Ah, Orange Is the New Black. The show that taught us to binge-watch. The show that elevated people who hadn't ever been given protagonist status before. The big, bewildering, sprawling show that gave us an ensemble cast to call friends.
That show is ending. There are 13 episodes in Orange Is the New Black's final season, and we're going to talk through their highs, los, and bewildering moments. It's not time for goodbye just yet.
Episode 1: “Beginning of the End”
OITNB, based on the 2010 memoir by Piper Kerman, was never going to be the story of one white lady adjusting to prison and then getting out in a year. Once in Litchfield, the dramedy unfolded and expanded to become a show about the justice system and its toll on her fellow inmates — marginalized, poor women whose stories hadn’t been highlighted in the news, let alone elevated to protagonist status. And it was even more than that, too. It was a show that kicked open the door to streaming TV.
The last scene in this episode embodies the show’s mission statement. Several characters give a snippet of their interior monologue. While we haven’t heard from them directly prior to this sequence, these prisoners have been in the show all along. Just because they haven’t been elevated to characters doesn’t mean they don’t have stories, doesn’t mean they couldn’t be characters.
Given how broad the show became, it’s bittersweet (but also fitting) the final season of Orange Is the New Black reverts back to being the Piper Chapman Show. We’ve come full circle. The series is collapsing onto itself. By wrapping up loose ends, it’s getting smaller.
Now out of Litchfield, Piper’s biggest roadblock amounts to an identity crisis. She looks the same, but now she has a scarlet C for Convict that pops up on job applications and in social interactions. Not that freedom is easy, per se. She’s struggling with the demands of her parole officer, financial difficulties, the cacophony of the house she shares with her brother, Cal (Michael Chernus), his wife, Neri (Tracee Chimo), and their newborn, and her father’s (Bill Hoag) coldness — but she hardly faces the same systemic roadblocks that fellow Litchfield veterans like Taystee (Danielle Brooks) encountered after they got out.
Since she’s ultimately just a lost millennial, Piper turns to the zodiac as a compass. Exactly zero of us are surprised to learn that Piper Chapman is a Gemini. The Geminis’ duality is inherent. Everywhere she goes in New York, she encounters a shadow of her pre-jail self. She and Polly (Maria Dizzia) ate at the Thai restaurant where she works to satisfy her parole.
Piper says that Geminis are “torn between personal freedom and the ties of love that hold us back.” This sentiment will guide her arc this season: Her marriage to Alex (Laura Prepon), whose sentence is for another three years, keeps her tied to Litchfield, and severely limits her personal freedom. Is visiting Alex worth getting fired from her restaurant job, worth pinching pennies for bus fare, worth being tethered to Litchfield?
They’re deeply happy to see each other, but the glass that separates Alex and Piper is thicker than it seems. The glass separates the truth. Neither one can help the other change the circumstances of their lives — so it’s easier to lie about them.
We concede that Piper’s having a hard time, but Piper is free — and inherently on an upward trajectory. The same can’t be said for the women she left behind in prison. To put it simply, the women of Litchfield are not in good shape. There’s a case of dead eyes going around the prison.
Daya (Dashca Polanco), for example, has become the Walter White of Litchfield. She started out as a shy, dreamy girl drawing cartoons in a notebook. Prison turned her into a hardened drug dealer. Once surrounded by her mother and her mother’s friends, all of Daya’s relationships are completely toxic. When she finds out that girlfriend/dealer/business partner, Daddy (Vicci Martinez), is cheating, Daya orchestrates her drug overdose. It might’ve been accidental — but she aimed to harm Daddy either way. Daya is now officially a murderer and a drug kingpin.
Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) body is lying down on the bench in isolation, but her mind is gone — and so is her signature hair color. It’s as if the moment that Red’s magenta hair faded into white, she lost her vitality (the Litchfield version of “Samson and Delilah”). Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva), also in seg, can’t revive her former rival-turned-friend.
And Taystee’s bubbly personality has fizzled out — “now she’s just a murderer no-smiler,” as Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) says. After hearing the lie so many times, Suzanne starts to believe that Taysttee actually did kill Piscatella. Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) reminds her that she’s not — and that the two of them are the reason why Taystee’s been sentenced to life.
Among the set, Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning) stands out as a prisoner who’s actually been improved by her time at Litchfield. She says it straight: “I’m the exception. I feel like I’ve gotten better since being here. Most people get worse.” Keep this in mind as the season progresses. Who will end Orange Is the New Black in better shape? Who will be worse? Or, to put it simply, who will the show choose to let off the hook, who to punish, who to redeem — and why?
Tiffany has been improving against every odd. Seriously. As this season, and all the seasons before it, highlight so starkly, the people who work for the prison are not at all interested in prisoner rehabilitation. The guards brazenly try to profit off the prison’s black market. Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is still working with Rick Hopper (Hunter Emery) to smuggle drugs into the prison; while he’s keen on dropping the operation and just dating, Aleida’s more concerned with making money and neglects her many other daughters in the process (could one of them be going the Daya route?). Hellman (Greg Vrostos) offloads his drugs onto Alex in a seriously alarming assault — he forces her to swallow a condom-full of fentanyl.
Smartphones, which Luschek (Matt Peters) smuggles in for Badison (Amanda Fuller), have radically changed the landscape of Litchfield. The women are more connected to the outside world. Now, Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) can browse Tinder — and find a different, more seductive, side to the guard Artesian McCullough (Emily Tarver). Lorna (Yael Stone) sees pictures of her newborn son, Sterling.
And it’s also changing revenge. Alex helps herself and the show by planting a phone in Badison’s cell, ultimately leading to her placement in isolation.
Blast to the Past: We get it, Piper, your life was dreamy before prison! She has memories of Larry and Polly — two people who are absent from her life, but very present in each other’s.
Episode 2: Just Desserts
After that first Piper-centric episode, Orange is the New Black is broadening to encompass more of its sprawling ensemble cast – including the newly released Maritza (Diane Guerrero).
As the song goes, Maritza is young, and wild, and free. But is she allowed to be? As Piper’s many conversations with her parole officer last episode show, newly released inmates have to fit their lives within parolele’s severe restrictions, like a curfew. It’s past sundown, that’s for sure. Martiza is drinking, staying out late, and giving a finger to the rules.
Clearly, Maritza’s brush with the callous nature of the criminal justice system doesn’t make her more cautious in the outside world. Instead, her time in prison makes her want to run wild and sleep with NBA players. The adrenaline rush, unfortunately, ends in a crash. When the club is raided, Maritza can’t produce an ID. She ends up back in Litchfield. Instead of jail, she’s in in Immigrantion and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holding pen, where women migrants are kept before their trial.
That’s right, folks: In its final season, Orange Is the New Black has become a story about two types of incarceration. Litchfield Maximum Security’s new next-door neighbor is the one-room holding pen where women await their deportation trials. The conditions in the ICE prison are even worse (take a look at the photos). Here, there are no phones, no guards, no visiting hours. No access to the outside world. And, it seems for Martiza and Blanca (Laura Gómez), no hope.
At least Litchfield, on the other side, is undergoing some reform. The Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) redemption tour is headed ever upwards — he and Fig (Alysia Reiner) have cobbled together an actual relationship, so true to both of their characters that it’s almost cute. In an ironic twist, Joe’s teaching classes on prison reform.
Joe’s likeable now. He’s learned from his old dirtbag ways; he’s changed. That’s great and all, but it’s a reminder that he’s changed only because he had the freedom to. Unlike the women in prison, he’s not trapped. For them to change, like Pennsatucky said last episode, it takes a real battle against nihilism, against a system designed to oppress them.
And it’s a system that’s not even just! Suzanne comes to a difficult realization this episode. Many of the women, including her, don’t necessarily deserve to be in jail (the case can be made for Suzanne being in a mental rehab facility, not prison).
Suzanne’s late to the realization — all the other inmates know. Of all the guards, only Tamika Ward (Susan Heyward) recognizes the horrors of the system. She’s watched it take her childhood friend, Taystee. She’s been taking Caputo’s night classes in corrections management, listening, absorbing ways to change. Tamika sees the potential for prison as a place of rehabilitation: “I want to be part of what changes them for the better,” Ward tells the ever-craven Linda Ferguson (Beth Dover).
