This piece contains spoilers for Season Five of Orange is the New Black (obviously)
Netflix has blessed viewers with the brand new season of Orange is the New Black. Like many, I’ve been following this show since Taylor Schilling’s Piper Chapman first surrendered herself to Litchfield Penitentiary and admittedly, five seasons in, OITNB for me is venturing into Walking Dead territory. Fast.
Like the zombie horror epic, I lost the more intense fan connection I had to the show maybe two seasons ago. I’m in it now because I’ve become invested. I need to see this one out. Like others, when OITNB was released over the weekend, I binged all 13 episodes and man, did that ante get upped for Season 5.
However, similarly to Season 4, the series seemed slightly disjointed. It would lose steam after a few episodes, pick up again and then really hit its stride as the last two episodes played out. Instead of seeing multiple flashback episodes to introduce us to other prisoners, Season 5 takes place over a few days and the tension written into the plotline is uncomfortable at points.
In short: the inmates have rioted against the untrained and frankly cruel guards and prison system that has been consistently abusing them over the last five seasons.
By the end of the season, the prison has been raided, there’s a dead guard in a storage room, Piper and Alex are as close to being engaged as can be (like anyone cares, at this point) and somehow, Frieda has managed to build a bunker in an unused pool beneath the prison to prepare for doomsday without anyone noticing.
Oh, and let’s not forget that whole plotline where Red and Blanca’s luring of Piscatella back into the prison winds up with the 6 foot something giant of a prison guard snatching select inmates, almost scalping Red and breaking Alex’s arm.
Remember the simpler days when Pornstache was the Big Bad?
Of course, all of these plotlines aren’t inserted for shock value. In particular, Taystee’s development as a result of Poussey’s tragic death at the end of Season 4 has been a shining highlight of this season.
But watching Piscatella lurking in the darkness, cutting the skin off Red’s head, as well as his flashback scene where the audience sees him handcuffing a male inmate (who raped a fellow inmate he was secretly involved with) at his previous prison in the showers and leaving him to burn to death by hot water…almost seemed too much.
We are used to the extreme and hilariously unbelievable happening on this show, but when positioned alongside a more currently relatable narrative arc on the inhuman treatment of African Americans and the failings of the US prison system, it does feel like Orange is the New Black is jumping the shark ever so slightly.
Where does the line become toed in the sand, when it comes to the weird, the dysfunctional and the goddamned f*ed up material we are shown in its graphic glory on TV these days?
With services like Netflix generating their own original, high quality content, we don’t need to go to the movies anymore to get that same otherworldly, escapist experience. Shows like Orange is The New Black is a perfect example that less may be more, but that’s not what gets the traffic.
Orange is the New Black is screening on Netflix.