This is Part Two of a review in-progress for the sixth season of Netflix’s prison dramedy, Orange is the New Black. This review covers episodes four through seven.

*Some Spoilers Ahead*
“I’m the Talking Ass”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 56m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Phil Abraham

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Trust and loyalty are again at the forefront of this episode. While everyone inside of prison struggles to confide in their neighbors, the inmates associated with the riots begin reaching out for legal help. Plenty of familiar faces arrive, old COs who were held hostage during the riot have come back to work in max, including Luschek, and it’s uncertain if they are of sound mind enough to resume their duties. Neither those in prison or those outside seem to be able to aid one another.

So the theme of isolation continues.

This is one of the more humorous episodes, despite its portent. We have glimpses of trauma and fear from former COs and inmates alike, we finally have Daddy and Madison’s slots in the social pecking order explained, but the story and its flashbacks focus on Nichols. In the present, she’s in need of legal help. Her father has a solution, his new fiancĂ©e is a lawyer.

Young Nicky is a sharp child, eager to please both of her neglectful and self-serving parents (neglectful parents are a constant among the show’s incarcerated) for a share of their attention and approval. She straightens her hair for her bat mitzvah, but her father disapproves, considering it a veiled slight by his former wife. Young Nichols is a pawn in a post-matrimonial end-game. That she uses her biting, signature brand of humor to tear both of her parents down in front of the crowd is magical.

In order to spare herself extended jail-time, it looks like Nichols has to turn against Red, as the Feds are hoping to pin as much as they can of the riot and the murders on her. Red’s family is eating itself alive.

Shot for shot, this episode brings in to question who is trustworthy and who is false or self-serving. Taystee is told straight-up by her public defender that the Feds don’t care about truth or justice, they care about sweeping this under the rug. Women cannot confide in their mothers, nor can the mothers depend on their daughters – be they surrogate or otherwise. In a tense moment, Dayanara is torn from her meeting with Aleida, her mother, by a an angry CO. Aleida, who it turns out was scammed into a health-supplement ponzi-scheme, is trying everything she can to gain ownership of her children and be there for Dayanara. Everyone is trying, but it isn’t enough when the system in which they operate offers no hope of justice, or fairness.

Another well acted, well paced episode closes on a relatively positive note for Doggett and Coates. Doggett is in disguise as a man in order for them to travel freely and go to an amusement park. When Coates and Doggett share a smooch, a man walking by calls them “faggots.” Dixon, charmingly, retorts with, “Hey, those faggots are my friends,” and proceeds to clock the offender across the jaw.

This show loves offering redeeming moments for its characters. But few have been offered so far. All in all, the episode plays it pretty safe. There are few revelations, but the dread surrounding the entire situation permeates every scene. Every character, regardless of context, is under pressure from every angle. Even Alex, who is alive (much to Piper’s excitement), must suffer her wounds and the bitter conflicts of her block. Every action taken seems to have motive beyond what is immediately apparent, and so far the show is using that to keep us on the hook.

It’s working.

4/5


“Mischief Mischief”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Andrew McCarthy

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Oh, Luschek, please never change. The morally ambiguous, self-serving CO is back and at it again. Mirroring reality a bit too closely, the episode opens with the COs meeting for the “Inmate Fantasy Draft” – a scoring system determined by inmate behavior, wherein each CO creates a roster of inmates, keeps score, etc. Points are added for things like suicide – fewer if the attempt is unsuccessful. It’s incredibly dark humor, but cut this show at the vein and you won’t be seeing orange. I don’t want blood on your mind, though, think only of rats – dozens of them.

It’s Halloween, so Luschek isn’t the only one engaged in shenanigans. There are schemes forming between the warring blocks. We get a lovely scene with the always hilarious Morello and her roommate breeding rats in D-Block. Morello is pregnant, verifiably, and it appears it might be clouding her judgment of late.

Though this episode is focused more on hi-jinks and tossing all of our new characters in with the old (something this show always handles well), those themes of trust and loyalty, reliability and respect, are still there. It’s interesting to watch it play out. Power dynamics are shifting even amongst the COs, with Luschek quickly taking ownership of the Inmate Draft from another CO – a successful takeover won with chips, dip, and hacked computer software.

Back in prison, the older inmates continue hazing the cookies, who themselves are still suffering the anxiety of the riot investigation. Piper says it best: “I hate this place. Bosses, gang warfare, extortion.” She says this after Madison puts cheese in her nose and ears – it’s all about that pecking order.

Aside from trust and respect, this episode hammers home that this is a prolonged conflict. A silent, slow-burning engagement where no two sides see eye-to-eye. It isn’t on our minds, as the show uses humorous sleight-of-hand to keep us entertained with Piper clawing cheese out of her ears, then a CO – hostage during the riot – takes her chance to rough up Ruiz as payback. It’s startling.

These are the deep-seeded plotlines that work so well. When we almost forget after a year of separation from the show, but are then reminded in a flash of violence how dangerous the balance of power between these characters can be. The end of the episode sees fit to point that out. In an instant, the D-Block’s plan against C-Block is enacted. No blood is spilled (save for a rat), but it holds significant ramifications going forward.

Some stray thoughts: It’s nice to see Doggett take matters into her own hands in this episode. Doing what she feels is the right thing, especially since Coates is still a dick. It’s worrisome, however, to see Morello joining in on Daddy’s plans with D-Block. This could prove dangerous considering so many of their friends bunk in C-Block.

Another entertaining episode. The funniest yet, but never let your guard down. The violence may not have the budgeted flare of other shows, but in one as grounded as this, a sideways glance can carry weight.