Given all this, Tamika is more than prepared when, in a twist, she’s appointed the new prison warden. Tamika gets the position out of the most cynical of reasons: Linda wants to “distract” the media from the PR disaster that Daddy’s death poses for Litchfield — it’s the third inmate death in recent memory. So, she fires Fig and hires Tamika. Tamika doesn’t get the job purely by her own merits, but she still gets the job. At least she, the only guard remotely sympathetic to the prisoners, is now in a position of power. After a season of cringe-worthy interviews, Hopper is promoted to head guard.
One of this season’s “storylines” is the Diaz Family Show. In prison, Daya teams up with Adeola (Sipiew Myo) to run a new drug import biz. They’re a good team — which means Daya’s sinking faster into the prison’s quicksand.
It runs in the family. Her mother, Aleida, has technically left Litchfield, but hasn’t really left. She’s still encouraging her live-in boyfriend Hopper to smuggle in drugs to the prison. It’s painfully obvious to everyone but him that she’s only keeping him around for the cash and material comforts. Aledia is relentlessly ambitious, but faced countless roadblocks when she tried to play by the parole rules (including a pyramid scheme). She finds success by keeping one foot in the prison. It also means her family is forever linked, including her many non-incarcerated kids.
Finally, Piper’s still struggling to integrate her inmate past with her present among hippies and WASPs. Only Alex understands her – and Alex has just been strong-armed into smuggling drugs into Litchfield with McCullough. Could this risky move get her more than three years?
So far, this season has proceeded like many different TV shows cobbled into one. There haven’t been the cohesiveness and interlocking story lines representative of the ambitious past seasons (including the three-day prison riot season).
Blast to the Past: From the army to Litchfield, McCullough has spent her entire professional career trying to fit into heavily masculine environments — and she’s tired of it. Back when she was stationed in Iraq, McCullough tried to fit in with her all-male regiment by bringing in a stripper for a guy’s birthday. And it works! “Grandma,” as is her nickname, can hang. But when she’s sexually assaulted that night by a guy in her regiment, no one believes her. The alienation is painful.
Litchfield is a similarly inhospitable work environment — in another show, in another era, that scene of the guards pretending to have sex with the interviewer might be comedy. Here, it’s a reminder that McCullough is in a space where her body is a liability. She takes charge by stooping to their level.
Episode 3: “And Brown Is the New Orange”
Rejoice! Solitary is closed. So why aren’t the women in solitary celebrating their liberation? It’s simple: There’s not much left of them left. Watching the women stagger out of their isolated quarters, it’s clear how much their time in isolation has depleted them. Chatty Cathy (Marcia DeBonis) has been in the SHU for months after faking her own death. She’s not so chatty anymore.
It’s her first day on the job, and Warden Ward (hah!) is grappling with a thorny question: Why did she get the position of warden? Because her night classes and exemplary resume merited it? Or, as Hopper says, because she checked boxes? Her worst fears are confirmed when Fig confirms that she only got the job so the prison could get a huge diversity grant. Until Tamika believes in her own right to be Warden, the guards won’t respect her, and she won’t be able to accomplish her visionary plans of the prison.
Fig, of all people, swoops in with some actual helpful advice. If Fig chooses to use her unrelenting attitude to help other women, we’ll allow it. “What matters is what we do once we have the job,” she says.
Fig should take her own advice to heart. What will she do now that she’s managing ICE’s wing of the prison? Whereas Tamika faces self-doubt, Fig has a moral panic staring at the “docile” immigrants in the one-room shelter, where bunks beds are stacked three high.
As warden, Fig justified her cold behavior because she was dealing with criminals. But here? She can’t bring herself to categorize these women as criminals like ICE’s guard, Litvak (Adam Lindo), does. Fig’s normal look of disdain has been replaced by one of undisguised horror. She and Joe are trying for a kid. Something tells me this new gig will be a mood killer.
The ICE Kingdom introduces a new cast of characters (it’s Orange Is the New Black — much like the universe, this show is always expanding, even until the very end). Shani (Mari Lou Nahhas), from Egypt. Karla Cordova (Karina Arroyave) is a mother from El Salvador struggling to get back in touch with her kids. All of them are in the same boat: no legal aid, no hope aside from the pitiful turtle dog floating around the ceiling.
Maritza tries to try to find a way of communicating with the outside world. But at every turn, she runs into an obstacle. There are phones, but no phone cards. Letters, but no stamps. She starts off her quest with the energy of someone who is confident she’s an American citizen and is entitled to certain rights, like legal aid. After a day of running into “no’s,” Maritza’s energy runs out. She’s a step closer to becoming a human zombie like Blanca.
Clearly, in this case, hope is not a thing with feathers. Hope might come in the form of a kitchen gig from Litchfield. Gloria, Red, and their merry band of chefs come to the ICE Kingdom bearing camaraderie – and connection to the outside world. .
Speaking of Red: She doesn’t seem herself, post-SHU, does she? She doesn’t jump at the chance to join a kitchen crew with her quintessential seriousness. She forgets names. Red’s “redness” is gone.
Taystee isn’t herself, either — but the bubbly Taystee of season 1 has disappeared forever. Now, Taystee is like the boogeyman of Litchfield. For one, everyone thinks she’s a murderer (she’s not). But after getting life in prison, she radiates anger and a desperate unhappiness, like she’s forever about to burst. And she does burst, exploding at her irritating new roommate, Badison.
Even Suzanne is too terrified to approach Taystee. Only Pennsatucky, the prison’s loony aunt, cross lines others won’t. So, she brokers a meeting between the “terrifying” Taystee and Suzanne. Then, Cindy shows up. Suzanne is awakening to the awful thing she and Cindy did. But she’s still too naive to realize that what’s done can’t be undone. The three amigos can’t rebuild a burnt bridge.
Within the increasingly corrupt prison economy, alliances have once again shifted. We’ll make it easy on you: Alex and McCullough team up to trick Hellman, and free Alex up to deal phone chargers with McCullough. Hellman, seeking revenge on Alex, tries to team up with Badison to get Alex transferred. Thank god what results is Badison getting transferred to Ohio. The human mosquito has been squashed.
Piper’s dreams of fitting in with the hippiey gluten-free mommy club are shattered when her stern parole officer drops in. Immediately after, all the mommies dip out. “We’re just not comfortable,” she says, as if Piper has the black plague instead of just a hiccup in her past.
The situation is representative of how the rest of Piper’s life will go. Eventually, whenever she gets close to someone, the whole “prison” thing will intrude. And with the right people, the relationship will keep going beyond that intrusion. PIper is working on getting to that place with her father, who’s still deeply ashamed of his daughter’s time in prison. He makes a big concession in letting her stay with him.
Blast to the Past: Blanca and Diablo forever! This is clearly THE Orange is the New Black couple to ship. They are the model couple — unlike Alex and Piper, their relationship has been steady in love and support. A “through thick and thin” kind of love. America brought them together. Ever since Blanca went to jail for helping her heinous old lady employer cover up a hit-and-run, America has been doing a damn good job of pulling them apart. After her green card gets invalidated for pleading guilty to the prison riot, Blanca is shipped around to detention centers
When he goes to visit her at one, ICE nabs Diablo. His green card hasn’t been renewed. America is the villain of OITNB.
Episode 4: “How to Do Life”
Red forgot how to chop an onion. Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Red was our war general. Our kitchen queen. She was a chief.
And she’s gone. Red watches Gloria Mendoza chop, then follows her movements, then gives up. Red’s old self comes out in surges. Generally it’s like she’s play-acting at Red, cobbling together a personality from whatever fragments she remembers of who she once was.
The kitchen crew forms a bridge between Litchfield and Polycon’s ICE HQ. One of the few bright spots this season is watching Blanca, Gloria, Maritza and Flaca come together. It’s more than a reunion. Litchfield’s inmates are also the migrants’ conduit to the outside world. They’re incarcerated, but they still have more avenues of communication than the 75 immigrants.
