This is Part Three of a review in-progress for the sixth season of Netflix’s prison dramedy, Orange is the New Black. This review covers episodes eight through eleven.
*Some Spoilers Ahead*
Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 58m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Sian Heder
Relationships are changing in Litchfield, and it’s fun to watch. Vause doesn’t want to be a…phone-mule? She wants to keep to herself, while Piper wants to make a difference – it’s good they’ve developed so much over the series. There’s some drama regarding the blocks, Red is getting in over her head with Carol, Nichols gets to artificially inseminate Flores (fucking hilarious), and a whole litany of other shenanigans that might break wide into more substantial plot-threads. Importantly, though, and much to my relief, this episode decides to shift focus away from some of the block-drama back onto Taystee and the riot-trial.
Taystee knows one of the COs, who delivers to her all of her mail. This is fleshed out with a flashback about their time working the overnight drive-thru window together at a burger joint. Prisoner and CO, both from the same walk of life, very obviously went in different directions – both of which were deemed the only course of action by either character.
This is interesting stuff, especially once Taystee does her interview and lambastes the COs for their treatment of the prisoners, which has been observably poor. Here comes some drama, furthering the divide between the guards and prisoners. I like this stuff, why doesn’t it linger on it a little more? Make a point about the nature of this trial in relation to the guards, what are the consequences should they be exposed for their behavior? The show doesn’t really need to spell it out for us, far from it, but tossing characters against one another and playing their differences on their similarities is what has given this series so many memorable moments. These are the things we tune in for.
I can do without the final scene of them literally walking two separate ways at an intersection. It’s not awful, but we get it.
Going forward the show would do wise to keep us invested in this trial. The prison-block drama is juicy and fun, but the politics surrounding the inmates and the officers outside their cell-doors is a foundational pillar to the show.
“Break the String”
Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Nick Sandow
It’s fitting that so much of the season up to this point has been about establishing where our characters’ loyalties lie. Following their incarceration in max, each one of them has had to develop a plan that ensures their own survival within the system. These plans, much to the benefit of the show itself, often run incongruous or in direct opposition to one another. This episode starts a pattern which will hopefully play out to the season’s ending. Cindy, Flaka, Piper, Carol, Barb, Frieda, Caputo, Linda, Fig, Badison, Morello, Mendoza, Ruiz, Daya, Daddy, Aleida, even Suzanne – each of them have an endgame, and a course of action going forward that could potentially bear enormous consequences.
Be it Piper trying to reinstate kickball during recreational hours, or Daddy forcing Barb to OD in order to buy herself some time setting up another drug-racket. Both of these plans have to juggle the intentions of multiple characters. That the show has managed to weave a web of motivation and consequence this tightly is what’s moving everything along at this point, as the tension over the trial has long since devolved into no more than back-pain for Cindy – literally.
But that’s okay, because these are lovely characters and we don’t want them to feel pain anywhere, and the idea that some of our beloveds may inflict damage to one another, rather than do the right thing, is unerring entertainment. What’s more, the show continues to experiment with the tools at its disposal. Flaka and Cindy are fun together, and the budding “romance” between Aleida and a guard is actually illuminating – Aleida has for so long-held a high guard, but her need of others in a moment of genuine weakness is a challenge her character alone would find so difficult overcoming.
Caputo is finally coming around it seems, as his moral objections to MCC might be boiling over. That Fig is there to offer him advice, and further invest in her own vulnerability, feels right. It’s important to offer developments like this six seasons along. But this season is loyalty, respect, and playing the long game: Plans.
This late in the season, well over half-way, the show is dishing out a bit more than we bargained for. It isn’t a problem that it’s so densely plotted, especially when compared to earlier seasons, but I’m worried as to whether or not the show can pull off a resolution to so much with the amount of time it has left. Everyone in Litchfield is committing to their game plan, we just have to wait and see what happens. There’s certainly the potential for a stellar ending here.
“Chocolate Chip Nookie”
Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Ludovic Littee
This is a good episode, flat-out, but it has some problems. To set the scene, everyone’s plans are underway. Daddy, Daya, and Aleida are smuggling drugs into the prison using the guard/boyfriend and his protein-shake tubs – props for making that relevant – and Barb is finally sober thanks to some time spent with Nicky in the infirmary. Piper’s got C-Block running drills to get ready for kickball, which was reinstated, but Badison’s a control-freak so you know where that’s headed. Caputo and Fig are starting to invest some energy against MCC, Red is cozying up with Carol in the hopes of getting at Frieda, who is still in Florida with Suzanne and Doggett trying not to get murdered. None of that is to mention the continued conflict between Mendoza and the other women of C-Block and Luschek and the cell-phone smuggling business. Shew.
