Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to head back to Litchfield.
I’ll admit to feeling a little lost toward the end of Season 5. The first couple of Orange Is The New Black seasons felt very real. They were a pure exploration of prison life. But as the series has progressed can it’s begum to descend into full blown fantasy. Fascinating, action-packed fantasy.
Season 6 certainly yanks the viewer back to reality with a thud. Housed somewhere in the prison called Administrative Segregation, or AdSeg for short, our ladies are scattered and scrambling for answers as to what’s going to happen next.
There’s very little that can be said about the plot without giving too much away, and I’m not in that business. Suffice to say, it builds. The first few episodes, whilst doing enough to hold the viewer’s attention, are not exactly scintillating. It’s mostly just a question of who’s going to get the blame for the riot and various events that occurred during it. But the possible outcomes facing a few of our favourite characters before the end of the season are mouth-watering.
Whilst a few minor characters have been culled (and we’re not sure how that will float with the die-hards), we do get to meet a number of new characters. The ladies from camp are scattered across three main blocks of Max: B, C and D. An ever-present gang war rages between blocks C and D, is overseen by twin sisters Carol and Barb. Henny Russell as Carol does creepy extremely well and Mackenzie Phillips as Barb is properly psychopathic. The way their backstory is woven into that of the prison provides a necessary level of discomfort for the viewer, a new tack for OITNB writers.
Carol and Barbara’s lackeys Madison (Amanda Fuller) and Daddy (Vicci Martinez) are also bright new faces and whilst they are diametrically opposed in disposition, they add a useful layer of complexity to the plot.
Regulars such as Danielle Brooks and Kate Mulgrew also excel with new character depth to sink their teeth into. Other previously minor characters get a welcome load increase, among whom Dale Soules as Frieda stands out. Her new role in the story is now pivotal and her dry wit and practical nature provide an effective tension breaker more than once.
The few new guards that appear in S6 barely illicit a mention. Save for a sub-plot featuring old mate Luschek and inmate Mendoza, this season is certainly more about the women and less about the guards. And in that way, it addresses a number of the social issues present in previous seasons in a far more direct manner.
Where Season 5 was about minorities uniting to revolt against the powers that be, Season 6 deals more directly with the issues. As the characters each take quite individual paths through Season 6 and make decisions that grate against their established identities, many comments are made about LGBTQI rights, prison reform and Black Lives Matter. Perhaps the most dramatic character shift is that of Joe Caputo. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal that before the end of Season 6, he’s become a champion for one of these causes.
Stylistically, the backstory flashbacks are still present but this season they bring new depth and include bot just details about characters but also the prison’s history. Using this as a tool to tie several characters’ stories together toward the end of the season is concurrently shocking and satisfying for the viewer.
Something about the Season 5 finale that was terribly dissatisfying was the way the viewer was kept completely in the dark. Season 6 differs here, offering resolutions for a number of the characters’ plot lines. That said, these resolutions generally raise more questions than answer them. Hence, you’re certainly still left wanting more.
So whilst there are still a couple of unrealistic plot lines that add nothing to the story, all in all this season puts the show firmly back on track and sets it up for a Taystee Season 7.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Orange is the New Black‘s Sixth Season premieres on Netflix on July 27th.
All photos courtesy of Netflix.