“People need a purpose,” Red says, on the way back to Litchfield. This episode, Flaca finds hers. She’s going to sneak in cell phones to help the immigrants get in touch with their people, starting with Maritza’s mom and Diablo. Gloria is hesitant because she’s desperate to get back to her sons, and not abandon them the same way she did her daughters (see flashback for more info!). Ultimately, Gloria goes to Luschek for a smartphone.
Flaca eventually does get in contact with Maritza’s estranged mother, but hears shocking news: Unbeknownst to Maritza, she wasn’t born in the U.S. She can be deported.
They’re stuck. But Tamika is trying to make sure the prisoners at Litchfield feel the breeze of forward momentum.
By introducing classes to the prison, Warden Ward’s trying to instill a sense of purpose in all the inmates. In perhaps a cheeky nod to the show’s theme song, Tamika’s class pamphlets say, “You’ve got time...to learn and grow.” The programs, like a spoken word class and Joe Caputo’s rehabilitation class, are supposed to prepare for life after Litchfield. Pennsatucky takes a tour through all the classes, eventually deciding to follow through with the GED program.
It must be difficult for Taystee to hear about “life after prison” when she won’t have one. Still, so long as Taystee is in prison, what good will a GED do? There’s a ray of hope, though. Remember how knotty Suzanne’s mind was after the riot? And how Cindy took advantage of her state to get out of serving a life sentence? Well, Suzanne has been unknotting her brain, so to speak. She’s been writing the truth. Maybe there’s a shot Suzanne’s efforts will help Taystee’s case.
Taystee might not last that long. She asks Daya for a stash of the same bath salts that killed Daddy. Taystee can’t live with the reality of her life sentence, so she wants to take her life. She thinks it’ll give her one last semblance of control, but ultimately, she can’t go through with it. When Lorna gets devastating news, she, like Taystee, can’t live with reality. So she bends it.
This one’s bad, you guys. Brace yourselves.
Lorna derives so much joy from motherhood, even though baby Sterling is far away. On the way back to Litchfield, she bonds with Scott (Joel Marsh Garland), Wanda’s husband, over the joys of parenthood — birth, specifically. It’s obvious how different their experiences are. Scott names his son King as an homage to the crowning process. Lorna makes light of her own awful C-section, during which she was literally chained to the table.
When her husband, Vinnie (John Magaro), comes to visit and tell her the news, she doesn’t accept it. She can’t accept that her newborn son got pneumonia and died. That she’s alone now. Prison can separate her from the outside world. This is the exact moment when Lorna loses her mind, once and for all.
Red and Lorna have lost their minds. Two of the OG kitchen crew members, altered forever.
Piper, on the other hand, is still Piper. Across the board, the people in Piper’s life are trash. Neri, her brother’s husband, is both cold and cloying! Her dad is judgmental and withholding! As of this episode, Alex sort of counts as trash, too, for always getting in a semblance of trouble. Will all that time spent in closets exchanging contraband cell phone chargers with McCullough lead to a spark?
Blast to the Past: Gloria left behind a whole life in Puerto Rico — a life we don’t know about. When her daughters were about 8 and 10, she moved to New York to get a job and set up a life for them (for context — back in Puerto Rico, they all sleep in the same bed). They never end up reuniting. Gloria buys a store and pushes back the time when she can move in with them. By the time she’s ready for them, her now-teenage girls, Ceci and Elena, don’t want to come.
Episode 5: “Minority Deport”
Aleida Diaz is a very good at setting a bad example. While she’s been distracted by her side-hustle and love triangle, Aleida’s many daughters have been roaming free. So when Aleida briefly looks up at her kids this episode, she’s shocked by what she sees. Eva (Isabella Ferreira), her 13-year-old, is hooking up with a 27-year-old drug dealer. And nothing that Aleida — a drug pusher who’s still hooking up with her dealer ex-husband — says can change Eva’s mind.
Aleida does try to change her mind, though. She violently freaks out and ends up in prison. Back with her other daughter.
OITNB is a show about sticky cycles. You get out of prison, but you can’t get out of a life of crime, so you end up back in prison, like Taystee. You try your best to provide for your kids, but you end up doing exactly what your mother did for you, like Aleida. Or you sort of wish you were back in the cycle, like Piper.
Women in the ICE detention center, however, aren’t in a cycle: They’re on a conveyer belt out that’s leading toward deportation. Who will be called the courtroom and inevitably deported next? Before it’s Maritza’s turn, Gloria and Flaca give her a cell phone and the number for the Freedom for Immigrants hotline. Soon, Maritza passes on the number to other migrants — a lightning bolt of hope cutting through their seriously dire situation.
Women need to support other women, because it’s obvious that the legal system is bent on sending everyone back. Without access to outside help, the women are sent back “to where they came from,” literally. Karla Cordova knows her rights, and this gives her a leg up. During her trial she hits on a loophole by demanding extra time to find effective legal counsel. It buys her some time. Blanca pulls the same move.
But Blanca doesn’t have time to talk to Maritza and give her the good ‘ol “ask for a lawyer!” trick. By the time she returns, Maritza is gone. Like, really gone. She gets deported back to Colombia, a country she moved from as an infant. Goodbye to Martiza, whose confidence we wish we could bottle up and make a fortune off of selling, whose confidence we hope gives her fuel in a strange new life.
Living like this is exhausting. Shani would know — she’s been detention center-hopping for 18 months. At least here, she has Nicky, a flirty sparring partner. It’s a joy to see Nicky in a social situation that’s purely for her. She’s not taking care of anyone, and she’s not depleted by a raging addiction. She’s sober. She’s happy. But forming a bond with anyone in this center is a risk.
Or really, forming a bond with anyone in this corrosive environment is a risk. Nicky’s “people,” Lorna and Red, continue to deteriorate. Lorna now lives full time in the fantasy that her baby is alive. Red can’t cook.
After her suicide attempt, Taystee seems to express a desire to make her life sentence, well, more “livable.” She returns to her position as the warden’s assistant. But don’t mistake this as a genuine attempt to turn the ship around. She makes a deal with Daya: She’ll trade intel from the warden’s office for enough drugs for a lethal dose.
Both Taystee and Daya are dealing with their life sentences differently. Daya is like a nihilistic capitalist. The prison is her world now, and so she’ll rule it. The prison is also Taystee’s world, but it devastates her. She can’t go on.
Meanwhile, the Chapman siblings have a pity-off. Who has it worse? Piper, who’s bloated from self-loathing and cookie cake? Or Cal (Michael Chernus), whose too consumed by motherhood to have sex (please hear our sarcasm)? They decide to self-medicate by breaking all the rules and smoking pot. When he says, “Fuck the police,” in light of all the women on this show who have been fucked over by the system, I had to roll my eyes. This show is self-aware — but not all the characters are.
The gap in action between the struggles of Piper and some of the other women in prison (like Taystee!) is laughably large. Still, Piper is not doing well. She’s bloated from the cookie cake and tequila. Her girlfriend is potentially running around with a guard (but Piper doesn’t know that yet). All in all, Piper is very whiny and feels entitled to a “personal snow day.”
She even thinks she’s above the parole system. Piper takes a bloob (a pot-infused blueberry), thinking she can trick the drug test. We know by now that Piper is very bad at getting away with things. Spoiler: She can’t! The parole officer talks to Piper the way that everyone on the show , and watching the show, wishes they could.
Blast to the Past: Aleida’s flashback, or: How the Diaz Women Ended Up This Way. Aledia didn’t have much of a childhood. Her father was in and out of prison. Her mother taught her to use her body as a tool for mobility. This is the environment that bred Aleida’s value system of cold resilience, craven opportunism, and using her body to get ahead. She grew up too fast. So did Eva.
By the time her mother tried to “control” Aleida, it’s too late. The free-wheeling teenager, giddy on freedom and a recent release from juvie, runs away with her friend. Aleida’s attempt to intervene in Eva’s life is similarly botched. She smashes the boyfriend’s car and ends up back in prison.
Episode 6: “Trapped in an Elevator”
Earlier this season, Suzanne realizes the criminal justice system isn’t fair — but Orange is the New Black has conveyed that message from the pilot episode on.
