Has the Orange Is The New Black endgame begun, or are things being set up for an even longer haul? Where are those buses headed? Which characters will return? Following the chaos of season five, it feels as though the show is at a crossroads and content to leave fans with a lot of questions to think on before the release of season six. While we don’t have any clear answers, we do have a few theories and/or guesses.
Warning: There are full spoilers ahead. Don’t proceed if you haven’t watched season five.
How Will It All End?
Let’s start with the biggest question first.
Two weeks ago, just prior to the release of the new season, series creator Jenji Kohan told the New York Times that she was leaning toward ending the show after season seven (when the show’s current commitment from Netflix ends). She then hinted that it didn’t have to end at that point because “the nature of the show is one that can go on and on because you can bring in new people.” That’s, at least, logistically true and, ultimately, Kohan’s prerogative as a storyteller. But it feels like taking advantage of that benefit of Orange Is The New Black‘s setting would be in opposition to that which drives the appeal of the show.
Like crime and punishment on a cop show and death and sickness on a hospital show, there are compelling and tragic stories tied to prison life that can be ceaselessly mined, making characters theoretically interchangeable. But with Orange Is The New Black, we have been invited into the lives of this dysfunctional group in such an intimate way (thanks, largely, to the show’s use of flashback sequences that add dimension and a skilled cast) that these characters and this cluster feel essential.
Taystee’s (Danielle Brooks) evolution in season five, as she fights to get retribution for her friend, Poussey (Tamira Wiley), who died at the hands of a corrections officer, surely resonates because of the real world effect of police brutality. But it also registers because we miss the buoyant Poussey and the comparative innocence that existed in Litchfield prior to her death.
Taystee isn’t just fighting for justice and for a better and safer life for inmates that have been tossed away by a system that puts more value on profits and protecting its own than on rehabilitation, dignity, and fairness. She’s fighting, perhaps inadvertently at times, for a better life for Sophia (Laverne Cox), Gloria (Selenis Leyva), Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), and the rest. And we want her to win because of that.
Using season six to break up what has become a loosely connected family by spreading it across the prison system in an effort to show the consequences that are sure to follow season five’s riot could be a great tool to start working in new characters and new settings if this story wants to get bigger than this one group and that one prison. But focusing on these already well-established characters, first and foremost, feels like the truer direction and one that might, ultimately, allow Kohan to pay off the individual stories that she and the other writers have been telling.