This show’s layers are tangling up very quickly, and with only a handful more episodes left on the roster we need as much screen time reserved for relevant material as possible.
I guess not, because in the middle of all of that interesting shit, we get another glimpse into Carol and Barb’s back story. My question: Why? What do we learn? Nothing of value. I’d rather be following Caputo on his crusade against his former employer, with a reformed Fig backing him up, or the changing politics of the old alliances between characters that are being challenged in max.
What we get in this lengthy set of flashbacks is what Frieda describes as the “Little Debbie Killings.” Barb and Carol, while teenagers, murder their younger sister by locking her in a car and pushing it into a lake. And? They bicker a lot once they’re in prison together. It’s rushed, it’s a severe strain on the suspension of disbelief, and it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about the warring tribes of Lichfield in the present. Their characterization in Frieda’s flashback was enough. They’re bickering sisters who went to prison and, over their long incarceration, grew to hate each other. What’s to elaborate on?
Consider it this way: All Frieda had to do in a brief conversation with Suzanne was hint at the notoriety of the “Little Debbie Killings” and that Little Debbie was Barb and Carol’s little sister. It should go without saying that only a depraved individual would murder their little sister. Did we need to see it play out? I’d argue that the handful of flashbacks did very little to justify, in any frame of mind, why the two sisters offed their younger sibling. There’s hardly enough time to present anything nuanced about these brand spanking new characters. And with everything else going on, it’s a distraction.
Let’s hope the next episode keeps its focus on the present day, because OITNB‘s recurring plot-device is becoming a hindrance. The show will get better going forward, not by continuously peeking backward.
“Well This Took a Dark Turn”
Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Laura Prepon
Maybe Laura Prepon should spend more time behind the camera, because she delivers a pretty tight episode here. Not a single flashback in sight as we focus on how dangerously all of the old alliances have shifted, and the new dramas that envelope our characters. Every meaningful arc gets some time here. Piper and Badison butt heads, Nichols is trapped between old friends and D-Block’s blood lust, MCC is maneuvering around Caputo’s campaign for the truth, and the riot-trial is officially underway. Those plans, the ones I’ve been yammering on about for the last few reviews, are in action. As they put it in the show – it’s time to go all-in, and I am. I really am.
Leading up to this episode we’ve had a mess of plot-lines entangle, to see them tugging and yanking all over is rewarding. There’s no near-miss with Aleida’s drug-tubs of protein powder, her boyfriend confronts her instantly. We have immediate consequences and action. Everything Piper does to help herself gets her in deeper trouble with Badison, regardless of what she wants, and she finally comes face to face with the realization we’ve all been yearning for over the last few years: The other prisoners fuck with her because of her privilege, because she’s in there with them despite having every opportunity they could only dream of having. That Taystee is the one to offer this revelation makes it all the more sweet.
Side note: It’s really nice to see Burset here, I wish this season would bring back some of our old favorites more frequently. Her situation is sad, but her decision at the end of the episode is in-keeping with the mantra this season has touted from the jump – it’s every woman for herself. She commits to her own survival, as does every other character.
Piper goes all in on her status as kickball captain, Vause goes all-in on a college course, Cindy goes all-in on her testimony, the Litchfield campers go all-in on their allegiances to their new blocks, and the guards go all-in on fixing their fantasy draft dry spell in what is a genuinely surprising way to end the episode.
Nothing distracts from the drama here. There’s levity, sure, but everyone has to make a choice, and those choices get made, galvanizing or undoing their relationships or their security.
Great episode; the kind you clench you jaw and raise your eyebrows at.
Two to go
I’m excited to see where this ends. The upcoming kickball game has some stakes riding on it, that’s for sure. This season has done well to unshackle itself from the sentimental-oozing of earlier episodes. It feels more akin to seasons one and two, where there’s danger behind every sign of relief.
I don’t want to see this kickball crap outshine the trial, however. For as prevalent a role that played in the first half of the season, I want it to finish strong.