However, the episode “Trapped in an Elevator” is also concerned with the Litchfield’s inmates taking responsibility for the actions that landed them in prison, forgiving themselves, and asking others for apologies. Nobody in Joe Caputo’s Restorative Justice class is exempt from this process, including Joe Caputo.
In class, Caputo has the women name the person they’d wronged the most. What would they say to that person?
It takes Maria Ruiz a long time to accept that she has an apology to make. At first, writes a letter to her victimizer, not her victim: Her boyfriend, Yadriel (Ian Paola), who’s raising their daughter, Pepa, with his new girlfriend, also named Maria. She blames him for being in prison — but flashbacks show that she’s ultimately responsible for ending up behind bars.
Cindy is on the opposite side of the “accepting wrong-doing” spectrum. She’s crippled by guilt. She’s getting out of prison in a week, but her decision to lie on the stand and to put Taystee in prison for life will stay with her, as will the smell of Frida’s cell. Cindy faces more guilt outside LItchfield. Her mother, Lillian (Natalie Carter) is raising Cindy’s daughter, Monica. When she moves in with them after being released, she’ll have to negotiate her role as a mother, a sister, and a liar.
Taystee’s never getting out of prison, so she doesn’t need to worry about forgiveness. She’s more concerned with revenge. That’s why she sends a letter to Cindy’s daughter, Monica, with the identity of her real mother.
But how will Joe handle apologizing when one of his victims comes forward? In a Facebook post, Susie (Lauren Lapkus) accuses her superior — aka Joe Caputo, who remains unnamed in the post — of sexual harassment, and of firing her after she rejected his advances. OITNB reevaluates a past plotline in lens of the #MeToo era.
And now for an update on the mission to create a Super Warden Baby: Joe Caputo needs to get surgery to fix his balls the same one in the show Private Life). Why is Joe always having sex or masturbating in the prison offices? Are the dull walls some kind of aphrodisiac for him? But these have the opposite effect on Fig. Her cold heart is being melted down by the blatant racism and injustice of the ICE system. Interesting to see Love Island used as a balm for guilt. Let us know if this medicine works.
Joe and Natalie have moved on from being wardens, and are busy trying to have a kid. Time for Tamika, the new ward, to go up to bat. The laughably awful Linda is shutting down the Psych Ward, and now Tamika has to speak to the press about the decision. Maybe it’s the coaching session with Fig. Maybe it’s the feeling of pure vitriol directed at Linda. Either way, Tamika has enough adrenaline to use the interview and announce better trained guards and rehabilitative programs using the $2.5 million saved by PolyCon when it closed the Psych Ward. Tamika, 1; Linda, 0. Something tells me that Linda, no matter what happens, will be just fine.
Finally, the Alex and Piper report. They’re struggling to keep the flame alive, even though keeping up in touch with inmates has never been easier. Do Alex and Piper know how lucky they are to have this contraband cell phone?
So if sexy gif exchange isn’t going to cut it, then what will? Alex suggests they open up their relationship. Perhaps she’s motivated by her budding flirtation with McCullough. During all their meetings exchanging phone chargers in closets, Alex is drawn toward her ilteral partner-in-crime, McCullough. Hasn’t McCullough heard of a dating app?
Blast to the Past: Finally, We learn that Maria became a criminal because her life with Yadriel got stale after they stopped dealing. It was better now, sure – but it was boring. She ditched the mundanity of her relationship for the rush of a love affair with Yadriel, who also recruited her to smuggle in contraband jeans. It’s a steep price to pay for excitement.
Episode 7: “Me as Well”
Orange Is the New Black takes on sex in all of its intricacies this episode — beginning, of course, with Piper.
Watching a GIF of Alex on loop, Piper goes into masturbation hibernation. It’s so egregious that her family stages an intervention. Time for Piper to actually open up their relationship. Gong fishing for a partner is laughably easy for Piper, who just has to stand somewhere and let potential hookups flock to her. But she can’t give herself to these people the same way she’d so willingly and happily submitted to the vibratr earlier on. It’s not personal — it’s just that she misses Alex. But she doesn’t know how long she can last without her, either.
Desire is messy and no one knows this better than Joe Caputo. He’s now in the throes of an accusation. When Susan Fisher writes her post on Facebook about his behavior, his first reaction is to deny, deny, deny. No, he didn’t come on to her, then punish her when he rejected his advances!
But the thing is, he did. Maybe he didn’t realize he was behaving threateningly — but he still was. Unlike the inmates of LItchfield, the system had let his sins slide. Now, in the #MeToo era, men like Joe and Sam (Michael Harney) are reevaluating their past behavior with women.
Just as Joe is looking at his past actions through a #MeToo lens, so is Orange is the New Black. Sexual harassment had been used as a plot-line previously in the show. Earlier in the show, Caputo blackmailed Fig into giving him a blowjob. It was written off as two bad people doing a bad thing. Their actions cancelled out, karmically. Audiences might not remember this small moment among the show’s cacophony — but Natalie does. It’s a part of their history she hates.
Now Joe is as uncomfortable as she is. In fact, since seeing this Facebook post, Joe Caputo has been in a constant state of discomfort — and it’s not just about his balls hurting post-surgery. After a brief visit to former Litchfield counselor Sam Healy (Michael Harney), Joe decides to meet Susan IRL and defend his honor as a nice guy.
It goes disastrously — which is ironic, considering Joe gave a whole lecture about apologies last episode. When he’s talking to Susan, Joe’s more concerned with being forgiven than with apologizing. The meeting escalates. “There are real victims out there,” he says, undercutting the validity of her accusation part of his swirling and nonsensical speech. After that, she decides to name him.
At least there’s one healthy sexual interaction going on in OITNB. It’s Nicky and Shani, who finally hook up this episode. But something is holding Shani back from enjoying their fridge hookups fully.
Whereas Shani doesn’t focus on life outside the detention center, Karla and Blanca are consumed by the topic. How will they get effective legal counsel, as they had fought for in their trial? ICE banned the Freedom for Immigrants lawyers from coming, so now it’lll take months for Blanca to get a free lawyer. Looks like she and Karla will have to represent themselves – which Karla has been doing since her husband died.
Finally, do we have reason to hope for Taystee? Suzanne gives her written account of the riot to Taystee. So far, the truth has no currency in Orange Is the New Black, especially when it comes to the riot. No one cares about what really happened. They care about the convenient story.
Taystee’s not optimistic that the account will change anything. She’s still suicidal. Then, Ward gets involved. When Ward gets a glimpse of the notebook, she tries to convince Taystee to keep going. The system is not on Taystee’s side. But Ward is. And with one person is power, maybe there will come more.
Blast to the Past: In prison, Tiffany is getting the opportunities she never got on the outside. Her father was demeaning and cruel to her, constantly putting down her intelligence. When she goes into the GED class now offered at the prison, she assumes that she’s incapable of taking tests. If anyone had paid her any attention, they would’ve known long ago that she was dyslexic. At last, she’s finally getting the help she deserves. These women have been failed by the system so hard. Tiffany is blossoming against all odds.
Episode 8: “Baker’s Dozen”
Hi, Orange Is the New Black friends, it’s Refinery29 TV critic Ariana Romero here to usher you into the final chapters of Netflix’s Litchfield saga. In the same way OITNB is an ensemble cast, so is the show’s final season recap.
I couldn’t be happier to enter the Orange fray with this episode, which reintroduces a “special chicken” — a “magical chicken,” in the words of Suzanne. As Suzanne rises in the ranks of caring for Litchfield’s new chicken coop, she is confronted with an extra member of New Cluck City. It is unclear how the chicken got into the coop, but it is certainly a nod to season 1’s “The Chickening,” one of the very best episodes of OITNB in history. In that episode, the mystical chicken in question is a symbol for freedom and possibilities in a place that suggested neither of those mercies were possible.
The appearance of one such chicken again, in the final run of this oftentimes bleak series, suggests optimism is still ripe for the taking.
