mendoza and Diaz leave ad seg (administrative segregation) and are sorted to different blocks in maximums’ gen pop.
Cindy is being framed for second degree murder. At first, she tries to tell Taystee about what the investigators are doing, the same way Mendoza warned Flores, but Cindy’s secret message is never properly delivered. So, Cindy tries to get by on her original flimsy story: She and Suzanne were hiding in the closet the entire time. She even has a lawyer provided through her rabbi connection. Then, Bellamy reveals he knows that Cindy’s lying — her fingerprints are found on the gun that killed Piscatella. He gives her a helluva decision. Cindy can get immunity if, and only if, she puts the blame on Taystee, effectively sentencing her best friend to life in prison.
Cindy’s flashbacks indicate how she’ll deal with this predicament. In a flashback, we see how Cindy was knocked up by her high school lover, who had a girlfriend at the time. She protected his identity from her parents even when it made them furious, and even though baby daddy didn’t treat her well. Cindy is someone who protects herself when it suits her. And so, she sells Taystee out. But can we really blame Cindy? She was a pawn in a system stripped of justice.
Piper, meanwhile, has time for an existential crisis. Staring at her busted-up face in the mirror, Piper realizes that there isn’t a Prison Piper and a Brooklyn Piper. There’s just her — one woman, changed utterly by her time in prison. How many months has this been, man? At first, Piper’s new roommate, seems to provide her some comfort. She empathizes with Piper’s struggle to maintain dignity and protect herself in prison. Then, as the woman is braiding Piper’s hair, a guard reveals why she’s in prison: She killed her three children. Without Alex, Piper’s all alone in a space crawling with people who have committed heinous deeds, and might again.
Outside the prison, former Litchfield regulars are on their own journeys, one physical and one emotional. On the physical end, Charlie Coates (James McMenamin) and Dixon, who is one of three redheaded guards this season, are on a road trip through Pennsylvania. Charlie is adamant it’s not a road trip — he’s going to drop Dixon’s off at his sister’s. But Dixon, concerned for Charlie’s mental state after the riot, insists he come along to cross off destinations on his bucket list. Dixon, of course, doesn’t know that Doggett (Taryn Manning) is in the back of the car. After a long day playing Temple Run and peeing in cups, Doggett’s fed up. She bursts into the motel room and surprises Coates and Dixon. Dixon’s surprised, but then decides to go with it.
I’m shocked by two things: One, that Tiffany doesn’t immediately shower after spending years in prison and then hours in the trunk of the car. And two: That this twisted, disturbing relationship between rapist and victim is still going strong (and almost skewed to be somewhat...romantic? by the show)
We should also pay attention to Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow). After being placed on leave, he flounders. He lives in the kind of filth that cockroaches probably consider their natural habitat. His facial hair is ridiculously scruffy; he watches porn while the TV plays movies. All of this is because he can’t shake the (correct) feeling that he’s screwing the girls over. Feeling helpless, he meets with Sam Healy (Michael Harney) in a smoothie shop that Sam has chosen. The two scruffy men contrast significantly with the shop’s clean, white walls. Unlike Caputo, whose hyper-awareness makes him neurotic, Sam is checked out. Sam encourages Caputo to quit learning about institutional and structural problems with the country; to quit empathizing with the girls being wrongfully prosecuted. He should take an MCC pay-out and call it day.
Caputo doesn’t do that. He fixes himself up. He shaves his beard. He cleans his apartment. And he tries to woo Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) by inviting her for dinner. Despite Caputo cooking dinner, they don’t eat — they just jump right into sex, which involves Caputo asking Fig to say “evil things” to him. They have the most twisted relationship on TV. While they’re having sex, she reveals that she’s the new warden. Caputo is crushed, then fired up. Looks like Fig’s mind meld…worked? Caputo calls Jack Pearson and demands he get his job back. Maybe, just maybe, he can make some changes. Lord knows the prison needs them.
Any flashback revelations? Cindy — or Tova, as she is to her rabbi — was the centerpiece of this episode. We learn that she was madly enamored with a high school jock who was madly enamored with his girlfriend. After Cindy gets pregnant, her parents send her away to have the baby. Cindy doesn’t take on a mothering role. The baby is raised thinking she’s Cindy’s younger sister.
In past seasons of Orange is the New Black, we saw the prison inmates bolstered and sustained by their relationships and friendships. Family, as Red calls it, was how the women weathered their difficult lives. In this season — and especially this episode — we see the erosion of those relationships, which crack under the pressure of very real threats like the ongoing riot-leader witch hunt and max’s gang wars. If we had to identify a theme for this episode, it would be, “Every woman for herself.”
The mantra especially holds true for the 10 women who were caught in the pool bunker. Remember, officials are looking for people to frame for two principle crimes: A) Killing Piscatella and b) Organizing the riot. It doesn't matter who actually did it. With only seven days to investigate, what matters to Bellamy and his team is obtaining names, any names.
Once the women’s lives are threatened in that interrogation room, their “families” fade. They make deals to protect themselves, as Cindy did. What occurs, in many cases, is an unraveling of relationships.
The theme is best encapsulated through Frieda Berlin’s backstory. Frieda, we learn, had attempted suicide in episode 1 because she’s absolutely terrified of confronting her enemies in max, who have harbored grudges against her for decades. The bespectacled and generally stone-faced Carol (Henny Russell) is currently the de facto leader of max’s C Block. As young women, Carol had been Frieda’s friend and partner in pushing drugs to the women of C Block. In order to escape the calmer waters of minimum security prison, Frieda betrayed Carol by turning her stash into the authorities. Initially, Carol thought her nemesis (and sister), Barbara, had been responsible for the betrayal. Ever since that day (and the ensuing fight on the kickball court), C Block and D Block have been constantly locked in a war, with sisters Carol and Barbara as the primary leaders. These rivalries can get nasty — during a visit, Fig was told about recent toe amputations. The blocks are also ridiculously unequal. C Block has the “good jobs,” and so the conditions are much more plush.
Now that she’s back in max, Frieda will do anything — really, anything — to avoid Carol. Carol comes from a straight-up terrifying family. So, as she’d done years earlier, Frieda “cooperates” with the person leading the investigation. She blames the riot on Taystee, and then, in order to protect herself, she confesses that Red tortured and immobilized him. Frieda’s plan to betray everyone is successful. She’s transferred to “Florida,” aka B Block, where “grannies, trannies, and loonies” live (like Suzanne). It’s a Carol-free territory.
And so begins the parade of Red’s family betraying her. For once, Badison was right. She warned Red that her “family” wouldn’t be “family” anymore in max. After discovering in her interrogation that Piscatella died, Red tries to send the message to Nicky and Piper, using Badison’s many connections in the prison. Nicky understands the message. Piper, however, misinterprets Red’s message hidden within a library book. When she reads that “the tall one” was killed, she thinks she means Alex. Piper is so dazed during her interrogation that she blames Red for torturing Piscatella. Nicky’s lawyer – who happens to be her absent, shitty father’s new fiancée, with whom he has two children — urges her to give Red’s name up, since the feds are already building a case against her. Either she betrays Red, or Nicky will be brought up on many counts for distributing drugs during the riot, which could increase her sentence by 70 years. It’s worth noting that both Nicky and Piper, the wealthiest of the bunch, have fancy representation.
