Orange Is the New Black season five debuted yesterday on Netflix. I wrote about the season as a whole with minimal spoilers here, and for those of you who’ve already had time to watch it all, I have many more specific thoughts — with spoilers for the entire season throughout — coming up just as soon as I decoupage you into submission…
Orange is a show that defies easy recap coverage if you’re doing it solo. For a few years, I tried treating it like a more traditionally-released show, reviewing two episodes a week for half the summer. This pleased nobody, myself included, since by the time we were midway through the season, anyone who cared had already finished watching weeks ago and had long since forgotten the details I was digging into. Last year, I used what’s now become my approach for most binge shows, with a single post featuring mini-reviews of all 13 episodes. I’d have done that again this year, but as I noted in my piece last week, devoting the entire season to the prison riot largely obliterated the distinction from episode to episode, especially since the flashbacks (with a couple of exceptions that I’ll get to) have largely become pointless. I thought briefly about doing a character-by-character breakdown, but you may have noticed that Orange has many, many characters, and that approach would have taken nearly as long as doing fuller reviews of all 13 episodes.
So at the risk of missing out on your favorite minor character and/or subplot (I don’t have a strong opinion about the infections in Maureen’s facial wounds, for instance, other than that they were gross), I’m just going to bounce around and talk about moments and ideas that I liked, and didn’t, from throughout the year. And then feel free to talk about whatever you want in the comments:
Taystee’s the boss. Season two was the show’s best so far, not coincidentally because it turned Taystee into the main character for most of it. So much happens throughout the siege that there’s no one dominant character, but Taystee is central to a lot of the action, including taking over negotiations with the outside world and coming painfully close to getting all their demands met, and Danielle Brooks knocks it out of the park continually throughout, from Taystee’s improvised press conference speech to the show she goes toe-to-toe with Fig to her realization that she blew it all by valuing justice for Poussey above things that would improve the lives of everyone else in there. (Though the discovery of Humps’ apparent death could have ruined the deal even if she had agreed to it on the spot.) She’s not perfect — no character on this show is, or they’d have no place at Litchfield (as inmate or employee) — but it was great to see her be so vital to so much of what was happening.
Daya made a phone call. As I noted at the end of my season four spoiler piece, Daya seemed an odd choice, dramatically, to be the one to pick up Humps’ gun, since she had no real history with the cruelty being inflicted by him and the other new guards. There’s a larger point to be made about how incarceration has made a basically harmless woman into someone cold and violent and remorseless, but that could have been done with a lot of the characters, many of them played by stronger actors than I’ve generally found Dascha Polanco to be. But Daya’s phone call to Pornstache’s mom to ask her to take custody of her baby was a tremendous scene, powerful precisely because of how Polanco underplayed the tear-jerking emotion of it all. (Pornstache did enough crying for all three characters in the scene, in the most human Pablo Schreiber has been during his time on the show.) Daya is still scamming Pornstache, since the father is really Bennett, but she’s doing what she has to for her daughter, and you can tell it feels like a kindness to them, too.
Ruiz stole Gloria’s betrayal out from under her. This is an emotionally brutal case of both women getting screwed over in their attempts to do right by their kids, but Ruiz at least got to hold her daughter for a few minutes, and Gloria seemed to get good news about Benny’s surgery. Excellent work across the season by Selenis Levya and Jessica Pimental.
This was juuuust the right use of Piper. Most of the audience hates Piper. I don’t particularly blame them, and I often find her insufferable, too, while recognizing that she’s usually meant to be insufferable. This season managed to give her and Alex a lot to do without ever making it feel like they were taking over the riot, or the show, with Alex’s desire to avoid the drama — and Piper’s inability to resist getting involved in the end — providing some interesting conflict and humor until they both got abducted by Piscatella and pulled into everything together. (More on that in a bit.)