This review was written by Mitch Clarke and Caitlin Johnson, who binged the entire season in the name of research. Please note, this review will include major spoilers.
— Orange Is the New… (@OITNB) July 27, 2018
Season six of Orange Is the New Black returned to Netflix after the epic season five cliff-hanger saw members from all notorious prison groups uniting together after making a stance against unfair prison conditions.
Fans of Jenji Kohan’s prison dramedy were sceptical about the content of the newest season, following the prominent season five riot storyline – which was set over just 72 hours. Picking up almost instantaneously, our favourite Litchfield crew is seen transported down the road to maximum security.
Questions were being asked about the fate of the Orange 10, who were found in the basement pool at the conclusion of the riot, before being stormed by police. These ten prominent characters, made up of Frieda (Dale Soules), Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Red (Kate Mulgrew), Piper (Taylor Schilling), Alex (Laura Prepon), Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), Gloria (Selenis Leyva) and Blanca (Laura Gomez) became the central focus of the newest season, with many of our other favourite ensemble being transported off to different prisons.
The series is plagued with references to the current crisis revolving around the Black Lives Matter campaigns in the United States of America. Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson’s treatment revealed the utter juxtaposition of treatment between white and black inmates: extra time for conviction of murder when innocent, versus, respectively, early release. In a heartbreaking twist, the loveable prisoner is seen carried back into prison after her failed legal fight.
Likely, had a black inmate presented CO with drugs they’d found, they would have wound up with a longer sentence, not a shorter one. Piper got furlough to go to her grandmother’s funeral, but Hispanic inmate, Gloria didn’t get to see her son, Benni, after he’d faced near-death. “Oh but she had a cruel cell-mate in max, oh boo-hoo, you got gum in your hair” you can’t wash out a sentence for murder.
Ex-crack-head, Doggett (Taryn Manning), took a few days to realise that an escape with her once-rapist-turned-boyfriend wouldn’t likely end favourably, and decided to hand herself back over to authorities. It wouldn’t be all too sad if Coates (James McMenamin) died where she left him in the forest, facing inability to survive outdoors – an easy wager to place considering he couldn’t even start a fire… fingers crossed! Doggett’s character development throughout the series has shown the once angry meth head transition into an affable inmate, this season humanising Manning’s character even further.
The white privilege within the walls of Litchfield is utterly shameful, as the series protagonist Piper is gifted with an early release. In a cruel twist, Hispanic inmate Blanca is also told that she can expect to leave the facility, before being dealt a heartbreaking blow, directed out an alternate door into the path of a detention centre bus, as newly appointed Vice President of Management and Correction Corporation (MCC), Linda Ferguson (Beth Dover) celebrates her personal ‘achievement’ in creating the new department. Ferguson’s performance should be commended, as the actress nails the character shift of vulnerable and submissive in season five to evil and manipulative in power in season six.
To highlight the corruption within the Litchfield facility, you only need to take a look at the guards. Piscatella (Brad William Henke) was awful last season, but the guards’ actions in this prison weren’t much better. Let’s break it down.
Moving on from his previous side-job of smuggling out panties from prison, this season, Luschek’s (Matt Peters) focus turns to phones and grinding on inmates during rec-time. How does this guy still have a job? Really? In his defence, he’s not alone in bending the rules. Amongst Daya’s (desperate) recruitment of CO Hopper (Hunter Emery) to the drug distribution in Litchfield Max, the other guards were involved in dodgy actions, too. Enter, Fantasy Inmate.
Basically the guards pick the most problematic inmate in their opinion, and bet that they’ll earn the most shots, resulting in guards prompting inmates to do questionable things, all for the sake of winning Fantasy Inmate. It’s messed up. The whole concept of this ‘game’ brings a comedic arc to the series, and opens up the question of whether real life jails participate in similar games which aim to exploit prisoners.
CO Hellman (Greg Vrotsos) is this season’s comparison to infamous guard Pornstache (from the earlier seasons). Hellman is notorious when it comes to complying with alteration of prisoners’ records in exchange for sexual favours “strictly of Asian flavour”.
CO Ginger (Shawna Hamic) is another new face this season. The irky guard portrays some questionable moments throughout including confining the sister-killers, Carol and Barbs, in isolation in hopes for a fight, resulting in easy points to get ahead of the leader board in Fantasy Inmate. In fact, the tally was at the forefront of her mind when she and Alveraz discovered the Dennings deceased in a pool of blood, having murdered one another with shivs in the confines of a cleaning closet.
CO Alveraz (Nicholas Webber), the nerdy guy, (you know the one) would likely crap his pants in a prison outbreak, and as it happens, simply froze at the sight of Carol and Barbs’ limp bodies.
CO Tamika Ward (Susan Heyward), aka Taystee’s old mate… it was a nice gesture her coming to the trial but how the heck wasn’t she asked to verify T’s good behaviour? She knew her both in and out of prison.
HELLO CO Young (Branden Wellington). Thank you for being you. Amen.
CO McCullough (Emily Tarver)… girl go to therapy.
A silver lining of the crew came in the form of Mormon CO, Ryder Blake (Nick Dillenburg), being the first guard to drop out of Fantasy Inmate, after realising just what the game is for — an excuse to mess with the prisoners. He took a while to be a good person though, having participated for weeks. What ever would Jesus think?
CO Stefanovic (Josh Segarra) had too much protein-fuelled, testosterone-driven rage and not enough patience. His temper often left inmates in bruises, some resorting to substance abuse to ease the pain.
So Daya is now a lesbian and a herion addict. Hooray.
With the inclusion of new guards, new characters were also introduced. Orange has had its fair share of villainous characters over its lengthy series, potentially none as evil yet alluring as the sister killers, Barb and Carol Denning (Mackenzie Phillips and Henny Russell). In true Kohan form, top dog at camp, Red, was always going to come up against the real leaders at max, and this storyline came with a fascinating backstory involving bottom feeder Frieda.
Red getting in with Carol simply out of a shared hatred of Frieda? She let her rage consume her and was not at all understanding of Frieda’s anguish protecting herself. Weren’t they meant to be family?
Some of the notorious ensemble cast were mysteriously left out of this season, potentially leaving storylines open for next season? We’re hoping that we get to see more of Carrie Black, aka Butch, who was featured in just onevscene – who knows what the hell happened to her in prison?
The series was slow to start but as it does so well, the show reeled us in as the last few episodes were binged, leaving so many storylines to be discussed in next season – which could be the last ever season of Orange?
We are asking ourselves whether our withdrawals from the meth head fix will be cured in the next season? Will Flaca and Maritza finally be reunited? Will Mendoza and Ruiz make up? More importantly, we want answers to the four main storylines that come from this season. What will life on the outside be like for Piper? Will Taystee testify? The deportation of Blanca: will she find Diablo again? Are the sister killers really dead? We sure hope not.
Viewers should watch season six, purely to witness the horrifying back story of Carol and Barbs, if not for anything else.
Our verdict – 3.5/5