Once they’re released from the clutches of the trial to the max blocks, the women have another set of woes to contend with. The conditions in max are terrible — and the guards are even worse. Daya, in C Block, is the recipient of brutal beatings. She’s kicked in the shin by a guard while she’s showering. Her new admirer, Daddy, Barbara’s right-hand woman, brings her a “gift basket” (A for Effort) with coveted toiletries — and oxy. Will Daya succumb to her advances, and to her drugs? It seems like she could use protection, at this point.
There’s another gift basket this episode. A much fancier one, but not quite to Linda’s (Beth Dover) liking. Jack Pearson, the head of MCC, the company that owns Litchfield, tries to bribe Linda with produce, and she’s not having it. Linda had been trapped in the prison system for days, and eventually was transferred to Cleveland with other inmates (including her prison girlfriend, Big Boo. We missed you, Boo). Linda’s scarred by how bad the prisons are. But instead of using her intimate knowledge of MCC’s failings to, say, help the inmates, she uses it to help herself. She leverages her story against Jack and says she can either quit and sell her story to the media, or get promoted to senior VP at triple her current salary. He gives in to the latter.
Now, Natalie and Linda — two of TV’s most compelling and vile women — are in charge of the prison system. Both waltz around with a vacuous cave of compassion. They exhibit their callousness in different ways. Fig has a sexy, almost sophisticated sneer, and more natural power in her left finger than Linda. Linda so desperately, so earnestly wants to exert her authority. Now that she’s senior VP, she might have a chance. And it’ll be, mark my words, a disaster. Focused on PR and stocks, Fig and Linda are both apathetic and uncaring when it comes to the actual inmates.This positions Joe Caputo as the natural hero/savior/only hope to the 10 inmates being framed, which is somewhat frustrating, but could also be a redemptive storyline.
A final note: I am loving the dialogue this season. Orange is the New Black has its spark back, in my book.
Any flashback revelations? Frieda learned a lot from her survivalist father. Survival is more important than any kind of loyalty.
Real talk: Why hasn’t Kate Mulgrew been nominated for an Emmy for her work as Red? This season, with her horrifying Pennywise the Clown haircut (the result of Piscatella brutally pulling out her hair), Red’s best, and most self destructive, qualities are on full display. She’s trapped, but she keeps her head held high. She isolates herself out of pride. She sticks by her family.
Or, at least, she sticks by the family who has stuck by her. What is family, anyway? That’s what this episode of Orange is the New Black is interested in — the relationships we’re born into, and the relationships we create. For Nicky Nichols, Red is the mother she never had. And boy, given the glimpse into her awful home life through flashbacks, did Nicky really never have a protector before Red. In Nichols’ flashbacks, she’s a 13-year-old girl preparing for her bat mitzvah, passed back and forth between vain mother and absent-minded, vaguely lecherous father like she’s a bargaining chip. Fed up with her parents, Nicky goes off script during her bat-mitzvah speech, and she asks a pointed question: “Why do you honor your mother and father when they really don’t give a shit about you?”
Red, on the other hand, does give a shit about her. But in order to avoid facing 70 years of drug charges, Nicky’s going to have to dishonor her, the way that the rest of Red’s family has. For all their betrayals, Chapman and Frieda have been put in gen pop. They’re “ghosts” to Red now. Since Red loves Nicky, she understands that Nicky has to do what she has to do. The episode ends with the staggering implication that Red has been sold out.
Red, however, does bear some responsibility for the crime. She lured Piscatella into the prison. Taystee, on the other hand, learns she’s accused of two crimes for which she is completely innocent. Taystee meets with a haggard public defender who informs her the state has built a case against her on two counts: Organizing the riot and killing Piscatella. The defender wearily explains that Taystee is being scapegoated so the governor can sweep this embarrassment under the rug. She makes it seem like Taystee should just accept her fate. As a prisoner, she’s completely disenfranchised.
Except for one connection. As I predicted last episode (just sayin’!), Caputo might take on a slightly heroic role this season. Taystee cashes in on her one guard connection — she and CO Ward (Susan Heyward) used to be coworkers at a fast food restaurant — and has Ward broker a meeting between her and Caputo. Taystee breaks down. She needs help. This scene is hard to watch, but it’s great to see Danielle Brooks act after so many episodes of her character lying in bed while other characters got action.
Speaking of other characters getting action. Alex, as it turns out, is alive! She’s thrilled to see her gap-toothed Piper. Though Badison, Piper’s new roommate, is out to make things complicated for the couple. Badison and her bad Boston accent are trying to be Carol 2.0 and bully the people of C Block into doing her bidding (though ultimately, Badison works for Carol).
In an episode about mothers and daughters, it’s fitting that Daya meets with her mother, Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) – but barely. In their short time together, Daya reveals she’s taken a plea and will spend the rest of her life behind bars. In the middle of Aleida’s frankly uplifting speech about Daya continuing to be her best self (it’s so rare to see Aleida so genuine), Daya is taken away by a guard; the guards are still abusing her mercilessly. Aleida unleashes hell at a guard on her side of the glass, but is eventually calmed down by CO Hopper, who definitely has the hots for her.
Continuing the parenting theme, Flores meets with her boyfriend, Diablo. After some dirty talk through the glass, Diablo essentially proposes marriage to her. They want to have kids together. He’s worried, however, about getting caught up in an immigration raid. He hasn’t renewed his green card. Methinks this immigration theme is a gun that will go off at some point this season.
The episode’s final threads are with the guards. There are too many correctional officers, you guys. I am losing track of who is from what prison and which ginger is which. This episode, three of the guards who’d been caught up in the raid come back to work. McCullough (Emily Tarver), in particular, is strung out and affected by the events of the riot. Luschek (Matt Peters), who is seemingly too immature to develop emotional bonds, has easily moved on from the riot. He’s now obsessed with Fantasy Inmate, the morally corrosive game played among the correctional officers that turns prisoners’ infractions into “points.” It’s so disgusting to see the guards goad human lives like this. I fear they’ll goad the women into fights just to get points.
Finally, far, far away from Litchfield, a trio of misfits scurries around an old-school amusement park called Playland with glee. From afar, it would seem as if they were two men and a little boy. But look closer, and that little boy is Tiffany Doggett in disguise. Obviously, the tone of this romp is at odds with everything happening in the prison — and everything we now about Coates and Doggett’s past. While talking to Dixon, Coates acknowledges the “power imbalance” in their past, but they seem to let it glide by. At the end of the episode, Dixon confronts a man who called a kissing Coates and Doggett “faggots.” It might be my favorite speech onTV, ever. He uses the phrase “skin masks covering up our fears” to describe faces.
Unfortunately, Dixon is totally in the wrong. This is not a romantic couple! This is a disturbing couple. We should be disturbed. I hope this season doesn’t spin Doggett and Coates as a “couple.”
Any flashback revelations? Nicky’s flashbacks to her disastrous bat mitzvah really put her relationship with her father and his new wife in context.
Scrub the image of rats sneaking up people’s prison uniforms from my eyes forever, please! In the OITNB equivalent of a dance break, D Block plays a truly heinous prank on C Block involving rats in the prison’s cheese warehouse, where inmates package cheese. I haven’t recovered. The prank was done in the name of Mischief Night, but it’ll have strategic repercussions going forward.
