‘Orange is the New Black’ Season 5 is the best it’s ever been
If you fell off the Orange is the New Black train around Season 2 or 3, you’re forgiven — but it’s time to come back. The latest season — now streaming — hits the ground running and sprints forward at breakneck speed. Binge too hard and you might get whiplash — but good luck holding back.
Season 5 picks up the very moment Season 4 ended: Daya (Dascha Polanco) has a gun pointed at C.O. Humphrey’s (Michael Torpey) head, and chaos splits the air around her.
The prison riot allows the writers and cast to stretch their legs magnificently. Frieda (Dale Soules) finally gets a flashback episode; Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Flores (Diana Gómez) embark on a drug-fueled investigation of the nefarious Piscatella (Brad William Henke), and Suzanne A.K.A. “Crazy Eyes” (Uzo Aduba) hosts an impromptu seance in the cafeteria.
“Poussey’s death was the catalyst, but not about her,” Adrienne Moore, who plays Cindy, told Mashable. “What it became was the injustice in general of the penal system and how we choose to combat that this season.”
“I think this is the time where we see a leader, who does not have anything to lose, go as far as they can to get what they need.”
Even with the relentless tension of the riot, the show is painstakingly funny, perhaps its funniest yet. The humor that had Orange arguably misbranded as a comedy is now perfectly paced catharsis amidst mayhem. A performance sequence in Episode 4 deserves its own Emmy — or perhaps belongs in a film franchise — and it’s all laughs, no drama.
Conversely, the riot has a lot of dark moments, harshly highlighting the women’s own capacity for cruelty against the sadistic regime of guards. With the inmates in possession of a gun, there are multiple references to mass shootings — the first episode alone mentions Columbine, Sandy Hook, San Bernadino, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Aurora — and there’s no subtlety to the fact that the writers don’t run out of examples. Taystee (Danielle Brooks) insists that Caputo say Poussey’s name, and after they submit a list of demands to M.C.C., the inmates must negotiate diplomacy without proving society’s worst suspicious about them.
“I think Taystee’s always been a leader,” Brooks told Mashable, pointing specifically to when Taystee ran for president of W.A.C., “She’s always been somebody that’s trying to lead the charge. that’s why Caputo chooses her to be his secretary, cause she’s always been a natural born leader. I think this is the time where we see a leader, who does not have anything to lose, go as far as they can to get what they need. And that’s what changes for Taystee, is we see no more games are being played.”
As the episodes unfold, there’s an unmissable irony about watching a group of diverse, marginalized women take back control over their lives from people who understand nothing of their experience. There’s palpable frustration; it’s invigorating to watch them fight and maddening to see them fail. In many cases, the corrosive race and class differences that drive the show’s subplots fall away as the women unite to improve Litchfield.
“It’s our job as entertainers and storytellers to sort of educate and comment on what’s going on politically or culturally or socially,” Guerrero told Mashable in April. “I think that our show has been doing that from the beginning, and the stakes just keep getting higher and higher and higher.”
Orange is the New Black Season 5 is now streaming.