The seventh season of Orange Is The New Black is about endings, but it’s also about new beginnings. Most importantly, it’s about exactly how difficult (and sometimes impossible) those beginnings will be for this ragtag group of female inmates, many of whom we’ve followed for the entire journey. Sure, several of them have left with new arrivals to fill those gaps, and there was a significant culling after the riot that sent some to other maximum-security facilities, but there’s a core group — Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne), Dayanara Diaz (Dascha Polanco), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Lorna Morello (Yael Stone), Alex (Laura Prepon), and Red (Kate Mulgrew) among them — remaining. Oh, and the episodes continue to check in on Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who’s still not a fan favorite and left Litchfield last season for what many presumed would be a return to her formerly privileged life.
More on Piper soon, but it’s worth marveling at how this series, which was one of Netflix’s earliest streaming sensations in 2013, managed to persist this entire time. The service has developed a habit of canceling beloved TV shows after only three rounds, and it’s a different streaming world out there now with so much competition for eyeballs. Yet we’re fortunate to have seen the ladies of Litchfield through their extended and often devastating arcs.
At this point, I’d love to dig into what this Orange season brings to the table that differs from previous seasons. However, Netflix has issued an enormous list of plot points that must not be mentioned. So, in order to honor those requests, I’m forced to be super vague, but if you’re fond of the show, must-see conclusions surface for several characters. Be warned, though, that the dramatic tone veers much further into drama, rather than comedy, this time around, yet there’s still some levity to be found. In addition, relationship drama explodes everywhere, and there’s loads of heart and plenty of heartbreak. A key theme tracks how it’s rarely possible for ex-cons to find a bright future outside the institutions that were meant to, at least in a partial sense, rehabilitate and encourage them to one day become contributing members of society. That brings us back to Piper.
She’s having an unexpectedly difficult time, and that’s a tricky story arc worth discussing for a few reasons. Piper’s learning that being on probation is, in some ways, more difficult than being inside of prison, where one really doesn’t have to worry about making a living, while maneuvering around guidelines that seem counterproductive. She’s also paying outrageous fees (drug-testing and otherwise) in order to avoid reentering custody, and she’s trying to maintain her “prison marriage” with Alex. It’s rough, and yet her brand of struggles define her privilege. Piper’s still got family and connections to fall back upon, and her relatively tame plight won’t win her any new supporters, since most of the other characters who leave (or don’t leave) Litchfield have it worse. That includes a deep dive into the immigration issue, including fallout from that Season 6 finale punch-in-the-chest when Blanca Flores (Laura Gomez) departed prison, only to be taken into ICE custody. Orange tackles this subject with more finesse than expected, and Gomez delivers a fine dramatic performance.
Devoted viewers already know that two major characters (Daya and Taystee) discovered in recent seasons that they’re likely incarcerated for life, and their respective situations get a lot of air time. Their paths are vastly different but both ultimately lean toward survival in sad ways. With all of that said, the series hasn’t fallen back into that weird, mid-series lull that only ended with Poussey Washington’s (Samira Wiley) death, which was followed by the riot and the subsequent fallout. That action’s still burning at a high level and doesn’t let up until right before the series finale. Every major character receives an eventful ending, although let’s get real, one really can’t hope for many happy endings.
For consistent Orange viewers, this season’s worth moving to the top of the queue, even though there are so many other Netflix series to demand attention these days. There are sad, infuriating moments, and there are comical, life-affirming events, along with noteworthy returns from old faces. Damn, it’s good to see Laverne Cox pop back into a few spectacular scenes as Sophia, and Jason Biggs’ Larry shows his face a few times and doesn’t even make me want to punch his smug mug. Strange! Also, the love-to-hate-her Natalie “Fig” Figeroa (Alysia Reiner) turns surprisingly human, which puts me in an odd place. I’m a Fig fan now, for real? Yes. She might even be the most enjoyable part of the season that I can mention without getting kicked in the streaming ovaries by Netflix. Overall, Orange leaves with a fitting farewell and ensures that we’re not left on the hook with any of these beloved (and hated) characters. Their stories will still continue, for better or worse, without us.
The final season of Netflix’s ‘Orange Is The New Black’ begins streaming on July 26.