Though it often alternates between dramatic and comedic tones, Orange is the New Black rarely pulls punches when it comes to showcasing the harsh realities of prison life. Its seventh and final season was perhaps the least forgiving in this regard, looking beyond its conventional setting within Litchfield Corrections and leveling a deluge of social commentary on hot button issues such as immigration and ICE detention centers.
There was no shortage of tragic, heartbreaking, and sometimes outright difficult to watch moments over the course of the Netflix series' final season, but some of them stand out as particularly moving or disturbing. Here are the ten most tragic moments that transpired during Orange is the New Black's seventh season.
10 CO McCullough's Flashback
Though the greater majority of this season's CO staff are pretty terrible human beings, CO McCullough stands out as being one of the few that, at the very least, seems to respect the humanity of the inmates under her watch. She's definitely a character experiencing an incredible amount of inner conflict, but the source of it stems from much further back than the unforgettable riot at Litchfield.
During her time in the military, McCullough tried to win the respect and trust of her comrades. But when one of them harasses her, her complaints about the incident fall on deaf ears, and inevitably result in her being entirely shunned after the guilty party lies about it.
9 Pennsatucky's Father
The character arc of Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett has certainly seen her ups and downs. Though she initially served in an antagonistic role, it's difficult not to feel sympathy for her as her background is gradually revealed over the course of the series. However, none of these tidbits have been as heartbreaking as those revealed in Season 7.
Doggett's father was an abusive addict and he vents no shortage of vitriolic, entirely misplaced anger at her over the course of a fishing competition they'd embarked on in order to bond. It becomes abundantly clear that he has little regard for his daughter, much less his own attempt at sobriety.
8 Cindy's Letter
Cindy's lively and explosive personality is usually a source of comic relief, but she has her own troubled past that she struggles to overcome throughout the series. Central to that is her complicated relationship with her daughter, and by extension, her mother.
The latter manifests as a particularly poignant scene during one of Caputo's rehabilitation classes. With the class instructed to write an apologetic letter to people that were victimized by their crimes, Cindy chooses her mother, expressing heartfelt regret at saddling her with responsibility over Cindy's daughter.
7 Córdova Tries To Get Back Into The US
Though audiences spend quite a bit of time with the ICE detainees, Karla Córdova in particular receives the lion's share of the spotlight. Sharp, legally savvy, and determined to reunite with her children, she struggles fervently to be released. Unfortunately, despite her knowledge of the law, she ends up deported to El Salvador.
Beaten but unbroken, she joins with a coyote's caravan bound to cross the border. However, a fateful tumble leaves her with a broken ankle, rendering her unable to walk. The caravan abandons her to her cruel fate with nothing more than a small jug of water, and though it is left unclear, it's unlikely that she survives the night in the open desert.
6 Red Develops Dementia
The indomitable Galina "Red" Reznikov has long been a cornerstone character of the series, serving as a mentor and matriarch among the inmates. Her arc in Season 7 is a tragic one, as she advances in years and suffers the rigors of the prison system, she begins to develop dementia.
She spends most of the season in abject denial, but the scene in which she is finally confronted with the reality of her situation and is forced to resign to it is heartbreaking.
5 Taystee Attempts Suicide
Formerly bright and full of life, Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson begins to develop severe depression after being wrongfully tried and convicted of murder during the riot at Litchfield. Robbed of all hope for a future outside of prison, she fruitlessly attempts to strangle herself in her own bunk.
When that falls through, she reaches a point of absolute desperation and seeks out Daya to procure drugs that will do the job. Although she finds a reason to go on and aborts this plan of action, her suicide attempts are nonetheless painful to bear witness to.
4 Shani Is Deported
Shani Abboud, a newcomer for the seventh season of Orange is the New Black, is an Egyptian ICE detainee facing deportation. However, she definitely leaves her mark, particularly when it comes to Nicole "Nicky" Nichols, with whom she kindles a romantic spark.
In Shani's backstory, it is revealed that she fled Egypt due to persecution concerning her sexual orientation, and that she suffered a gruesome mutilation while she lived there. She faces almost certain death upon being deported, cutting her new romantic flame with Nicky woefully short and leaving her entirely distraught.
3 Lorna's Baby
As most dedicated fans are likely well aware, Lorna Morello-Muccio miraculously managed to marry and conceive a child during the events of Season 3, and gives birth to the child after Season 6. However, Season 7 sees her hit with some unimaginably tragic news.
During visitation, her husband Vincent tearfully confesses that the child did not survive, contracting and succumbing to pneumonia. Lorna's already fragile mental state is utterly shattered by this event, and she ends up being committed to the "Florida" wing of the prison, reserved for the elderly and mentally unstable.
2 Pennsatucky's Death
Pennsatucky seemed to be on the rise in Season 7, poised to earn her GED after she takes an authentic interest in education. Managing to overcome her struggle with dyslexia, she diligently studies and prepares for the test.
She stresses over the test and is entirely convinced that she has failed it after being unimpressed with her performance. Distraught, she falls back into drugs and succumbs to a lethal overdose. To make matters worse, it is later revealed that she passed the GED test.
1 Immigration Court For Kids
Season 7's most shocking and hauntingly tragic occurrence is Natalie Figueroa's discovery that the new courtroom established by PolyCon hosts a "youth docket" on Fridays, in which ICE detainees that qualify as minors are subjected to the rigors of the court proceedings surrounding potential deportation.
Even the typically emotionally devoid Natalie is absolutely stricken by the inhumanity, watching on helplessly as an unattended brother and sister, barely old enough to speak, are questioned by the judge. Even babies and toddlers await their turn at the stand as emotionally detached ICE agents observe the proceedings.