Unfortunately, darkness still presses in at all corners of Litchfield. That’s why Taystee’s soul is now in limbo. Over the last few episodes, Taystee, formerly a ray of sunshine made human, has been trying to get suicide-aiding drugs from Daya, sweetheart-turned-prison queenpin. In “Baker’s Dozen,” Taystee gets her wish, and Daya hands her the kind of heroin that will supposedly end her life efficiently and without pain.
However Daya’s deadly present arrives after warden Tamika’s emotional pep talk in the last episode and Taystee’s discovery of a possible new purpose in life. Since Tamika is feeling pressure from boss Polycon, she’s unable to hire a professional GED tutor for Tiffany, who was recently diagnosed with dyslexia. So, Tamika urges Taystee, a high school graduate, to become a volunteer tutor. Within minutes, Taystee is doling out encouraging words to Tiffany and falling down the rabbit hold of different reading styles. Taystee even has a highlighter to kick off Tiffany’s brand new learning journey.
It’s the first time we’ve really seen Taystee, the person with the rawest deal in all of Litchfield, shine in far too long. If only she wasn’t also hiding heroin behind a poster in her boss’ office.
However, there is far greater heroin problems hanging over Litchfield. Aledia is back behind bars after assaulting Eva’s creepy older drug dealer boyfriend (she definitely broke her parole and likely added even more time to her sentence). That means she and Daya are wrestling for control of their Litchfield drug business. Amid the many layers of familial dysfunction on display here, the most threatening may be that Aledia no longer knows who her daughter is. In the older Diaz’s mind, Daya is a softie artist who has accidentally started abusing drugs. Daya can stop that descrustive behavior now that her mama is here to take care of her, Aledia says.
But, that’s not who Daya is anymore. She murdered her girlfriend. The drugs are her beloved crutch after becoming a lifer in the wake of the season 5 prison riot. In a world where Daya is genuinely powerless, the power of being the big dog in prison is the only strength she has left. What Aledia thinks are Daya’s now-unnecessary vices are sadly the only things that give her daughter’s life meaning. This fundamental misunderstanding can only lead to doom.
Oh, and Piper spends the episode on a women’s empowerment wilderness retreat. Someone shoots a lamb. Piper meets a nice woman named Zelda (Alicia Witt). Everyone is blatantly shipping Piper and Zelda. Between Piper and Zelda’s forest heart-to-heart and Alex’s late-in-the-episode McCullough hookup, things aren’t looking good for Pipex (Vausman?).
Blast to the Past: An obviously deteriorating Red asks Nicky to send a letter to someone. Nicky, terrified after finding her prison mom in the freezer last episode, agrees. The flashbacks slowly reveal who the recipient is: the mother of Ilya (Matthew van Oss), a fledgling mobster who lacked the taste for blood.
Back when Red’s grocery store acted as a front for the Russian mob, she urged her associates to leave Ilya out of their more violent outings. She was hoping they might give him a far less dangerous job, like lookout or accountant. The mob took that as a suggestion to murder poor, sweet Ilya and leave him in the Reznikovs freezer. The letter Red wants to send in the present timeline is an apology to Ilya’s grieving mother, Luda. The only problem, as Nicky learns throughout her detective work, is that Red already sent Luda the same letter years ago.
Red’s memory is so much worse than we realized.
Episode 9: “The Hidey Hole”
We’re officially coming to the end-end of Orange is the New Black. After this episode, “Hidey Hole,” there are just four installments left. With the seconds of OITNB rapidly ticking away, it’s the perfect time for secrets to come spilling out of Litchfield — and oh, the skeletons that show up over the hour.
The most painful secret to find the light of day belongs to the recently released Cindy, who is finally doing well at the beginning of “Hidey Hole.” She’s waking up early to make breakfast for her family, doing laundry, and generally shining as a member of the Hayes household. It’s that can-do attitude that helps Cindy quickly secure a job at an old folks’ home thanks to a recommendation from her rabbi (Eric Zuckerman).
Then, everything comes falling down at home. When Cindy returns to the Hayes apartment, her “little sister” Monica is infuriated and so is “their” mom, Lilian. Taystee’s letter revealing Monica’s true mother — Taystee! — has arrived and torn the Hayes women apart. “Far as I’m concerned, I don’t got a mother,” Monica announces before storming out.
It’s a powerful revelation that’s a long time coming. However, the fallout makes little sense. Lillian claims one of Cindy’s “prison friends” sent the letter and suggests Cindy had a part in the reveal. Considering just how upset and shocked Cindy appears, it’s illogical for Lillian to blame her daughter for this mess rather than realize she is also a victim here. It’s doubly illogical that Cindy decides to leave her family home, without any other living situation as an option, over the debacle. Wouldn’t she want to speak to Monica rather than dessert her child once again?
Apparently we’re not dealing with that pressing matter for now, since Lillian dramatically tells Cindy never to come home again. Cindy looks determined to follow that rule.
As the Hayes family is falling apart, the Chapmans are getting closer than ever. Following last episode’s retreat, Piper is testing out radical honesty about her prison past. First, she tells the cashier at an overpriced yoga studio exactly why she can’t take advantage of their latest special. Then, at her dad Bill’s office, Piper announces to her new coworkers that she picked up her handy electrical skills during a stint in federal prison.
Everyone is immediately supportive of Piper’s news, but Bill is taken aback. He wants to know if Piper’s openness is a “millennial thing.” She says no — she just can’t keep lying about who she is (and she knows about his secret, an affair). Bill relents and accepts his daughter’s announcement, and gets one of the best Piper drags of the season, asking if all this truth-telling can include visuals. That’s how we learn Bill has been sitting on security cam footage of Piper crying in the office and eating stolen cake.
Although Piper is embarrassed, the episode reminds us just how easy she has it when compared multiple side plots — especially the one belonging to Nicky and Shani. Nicky has been trying to return the orgasm favor to new love interest Shani for a while, but she has refused each time. In “Hidey Hole,” Shani explains why: she is a victim of female genital mutilation. Her mother forced the back-door procedure, which removed Shani’s clitoris, on the girl when she was 12. The woman who hurt Shani told her at the time that she “should be grateful to be rid of this bug,” referring to her clit.
It’s a heartbreaking story that Lorna refuses to let Nicky process in peace. That is because Lorna is dealing with her own issues. While we found out episodes ago that Lorna’s infant son Sterling died, no one in Litchfield knows. Lorna leans into her delusion that Sterling is alive and finds herself devastated over the fact someone got “Sterling’s Instagram account” closed. When Vinny shows up to visit Lorna, he reveals he’s the one who had the account shut down. He can’t keep seeing fake pictures of their late baby on the Internet. All Vinny wants to do is grieve with his wife. All Lorna wants to do is keep up her fantasy.
So Vinny thinks a divorce may be necessary, which pushes Lorna even further into her mental hidey hole. Apparently, the only way she can make her way out is by trying to break out of Litchfield. But will she make as far as she did in those flashbacks?
Blast to the Past: Once upon a time, Orange wanted us to believe Lorna’s greatest sin was stalking a man named Christopher (Stephen O'Reilly), who she told friends was her fiancé, and putting an explosive device in the car of his actual fiancée. This old-school flashback was OITNB’s way of revealing the depths of Lorna’s delusions.
Well, “Hidey Hole,” tells us the Christopher saga was only the beginning. One terrible evening, Lorna went out with her sister Franny (Kristen Sieh) and some friends to play pool. At the bar, Lorna meets a newly engaged couple (Samantha Tuffarelli and Bret Lada) and asks them their full love story. She is enamored by the tale and the woman’s ring — so much so that she rejects the advances of a less-than-romantic friend (Ben Hollandsworth). Then, Lorna disappears into the night.
Eventually we learn a drunk Lorna, on the stumble home, believed her terrible would-be fuck buddy was driving at her on a side street and honking. She threw a rock at the car in response, and it broke the windshield. The driver careened directly into a construction crane, and the passengers died on impact. However it wasn’t Tony in the car — it was the engaged couple. Covered in their blood, Lorna took her shoes off, got some sneakers, and walked to Sands Point in Long Island. It’s there she woke up with no memories of the accident or how she got there.
It’s unclear if police ever learned of Lorna’s involvement of the crime. But, now we fully understand her ability to hide from the truth is nothing new.