Mischief Night runs like a thread through this episode of Orange is the New Black. For the uninitiated, Mischief Night takes place on the eve of Halloween. Kids — like Luschek’s neighbors, who hate him – are known to vandalize houses (in my town, people threw toilet paper and eggs). Mischief Night is also celebrated within Litchfield. For the inmates in D Block in max, Mischief Night is an occasion to get back at their more prosperous counterparts in C Block — and potentially steal their jobs so they can become the richer block.
Mischief Night is also the inaugural day of the COs’ annual game of Fantasy Inmate, in which each guard chooses an inmate and gets points based on their mishaps and mistakes. Think of the guards as producers on a reality TV show; they’re technically not supposed to intervene to provoke high-scoring actions, but they justify their interventions by saying they’re doing their job. Later, McCullough will use Fantasy Inmate as an excuse to rough Ruiz’s room up. This does not sit well with me!
Speaking of Ruiz: Something MAJOR happens this episode. As you’ll recall, Gloria and Flores (who are in D Block) framed Ruiz for starting the riot. Now, they’re convinced she’s planning a retaliatory attack. She’s not. She’s just tired, because prison, without friends, is depleting. To squash any retaliation, Flores suggests they spread a rumor that Ruiz helped the guards. Later, when Ruiz tries to work with Daddy on her drug-pushing business, Daddy denies her. Maria is completely isolated. Broken down while doing her bathroom cleaning duty, Ruiz sobs in the stall — and that’s when someone pushes her head in the toilet and kills her!! Or, at the very least, comes close.
Frieda, over in “Florida” with Suzanne, worries about a similar fate befalling . Suzanne finds a packet of shivs. Clearly, someone’s either using Florida as a trade route, or is planning an assassination.
You know what’s as scary as being in prison? Being trapped in the woods with your rapist, like Doggett. The residue of her romance with the guard has evaporated, leaving behind what their relationship actually is: a skewed, effed up, totally inappropriate power play. Even Dixon is put off by Coates’ temper. He leaves them. Eventually, in the woods where they plan on crossing the border eventually, Doggett does, too. Her mom told her some people can’t change — and Coates can’t. He’s a sick, sick man. Doggett sets a fire for Coates (a generous act, considering the guy should shiver in the woods forever), and turns herself in. Here’s what I love about Doggett: She’s observant, and she’s no fool. I’m relieved she’s away from Coates, and even more relieved that OITNB tied up this story line. Also, she probably would've been found eventually — after Linda and Fig figure out there’s a missing prisoner, they launched a manhunt.
For Doggett, being back in prison means getting away from the enemy. But for Red and Taystee, the enemy is all around them. The enemy is the system that’s keeping them in prison. Both of them feel utterly alone. Red’s family has left her because she’s no longer “useful,” and Taystee has been abandoned by Caputo. After making a flimsy attempt at negotiating Taystee’s freedom with Linda, Caputo gave up and decided to take a posting at a Missouri prison dogged by problems. Looks like Taystee’s all on her own.
Any flashback revelations? No, none at all. OITNB is really living in the moment this season.
Who would’ve guessed that an off-putting prison doctor in max would be the character to provide the most thematically apt pop culture allusion for this season of Orange is the New Black? The doctor muses that Thelma and Louise is really about the “impossibility of justice for women within a patriarchal court system.” And boy, does that sentiment apply to this season.
In this episode, we watch Red and Taystee walk the plank for a crime neither woman had committed. What strikes me about Red and Taystee this season is their isolation. They’re drowning in a corrupt, fanged system. Red, facing the possibility that she’ll die in prison unless she pleads guilty, accepts a plea deal that adds 10 years to her sentence. When she emerges into C Block, she’s a more severe, lonely version of herself. Poor Red – she’s lost her prison family, and her real family, too. When she calls her son Vasily, he speaks to her like you’d speak to a relative whose last name you only vaguely knew, a relative who your parents made you call on their birthday.
Taystee is alone, too — but her actions during the prison riot had made her a public figure, which might just save her. In the courtroom, Taystee pleads not guilty to second degree murder. Behind her, people start whooping. Much to her surprise, Taystee’s NOT alone. The ACLU and Black Lives Matter have rallied together to support her. Copycat riots have sprung up at other prisons. She’s greeted by a standing ovation at C Block. Taystee, the folk hero.
Still, within max, everyone’s working against the women’s best interest – including the guards, who take Fantasy Inmate very seriously. For a moment, I was worried that OITNB actually approved of this game as a fun pastime. Then, CO Young, a Black correctional officer, confronted Luschek against the game, and effectively was a spokesperson for the show’s morals. “Think about it,” he told Luschek. “You price and trade people people you profit off their actions while you watch from the veranda. The whole is morally reprehensible.” Luschek responds in the most ironically “timely” way possible: There are truths on “both sides.”
Taystee’s trial is just another headache to add to MCC’s cosmic migraine. Linda might be making three times her salary, but she’s still not qualified to do her job (obviously, she doesn’t even know what Black Lives Matter is). Watching the stock price plummet, Linda begs for Fig’s help. Fig is the cobra-eyed Cersei of my heart and she’s the best part of this season. They’re both utterly vile in such utterly different ways – Linda is a really clueless social climber; Fig’s lack of moral rectitude is astounding, but her arrogant, self-assured competence is admirable.
As the two women “collaborate” on finding a solution to MCC’s total and complete PR crisis, actual conditions in the prisons crumble. After last week’s rat attack, D Block (tan uniforms because I keep forgetting) and C Block (navy uniforms) are gearing up for full-out warfare. As it turns out, that little Mischief Night “prank” actually was no prank — it was a calculated move on Barbara’s D Block to steal the high-paying, cheese-packaging jobs from Carol’s C Block.
Here’s the thing: I can’t seem to care about D Block and C Block’s rivalry, nor its storylines. The characters we have grown to love orbit on the peripheries of this rivalry. It’s an argument that’s been calcified over years of max — and we’ve only just arrived.
But for Badison and Daddy, the respective henchmen of Carol and Barbara, this game of oneupmanship is everything. Both Carol and Barbara are intense, unpredictable, and the kind of women I’d stay far away from if I were walking on an indoor track. They’d plow you right over. So, as you’ll recall: Daddy planted rats in the cheese warehouse in an effort to take the high-paying jobs from C Block and get some material wealth. But Daddy’s plan backfired. As CO Hellman (Greg Brotsos) explains, her stunt ruined their little drug trade (Hellman had arranged to sneak in the drugs through the cheese shipments). Now, many of Daddy’s girls are going through withdrawal from oxy. To make matters worse, Hellman is retaliating by pulling the drug trade from D Block. C Block also retaliated. Badison literally made her girls shit in D Block’s laundry.
Daddy’s empire is crumbling in D Block just as her crime empire had crumbled in real life. In flashbacks, we see that Daddy once was a madam, of sorts, to a group of beautiful young women who “entertained” successful businessmen and drug lords at parties in lavish houses. Many of the young women were students using this side hustle to put themselves through college. Daddy encouraged her newest recruit, Talia (Melanie Iglesias), to go off with a man. Tragically, this man, Felipe, kills Talia (what actually happened remains unclear, but he’s obviously violent). A few days later, he pays Daddy off — and then comes for her lover, Amber. Knowing what we know, Daddy’s budding relationship/romance/friendship with Daya is more ominous.
