My issues with Orange Is The New Black season 6 are well-documented. Although the dramedy’s 2018 run is a major improvement upon the prison saga's disappointing fifth season, it's still a brutal 13 episodes of television. The Netflix show has gone from a series about women in terrible circumstances finding spare moments of joy to a series about women in worse-than-terrible circumstances stumbling into even more terrible circumstances (with a few exceedingly rare happy seconds tossed in, usually saved for the white characters).
Yet, season 6's eleventh episode, the aptly-titled “Well This Took A Dark Turn,” is able to supply one of the most illuminating, important moments of the entire series. After years of knocking leading lady Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) down, OITNB finally confronted The Problem With Piper head-on. The problem, we find out thanks to a conversation with fantastic tragic heroine Taystee Jefferson (Danielle Brooks), is one of privilege.
Piper and Taystee could not come from more different worlds. Piper hails from a wealthy, WASP-y Connecticut family and enjoyed all the luxuries that come with such a pedigree before she ended up behind bars. Piper shares an alma mater with two First Ladies and started a ridiculous soap company named PoPi. Taystee spent most of her life in the foster care system before entering the prison system as a teen. As an adult, she has yet to escape these controlling institutions (remember when Taystee was released from Litchfield in season 1 only to break parole to return to her prison “home?”)
These differences eventually lead these two very different women into Litchfield’s maximum security salon in “Dark Turn.” Piper is flustered after finding out her blandly malevolent bunkmate Madison “Badison” Murphy (Amanda Fuller) planted drugs on her in a bizarre scheme to wreck Piper’s upcoming release date. Although Madison hates Piper, she also wants to keep her in max forever. You know what they say: misery loves company.
Taystee, on the other hand, is in the salon because she is preparing for her court trial. The court trial where she is up for the second-degree murder of a man she did not kill, sadistic guard Desi Piscatella (Brad William Henke) In fact, Taystee could have killed the CO in season 5 finale “Storm-y Weather,” but did not. Yet, here she is, facing a life in prison merely because she, a plus-size, low-income Black woman, fits the part of what society wrongly assumes a criminal looks like.
The question of who has it worse between the two inmates may be obvious, but it isn’t to Piper. At last, Taystee breaks this all down for her.
When Piper asks Taystee why people like to fuck with her, Taystee explains, “They see the shit they never had. Money, education, opportunity. That’s why they’re never going to stop fucking with you — because of what you represent.” While that is an irritating burden to carry in prison, as Taystee adds, “at least that’s only in here.” In the outside world, Piper’s appearance is an unquestionable advantage. It’s a rare privilege to be viewed as a successful, wealthy women with the world at your fingertips before you even open your mouth.
Taystee is quite aware she has no such privilege. While her appearance as a “dangerous, poor, ghetto Black girl,” as Taystee describes the world's view of her, has helped her blend into a prison system overpopulated with Black women — thus helping her go relatively unnoticed, unlike Piper — she knows this fact isn’t a big win. Rather, it’s another symptom of the crippling inequality she has always faced. “People been out there fucking with me my entire life,” Taystee explains to Piper, noting her background makes people think she should be locked up forever. “If you want to trade places, I’m game.”
Although Piper has been living next to Taystee for years, along with many other women drowning in discrimination, you can tell from her face this is the first time the former artisanal soap maker actually realizes how little she grasps the seismic effects of privilege. Being bullied by a Boston-accented monster isn’t really so bad when the alternative is going up against an entire society that wants you caged like an animal. One crisis is temporary, the other is as old as America itself. At last this dawns on Piper, who has blinked through the last six seasons while wondering why her life is so terribly difficult.
We see just how right Taystee is about her and Piper’s very different lives in finale “Be Free.” Taystee, who killed absolutely no one, is convicted of murder despite her own moving testimony and clear evidence she committed no crime. Taystee is understandably shattered by the loss and the realization she will spend the rest of her life in prison. In the last we see of Taystee, she is being escorted back into max.
At the exact same time, Piper is released from max after lead CO Hopper (Hunter Emery) pushed her name to the front of early inmate releases. In the end we come to realize, Piper’s Badison panic was for nothing. Instead of time being added to her sentence, months have been removed. Now she can enjoy the fresh air and car rides and her annoying-but-lovable brother’s presence.
This is what privilege looks like, and Orange Is The New Black wasn’t afraid to show it in all its painful detail.
Looking for more theories, recaps, and insider info on all things TV? Join our Facebook group, Binge Club. The community is a space for you to share articles, discuss last night’s episode of your favorite show, or ask questions! Join here.