Episode 10: "The Thirteenth"
“We're coming to an end,” Young Ejecta croons as “The Thirteenth” closes. “Is that what you want, darling?” Well, it doesn’t really matter if that’s the characters — or fans — want. That’s what’s happening. That’s why this episode is all about the start of closure in the same way the prior episode, “Hidey Hole,” was built off of secrets.
A freshly enlightened Piper is leading the closure brigade, in small part thanks to her new “friend” Zelda, whose crush could not be more obvious. During a daytime hang at Zelda’s sleek offices, Piper brings up her frayed relationship with ex-fiancé Larry (Jason Biggs) and ex-best friend Polly (Maria Dizzia) of all people. Zelda urges Piper to fix things, and by the 45-minute mark, everyone is sitting across from each other in a sushi place under a parking lot (Larry swears it’s good).
Dinner goes surprisingly well. Larry orders Piper’s old favorite, which one can only get at special request now. Larry and Polly announce they’re expecting a baby. Piper says she’s happy for them and means it. Zelda makes everything better by telling an endearing story in response to the possibly awkward pregnancy news — giving Piper time to process — and picking up their part of the bill. Zelda is a fantastic addition to Piper and Alex’s love square.
Speaking of Piper and Alex’s love square, Alex’s love interest, McCullough, finally unburdens her soul, giving herself some closure. During a closet cellphone charger exchange, the veteran explains why she is still has self-inflicted cigarette burns on her arm. Between her past sexual assault in the army to the recent prison riot, McCullough is suffering from PTSD. She has panic attacks at random, and, when the panic fades “it makes no sense,” because everything is abruptly fine. The CO has turned to self-harm to confirm to her brain something bad has really happened — that she didn’t imagine it.
Alex holds McCullough as she tells this story and then seduces her later in the episode. Piper and Alex might be lying to each other, but at least they’re 100% honest with the people they’re spending all their romantic energy on.
Outside of the Pipex love square, the other denizens of Litchfield are having equally tough conversations. After Red cuts herself in the kitchen, Nicky demands a full medical evaluation for her prison mom. The results confirm Red is suffering from early onset dementia. The rapid progression of the condition was likely caused by a case of delirium from Red’s time in the SHU. Prison did this Red. One day, Red will need assistance for everyday activities. It’s a deeply upsetting turn for one of OITNB’s smartest power players.
Somewhere else in Litchfield, Caputo and CO Dixon (Mike Houston) have a very different type of realization thanks to the former’s restorative justice class. First, when Maria alleges in class that she’s not a violent person, Dixon, the guard for the program, steps in. He reminds Maria of her actions during the season 5 riot and requests to sit in on a session to purge his trauma. He then reminds us that Maria and her crew tortured him and performed a strip search on him. The alarm bells of the lockdown the previous day threw Dixon back into the fear of the riot. That explains why Dixon tasered Morello when she ran out of the chicken coop at the very beginning of “Thirteenth” — he was terrified.
Caputo’s big class moment come later when he roleplays with an especially obstiant student. The conversation forces him to repeatedly say a few variations of the phrase “You won’t listen to her.” The exchange makes him finally realize he’s not listening to former CO Susan about his previous acts of sexual harassment. Now that Caputo knows he has to respect Susan’s feelings — rather than show up at her home to yell at her — he decides to inform his new boss, Tamika, of the allegations and the restraining order. She agrees he has to resign.
As Tamika makes big choices for Litchfield, Suzanne must preside as mayor over New Cluck City. The job is more difficult than ever when a dead chicken is found in the coop. The bird died when Dixon tased Morello while she was holding it. No fowl play was involved. Unfortunately, Suzanne assumes the bird was murdered, and immediately pegs the new “magical” chicken in town as the assailant. While there is no evidence that the chicken performed any wrongdoing, Suzanne assumes she must be at fault since everything was “fine” before. So, the chicken is put in a tiny SHU, aka a chicken cage.
It’s an interesting commentary on how quickly people recreate the terrible circumstances they’re in, despite loathing them. At least Tiffany points out the injustice of Suzanne’s actions, possibly softening her heart. Could chickens end up getting a better break than the inmates of OITNB when all of this is over?
Blast to the Past: Way back in season 1, OITNB told us how Alex and Piper met. Piper walked into a bar. Alex was already in that bar. Alex called Piper “Laura Ingles Wilder” and the rest was history. But, “The Thirteen” wants to give us backstory on that backstory.
About six months before Alex and Piper crashed into each other, Alex had a girlfriend named Sylvie (Ashleigh Sumner). Silvie was dealing with an alcohol addiction problem at the time and, on one harrowing night, stumbled onto some train tracks while trying to retrieve her phone. Soon after, Sylvie started AA and got sober.
On the night of Alex and Piper’s meeting, Sylvie invited Alex to a gathering with all her AA pals. Alex wasn’t interested and went out to a bar with her own friends first. This is the evening Alex and Piper meet. In the next flashback, Sylvie throws Piper out of Alex’s apartment, claiming Alex is cheating on her. Alex says she thought they were on a break and suggests Sylvie is drinking again. Still they reconcile — but all Alex can think about is dummy Piper, outside without any shoes.
Episode 11: "God Bless America"
I have been waiting to talk at length about the plight of Santos Chaj (Melinna Bobadilla) until this episode, when we finally have all the facts. When we first meet Santos, she is speaking Kʼiche, an indiginous language from Guatemala. For episodes, she has been begging everyone for something with increasing urgency. The only problem is, no one in Litchfield speaks K’iche and ICE hasn’t found Santos her legally mandatory translator.
That is until this episode, since, she put her health at risk in “Thirteenth” by making parsley tea, hoping it would induce a miscarriage. Instead, the drink sends her to medical with severe abdominal pain and vaginal spotting. But, as a doctor explains, the pregnancy is still viable. Santos can’t stop crying, and everyone believes that is because she thinks her child died.
When Fig finally gets a translator — hoping he’ll assure Santos the fetus is fine — she explains she doesn’t want the baby (her tragic reason is explained below). That was the point of the tea. Santos has been begging for an abortion for episodes and no one understood her. Fig tries to secure Santos transportation to a women’s clinic for an abortion, but Litvak, who hates immigrants for an unknown reason, refuses. So Fig takes matters into her own hands and secures an abortion pill for Santos by telling her doctor she needs it. By the end of the episode, Santos has her pill.
The lingering question is: what does this selfless decision mean for Fig and Caputo’s dream to have a child? If Fig’s doctor thinks she just elected to have an abortion, it’s likely she will counsel her to avoid IVF implantation — which was initially scheduled for a few days after the events of “America” — for some time.
Yet, it’s possible Fig and Caputo aren’t too worried about their family planning prospects considering everything happening at Litchfield. As we see throughout the episode, the Santos crisis isn’t the only catastrophe melting down in the ICE wing of the prison. Shani is dragged out of the ICE bunks without ever getting to say goodbye to Nicky, who is dealing with the Morello and Red’s respective emergencies. Karla is officially ordered back to El Salvador, despite all the violence waiting for her there. Her rushed contraband phone call with her sons, who are now in foster care, is one of the most emotional scenes of season 7. It’s also proof Orange succeeded in adding such a huge new element — the ICE prisons — in their final season.
The reason for all of this heartbreak is simple: Linda From Polycon built a for-speed detainee courtroom on Litchfield’s property. Now, judges can see 100 cases a day, leading to cases like Karla’s and Blanca’s to be moved up. The horror of this drive through-style justice is fully revealed in the third act of “God Bless America,” when Fig walks into a hearing for immigrant children. “Can someone please take the baby outside until it’s her turn,” says the presiding judge. Yes, a baby will be tried in this courtroom. It’s a nightmare — and one that continues when the judge very seriously asks two adorable young children if they understand the proceedings in front of them.
Of course they don’t. They don’t even know what a lawyer is.
Caputo is at least dealing with a much more optimistic portion of Litchfield. Over the last few episodes, Taystee has become the most beloved GED tutor in the entire prison. After Aledia popped into class in a failed attempt to find some new customers, Taystee and her students realize they are set up to financially fail upon getting out of prison. Between exorbitant probations, the necessities, and rent, the women in the GED class are looking at immediate deficits the moment the step outside of Litchfield’s walls. It’s no surprise so many ex-cons end up back in prison.