Outside prison, Aleida’s still trapped by the system. She’s unable to meet the minimum requirements to get her kids out of a toxic foster home. As each day goes by, they grow more resentful. This storyline reminds me of when Taystee was briefly released from prison a few seasons ago. The women leave prison as disadvantaged ex-cons, and are often unable to get on their feet, to no fault of their own.
Final notes: It’s great to see Sophia (Laverne Cox) back, and not trapped in the SHU. I’m looking forward, also, to Cindy and Flaca (actress name) – two of the most consistent comedic presences in the show – hosting the radio show.
Any flashback revelations? Daddy has a history of relationships characterized by skewed power dynamics. Daya might grow to like Daddy — but first, she needs her for the drugs that Daddy hooked her on. The same goes with the women in Daddy’s harem. They might initiate sex with her, but they also seemingly rely on her for food, shelter, and money. She’s a “provider” but doesn’t have her wards’ best interests at heart.
This episode of Orange is the New Black challenged me, the viewer, to strive toward a momentous goal. The show moseyed on up said: Can these 57 minutes of television convince you to empathize with Badison/Fatison/Radison/Madison/Fartison, the new “villain” of season 6 who speaks with a bad Boston accent and is prone to petty acts of extortion? The answer: not really. Compared to sinister, treacly villains like Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) and tough, steely heroes like Red, Madison’s schtick seems dangerously cheesy.
In fact, this entire episode proved Madison’s dangerous cheesiness. She’s a fraud, through and through. Madison has been trying to play at being “bad” her whole life. While at boot camp after being expelled from high school, Madison was the tamest of the bunch — in fact, she invented the name Badison for herself to prove how “bad” she was. Years of being bullied turned her into a bully. A pretty incompetent bully, at that. She lacks foresight necessary to be a prison drug lord. She’s even been demoted from Carol’s drug trade team, and now is a free agent in C Block.
But you know who does have strategy and foresight? Alex Vause, who seems to be growing more exhausted by Piper’s Piperness every day (though maybe that’s just my cynical reading). The whole “lovey dovey” act with Piper is genuine and all, but the reality is that Alex will be spending four more years in prison after Piper leaves. Will she be able to resist Badison’s advances at starting a smuggling empire to rival Carol and Barbara’s, resist having a sense of purpose or simply having something to do? She and Badison have already recruited Luschek to smuggle in cell phones. In the prison yard, Badison gets shanked by one of Daddy’s girls going through heroin withdrawal. As she’s bleeding, passes the phone along to Alex. They’re officially co-conspirators. Alex is back to keeping secrets.
Speaking of Pipes. We knew this moment would come. The day OITNB waded into heavily meta waters. Piper gets the idea of writing a memoir about her experience in prison! How quaint. Maybe she can name it Orange is the New Black, and maybe it’ll be turned into a Netflix show that uses her character as an entry point to a show that, in its first seasons, actually focuses on marginalized women’s stories, but then in season 6 will return to Piper! In addition to pursuing her literary dreams, Piper decides she wants to unite D Block and C Block in a good old game of kickball, like they did before Carol and Barbara had that epic fight we saw in Frieda’s flashback.
Ironically, just as Piper is all determined to unite D Block and C Block in epic harmony, inter-block tension bubbles. A brawl breaks out in the recess yard, causing the COs to permanently separate the blocks. After her harrowing journey with Coates, I’m relieved that Doggett is sheltered over in Florida.
Finally, here’s a Q for you: Is it the summer of love in Litchfield, too? Couples are sprouting up all over the place. Fig and Joe Caputo actually go on a grown-up date, complete with Bruce Springsteen karaoke. You scale those walls, Caputo.
It’s probably not fair to call Daya and Daddy a couple. They have a twisted relationship based in drugs and addiction, one that shows just how far Daya’s come from being the moony-eyed girl who liked drawing anime.
Another, more unexpected pairing? Nicky and Flores. Nicky seems pretty aimless — Red is in the other block, and Lorna’s not down for sex now that she’s pregnant with her son, Julius Augustine (good name). So, she decides to help Flores fulfill her dream of getting pregnant. She’s going to enact some artificial insemination scheme.
Finally, Ruiz, as it turns out, is alive! Yes, someone tried to kill her. But she still has to convince the psych ward doctor that she was the suicidal one. Takeaway: Authority figures in Litchfield don’t believe the truth.
Any flashback revelations? The major revelation is Badison is unsympathetic in every aspect of her timeline. Sorry, Badison.
All this talk of rivalries between D Block and C Block, this Caputo-Fig romance, this scheme to get Blanca pregnant — essentially, this season’s many, many plot lines — are distractions. They’re pulling attention away from the show’s main source of tension, one that’s always existed, but never quite to this degree. By focusing this episode on Taystee, season 6 of Orange Is the New Black finally addressed the knot of injustice this season (and all seasons, for that matter) is centered around. The injustice of being a prisoner without free will, constantly forced to submit to relationships with guards who have complete power over you. The injustice of being captive to a system. Taystee says, “You can’t put a system in jail,” implying that this system should be the only on trial.
Taystee’s the hero of this season, though given the amount of attention awarded to the show’s other thousand characters, we wouldn’t blame you if you’ve gotten distracted. This episode is a reminder of her importance as the lynchpin for all of OITNB’s Big Ideas about the inhumanity inherent in the prison industrial complex, and how the system is stacked against the marginalized to begin with.
This is brilliantly explored in the charged relationship between Taystee and CO Tamika Ward, Taystee’s childhood friend and former coworker at their neighborhood fast food restaurant. In the episode’s flashback, set over the course of a single night at the restaurant, we see the playful, carefree, mischievous contours of their pre-prison relationship. Taystee had been the rule-abiding worker. Tameka, a slacker who brought a massive joint to make their shift go by more quickly and enjoyable. Tameka’s flexibility when it came to the whole “rule following” thing eventually had huge repercussions. One of Taystee’s classmates burst into the front door that Tameka had mistakenly left open, whipped out his gun, and forcefully demanded money from the register. Taystee tricked him into taking her shoes instead of the money. As Taystee later explained, she realized immediately she couldn’t call the police. The girls were high. Automatically, the police would blame them. The law is never going to be on their side.
Essentially, while they’re now cordoned off into “guard” and “prisoner” roles now, Tamika and Taystee were once on the same side. After that evening in the store, it’s obvious that either one of those girls could’ve ended up in jail, in the right circumstances. Tamika and Taystee’s lives just branched out in different directions. Luck plays into their current fates more than either would care to admit. As Taystee said, “I’m the product of my environment.”
As it stands, though, Tamika and Taystee are on opposite sides — a fact that becomes obvious after Taystee speaks to a reporter from ProPublica about her abuse at the hands of guards. Tamika had actually encouraged her to do the interview; she snuck out the invitation when it was thrown in the trash. But when Taystee explains her situation to the reporter, Tamika retaliates. At the end of the episode, Tamika withholds all of Taystee’s fan mail from her.
Here is what is obvious: The guards lack regard for the inmates’ well-being. Luschek manages to host an aerobics class — that’s the most good any guard does. He’s also smuggling in cell phones to fund Badison’s new venture, so it’s not like he’s a paragon of moral integrity. He’s just bored, like everyone else.
