ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK is undeniably a cult favorite among Netflix’s Original Series. Loved by fans and critics, the show has garnered 12 Emmy nominations in its first season alone. Furthermore, the entire series and its actors have won Emmys, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards since the show’s start in 2013.

However, the series seems to have lost the momentum it has built up over the years. And rather than painfully prolong untenable situations, we believe Season 7, which comes out in 2019, should be the final ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK season. In this article, we’ll review the faults and shortcomings of Season 6. Oh, and if it wasn’t obvious before, major spoilers for Orange is the New Black Season 6 ahead.

Welcome to Litchfield Max!

Suzanne hallucinates guards and psych inmates dancing.
Let’s get this party started! | Image: Netflix

The newest season, which dropped last July 27th, 2018, follows the aftermath of the riot at Litchfield Minimum Security Prison. Season 5’s finale showed inmates in one final showdown against Desi Piscatella and other riot guards. Now, the inmates have been shipped off to different maximum security prisons and the future is uncertain.

Season 6 offered a unique opportunity to explore the ramifications of the riot and the inmates’ integration into maximum security prison. In it, we see the Litchfield Minimum Security inmates abused by Max guards for their involvement in the riots; MCC, the private company that owns Litchfield, try to avoid a PR nightmare by forging a riot leader in Taystee; and a decades-long gang war reaching its peak.

Season 5’s finale set down a lot of possible plot lines. However, with the addition of Season 6’s plot lines, weak new villains, and disappointing decisions made by the series’ creators, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK seems to have gotten caught up in its own tangled web, resulting in a highly dissatisfying finale.

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Plot Issues & Holes

The immediate issue with Season 6 was whiplash. Following the riot and move to maximum security, the entire environment of the series changed. Suddenly, we have new COs, and the inmates in power changed. Problem is, this season attempted to use that drastic shift in setting to create tension without properly developing.

The underlying conflict throughout Season 6 is a confusing gang war between two criminal sisters. We know they both sell drugs in the prison and have had beef for years, but the conflict feels incredibly artificial because of how little effort went into it. Usually, the big villain of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK is someone with a backstory that provides thematic context for their present actions.

Taystee being interviewed in ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
Taystee’s development should have been the season’s focus but instead, it was underutilized. | Image: Netflix

Beyond that, Season 6 felt like it was going in a million directions at once. Outside of the prison alone, there were four plotlines to follow. Throw in new main characters like Daddy and Badison, and keeping track of everyone and everything started to feel overwhelming. Granted, this isn’t a new technique in ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK’s narrative style. However, this season fell especially flat in accomplishing it due to how little went into each story.

Additionally, balance became an issue when certain stories lacked the focus they really deserved. Bits like Taystee’s trial and tense relationship with her friends felt overshadowed by less important arcs such as Piper and Alex’s progressively irritating relationship.

Even Suzanne, who has consistently been the best and most compelling performance on the show, feels ignored following her brilliant start to the series. All the scattered storytelling is with half of the characters inexplicably missing, so there’s no telling how Season 6 could have functioned with the full cast.

Where Are The Other Inmates???

At the end of Season 5, we saw inmates herded onto separate buses as riot guards stormed the prison. Not all inmates made it out this way though, such as Pennsatucky cozying up with CO Dixon Coates and Chang escaping Litchfield via a hole in the fence. However, the season finale also marked the last appearances of a solid portion of the show’s inmates.

But rather than showing how these inmates are fairing in other maximum security prisons (such as the highly alluded Ohio Max), the series barely acknowledges their existence save for a few, which is both frustrating and somewhat lazy. The only person we get any information on is Cheng, but it’s said in passing by Figueroa (Cheng was found in a hollowed-out deer carcass, which is perhaps the most Cheng way to be discovered to be completely honest).

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This goes to show that MCC and their employees likely know exactly where each inmate has gone, which makes us wonder if any of them were included in MCC’s push to release good-behavior inmates as a PR move amidst plummeting stock and a failing public image. The absence of these inmates leaves a big hole in the show. We would have loved to see the pacifism of characters like Soso, Gina, Norma, and Yoga Jones foil the growing C-vs-B block tension, or Janae and Alison maintaining Taystee’s innocence while convincing Black Cindy to come clean.

If OINTB were to suddenly insert these missing characters next season, it would feel far too unnatural, especially if it comes at the expense of momentarily pausing the drama started in this current season to make up for the missing narrative. And with how things played out in the Season 6 finale, we’re likely never going to see these beloved inmates ever again.

Strange Romances

Those characters didn’t simply vanish by accident. As with all stories, trade-offs happen. In this case, the “gang war” took precedence over everything. But, beneath that, romance took priority over some character development. Fans of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK can recall that moving away from romance was what made the series compelling. Early on, the gratuitous sex and lack of individual characterization turned people away from the series just hours in.