So, Taystee realizes microloans are the answer to keeping women ex-cons on the right side of the law. These borrowers would repay the loan when they can and then their money would go to the next crop of women in need. Taystee calls Caputo to ask him to help with her plan, but she has no idea he’s been blackballed in the wake of the sexual harassment allegations. At least he offers to help however he can and asks for a proposal.
The Taystee we’ve all loved since season 1 is poking through all the darkness again.
Still, there is some interpersonal drama hanging around Litchfield. On the one hand, Nicky has a meeting with Vinny and learns Lorna’s baby is dead. Unfortunately, Lorna isn’t in any shape to listen to what Nicky says (and by the end of “America,” Nicky is devastated by Shani’s deportation).
Then, Alex tells McCollough they need to stop their affair… days after she seduced the CO in the shower. McCollough doesn’t take the breakup well and goes to Piper’s home to accost her over the split and Piper’s own relationship with Zelda. Although McCollough’s behavior is inappropriate, she has a point — the CO pops up right as Piper and Alex end their romantic gala “not”-date. Zelda ends the evening telling Piper she has feelings for her and that her inner conflict only makes her more alluring.
McCollough’s visit is so jarring to Piper that she runs to Zelda’s apartment to finally consummate all their sexual tension. They kiss passionately and we’re meant to assume sex is ahead.
At least all of this mess brought the great Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) back onto our screens. She saved Piper’s hair for this special day. Does that mean she aided and abetted this much-needed liaison?
Blast to the Past: Orange Is the New Black hasn’t done multi-character flashbacks for an episode in quite awhile. However, “God Bless America,” which wraps up multiple ICE detainee storylines needs them. So, let’s get through each and every one.
Santos Chaj: We open on Santos and dozens of other people in a truck. You can tell it’s as hot as an oven in there, but no one cares — they’ll be in America soon. When Santos and her partner get out of the truck, they believe they’re finally at the border. Instead, they’re faced with a machine gun-wielding gang demanding extra payment to pass through their land on the way to America. Santos and her man don’t have any more money, but one of the thugs cradles her face and creepily says they take “other” payment. The suggestion is rape.
That is how Santos became pregnant with a fetus she very much does not want.
Shani Abboud: Early in the episode, Shani says returning home to Egypt will be a death sentence. Her flashback proves the truth of the statement. Shani’s cousin spots her kissing a woman at a hotel bar and outs Shani to her parents. The story inspires Shani’s parents to find her Instagram, which shows her relationship with another woman. While Shani’s dad Youseff (Laith Nakli) says he could never hurt her, he can’t say the same for their family following this revelation. “You’ll let them kill me?” Shani asks. Youseff says his daughter “tarnished” the family name.
We’re supposed to figure out Shani smuggled herself to America to protect her life.
Karla Cordova: Karla’s flashback leans into her history as a mom to make us car even more about her desperate need to call her kids, Abel and Benji. We get a slice of the Cordovas’ life after the death of Karla’s husband. Little Abel can’t stop crying at school and is now terrified his mom won’t come back to get him. She assures them such a terrible fate will never befall them. In fact, she’ll never leave her boys until they’re old and gray. It’s a sweet promise we now know won’t come true.
Episode 12: “The Big House”
I am a famously easy crier. Yet, nothing in my half of the season has gotten the waterworks going… until this episode. “Big House” is chock full of moments crafted to break your heart. Let’s quickly go over the most heart-wrenching moments of the episodes.
Poussey returns! That is a sentence built to make you cry. Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) shows up in the end-of-episode flashback to inspire Taystee. We’ll talk about this scene more in the flashback section, but just know these few spare moments with Poussey remind us just how special she truly was.
Nicky finds Red, who is dipping out of a dementia fugue in a rec room. Nicky, realizing it’s her time to step up, asks Red how she became such a fantastic prison mom. Red says she never really knew what she was doing. She just kept trying until she figured it out and protected the people she loved along the way. Then, Red disappears back into the fugue, saying Nicky needs to round up Norma (Annie Golden), Gina (Abigail Savage), and Tricia (Handmaid’s Tale’s Madeline Brewster) for dinner prep. All three women have been gone since the end of season 5, if not longer in Tricia’s case. Nicky recognizes the Red she knew is gone, and asks if they can just sit together for a little while longer.
The scene feels like the ultimate goodbye for Nicky and Red and it breaks my heart.
Cindy spends her days as the most-loved employee of a nursing home. But she ends her nights in a homeless encampment listening to “It’s All Right” to drown out the sounds of men threatening each other. It’s impossible to believe Taystee’s mom would be okay with her daughter’s current sleeping arrangements and wouldn’t beg her to come back home. But, OITNB has gone through many hoops to get Taystee here, of all places. It’s cruel.
It’s likely Taystee wouldn’t even want to see Cindy, who betrayed her during the murder trial, sleeping in a tent in a terrifying corner of the city. It’s Taystee who slowly becomes the backbone of the episode. At the beginning of “Big House,” she sits down with her lawyer who explains she does not believe Suzanne’s notebook — the single piece of evidence that could maybe exonerate Taystee — is enough to reopen the case. It’s official: Taystee is looking at a lifetime in prison with no escape hatch.
Yet she can’t bring herself to talk to anyone about this crippling turn of events. When Tamika asks about the meeting, Taystee lies and swears things are getting better. When she sees Caputo at the end-of-program party, she avoids the topic and tells him he’s a good man. That is because Taystee is secretly treating the celebration as her own personal going away party. Last season, she told Caputo she wouldn’t spend her life in Litchfield. Earlier this season, she took a killer baggie of drugs from Daya for her planned death by suicide. After that morning’s terrible meeting, Taystee is planning to take the heroin.
So she enjoys Storky’s as her last meal, urges Tamika to keep doing good work in the prison, and reminds Tiffany she can retake the GED again in a few months. Then she walks through the halls of Litchfield and remembers the last conversation she ever had with Poussey, her very best friend. Taystee’s supposed final stroll brings her to the hallway where Daya and her crew were doing drugs. Tali Grapes (Ismenia Mendes) runs out and tells Taystee she should, too. Taystee ignores her and finds Tiffany seemingly dead underneath a table. She cries out for help, but it’s obvious none is coming.
What nearly became OITNB season 7’s saddest story (the proposed suicide of Taystee) has crashed into OITNB’s actual saddest story. Tiffany started this show as an unhinged woman with a meth addiction who nearly killed Piper. However, over the ensuing seasons, she cleaned up her act and grew into one of the most lovable and thoughtful people in all of Litchfield. Tiffany was proof of the best Orange could do. She didn’t deserve an off-screen accidental overdose that suggests you can never grow past your trauma. Tiffany, a sexual assault survivor, was proof that you really could.
Although “Big House” is worst to Tiffany, the episode also signals a few other characters may not get their happy endings with the finale directly ahead. Piper’s post-sex glow with Zelda is interrupted by a call from Alex, who immediately figures out Piper cheated on her. Piper heads to Litchfield to deal with her marital problems in person but arrives at the tail end of visitation. There’s just enough time for Alex to admit her affair was about protecting herself if, or more likely when, Piper chooses to leave the second life gets hard. Piper confesses she has feelings for Zelda.
“Is this something we can survive?” Piper asks. Then the phone lines cut, leaving the answer a mystery, no matter how much Piper yells she loves Alex through the protective glass. Of course Piper leaves Litchfield in tears. McCoullough then delivers even more terrible news to Alex: She had her transferred to Ohio as punishment for the breakup. If Piper and Alex can’t make a few miles of long-distance work, how can they weather several states keeping them apart?
Over in an interrogation, Maria and Gloria are questioned over who smuggled in the phone found in the kitchen in “God Bless America.” COs Ginger (Shawna Hamic) and Alvarez (Nicholas Webber) threaten the person with the phone will get five more years in max. Gloria, who owns the phone, is set to get out in nine days. After a wildly resentful relationship with Maria, it looks like Gloria is going to cop to the infraction, putting her release date in jeopardy. Is yet another woman of color looking at a terrible punishment from the Orange writers?
