There’s a lot to feel happy about in the Orange Is the New Black series finale, “Here’s Where We Get Off.” Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) manages to get out of prison and end her feud with Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) in the process. After witnessing the horror of Litchfield’s immigrant children trials, Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) decides to adopt a kid with boyfriend Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow). You may even be happy to see Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson return to her formerly warm personality and begin the Poussey Washington Fund.
Except that last resolution isn’t exactly as cheery as OITNB wants you to believe. The ending of Taystee’s story is still confusingly bleak.
The Taystee we meet at the beginning of Orange is one of the most joyous people in Litchfield. But all of that changed at the close of season 4, when her best friend Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) was accidentally killed by a guard. That was the worst day of Taystee’s life, and it has only gotten more painful from there. She was disappointed throughout the entire ensuing prison riot of season 5, and then framed for the murder of CO Desi Piscatella (Brad William Henke). It’s an upsetting twist made worse when you remember Taystee had the chance to kill the man who caused her best friend’s death, but freed him in a show of humanity. Still, detectives pegged her for a murderer.
Then, at the close of season 6, Taystee is officially convicted of murder, upping her sentence to life in jail (and her best friend Cindy was the lying star witness). It’s a devastating turn of events made more terrible by the fact that Taystee got out of prison in season 1, but came back to Litchfield because she returned to drug dealing to make end meet. If it weren’t for the lack of housing and high parole fees dogging Taystee, this latest tragedy would have never happened.
Taystee has lived through a nightmare over the last few seasons, and “Where We Get Off” confirms the darkness isn’t ending any time soon. You can be happy to see her smiling through a Washington Fund class, but Taystee doesn’t live in amber. Once that class is over, she has to go back to maximum security prison where she will while away the rest of her days in perpetuity for a crime she didn’t commit. That is awful. Especially since the most sadistic guard in all of Litchfield, Hellman (Greg Vrotsos), is now the warden. A Litchfield under Hellman’s thumb is a terrifying idea.
It’s not even like Orange wants us to believe a life of freedom and happiness is ahead for Taystee. Instead, the final run of episodes goes out of its way to tell us there will be no justice for Taystee. In the season 7 premiere, we learn her latest appeal has been denied. Then in penultimate episode “The Big House,” Taystee’s lawyer shows up to announce her team has exhausted every possible resource that could lead to Taystee’s casing being opened up again. Every single avenue led to nowhere. Suzanne Warren’s (Uzo Aduba) notebook — the one piece of evidence that could prove Taystee is innocent — is worthless according to the lawyer.
Orange brought our hopes up just to dash them once and for all.
This is a series that has always wanted to show the realities of how horrible the justice system is to women. It makes sense that the show decided to explore how wrongful conviction ruins the lives of lower income Black people. Taystee’s conviction will stand as one of the most powerful and gutting moments in all of Orange Is the New Black.
However, the drama didn’t need to continue to punish Taystee throughout season 7. There are countless ways they could have suggested a better life is ahead for the character without losing hold of reality. Kim Kardashian is helping spring wrongly incarcerated people from jail. Why is it that, after Taystee’s phone call with former inmate and OITNB world celebrity Judy King (Blair Brown), the lifestyle guru couldn’t have taken an interest in Taystee’s case? What better publicity could she get for her book about prison than trying to save the best friend of the woman who was murdered in the exact facility Judy wrote about?
Just a glimmer of that kind of hope would be enough of a salve for Taystee’s seasons of pain. It’s not like Orange doesn’t know how to pull off such scenes without losing its sense of realism. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) and Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) get their happy ending in Ohio, serving as the final image of the series. Maria remains in jail, but has accepted her past crimes and grown from them. Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) picks up Red’s mantle.
The Poussey Washington Fund is all well and good, but it sure would have been nice to believe Taystee could one day be a recipient of one of those microloans she dreamed up. Now that would make Poussey Washington happy.