Badison, who walks into every room like she’s a rock star, is back to C Block after being shanked. The prison had been in lockdown for 36 hours to punish the inmates for the riot. Now, the cell phone smuggling division is back in business, and Carol is pleased to have a new source of income. Badison is trying to make Alex a permanent member of the team. While the prospect of cell phones is tempting — Alex had Pinterest for prison wedding decor for the duration of the lockdown — Alex wants to keep her head down.
Obviously, phones aren’t the only contraband in the prison. The drug trade is still happening. It’s now in C Block with Carol, not D Block with Barbara. Flores and Daya make a deal. Daya will help with Flores’ scheme to smuggle in a condom full of Diablo’s you know what, if Flores gets Daya some oxy. The switcheroo is bungled, big time. Girls from C Block end up beating Daya up, leaving her with only a few pills. Girls from C Block also end up finding Flores and Nicky during the whole artificial insemination thing in the library and beating them up, too.
Outside of prison, Daya’s mom, Aleida, is trying her best to offload those boxes of Nutri Health she bought. It’s not going well. She, like her daughter, is trapped — she’s trapped in a pyramid scheme and in a foster system that won’t return her kids until she can obtain an unimaginably big apartment. But Aleida is resourceful. She travels to the place where people are desperate, lonely, and susceptible to buying into a pyramid scheme. She travels to the Litchfield parking lot and actually succeeds in selling some Nutri Health. She also nabs a date with CO Hopper.
Even though I said all the gang rivalry with D Block and C Block is inconsequential to what’s really important about this show — and I mean that — it’s still a factor. Watch out because now, Red and Carol have aligned themselves in getting revenge on Frieda, who sold them both out 30 years apart.
How is Piper not writing her memoir yet? There are some juicy stories here I hope she’s capturing.
Any flashback revelations? Earlier, it seemed that Taystee and Tamika had been distant acquaintances. Now we learn their relationship had been a very close one. This dynamic is a charged one.
The women in Litchfield are decaying, and no one with any power gives a shit. Alex’s arm is in a cast. Piper struggles to get people to join her burgeoning kickball league because it seems practically everyone has a broken arm or leg. After other C Block girls beat them up, Nicky and Flores end up in the hospital. Flores is released with internal bleeding to make room for Barbara, who’s having a hallucinogenic OD after Daddy give her bath-salts since there’s no more oxy. After bonding over their years lost to addiction, Nicky encourages Barbara to try getting sober again.
But it’s Cindy’s injury we should be watching. She’s come down with a devastating case of guilt. At first, Cindy thinks her back is to blame. However, Cindy is unable to sit up straight because of stomach ulcers that she developed through stress. You see, Cindy’s decision to give false testimony and betray Taystee – and then pretend to be her friend – is taking a physical toll on her body. Cindy tries to confess to Taystee, but she just can’t. Instead, after moaning about being a bad person, Cindy blurts out that she has a daughter — not that she sold her out. Taystee consoles her and gives her a false sense of redemption.
Taystee’s unfortunate situation has led characters, like Cindy, to look inwards. Caputo, like Cindy, aims to erase his past actions. He gives a character witness for Taystee’s deposition, and speaks frankly about her wonderful, level-headed personality, and how professionally she handled the riot. But Caputo’s best intentions go awry when the prosecution’s needling reveals the fact that Taystee punched Caputo.
After coming face-to-face with Taystee in her disempowered situation, Caputo reevaluates his complicity as an employee of MCC. Is it really worth moving to the Midwest to continue the corrupt practices of MCC? Maybe not. Linda shows up to his house to yell at him for vouching for Taystee. Captuo responds by promptly resigning. Now that he’s no longer a lackey of MCC, maybe he can do some good for Taystee.
I do find it frustrating that this season is shaping up to be the Joe Caputo Redemption Tour. He beat back that awful hair, cleaned up, “got the girl” (he and Fig actually have a semi-working relationship). Now, he’s off to save Taystee. So far, we’ve probably spent more time with Caputo than we have with Taystee. She’s being neglected by the system — and partly by the show.
Poor Red is being neglected, too. Not by the system, but by her family. Her (very cute) son comes to visit, bearing disappointing news. Not only is her husband is seeing another woman — her whole family has no interest in seeing her. Over the years, she’s isolated her family, swapping out her prison family for her real one. Now, they want nothing to do with her. In Carol, Red seems to find a companion. She and Carol bond over their love of hating people; namely, Frieda. It’s no surprise that Carol and Red are now on one team, and Nicky and Barbara seem to be forming another. Without each other, Red and Nicky seek another family.
Aleida, far from shirking her blood relatives as Red does, is desperate to get her family back together. The task is proving to be nearly impossible. The woman with whom she was staying just got evicted, so now Aleida is staying with her new boo CO Hopper — and CO Hopper’s grandma. Hopper is devoted to Aleida, sure, but he also expects submission and home-cooked dinners and someone to babysit his grandma. Aleida doesn’t want submission. She wants independence. So, Daya devises a plan to help both of the important women in her life: her mom and her new lover, Daddy. After last week’s stunt with Diablo’s condom, Daya realizes she can use her cleaning post to smuggle in goods. Though it takes some convincing, Aleida agrees to sneak in drugs and receive a cut. The system has given her no other option.
Badison has a storyline involving taking down Gloria’s sole source of joy this episode, which is annoying. Gloria has taken over Luschek aerobics class and now teaches exercise timed to salsa. At one point, she and Luschek dance together. He gets a boner, because he doesn’t know what boundaries are. Zirconia (Daniella De Jesus) interprets this as Gloria trying to use her feminine wiles to encroach on Badison’s phone smuggling territory, and warns Badison. Badison, as a response, tells Gloria that if she shows up for class again, she’ll cut out her thyroid. You know: How adults handle situations.
This is a shame, because Gloria really likes dance class. That was her one joy. Joy, along with justice, are limited commodities in max, which is why Piper wants to organize her kickball league. Piper and Maria reconcile, and eventually Maria recruits her new church buddies to the league. With the influx of members, the kickball league can finally begin. One single ounce of joy.
Any flashback revelations? Nope.
If you want to see a pair of twisted, but ultimately likeable, TV sisters, I recommend you subscribe to Starz and watch its impeccable six-episode show, Vida. But if you want to get to know a pair of absolutely heinous sisters, well — season 6 of Orange is the New Black will do splendidly. This episode is devoted to unraveling the history of Barbara and Carol Denning, the sisters who rule D Block and C Block respectively. And it’s is a grim, baffling history.
Earlier this season, one of the Denning sisters had referred to murdering their other sister. I wrote it off because I am a naive waif who, after six seasons of OITNB, still do not think a character would actually kill their sister. Then, I met Barbara and Carol Denning. Back in their high school days, Carol, Barbara, and their parents were tied to the career aspirations of Debbie, the younger sister (around 10) who was a promising color guardist. They traveled around the country so Debbie could train with the best coaches.
The trouble begins as the Dennings are approaching their next move. Barbara asks to stay in town to finish her senior year. Her highly controlling father — it’s hinted he’s abusive — swiftly shuts that conversation down. At that moment, Barbara reconsiders Carol’s prior intimations of killing Debbie, thus liberating themselves from this itinerant life and controlling family. When their parents go out for the evening, the sisters take Debbie to the pond to let her pet tadpoles go free. For a second, Debbie confesses to Barbara she shares her sisters’ misery at moving. You think it’ll be fine between the Denning sisters. It’s not going to be fine. The sisters lock Debbie in the car and push her into the frozen pond. Not a trace of regret comes on their faces. What are the odds of two sociopathic sisters in one family?
