Jojo Whilden/Netflix
June 15, 2017 at 05:33 PM EDT

Orange Is the New Black

TV Show
Drama, Comedy
run date
58 minutes
Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne, Kate Mulgrew, Laura Prepon
Current Status
In Season
We gave it an A-

The season 5 finale is an hourlong demonstration of what Orange Is the New Black is as a series. It revolves around a serious subject and therefore contains some seriously powerful moments, but it’s still peppered with scenes of levity (most of which land). It also manages to send the inmates down a new path and while also putting them right back where they started, which is a tricky needle to thread but a necessary one in a show set in prison, where real change is hard to come by.

While it would have been nice to see Taystee and the other inmates prevail in their quest to improve the situation at Litchfield, that also would have been a bit unrealistic, considering the way prison riots generally go down. Then again, the negotiations unfolded in such an organic way that it felt out of character for Taystee to blow it at the last minute. Even she admits in the finale that she failed Poussey by being so narrowly focused. That, to me, feels like a conclusion Taystee would have gotten to earlier, in that scene with Caputo and Figueroa.

But that is neither here nor there now, because now, SWAT is storming the prison and it’s a total s—storm.

To OITNB’s credit, I expected this to be a lot more brutal than it was. With so many supporting characters that viewers know and love, it would have been easy to make the securing of the prison more dramatic by offing some supporting characters. It came as a nice surprise that that isn’t what happened.

Instead, we were treated to the various ways different inmates reacted to the raid. Some were caught early on and had no choice but to be forcibly removed; others peacefully surrendered. Leanne and Angie, who are still the worst, decided to get high and then burn the inmates’ files (more on that later).

Easily the most fun aspect of the episode was Team Latte — Ouija and Pidge joining forces with Sankey, Brandy, and Skinhead Helen to make an Ernest Goes to Camp-style stand in one of the dormitories. That’s the kind of levity that works on this show — it feels realistic, it’s goofy without being absurd or annoying, and it doesn’t really pay off in any significant way. It’s just a lot of fun.

But the high drama for the episode (prior to the last 10 minutes) comes in the form of some of the strongest female friendships on the show: Nicky/Lorna and Cindy/Taystee/Suzanne.

Nicky continues to show Lorna just how much she loves her by calming her down and instructing her on how to get out safely. She also sweetly omits the part she played in getting Vinnie to come around. Lorna needs to feel like Vinnie got there all on his own, and hopefully he has the common sense not to ever spill the beans on that one.

Taystee and Cindy, meanwhile, are in a panic about Suzanne being passed out on lithium and in possible respiratory distress. Nicky says she has a place they can hide, and she takes them to Frieda’s bunker: a convenient and logical way to get most of the main characters into one place.

Cindy and Taystee’s concern for Suzanne is beautiful, as is their little come-to-Jesus moment about the riot. Cindy is right to call out Taystee for the monumentally selfish decision she made during negotiations, but she doesn’t beat her up about it, because Taystee is doing quite enough beating up of herself as it is.
(Recap continues on page 2)

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