‘Orange is the New Black’ Season Five Starts Slow, But Picks Up Steam

The fifth season of Orange is the New Black immediately picks up in the middle of a prison riot… and from here onwards, there are going to be spoilers for this season and last! You’ve been warned.

Given the overcrowding, inhumane treatment by untrained guards, and ultimately the death of Poussey, it is unsurprising that the inmates rioted. The entire season spans over the three-day riot, following different characters as they either participate in destructive riot shenanigans or just attempt to stay out of the chaos that is surrounding them.

With the season structured over one chaotic time-lapsed event, the first six episodes felt somewhat like filler episodes. The plot line spanning over these episodes was thin and spent an abundance of time focusing on the Angie/Leanne/Penzatucky storyline. Despite the fact that the first six episodes lack in substance, they included several sweet and pivotal moments that stayed faithful to the original premise of the series.

Orange handled the grief over losing Poussey very well by sprinkling in various moments of So-So, Suzanne and Taystee all remembering her in the best way they knew how. Though the first six episodes lacked in substance, they did highlight how the inmates treated each other without anyone governing them. The treatment of Suzanne highlighted this. Although her fellow peers tolerated her while medicated, her mental health was not understood by others.

However, despite the thinness of the first six episodes, the latter half of the season more than made up for it. Between Taystee’s negotiations, Red’s investigation of Piscatella, Piscatella’s revenge, and Alex and Piper just trying to stay afloat, the last seven episodes packed in the drama, social justice issues and emotional punches that made the show.

Cindy, Jenae, Allison, Taystee, and Piper advocating that they should be treated like people resonated with the long held idea that criminals should be dehumanized and treated poorly. Taystee coping with her grief by advocating for Poussey and their rights was well done. Her breakdown in the season finale encapsulated that grief comes and goes and how revenge and “justice” fail to bring back the person they lost.

As always, Orange does a phenomenal job of providing back stories for the characters. Every backstory and continuation of a back story were amazingly well done. In conjunction with Taystee’s advocating, it is a reminder that regardless of the crimes they have done, these are still people with families who love them. However, this also leads to Piscatella’s problematic back story and Orange’s tendency to romanticize guard/inmate relationships.

In Piscatella’s backstory, he finds himself as a guard in a male prison where he follows all the rules and involves himself in a relationship with one of the male inmates. Unfortunately, the other inmates discover their relationship and Piscatella’s “boyfriend” is brutally attacked and raped. Piscatella, in turn, takes his revenge on the inmate who harmed his boyfriend, which resulted in the inmate’s death.

The problem with this backstory is the fact that the relationship itself has dubious consent. As a guard, Piscatella (and the other guards who have involved themselves in relationships with the female inmates) is in a position of power, and the inmates are not. However, the one benefit to Piscatella’s backstory was that it prevented Taystee from making the same mistake he did.

The season ends with our ten favorite characters holding hands in the bottom of an abandoned pool waiting for SWAT, while the others were loaded onto buses. It is unclear as to where season six will lead, and how they will continue to follow the relationships of the characters we have come to know and love.