The fifth season of Netflix prison drama, Orange is the New Black, is now available for streaming on Netflix. The season picks up immediately with the cliffhanger we were left with at the end of season 4, with Daya holding a guard at gunpoint, after the death of inmate Poussey. In a change from the usual format, OITNB season five spanned just three days at Litchfield Penitentiary, focusing on the events of the ensuing riot. Undoubtedly, the season once again delivered some powerful performances, not least from Uzo Aduba as Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren, and Danielle Brooks as Tasha ‘Taystee’ Jefferson. There was also a good mix of comedy and drama; something that has always been the hallmark of OITNB, and the events that unfolded during the course of the riot were both heartwarming and upsetting in equal measure.
There’s also no denying that over the course of five seasons, Orange is the New Black has explored almost every angle that it can; we know pretty much every character’s back story, we know the politics, the friendships and the hatred that make up the dynamic of that prison. There’s an awful lot that’s been explored and delivered, but Orange is the New Black still has two more seasons to go.
Such is Netflix’s confidence in its original drama- which was the first the streaming service commissioned- that it renewed the show right through to season seven before season four had even aired. While season five was not bad, it didn’t have the standout impact that the first three seasons did. Instead, it felt more like season four; where viewers are tuning in to watch an ongoing soap opera. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; soaps have their place, and it’s good to watch characters we care about going through life, but while in soaps the drama seems to rotate around the characters, with OITNB, it seems as though everyone must face a drama, all at once.
The show has long since stopped being Piper’s story. In season one, particularly, she was the focal point of the show; a good way to introduce us, the viewers, to prison life. But Piper became ever more whiny and annoying, while other characters such as Red, Taystee, Daya, and Nicky, were far more complex and entertaining. Gradually, the show integrated all of these people, allowing us to see their back stories which helped us to emotionally invest in their prison life.
Though we’ve been following the women of Litchfield for five years, only 10 months have passed in OITNB. Piper now has three months left on her sentence, though whether that will be increased after the events of the riot, remains to be seen. Theoretically, given that it was her story, the show should draw to a close when Piper is released, but the writers have found a way to keep her there so far, so they’ll no doubt be able to draw her story out a little longer. The question is, though, does anyone really care what happens to her?
Far more interesting is the plight of the other inmates now that the riot is over. With Tiffany escaping, Daya heading to Max, Sophia taking herself back to the Shu, and two dead guards, season five could have been the perfect ending to the show, had the events of the final couple of episodes been tweaked a little. As it is, we now have inmates being herded onto different buses, heading to who knows where?
It would be implausible for seasons six and seven to follow different prisons; even when Piper was transferred to Chicago, it was only for a short time. An entire season or two of following different prisons and a confusing mix of inmates, just wouldn’t work. But the show needs to do something to keep our interest, otherwise, we won’t keep tuning in.
Given that season 5 was left on a cliffhanger, it seems logical to have season six resolve those issues; mainly what will happen to those inmates hiding in the pool, but once that is all resolved, the show runs the risk that people simply won’t care about another load of drama unfolding, and it’s difficult to see how they’re going to manage to keep it fresh.
Orange is the New Black continues to be Netflix’s most successful original program, and in part this is because of its hugely talented cast. Surely the most popular characters will remain, even if others are phased out. Season five spoke a great deal about the conditions these women face in jail; inadequate sanitary protection, access denied to GED programs, no proper medical attention when needed, no dental care…the list goes on, and the cast has a powerful voice that's heard by a lot of people. Taystee made a grave mistake in not agreeing to the terms of the resolution deal, now she, and others, must cope with the fallout from that. While OITNB might not need two more seasons, it does at least give the show the chance to shine a light on the prison system, its many inadequacies, and prisoner’s rights, or lack thereof.
Orange is the New Black season 5 is now available for streaming on Netflix.