4/5


“State of the Uterus”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 58m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Constantine Makris

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What a great episode. One question dogs our characters: What is the right thing to do? Every character is seemingly standing on a ledge, and we’re here to see if they leap.

The episode finally tackles one of the newer characters directly – Daddy. It turns out she was something like a pimp, and the loss of one of her women to a sketchy businessman obviously haunts her. She struggles to stay in favor with Barb in D-Block after having lost the cooperation of a CO in their drug operation. She can’t let anyone down – not again. She’s taken a liking to Dayanara, who’s been using her oxycontin, and the two of them seem to be getting closer – Daya willing to lend support to Daddy late in the episode. It’s an interesting development, one that could lead anywhere depending on how desperate for relevance Daddy gets, or how addicted to Oxy Daya gets – not to mention how bloody the conflict between the blocks could get.

Back in Gen-Pop is Taystee, after being a fucking badass and refusing to plead guilty to the second-degree murder charge thrown at her, much to her public defender’s chagrin. This is where the moral center of this post-riot arc is starting to develop. We want these characters to do the right thing, stand with the truth and tough it out. We know that’s not how things will work out, but we can hope, damn it. Taystee is, without a doubt, the voice of reason at this point in the show, and it’s exhilarating to see her stand defiant. Difficult, though, to see her embrace Cindy near the episode’s end.

Everywhere our characters struggle to do what is right with the resources they have at their disposal. Aleida is struggling to sell protein powder and gummy-vitamins, and to explain to her children – in foster care – why she can’t yet take them back. She’s losing them, like she’s lost Daya. It’s tough not to empathize with her, as she’s one of the few who made it out of Litchfield and seems tough enough to succeed.

But sometimes tough isn’t enough. Red is struggling with the mounting case against her, and it’s difficult not to feel angry for her. This season has thus far made it apparent that it’s every woman for herself, and the one character least deserving of betrayal would be Red, however unintentional. All the Feds have to do is take one look at her scalped head to see why she’d want Piscatella dead. Everyone wants to do the right thing, or at least the criminals do.

The tension is continuing to rise, splendidly. Though at this point in the season, that early momentum is starting to taper.

In previous seasons, and certainly in other Netflix Original Series, the thirteen-episode format has stalled out around episode eight, often engaging in what feels like the television equivalent to fourth-act syndrome. Right now, however, our characters are defiant, hungry, broken, or healing. They’re moving across the board without leaps in logic, without much in the way of plot-contrivance. It’s refreshing. The season is almost halfway over and the plot is carrying the brunt of the weight – which lets the actors get to work showing us why these characters are so much damn fun to watch in the first place. I can’t complain about that.

4/5


“Changing Winds”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 57m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Andrew McCarthy

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Another solid episode tackling the back story of a new character. Madison and Daddy have similar roles in their respective environments, as we’ve covered, so it makes sense to follow-up Daddy’s back story with Madison’s.

She was bullied, abuse insinuated, and she’s risen to take control of her life away from those that would put her down. Still, though, she’s subservient to Carol – who wasn’t impressed with Madison’s plan to shit on D-Block’s laundry. Madison has a penchant for taking things too far, ignoring any social graces and going straight for the jugular. We’ll see if she really is out for blood following this episode. I’m interested to see where her character goes, who stands up to her and on what grounds, or if she stands up to Carol in the end.

Aside from revelations about Madison, this episode is happy to pause the mounting tension and focus on the budding relationships between the characters. Until now, I didn’t realize how badly I wanted that. All season we’ve had plenty of Piper and Alex, filling their normal roles, but Madison’s presence is stressing that relationship as she tries using Alex to get back in good graces with Carol. Elsewhere, we have Nichols trying to calm an increasingly confrontational Morello (fairly funny), and Cindy has partnered up with Flaca to take over the prison’s radio show (not as funny as it could be).

Most felt in earnest, however, was the “first and last” date between Caputo and Fig, where they drop their normal pre-coital pleasantries and allow themselves some vulnerability. Caputo, taking the Missouri warden job, actually draws some sentiment from Fig. It’s a touching moment, especially when she says, at the conclusion of their date, “I can’t believe you’re leaving.”

After that moment I had to sit and think to myself about how long these characters have been playing off of one another, how many alliances have shifted and the friendships evolved. It should say something that Fig, who has been for several seasons a detestable character, can draw a bit of sympathy from the audience. Redeeming moments.

The episode closes with less surprise than it earns, but still with vested interest from me. Though the show has always gone out of its way to “go there,” it hasn’t always stuck the landing. Perhaps it was just awkwardly staged, or edited too slowly, but the pass off of the cell-phone between Madison and Alex was entirely too overt. The following image of inmates from C-Block and D-Block crowding the COs in the yard was equally sluggish in execution. I’m not entirely sure how, but I was very aware I was watching a television show.

As an element of the overarching narrative, however. It serves it’s purpose.

3.5/5


Halfway There

So far, so good. The show hasn’t lost its momentum yet, but a few too many threads remain up in the air. I’m still wondering when the rest of our characters are going to make an appearance, specifically Big Boo.

This season still feels like it’s building up to something. Piper has made mention of writing a memoir, so perhaps we’re entering the waning days of the series. It would seem appropriate, and I wouldn’t complain. As for this season, just past the halfway point there needs to be a more significant step forward in the plot. It may be their way of avoiding the aforementioned fourth-act syndrome that’s plagued other Netflix shows like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Episode eight might prove me wrong, but I’m worried that this season may have been front-loaded. It’s a small worry, as I’ve been thoroughly entertained so far.

Seven down, six to go.

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