This season continued the strange relationship between Dixon and Pennsatucky. Earlier, Dixon developed a twisted infatuation with Pennsatucky. Eventually, his feelings turn predatory and he violently rapes her, but the two reconcile afterward and develop a strange love for each other. A lot of time is spent on this relationship for the wrong reasons, using the difficulty of keeping Pennsatucky out of custody as comic relief.

In reality, the only true thematically fulfilling portion of their relationship comes when it ends. Dixon’s inability to let Pennsatucky surrender herself to the Bureau of Prisons provided a new form for the existing power structures between them to manifest. Pennsatucky deciding to trick him and return to prison anyway was a great look at what a prison-mindset looks like even when one isn’t inside.

Aleida and her strange dating life on the outside in ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
This is chemistry we’ll never understand. | Image: Netflix

Also outside of prison we have Daya’s mother, Aleida, and her relationship with a CO. Inside, Daya dates Daddy, one of the prisons top drug traffickers, and the two couples collaborate to peddle heroin and narcotics into the prison. Both of these relationships were all in furtherance of the gang war.

So, even when things like Daya’s drug addiction came to light, they always ended up framed under a plot that was bad, to begin with. The good development of returning characters became the fruit of a poisonous tree.

An Unneeded Protagonist

If Season 7 opens with Alex and Piper both mysteriously dying, we wouldn’t exactly mind. Plenty of people have grown tired of the series protagonist, even since Season 1. Her character isn’t nearly as complex as the others, and her backstory isn’t sympathetic. It’s pretty hard to feel bad for the wealthy white girl who tried to get into the hip drug scene and only got 11 months for trafficking. And maybe that simplicity of character throughout the later seasons is intentional.

Piper as she gets released in ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
Can she just leave forever? | Image: Netflix

But the basic-ness behind Piper’s character translates into her and Alex’s relationship. The two finally get married prior to Piper’s release from prison, but it isn’t a story-wedding. Their love is the tying off point for the season felt strange and wrong. Piper somehow managed to solve decades of planned violence with a literal children’s game, and walked off with her true love.

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All the while, her friends are beaten and assaulted daily. Their relationship isn’t terrible, but there is far too much of it. This becomes especially relevant when we’re greeted with Daddy’s backstory and Badison’s interactions with Alex; Piper begins to feel unnecessary. To the series’ credit, they handled her better in Seasons 4 and 5.

When the conflict became an expression of racial validity following Poussey’s death, Piper became an afterthought. But unfortunately, the spotlight fell right back on her precisely when ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK desperately needed it elsewhere.

Weak Antagonists

Honestly, this was the pinnacle of our disappointment. Carol and Barb get some backstory a few episodes in. We learn that they’d spent weeks planning the murder of their sister before brutally killing her by pushing a locked car with her inside into a frozen lake. They were upset about their sister getting all the consideration in their family and moving to accommodate her gymnastic performance. In prison, their only real defining characteristic is their shared hatred for Freida.

But even when their feud with each other reaches its boiling point at the end of the season, its overshadowed by literally everything else happening. The brief cuts to Carol and Barb don’t have the strength to hold the narrative that’s been building up for them. You’d think that since these two are the big villains of the season, more emphasis would be placed on the fight that leads to their deaths. Instead, the sight of their crumpled bodies only evokes confusion. It’s a disappointing end to something that should have been epic.

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK Season 6 antagonists Carol and Barb
Carol and Barb feel unfulfilling to their last moments. | Image: Netflix

That same sentiment characterizes their control over the Block wars in ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK Season 6. Carol and Barb control Badison and Daddy, respectively. Badison felt like she had no substance beyond being a jealous hater. Daddy was a character not fitting of her complex backstory.

Again, this became an issue of pacing and balance. It became impossible to reconcile the decent backstories I’ve come to expect with the lackluster villains. On top of that, their death was more bizarre than climactic. I’m honestly unsure s to whether the aftermath of their killing each other will be good. From the start, both of them felt like off-brand versions of an earlier antagonist anyway.

Repeated & Worsened Plot

Back in Season 2, we got Vee, who is, to this day, one of our absolute favorite TV villains. She is a textbook sociopath, skilled in manipulation and social engineering. Her, Diaz, and Red originally duked it out as opposing mother figures in Litchfield. Their fight exposed the racial coalitions and familial structures people create in prison.

Even during “peaceful” times, they need to maintain a sense of community and order to live their lives. Season 2 was when all of the inmates were randomly moved around quite a bit. Back then though, Vee and others were logically incorporated into that foreign situation so that their character and bad acts were enhanced by their maternal role.

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That is the kind of ‘gang warfare’ we know ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK is capable of producing. Affiliations made sense then. In fact, several times in Season 6, characters discuss how arbitrary the Block warfare tends to be, but yet it’s taken to an extreme up until the season’s last moments. This speaks not only to a lack of plot diversity but also to a significant decline in story quality. When villains are neither complex nor original, it becomes hard to take them seriously. This coupled with the show’s numerous attempts to extend its televised lifetime make for an increasingly unenjoyable show.