“We can make it look like an accident,” Barb had said while they were ideating the murder on the high school bleachers. Clearly, they didn’t make it look like enough of an accident, because Carol and Barbara both end up in prison. In no time, their petty arguments escalate to such a violent degree that the guards have to put them in separate blocks — and so C Block and D Block are born. I wish we got more of the sisters’ background. Is Carol just a straight-up sociopath, and Barbara a malleable follower? Debbie was adorable! What did she ever do to provoke their wrath other than exist?
After that ill-fated kickball match years earlier, Barbara and Carol had kept their hands off each other. Their rivalries were carried out through minions. But multiple storyline strands this episode seem to indicate that C and D Block are hurtling towards collision.
First, there’s the kickball league thread strand. Weeks earlier, Fig ordered that D Block and C Block stay separated. As a result, Fantasy Inmate has languished. No fights, no points. So, when Piper asks Luschek if the blocks can play against each other in the dilapidated grass field, he says yes. Badison and Piper have a cute lil rivalry of their own, culminating in Piper being chosen over Badison as captain. When compared to the rest of the actual problems in this show, Piper’s storylines always seem so trivial. Anyway, this will put D Block and C Block in close contact.
Then, there’s the trouble in Florida. Frieda’s still paranoid because she thinks Carol is coming for her, and is especially nervous that Suzanne, somehow, will be persuaded into killing her.
Finally, there’s Barbara’s actual plan of warfare. As she tells Nicky — the newest, most reluctant member of her “family” — she plans to shank Carol while she’s getting a haircut. Ever since Nicky helped Barbara get sober, she’s been clear-headed in her pursuit. This plan puts the Red-Nicky divide into sharp relief. Just earlier, they’d fought about their new allegiances. Nicky thinks Red is being gaslit by someone as cruel and calculated like Carol. Carol allows Red to be mean. Since coming to prison, people had been encouraging her to improve, to get better. “Fuck evolve. What about survive?’ Red says. After this brutal string of betrayals, Red’s been pushed to abandon any pretense of self improvement and indulge in revenge, even when it’s detrimental.
Daya is facing a similar predicament. Why improve yourself when you know you’re going to languish in this box forever? After taking the life sentence plea, she’s decided to invest in dealing drugs – and in doing them, too. She and Aleida come up with a clever plan. Aleida sneaks the drugs in the bottom of Hopper’s Nutri Health jars; when he throws the used canisters out, Daya picks up the drugs. Business is booming, but at the end of the episode, Hopper discovers the drugs. His whole romance with Aleida — who he actually seems to like! — is based on a lie.
What more did he expect? Prisoner-guard relationships are inherently messed up. Aleida’s trying to seize power where she can. Doggett seized power by leaving Coates; Aleida’s doing the same by using Hopper as her drug mule.
There’s only one prisoner-employee relationship I approve of, and it’s that of Taystee and Caputo. Now that he’s not working for MCC any longer, he’s free to help advocate for Taystee. Cindy calls and drops a big anonymous hint: Check out the CERT team that swarmed the pool, because they’re lying. Fig, Caputo’s new GIRLFRIEND (!), helps Joe reframe the entire fight. Instead of making his crusade about whether Taystee was innocent, he should work to frame MCC for negligence in allowing the riot to happen in the first place. She explains that she’s only helping to screw Linda over. At last, Fig’s using her loose morals for good.
Finally, Luschek tried to revive his relationship with Mendoza. He’s all like, where did my boo go? She’s all like, Badison threatened to cut out my thyroid! I told you these girls were crazy! Luschek decides to do something at last. He transfers her to D Block, away from Flores and to Daya. Mendoza’s going to have to do a lot of mothering, because Daya’s high AF — and her biological mother is the one sending the drugs in.
Any flashback revelations? The Denning sisters are terrifying sociopaths! Run, run away! They murdered Little Debbie for no reason! It’s alluded that Carol and Barbara became media sensations. They’re prison celebrities.
“What is it about me that makes people want to fuck with me?” Piper asks Taystee while they’re both in the hair salon. Not long before, Badison — aka the Cellmate From Hell — had stuck a wedge of bubblegum in Piper’s limp blonde locks. Badison interpreted Piper’s move to become the Kickball Alpha as encroaching on Badison’s territory. There are no lines between kickball and prison domination, clearly. In retaliation, Badison got revenge by first sticking gum in her hair and then, later in the episode, planting drugs in Piper’s shoe during a search (she almost, almost was caught). Anything to ensure Piper’s prison sentence is extended.
Taystee, whose problems are of a larger magnitude than evil roommates and kickball rivalries, looks at Piper with generous patience. “It’s cause what they see when they look at you. They don’t see you. They see the shit they never had. Money, education, opportunity,” Taystee responds. And then, she puts Piper in her place. “At least that’s only in here. People out there have been fucking with me my whole life. They see dangerous, poor, ghetto Black girl that should be locked up in here forever.” For the second time this season — the first being during her interview with the reporter from ProPublica — Taystee delivers a speech that encapsulates so many of the dynamics at work this season. The stakes for some of the characters on OITNB are so different.
During her trial, Taystee is confronted with the image of herself that she’d just spoken about to Piper — a woman who others think should be “locked up forever.” Even though she has the backing of the ACLU and a fantastic lawyer, Taystee’s still facing a callous system happy to prosecute an innocent person if it means sweeping this prison riot away once and for all, and a jury who sees her as a stereotype.
Taystee’s plight has sent those around her soul-searching. Cindy, as we saw last week, is crumpling under the guilt of the false story constructed to spare her from being charged as a riot organizer. If Cindy is to keep her plea deal, she has to stick to that story. In a devastating moment, Cindy stands before Taystee on the witness stand and confirms the false story. It’s impossible not to feel empathy for Cindy. She, like Taystee, was made victim to a corrupt witch hunt. But only Taystee is the paying the price. Prison, for Taystee, is a waking nightmare: Every time she laughs, a guard’s around to punish her.
Caputo, meanwhile, is on his Redemption Tour, trying to save Taystee. As a free man, officially liberated from MCC, Caputo has the privilege to act that Cindy does not. Heeding Fig’s suggestion to wreak havoc on MCC’s image, Caputo meets with Sophia and suggests she presses charges against MCC for her time in solitary. “We can change the whole narrative of Jefferson’s trial with the publicity from this,” he says. Caputo thinks that with a trial, Sophia can be instrumental in stopping MCC from treating people they way they treated her. Sophia’s almost convinced, until Linda visits and offers her $300,000 and an early release for her silence. As in the case of Cindy, we see the prison system preying on these marginalized people’s needs so they aren’t empowered to take the brave route.
Caputo isn’t the only MCC employee activated to work against the system. After discovering that Aleida was using him as a drug mule, Hopper was initially devastated. Then, during Alvarez’ glum 10th anniversary party, Hopper is forced to confront his own dead-end life. Like Alvarez, he’s approaching his own 10th anniversary at the prison. A decade lost to this toxic place. At least Aleida injected his life with energy and excitement. Standing in that room, it’s obvious what Hopper will do next: He brings Aleida home and says they’ll go into business together for three months. Hopper’s under her spell.
