This is the conclusion of a review in-progress of Netflix’s prison dramedy, Orange is the New Black. This review covers episodes twelve and thirteen.
*Some Spoilers Ahead*
Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 59m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Clark Johnson
Tensions are coming to a head, and while they are we become acutely aware that this season might not end the way we want it to. Taystee is dealing with a stacked trial, and her lawyer sheds pretense when speaking with a frazzled Caputo: she has a fifty-fifty shot of winning or losing. We’re meant to understand that as a positive note, but the show’s allusions here are clear – the best someone like Taystee (read: black in America) could ever hope for is a coin-toss’s odds.
It doesn’t matter if Caputo has fulfilled his redemption-arc and is slowly yanking Fig along with him. Good intentions don’t change shit.
Elsewhere we have characters trying to take a stand. Vause is risking everything to keep Badison away from Piper – the former wishing to add prison time for the latter. This puts Vause dead smack in the middle of the upcoming block war/kickball match. Vause still has time to serve, and she may be throwing in the towel. That theme becomes apparent now – not that it’s been especially absent – that people are tired of trying so hard and not going anywhere, conceding to the system.
Speaking of, MCC has rebranded itself as PolyCon as a PR move. Fig is unimpressed, but has to submit to the wishes of her superiors and implement a new, laughably malleable inmate ranking system that weighs demerits against their original defense, or…something, I don’t know.
Regardless, a few times around the halfway point of the episode there are some key exchanges about personhood and volition. One CO asks another about the data-entry inmate ranking system, isn’t it hard turning people into numbers? No, he replies, not once you’re used to it. He should be used to it, as the COs have been ranking the inmates the whole season without corporate mandate.
All of the prisoners are numbers, pawns, what have you. Pieces to be moved around a chessboard to progress someone else’s motives – at least that’s what I’m taking from the show at this point. I don’t see Caputo or Fig making a dent against PolyCon/MCC, and I don’t have high hopes for Taystee or any of the other inmates subscribing to Barb and Carol’s war. Things feel too orchestrated, to precarious. Everyone speaking out against it is being locked up in SHU.
And Red, poor vengeful Red. She almost saw her grandchildren. It’s as if the show is subtly reminding us that hey, these guys are criminals and are still susceptible to their baser instincts – but so is everyone else.
Anyways, the stage is set for the finale. Tensions are very, very high, though the episode doesn’t do much more than advance a good plot. It’s got a pretty interesting ending, though.
Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h 24m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Nick Sandow
All the planning, all the tested loyalties and alliances formed, they all come to this. Though this season hasn’t made the actual kickball match feel particularly threatening, there’s been more than adequate portent. From the jump we see that things aren’t going as planned, a theme coursing through this episode’s feature-length runtime. We have to expect, as the audience, that we aren’t getting what we want. At all. Same deal with our characters.
Turns out Vause isn’t going to school. Turns out that maybe Fig and Caputo aren’t compatible. Turns out Piper isn’t going to get to spend another few months with Vause.
That’s right, she’s being sprung. Due to the aforementioned easily-manipulated inmate-scoring software that PolyCon instituted, and Piper’s ignorance about the drug-economy of the prison, she’s being released. It’s wholly, incredibly convenient. Piper’s smart enough not to question a good thing too vocally, though, as a person with her background tends to behave.
Aleida wants to get her kids back, but that might mean losing Daya. Taystee just wanted justice for Poussey, but it might cost her the rest of her life. Morello just wants a baby, and Nichols just wants an easy ride through the end of her sentence. Barb and Carol? I’ll get to that.
We’re allowed some tender moments between long-running characters at Vause and Piper’s spontaneous prison-wedding, but aren’t allowed to savor it because the kickball match approaches.
Some thoughts on that.
This never felt like the big, burgeoning battle sequence as it was imagined by the inmates of Litchfield. As one of the COs mentions, it’s just kickball. And that may have been the point the whole time. Nichols, when she corners Morello over her shifted alliances, points out that the only reason anyone is doing anything is because of Carol and Barb. The powers that be, manipulating and corralling the lesser-thans into violent opposition.
Though it wears it on its sleeve, this show has some decent subtext.
There’s a big twist regarding Carol and Barb and the show earns it, I think. I was frustrated a few episodes back about a series of flashbacks showing how they killed their younger sister together, about how proficiently manipulative they were together, and I bear no qualms about eating my own words. The flashback was relevant. I was wrong.
Still, this last episode needed thirty extra minutes to tell a full story. Just saying.
Moving on, the major conflicts are put to rest here, but nothing has changed and it’s wonderful. Why? Because that’s the whole point. OITNB has outdone itself with this ending. It feels like the writers, in their dimly-lit windowless room in some office-building in L.A., just sat at a table and never once denied a good idea because it might not market well. They approached a moment of severe tension and had it result in a way that is both unsurprising and well-earned.
They stuck to their guts here. Though our characters may not be in a better place because of it, it makes for much better television. Everyone you might expect to walk away from that prison, does so. Everyone else? Not so lucky. I watched the ending, searching for some consolation, but as with the inmates left in Litchfield, there isn’t much to find.
Again, that’s the point.
So that’s it!
Season six is in the books. I wouldn’t brand this a hard reboot, that was season five, this season has been an enthralling return to form for the series. They sat down and thought hard about how to tell a good story using all the tools at their disposal, and it works very well.
There are pacing issues, sure, as well as the normal structural problems present with such a large ensemble cast, but they do this better than most productions.
We get meaningful, impactful arcs for almost every character. Things happen and they mean something this season. Which can’t be said for several of the others. That small actions precipitated larger conflicts, broadly and specifically, feels great and watches better.
Though I will say this: I’m done.
Yes, done. I don’t really want another season of this show. The narrative of season six was so effused with the series’ overarching themes and said so much with them, arguably what it’s been trying to say this whole time. I don’t need anything else. Netflix has already ordered season seven, so I may be ranting at a wall here, but I think they tied everything up nicely.
Taystee didn’t get justice, because it’s so infrequent that black men and women ever do in a system biased against them. Piper gets out no strings attached, and many of the immigrant detainees are sent to ICE-compounds after thinking they were being released. It’s heartbreaking, but an accurately assembled tableau of racial and economic biases and segregation within our criminal justice system. And those powers that be? They stay in power.
They do it all without saying a word, either. Our characters exchange worried glances far more often than they monologue or address these issues through dialogue. That’s what sets this season apart for me. It shows more often that it tells – you can never go wrong there.
I’m curious to see where this goes. But, and I can’t understate this, season seven should be the show’s final season. Show Piper writing her book, or whatever; make it a prolonged post-series “where they are now” segment. Just don’t counteract the statements made in this season. Please.
Final score: 4/5 – Well above average.
An excellent return to form for the series. It’s found its teeth again and bites hard when it has to. Binge it.