Film & Television

‘Orange Is The New Black’, Season 6
— Litchfield, Taken to the Max

Season six follows the Litchfield inmates as they’re integrated into maximum security facilities. The FBI is being pressured to charge two inmates with murder, and another half dozen with inciting the riot. (The first two will receive life sentences; the others an additional ten years.) This means that several “inmates of interest” are being held in isolation (or “Ad Seg,” segregated custody) in between rigorous interrogation sessions. Although each woman is eager to be acquitted and released into “gen pop” (the prison’s general population), it’s very clear, very quickly, that they aren’t in Kansas (or even Litchfield) anymore.

Two wings of the prison are at war with each other. Inmates are brutalized not just by a new and far more vicious breed of guard, but also by other inmates. Many of the show’s main characters are under suspicion for their involvement in the riot. Lorna (Yael Stone) is really pregnant. Red (Kate Mulgrew) has been shorn of her “family,” as well as her hair. Daya (Dascha Polanca) is regularly beaten by guards for having killed one of their own. Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) and Ruiz (Jessica Pimental) are still fighting a high stakes war. Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) reaches out to her father for legal help. Doggett (Taryn Manning) is on the lam. Caputo (Nick Sandow) is on paid administrative leave. Much to Piper’s dismay, Alex (Laura Prepon) is missing. And Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” (Emmy-winner Uzo Aduba) is off her meds and vividly hallucinating. In fact, the first sequence of the season’s first episode is shown from Suzanne’s warped, but sadly grounded in reality, perspective. (Of course, it’s brilliant as is every scene Aduba’s in.)

Alas, many recurring characters disappear this year (the Litchfield rioters have been distributed to several different facilities), but some interesting new characters are introduced. This season also marks the first time that the external world is being brought in. It’s 2018, and Trump’s proposed border wall and the #MeToo movement are both referenced. As Kohan explained before shooting the season, “We want to address current events and feelings, so we may abandon the timeline. Piper will still have served the same amount of time, but we will be in the present day.”

Executive Producer Tara Herrmann elaborated this way. “To be able to be that topical was very exciting this year. It’s a tricky thing. We started to get a little bit looser with it in season five, but for the first four seasons we really tried to be mindful with our references. There is this clock on the show because of Piper’s sentence, but then we also want to be able to be topical.”

As in OITNB seasons past, the inherent problems of the nation’s correctional system remain front and center: the controversies surrounding privatization, abuse and brutality, inhuman living conditions, and deplorable rates of recidivism. But at the end of the day, Orange is the New Black works best as an anthology of stories — some sympathetic, others not, many (and the most effective) of the “there but for the grace of God go I” variety.

According to Herrmann, “We took the risk of slowing things down and telling big arcs, but slowly. It was exciting for us as writers to go back to the first few years where we could really zone in on the core characters. We wanted to tell the fifth season from the corporate and more administrative stories, which are fascinating for us. But I think we were all excited to then get back to our ladies and the rawness of the ramifications of the riot . . . Jenji’s motto is that “there is always more story to tell.”

All six seasons of Orange is the New Black are available to stream on Netflix. Season seven has already been green-lighted and can be expected some time in the summer of 2019.

 

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