Meanwhile, the Barbara/Carol tension is building. Pretty much everyone wants to kill everyone else. Though Red and Nicky are pulled into these new alliances, they still carry sympathy for their old alliances. Lorna’s the only one who has happily switched over for her new team. Nicky, of course, still loves Red, and isn’t going to let Red get killed in Barbara’s attack against Carol in the hair salon. During her cleaning shift, she embeds a note into a bottle cap and passes it to a guard in the hair salon. The premises are cleared. While Barbara still trusts Nicky, none of the rest of her women do.
Frieda once again escapes a death sentence in the most Frieda way possible. Thanks to Suzanne and Doggett’s investigation, Carol finds out that one of the women in Florida become suddenly rich. Her cell is full of treats and riches. Frieda deduces that she’s the one Carol paid off — so, she visits her cell, and then boldly slashes her own wrist to blame it on the woman. Frieda is successfully transferred. Frieda’s like a cockroach. She can’t be squashed.
At the end of the episode, Ginger puts Barbara and Carol in the same ad seg cell for some twisted solitary confinement. Years after their fight, do they even remember what they were fighting about? Also, just in case this is important, here’s a reminder that Blake, the Mormon CO, had chosen both of the Denning sisters as his Fantasy Inmate picks. But Blake’s not in the game anymore. During Alvarez’s anniversary party, he denounces the whole game. “That’s a living breathing human being you’re talking about,” he says, finally realizing how TWISTED this whole “game” is. So…is Ginger putting Barbara and Carl together for “points?” Wouldn’t put it past her.
Any flashback revelations? None.
Those correctional officers, man. The damn officers. This episode peered into the corrupt hearts of every person carrying out MCC’s mission statement, and it is not pretty. The truth is, the guards are not on the prisoners’ sides. Many of the officers this season fundamentally struggle to perceive the prisoners they’re guarding are individual human beings, just like them. Stefanovic outright denies Taystee’s humanity. “No, she ain’t [a person,” he tells CO Ward. “And the second you see those animals like that, you’re fucked.” It’s a shocking moment, but it shouldn’t be. Their games of Fantasy Inmate and ploys to encourage prisoners to fight? It’s all a way of denying the awful realization that, as COs, they’re enforcing this cruel system.It’s a way of dampening their own responsibility towards being kind, empathetic humans themselves.
MCC, as an organization, actively encourages such dehumanization. Linda’s latest task to Fig is to assign each prisoner a score derived by certain factors, including the severity of their crime and their behavior in prison. Prisoners are numbers, they’re “animals,” they’re opportunities for points — essentially, they’re anything but people.
In this episode, we also see happens when a prisoner awakens to the truth of the system. Yes, the prisoner discovers, everyone in authority is deliberately acting against your best interest. It’s a moment akin to Neo’s awakening in The Matrix. Gloria comes across the Fantasy Inmate score charts. When she confronts Alvarez, he throws her in the SHU. Anything to save his ridiculous game. Long story short: If you confront MCC, you either end up in the SHU or you end up on trial, like Taystee. The women can’t seem to win.
Ironically, as we see the cold divide between prisoner and institution in sharp detail, Linda is busy working on a video that’s supposed to present MCC — rebranded “Polycon” part of the PR campaign — as a place of learning, growth, and thriving. We know better than to trust this hypocritical video, and so do the women starring in it. Due to MCC’s neglect, Poussey Washington was killed, a prison riot occurred, and women are languishing from boredom and lack of resources that they keep busy by planning full-out warfare.
Because that’s what’s going on, now. Full-on warfare. Ginger, as I had suspected, put Barbara and Carol together in the ad seg cell on purpose. After inheriting the Denning sisters on her Fantasy Inmate team once Blake quit, she tried to goad them to fight. Her plan didn’t work. Instead, when released back to their cells, Barbara and Carol rallied the troops. Both are preparing to kill each other. For all their differences, Barbara and Carol are pretty similar, down to the very phrasing of their war plans.
Badison is distracted by Carol’s call to arms, because she’s busy with her own little war: Taking down Piper Chapman. Badison doesn’t seem to realize that no one cares about her! She’s not the boss, Carol is. Anyway, she’s planning on using her superpower — extending people’s prison sentences — to ruin Piper’s chances of getting out promptly. Alex, seeing no other option, intervenes. At first, she tries to reason with Badison. When that doesn't work, she sees the big boss, Carol, herself. Carol is impressed by Alex’s demeanor and drug pushing resume. She agrees to protect Piper if Alex will work for her. She and Badison are to be team, how lovely. By the end of the episode, Badison has quit bothering Piper. Piper thinks it’s because of her own scheme (she brought the drugs to CO Hopper and explained how Badison was out to get her), but it’s because Alex sacrificed herself.
Carol has seems to have dropped her war against Frieda, much to Red’s frustration. Red’s most self-destructive impulses are on display this episode. Her thirst for revenge eclipses sensibility. Red’s son comes to visit with the two grandchildren she’sd never met. While on line waiting to be released to the visitors’ center, Red sees Frieda. She breaks the line and throttles Frieda for betraying her (Cindy, looking on, surely must be reminded of what she did to Taystee). As a result, Red getsd sent to the SHU and never meets her grandkids.
Jefferson, at least, has people protecting her from her worst impulses. She’s not alone. The day before she’s set to give her testimony at the trial, Caputo visits her in prison and tells her not to give up. The next day, Taystee delivers a truly affecting speech about why she chose to be involved in the prison riot, which boils down to seeking justice for Poussey. “I wanted the man to who killed her to be up here explaining why he killed an innocent person instead of me being here explaining why I didn’t kill a guilty one,” she says. During the speech, Taystee continually corrects her language to make sure she sounds “appropriate,” reminding me of what she told Piper last episode — the outside world perceives her as someone who belongs in prison. The problem is bigger than MCC. The problem is ingrained racism and indifference.
Finally, it looks like Piper is getting out early. OITNB is dealing with the Piper problem by getting rid of Piper. Hopper, who was in charge of inputting the prisoners’ data, changed Piper’s rank to “one” so she could get out with the top 25-ranked inmates, who were all being released early. And it’s not because he thinks Piper’s great. It’s because Piper volunteered to pay attention to where the drugs were coming in – and he doesn’t want her looking his way. Literally, there is no instance in which a guard is looking out for a prisoner because he has his or her best interest at heart.
If Piper leaves prison, then the show will shed its first snake skin. It’ll evolve into its next self — a show without Piper as its anchor. I’ve actually been enjoying Piper and Alex’s relationship this season. Granted, I’m a hopeless romantic who will mine any unpleasant situation for a shard of romantic exaltation. But (and maybe this is all because of Prepon’s fantastic, casually sexy attitude) what they have seems real. I believe it. They’ve provided the “joy” this season that Piper has been trying to derive through kickball.
Any flashback revelations? None.
Everything happens all at once. Taystee’s trial. Piper’s release and her impending separation from Alex. The kickball war. In this finale of Orange is the New Black, each significant plot strand reaches its gutting climax on the very same day — plus some unexpected twists. By doing so, this finale of Orange is the New Black highlights the themes this season has been toying with in scenes both brutal and lighthearted: Prison is a corrupt system that does not do what it purports to do in that ridiculous “Polycon” video. It does not rehabilitate. It does not foster personal growth and a transition into the real world. It entraps, it convicts, and it strips people of their humanity.
