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.
How Does The Bunker Stand-Off End?
The season four gun-in-hand cliffhanger left a bit more to the imagination than the season five ending did. A hail of bullets seems unlikely considering that the show’s main cast (with a few exceptions) was lined up next to one another, clasping hands when the strike team entered Frieda’s tricked out bunker.
More than likely, we’re going to see those inmates treated the same as the others — divided up and sent away on buses.
Who Will Take The Fall For Piscatella’s Death?
Nobody and everybody.
The strike team demonstrated an aversion to rules and decency during their raid of Litchfield, so why would they suddenly turn into boy scouts when it comes to reporting the accidental shooting death of a corrections officer?
Piscatella’s (Brad William Henke) death occurring when it did (right before the climax of the season) could be construed as meaning it will have a carryover effect into the next season, but it’s possible we’ll never see a concrete resolution to that thread (and a lot of others). He’ll just be victim #2 and a continuing pox upon all who were a part of a riot that resulted in multiple deaths.
There was nothing more for the character to do on the show besides die or disappear so the writers chose the option that delivered a small sliver of justice for Poussey without burning off the futures of Taystee or Red (Kate Mulgrew). It also erased any concerns that he’d rat Alex out for her role in sprinkling the garden with the remains of a fake guard/assassin.
Will We Ever See Joe Caputo Again?
Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) worked a sh*tty job for sh*tty people. Sometimes he pushed back, sometimes he sat on his hands. He felt guilty for his role in Poussey’s death as a part of the MCC structure and for the aftermath. He gets points for trying to steer the negotiations toward a fair place with Taystee in response to that revelation, but it and the fact that he oversaw a prison that got taken over by its inmates probably means that he’s out of a job.
Unless Kohan does a bar band spin-off, Joe’s probably done.
Will We Ever See Daya Again?
Daya (Dascha Polanco) is one of the aforementioned core cast members, but she got her closure at the halfway point in season five after she took responsibility for shooting killing Humps (Michael Torpey). Daya probably has a scary future ahead of her, but she owned up to what she did, took responsibility for her own life, and made sure her baby would never want for anything by giving her to Pornstache’s mom (Mary Steenburgen).
It’s hard to see the writers bringing Daya back for more at this point. She got her closure and her redemptive moment(s) of sacrifice.
What About The Escapees?
Donuts (James McMenamin) looked terrified when he came home to find Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) hanging out after slipping out through a hole in the fence. Either he calls the cops as soon as Pennsatucky falls asleep while watching Netflix or they both eventually get caught and he winds up in prison for aiding and abetting. Which would be the most apt option, all things considered.
Mei Chang (Lori Tan Chinn) is one of the show’s most charming and interesting side characters due to her crushingly sad (and sometimes scary) backstory and her go-it-alone attitude. She simply does what she wants. She’s a badass. And hopefully, we never see her again because throwing a double bird up on her way out of the prison is the most fitting exit since Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) ran Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) over with a van.
Will Alex And Piper Make It?
There are those couples that break up and get back together a thousand times and it works for them. They’re invisibly tethered to each other, and that’s Alex and Piper. Will they stay together? That’s going to depend on how the writer’s approach season six and whether they split this particular pair up, but at some point, they will find their way back to each other. And maybe they’ll get married, but they’ll definitely break up again, and then rejoin, and so on.
Who Will Take The Fall For The Riot?
Like the investigation into who shot Piscatella, it’s hard to see Kohan and company spending a lot of time fleshing out this question or providing a solid answer. What’s more likely is that we’ll see how the riot changed the lives of the inmates as they move forward. That means longer sentences for some (Taystee would seem like a likely candidate to be singled out since she led the negotiation) and being broken apart from their friends like we saw with Flaca (Jackie Cruz) and Maritza (Diane Guerrero) in the season five finale.
Will Litchfield Ever Function As A Prison Again?
There’s a throwaway line from one of the nameless SWAT officers at the end of season five that alludes to the inmates not returning to Litchfield, but is that super realistic? The political fallout from MCC’s failure to hold a prison and the messy effort to reclaim it won’t be forgotten, so maybe they’re out of the picture, but it’s not like correctional facilities fall from the sky. Sooner or later, Litchfield is going to re-open and it’ll probably be billed as new and improved. But maybe it takes awhile. Maybe that’s season seven and season six is spent bopping around from facility to facility.
Will There Be A Time Jump?
A time jump would afford Kohan the chance to deal with more timely matters, like the Trump presidency — something she is eager to tackle, according to that New York Times interview:
“Theoretically we’re operating in the past. But we want to address current events and feelings, so we may abandon the timeline. Piper will still have served the same amount of time, but we will be in the present day.”
Besides that, now would be a great time for one, since it’s going to be a mess to tie up all the dangling threads left behind after season five. And maybe that was the point: To blow up the thing so that they could restart at a later point and head toward… whatever. Kohan has done it before on Weeds, a show that left its familiar confines mid-run, maybe the same thing will happen now. Ultimately, it’s all guess work. The show could completely surprise us all and that’s part of the fun.