On the subject of Latinx inmates whose lives may fall apart, I guess we have to talk about Daya and Aleida, whose petty drug feud has come to an end. Daya pulls multiple strings so Tamika could catch Aleida and Hopper en flagrante in the SHU. Hopper, Aledia’s connection to outside drugs, has been neutralized and could be looking at federal charges. In comparison to all the other horrors devouring the lives of Litchfield’s citizens, this victory feels like small potatoes.
Blast to the Past: As Taystee considers her present timeline suicide plan, she sees a flickering light, reminding her of the last time she was at the end of her rope. It was during her stint outside of Litchfield in season 1. At that time, Taystee was kicked out of the house she was living in and questioning whether she should go back to selling drugs. Poussey called in that exact moment to give Taystee a pep talk and talk her out of returning to prison as a last resort. She has no idea what the future holds, Poussey says. Poussey then explains that the sharp pain she once felt about her mother’s death eventually dulled to a livable ache. She promises that is how Taystee’s stress over her current situation will eventually feel — there’s no reason to sacrifice her future for fleeting emotions.
What Poussey doesn’t realize is that she’s describing how Taystee will one day experience her own grief about Poussey. Or, that Taystee didn’t take her advice. She agrees to go back to selling drugs and gets thrown back into Litchfield soon after.
Episode 13: “Here’s Where We Get Off”
This is it — the end of Orange Is The New Black. It’s a touching 75 minutes that reminds us of what is great about this special, special show: the relationships. The love. The joy amidst the darkness of a place like prison. That’s why we’re going to talk about three very special scenes before getting to how OITNB ends for everyone.
Finale “Here’s Where We Get Off” gives us a trio of last moments between beloved scene partners. They deserve the spotlight as much as everyone’s big ending.
Taystee and Suzanne have avoided each other for much of the season. For Taystee, it’s too painful to be around someone she loved before becoming a lifetime inmate. In Suzanne’s case, everyone urged her to stay away from this new version of Taystee. But they finally come together in “Get Off” following the death of Tiffany Doggett (yes she’s really dead, as the appearance of her ghost confirms).
The conversation takes place in the chicken coop as Suzanne dismantles the miniature SHU she built for the birds. It’s a tribute to Tiffany, who hated the chicken SHU and found it inhumane. Taystee and Suzanne talk about growth and loss, reminding you of how far Suzanne has come since she was dubbed “Crazy Eyes.” This Suzanne understands how to handle her pain and models that behavior for others. It’s beautiful. So, when Taystee says, “I love you Suzanne. And I’m proud of you … This is you now,” you can’t help but tear up.
Gloria has grown into one of OITNB’s strongest players. She deserves her farewell scene out of Litchfield, where all her fellow Latinas say teary goodbyes, showing reverence to their little prison family’s rock. In this moment you can tell how much Gloria’s portrayer Selenis Leyva and Aleida Diaz’s portrayer Elizabeth Rodriguez care about each other. But, Flaca’s emotional pledge to keep doing the important work Gloria began with the ICE detainees is also special. And even out of touch Daya gives Gloria’s a respectful nod as she leaves. I’m crying just thinking about it.
Nicky and Alex are close pals who are often too caught up in romantic drama to actually hang out together. That’s why it was so nice to see the pair have a jokey-but-emotional goodbye ahead of Alex’s transfer to Ohio. And Orange blessed us with outtakes of the scene in the credits. They are just as good as what made it into the final cut.
So with some greatest hits handled, let’s get how Orange shakes out for everyone in “Here’s Where We Get Off’s” flashforward montage.
Piper & Alex: OITNB really wants us to believe there’s a chance Piper and Alex won’t end up together. After all the cheating and lying, Alex attempts to break up with Piper in bid to set them both “free.” Zelda, wonderful Zelda, invites Piper to Northampton since her parole is up. Piper’s dad loves Zelda. Larry gives Piper a for-the-history-books speech about her psychological desperation to be “special,” and Alex being the ticket to that tortured notoriety .
But of course Piper still chooses Alex. She jumps in a car to head to Ohio to wait out the rest of Alex’s sentence. If that means sweeping up coffee shops as a barista, so be it. At least Alex’s transfer takes us to her Ohio prison, where every lovable character we lost in Litchfield’s minimum security dissolution lives. Now we can always imagine Piper and Alex across from each other in visitation forever, smiling because they picked each other.
Taystee: Taystee is now the founder of the Poussey Washington Fund, a charity dedicated to giving recently released inmates microloans to get on their feet. It’s a beautiful tribute that has Taystee passionate about life again after a season of suicidal thoughts. She’s a new woman — down to her brand-new tight haircut.
A little support from tax evader Jugy King (Blair Brown) never hurt anybody (ask Luschek).
Suzanne: Suzanne sponsors an emotionally healthy tribute to Tiffany, complete with “meat fingers,” aka sausages, and a moving rendition of the Mountain Dew jingle. Then we see her join Taystee for her Poussey Washington Fund financial literacy class. The best friends are back.
Nicky: In a scene that makes me cry with its simplicity, we see Nicky leading the kitchen (Flaca is still there). Although everyone Nicky ever loved in Litchfield is gone, she has been able to start building a new prison family in the wake of that loss. And she’s wearing red lipstick as a tribute to Red. It’s perfect.
Red & Lorna: While Nicky is manning the kitchen, Red and Lorna take care of each other in Florida block. Yes, Red may randomly remember Frieda Berlin (Dale Soules) is her mortal enemy, but she also gets to care for a shattered Lorna. This may not be the ending anyone expected for Red, but it’s impossible not to feel touched as she sings a Russian lullaby to Lorna in their final scene.
Cindy: Cindy reunites with her mom and daughter in a fast food restaurant, promising to continue showing up there for the rest of her life. This is how she will prove to them that she is a worthwhile person. Lilian points out this is an odd mission, but Cindy soldiers on, telling Monica the story of her biological father. That’s very nice, but can Lilian please invite her daughter back home? I’m very worried about her, and one chat in a burger joint doesn’t fix that.
Gloria: Luschek lies to Tamika and says he forced Gloria to have the contraband cell phone, getting her off the hook. So she is allowed to leave on her promised release date and get back to her daughters. In her final scene, we see Gloria cleaning up after her granddaughter and find the burro-led children’s book she talked to Maria about. So, she sends it to Maria, seemingly ending their feud forever.
Maria: Maria reads the book to her daughter, and demands Yadriel’s New Maria also read to Pepa. This is real growth.
Daya & Aleida: As Aleida says in the finale, Daya spends season 7 “playing Scarface.” Her mother finally puts an end to those machinations when she learns Daya has brought one of her little sisters into the drug business and plans to include the other one soon. So Aleida punches Daya in the throat, possibly killing her. We’ll never know if Daya makes it out of the scene alive, but at least the Diaz drug legacy seems to be finished.
Caputo & Fig: With the IVF plan officially over, Caputo and Fig decide to adopt. While they talk a big game about wanting a baby boy, they immediately fall for a little girl named Vanessa who can sing all of Afroman’s “Crazy Rap.” It looks like this family is about to get a little bit bigger.
Karla: Karla sprains her ankle on the way back to America. A coyote gives her a bottle of water, but that won’t protect her when night comes. Karla is going to die. She doesn’t deserve such a cruel ending.
Chang!: Chang, who pulled off the one successful prison breakout during the riot, is back in Litchfield, this time as an ICE detainee. She too doesn’t deserve such a cruel ending.
Litchfield: Tamika is fired after a triumvirate of hell falls upon the prison. First, there’s Tiffany’s fatal overdose. Then, as Linda is looking into the death, she finds loose chickens roaming around Litchfield. In a final death blow, one of the chicken’s poops out Hellman’s wad of drugs.
The problem is, Hellman is elevated to warden in Tamika’s absence. This is the man who beat Daya nearly to death and stuffed a condom of heroin down Alex’s throat. He is a monster. Max is only about to get worse. So much worse.
Well, that’s it’s Orange pals. We’ve got no more time.