“Ain’t you paying attention?” Taystee asks Caputo in her prison cell, the day before her trial results are to be revealed. “There ain’t no justice. Not for Poussey. And not for me.” She might as well be speaking to the audience. Aren’t we paying attention? This is a show, sure – but we should take its lessons and apply it to areas in our world in which justice is sorely lacking.
Taystee’s trial is, well — devastating. I had to keep reminding myself it was fictional. When the jury returns with their verdict, the scene goes silent. Instead of hearing the jury pronounce its sentence, we watch the word “guilty” paint itself over Taystee’s face with wrenching sobs. She’s sentenced to a life behind bars for something she did not do. I’m worried for her future. Like Daya, who’s fully addicted to heroin at this point, this sentence may cripple her. Or worse. She’d intimated to Caputo that she doesn’t plan on spending her life in prison, no matter the sentence.
Taystee is a sacrificial lamb to an unfeeling society, and so is Aleida. She visits Daya and finally puts together the awful truth that she is hooked on the drugs she’s importing into the prison. However, Aleida decides to stay with the entreprise so that she can save her kids from foster care.
Joe Caputo’s hero’s journey ends in a slump. He changed his mind about MCC too late; he’s been an agent of MCC’s mission for too long. He’s literally slept with two of its leaders, Fig and Linda. There’s nothing he can do at this point, though he tries: He confronts Herrmann, who framed Taystee, and then had the nerve to watch as Taystee was declared guilty. Caputo gets beat up, then drags his bloody face to the new Polycon luncheon, where the company’s next foray is revealed: border control. Here OITNB makes a pointed connection between conditions in the prison system and on the U.S. border. The institutions that run these systems do not care about the struggles and circumstances individual people — and especially people of color. This is our first hint of where season 6 of OITNB might be headed.
Since there is no justice in the world, we spend double the amount of time with Piper that we do with Taystee. Piper’s pretty bummed about getting out of prison, because she’ll be leaving Alex early. Piper, you see, has the privilege of being really sad about leaving prison. She’s floated above the dangers of max this season; worrying about kickball instead of her life. Sure, people pick on her. But Badison, her greatest threat, was squashed promptly by Alex and by CO Hopper within a single episode.
Alex and Piper get their prison marriage after all, in which they pledge their unending devotion. I wonder how their breath is. At last Alex apologizes for landing Piper in prison in the first place – when you think about it, it’s pretty miraculous that Piper has managed to forgive Alex for that very, very big betrayal. Also, remind me to book Nicky Nichols as my wedding officiant. For all her past instabilities, Nicky has remained a level-headed force this season.
Nicky doesn’t just officiate the wedding as a final act of family love. She’s a sly dog, our Nicky. The wedding is an occasion for Nicky to liberate Lorna from the D Block gang mentality she’s become wrapped up in. Essentially, Nicky uses the wedding — which is technically between two C Block members — to show that the whole rivalry is a construct. D Block and C Block are arbitrary sortings. Carol and Barbara are using these women as sacrificial soldiers for their own ridiculous, long-standing rivalry. After getting through to Lorna, the two hide in a closet to avoid being swept up in the kickball field with the other shank-wielding girls from D Block.
When watching the women in D Block and C Block prepare for the kickball fight with their chants and their fury, keep in mind what Adeola (Sipiwe Moyo), Lorna’s consistently hilarious roommate, says about her thesis subject in grad school. “I was an evolutionary anthropologist. I was mainly interested in human behavior in a cultural context and the shifting dynamics of tribalism, and in particular how the disputes between social psychology and behavioral ecology negotiated themselves on a micro scale,” she said — of course an on-the-nose reference to everything that’s occurring in front of us, on the show.
All of this energy has been constructed by Carol and Barbara Denning who, surprise surprise, have ulterior motives. As the women march toward kickball – they line up right next to Piper and the other women being freed; it’s a real moment — Carol and Barbara sneak away into a closet and change into pink Florida uniforms. Their plan is to sneak away to Florida after the chaos from the field bleeds into the hallways. Once in Florida, they’ll kill Frieda.
Unfortunately, Carol and Barbara don’t account for one major factor: Kickball is fun. Piper was right about something after all. Maria Ruiz’s intervention helps break the tension between C and D Block teams, too. She convinces a reluctant McCullough, who hates her, to let the captains choose new teams. Maria, the D Block captain, begins picking people from C Block, thus breaking up the blocks. Without Carol and Barbara around to goad them into fighting, the women get really into the game, and the rivalry flits away. Badison, with her ridiculous lines like “this color doesn’t bleed,” just looks like a cuckoo sycophant.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Carol and Barbara’s rivalry is very much real. Remember how Ginger locked them in a cell hoping a fight would break out? Well, she had the right idea. Once it becomes obvious that the women didn’t fight outside, Carol and Barbara turn on each other. And for what? Over that silly story that had caused the fight in prison in first place. One sister had told a story, and the other story was convinced the story really happened to her. In a flashback, we learn that the story didn’t happen to either of them, but to another waitress. They both misremembered.
The next time we see Carol and Barbara, they’re lying dead on the floor outside the closet. Barbara’s throat has been slit, and Carol, stabbed in the back, crawls forward before dying. In a scene that encapsulates EVERYTHING that has happened this season, Alvarez and Ginger come across the bodies, and the first thing Alvarez tells her is that she won Fantasy Inmate. Their first thought has nothing to do with human lives.
Now that Carol and Barbara are dead, I can admit that their whole rivalry (and their whole characterization) didn’t quite do it for me. Were they hardened sociopathic criminals, or were they petulant teenagers warring over some silly story? Is OITNB suggesting that all teenagers contain some nugget of potential destruction? I didn’t believe them. I wasn’t scared. I wanted more backstory, more juice. I wanted to know how they became what they became (not in prison, but before).
Still, their deaths leave a lot of room for OINTB to grow next season. With a power vacuum, what’s going to happen? Will Alex still be promised to work for Carol’s crew? Will new rivalries form? Will anyone from Ohio (Maritza and Big Boo) return? Here’s what we do know about season 7: Piper is outta here, baby. Her burly brother picks her up from prison. She’s sad about “missing out” on things. Ultimately, we know the ending to her story. She’s going to publish a bestselling memoir and be a-okay.
The season ended on a haunting note: Flores’ release. She and some other Latinx prisoners are put straight on an immigration van while Diablo waits outside the prison, his smile slowly melting into a perplexed frown. Flores was about to be released into a supportive environment; she was going to construct a real life. It’s devastating. Even Burset’s release, which should be happy, is laced with the knowledge that she’s only free because she agreed to stay silent.
The season’s over, but no one got what they deserve, or what they want. There’s no room for dreams or justice in this world. What a grim ending.
Did OITNB regain its stride this season? I’d say so. The show once again struck that almost uncomfortable balance of devastating social commentary and character-based humor. Watching OITNB in this political climate, I’m aware of how vivid these injustices are for many people. I struggle to call OITNB entertainment. Let this season make you think about what’s wrong with these systems — and what you can do to help.
Any flashback revelations? Piper leaving prison is kind of like a flashback — she’s flashing back to her old self.