Hold the ICE

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK is no stranger to paralleling the events happening in real life. Poussey’s death at the hands of a CO is reminiscent of Eric Garner’s death in 2014. The riot itself is a mishmash of other real-life riots. In Season 6’s finale, we see the unveiling of immigration detention centers, which were created by MCC as part of a rebranding scheme to maintain stockholders interest.

The season finale saw the emotional early release of many inmates. However, this proves to be false for some inmates. As MCC — now PolyCon — reveals their plans, we see Flores separated from Piper and Sophia. As she steps outside, an ICE bus is waiting to take her and other inmates away. But it begs to question if Flores should be in this line, to begin with, especially since her own criminal history is still so unclear.

This part of the story came as a shock to actress Laura Gomez, who plays Flores and is an immigrant herself. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Gomez said, “But it seems very obvious that we have walked into another territory with that last moment. I have a sense that we might keep walking in that direction.”

An entire season of ICE detention sounds very unappealing. On top of that, we don’t think it even fits with the rest of the story quite too well. OITNB exemplifies power struggles between those guilty of crimes and those who presume convicts to be monsters. Attempting that in detention centers is difficult since the “crime” isn’t a particularly pernicious one. With everything else happening on the show, and with Season 6 as proof, OITNB might find difficulty in properly exploring this plotline in a way that gives the sensitive topic justice.

Taystee’s Identity

Since Season 4, we’ve felt that Taystee was more of the main character than anyone else. She was the conduit character that allowed Vee to be relevant. She was a leader in the riot and Poussey’s best friend. Now, she’s experiencing the true horror of being locked in a facility full of people who think you’ve killed one of their own. To the COs, they’re justified in their brutality because the presumed alternative is a prison controlled by violent inmates. Taystee’s suffering at the hands of that ideology and her relationship with Tamika explore that.

Taystee and Tamike in an ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK flashback.
Taystee and Tamika during their younger years. | Image: Netflix

Because the two are friends, we get to see an interesting dynamic that properly breaches into politics, something rare for OITNB. As a CO, Tamika takes offense with Taystee’s disparaging remarks toward the justice system writ large. As her friend, and as a fellow black woman, Tamika understands injustice and finds herself tugged between opposing affiliations. The same is true of Taystee, who struggles to understand what justice really looks like.

She is the saving grace for the season. And, she’s truly the only reason why some part of the story was compelling. Her rise to Black Lives Matter stardom and near reverence in the prison speaks to her backstory in foster care and her development into the mother figure of most of the black women following Vee’s death.

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This elevation in stature is part of why watching her trial is so enjoyable. While the choice to make her ultimately lose her trial by jury was thematically the correct one, the actual coverage of the trial felt tangential. We see plenty of investigations about the riot itself, but not really too much in the courtroom. It would have been incredible to even see more interrogations beyond that of Cindy.

Creating a literal prisoner’s dilemma for Cindy was an amazing look into the carceral mindset. It’s easy to expect characters that hate each other to snitch readily. But to see Cindy give Taystee’s name and agonize over it to the point of physical discomfort is real. These kinds of impactful moments were only possible due to the intense coalition building that happened in earlier seasons. It’s the exact kind of thing that was woefully absent this season.

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Taystee’s trial is also the closest we get to see the other side of America’s judicial system in the OINTB universe and how privilege can make all the difference. When the investigation into the riot is in it’s earlier stages, we see inmates like Nicki and Piper call their rich families in order to get lawyers who can truly protect them. Meanwhile, Taystee and Cindy have court-appointed attorneys, which have a long history of failure. But then we see the ACLU step in to take over Taystee’s case, which also sheds some light into the public’s opinion of the trials and Litchfield’s riot, giving the show some much-needed hope that not everyone is as evil as MCC.

A Weak Point For ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

Overall, this season was disappointing in surprising ways. A lot of fans seem to think that ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK needs to end — us included. With the involvement of Black Lives Matter and ICE in this season, the show is getting political. Normally, this would be a good thing. But the attempt comes off as a lazy way to achieve context when none is provided by the plot itself.

The inclusion of new immigration camps and the missing inmate narratives allows for more storytelling to be done, but the show’s trajectory following the season finale doesn’t quite support the exploration into these areas. If the series were to take a break from the narrative started in Season 6, far too much time would pass in the real world, which might cause viewers to lose interest in the show by the time we return to the events laid out in Season 6’s finale. Even then, the lack of strong leads amongst the missing inmates would also, bog down the narrative.

With Piper released from prison, it seems the show is quickly approaching its end. Hopefully, her release allows for the more nuanced development of the characters we have left. As things stand, the weak story, adversaries, and romances have made Season 6 a wasteland but called it peace. It’s unclear where things will go. But, we still remain an avid fan of the series, and it definitely deserves another chance. We’ve seen how good ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK can be. Unfortunately, Season 6 is nowhere near it.

Featured image from Netflix.

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