WARNING: Massive spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched season 6.
The latest season of the hit Netflix comedy drama Orange Is the New Black (OITNB) came out just over a week ago, so a two-day Netflix binge of all the episodes was a given.
Season 6 felt like a completely different vibe to the darkness and violence that concluded the last season. The majority of our much-loved characters have been sent to max (short for maximum security prison), after a prison riot results in the deaths of two prison guards. The season focuses on how they cope in this new prison environment with a new hierarchy and villains to deal with.
One downside to the new setting is the characters that sadly don’t appear in the season, like Carrie “Big Boo” Black (played by Lea DeLaria) and Maritza Ramos (Diane Guerrero), who brought some much-needed comedy to season 5. Instead we’re introduced to a bunch of new characters, some good and some not so good. A special mention has to go to Carol (Henny Russell) and Barb (Mackenzie Phillips) Denning, the new and terrifying rival sisters in max, orchestrating violent tensions between the C- Block and D- Block of the prison. Through flashbacks we learn the story of how they became gang leader enemies and how they ended up in max since they were teenagers. I feel like these psychologically complex characters are gone too soon, as their need for revenge quickly causes their own destruction at the hands of each other. I wish we learnt more about these sisters as they were pretty interesting characters who could’ve been developed a little more throughout the season.
One character I sadly failed to warm up to was Madison/ Badison (played by Amanda Fuller), who plays this season’s main villain. Badison becomes an antagonist to Piper and Alex, violently blackmailing and threatening them into helping with gang related activities. Although we are given glimpses of her back story and why she becomes who she is, with a bullied past and pent-up frustrations, I never see her as a character I can sympathise with. Her angry outbursts seem random and almost silly. She’s meant to be a scary character but she comes off as more irritating if anything, and doesn’t seem to add much to the season apart from messing around with a few characters and being the “muscle” for Carol’s exploits.
Despite the randomness of some moments of the season, Yvonne Parker’s character Taystee Jefferson, once again stole the show for me as she did in season 5. We follow her story after been falsely accused of the murder of prison guard Piscatella, who was actually shot by another guard during the end of last season’s riot. We see how her battle for justice against her mistreatment at the hands of the guards plays out, with former Litchfield head guard, Joe Caputo helping her. Parker continues to shine with her compelling and likeable acting as Taystee struggles with the prospect of life imprisonment. Unfortunately, things don’t end too well for her as she is charged for second-degree murder, despite her tireless battle in court. What’s the most upsetting was one of her closest friends, Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), failing to stand up for Taystee despite overhearing what really happened to Piscatella, for fear of further punishment. This was probably one of the hardest moments to watch as Taystee tearfully looks on as Cindy denies what she heard. These devastating moments certainly reflect the harsh reality of the U.S. Prison system. Fingers crossed Taystee gets some happier moments next season, she certainly deserves a break.
Another heart-wrenching moment that needs mentioning is Blanca Flores (Laura Gomez) and her brief glimpse at freedom. It is suddenly announced in the final episode that the rebranding of the MCC company that own Litchfield has become Ploycon, with plans of building profitable immigration detention centres. After this is shown, we helplessly watch as Blanca’s elation at being selected for early release, quickly turns sour as it is revealed that she is being taken to a bus where immigration officers await for her ambiguous, but certainly not free future. The devastating scene also shows her clueless boyfriend Diablo with flowers eagerly awaiting to greet her. It’s pretty easy to see the real-life and current political parallels of both Taystee and Blanca’s stories, making it even harder to watch.
There were certainly moments of Season 6 that I couldn’t help but question, like the early release of the original series lead Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), which seemed almost a kick in the teeth in comparison to Taystee’s fate. I also feel that some of the previous seasons have been a lot less busy or chaotic, making it easier to follow the plot. However despite some of the season’s drawbacks Taystee’s arc and consistently phenomenal acting alone saved the season for me. I definitely wish that I took my time watching this season, as I’ll now spend months waiting impatiently for the next. Let’s hope that next season brings back more of what many of us came to love about the show from the beginning.
Star rating: 3.5
By Gemma Prince
Images provided by Netflix/Twitter