Season Five Of ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Returns The Hit Netflix Series Back To The Top Of Its Game

Orange is the New Black is one of those Netflix shows that is undeniably great, but during the long hiatuses between each season, the events of the previous season leave me. After the first two spectacular and groundbreaking installments, the show’s third and fourth time around left me desiring me more. Despite season four’s heartbreakingly powerful final two episodes, I found the other twelve contrite to the point of boring. The characters were as enjoyable to spend time with as ever, and the overarching plotline involving the new, untrained (bordering on cruel) C.O.s was compelling, but the season still had the same enormous problem that it suffered through during it’s third batch of thirteen episodes – mainly, ever since the show shifted its focus away from Piper and centering all of the action around her story, it seemed to lose its way. Frankly, it’s been all over the place, swinging so wildly through different tonal shifts, it’s been akin to watching Dr. Jekyll transforming into Mr. Hyde before immediately turning back again.

It’s because of my waning interest in the show that it took me as long to sit down and start season five as it did. Once I started, however, I couldn’t stop. Season five of Orange is the New Black is not only its most tonally consistent, wildly ambitious season yet, but I would go so far as to say it was probably the show’s best since its debut.

Beyond this point, there are going to be slight spoilers, so read past the jump at your own risk.

Season five picks up directly where the season four finale left off. After inciting a riot in response to Caputo’s refusal to fire Bayley or say Poussey’s name on television, Taystee incites the other prisoners into starting a riot, during which they surround C.O. Humphrey in the middle of a hallway, with Daya pointing his own gun at him. The entire season takes place over the course of the next three days, in which the patients have taken over the madhouse, so to speak. The prisoners stage a coup, take Caputo and the other prison guards hostage, lock the doors to the outside world, and make a stand in an effort to draw public attention to the deplorable living conditions that they’re forced to live in at Litchfield.

Orange is the New Black

The entire season is grand in scope, and grants the audience intimate moments with each inmate and some of the guards as well, allowing us to resonate with their individual missions and plights. This is the first season since the second in which the showrunners have utilized the ensemble cast to its fullest potential. Whereas seasons three and four offered us individual moments with each inmate, they were not all connected to the central plot or overarching story; what the show does right this season is allowing all of the characters’ goals to relate back to the fact that they’ve started a riot that will, inevitably, come to an end sooner rather than later. This allows them all to focus on similar questions: “What does my future look like? What do I want it to look like? Are the potential consequences of starting the riot in the first place worth the potential benefits gained? Can we get justice for Poussey’s death? Can we improve living conditions for ourselves at Litchfield?”

They’re all fascinating questions that each and every inmate deals with over the course of these thirteen episodes, and their deliberations all contribute to making this subsequently not only its darkest season yet, but also its most optimistic, as all of the inmates dream of a better world for themselves, with better living conditions. This dreaming that occurs of what the future holds, even if deep down they know the likelihood of any of it ever being achieved is slim to none, is both inspiring and heartbreaking simultaneously. It’s an extremely well-written season, and one that I anticipate getting better with further viewings.

That’s not to say that it’s perfect. It seemed as though the writers weren’t quite sure what to do with the characters of Alex and Piper this year, so oftentimes it felt as though they were removed from the central plot and shoved off to the side most of the time, relegated to making snide comments about everything going on around them. (It speaks to the incredible talents of Laura Prepon and Taylor Schilling that, even with so little to do, they sell the shit out of every scene that they’re in. I can only hope they get more to do in season six.) In addition, while I enjoyed the episode that delved into Frieda’s childhood, and was grateful that the writers gave her character a lot of material this season, it seemed as though (without being too spoilery) many of the resources she had access to within Litchfield fell into Deus ex machina territory. Then there was the unbelievable nature of where the character Linda ended up at the end of the final episode, and the sparing use of the actors and actresses playing the C.O.s and members of the prison administration. All of these are minor quibbles, however, in an otherwise excellent season.

Orange is the New Black

While the entire season is strong, the final five episodes in particular are extremely exciting, as momentum builds and tensions begin to come to a head within the prison as the riot nears its conclusion. By the time the final episode fades to orange, the audience is left wondering about the fates of our favorite inmates while mulling over ideas of justice, mercy, and revenge. The questions of what constitutes justice, when mercy should be shown, and whether revenge is ever worth it are powerful ones, especially when we take into account that all human beings are imperfect and bound to make mistakes throughout our lives. Should one misstep dictate, and possibly ruin, our futures? These are interesting questions indeed, and ones that are sure to stick with audiences well after the final episode reaches its conclusion. This entire season is sure to stick with audiences after it concludes, ensuring that we don’t forget the events that occur by the time season six rolls around, something that I feel past years have been guilty of.

Technically speaking, all thirteen episodes are exquisitely rendered. The show’s directors really stepped up their game this year, and an argument can be made that it’s the most beautifully shot season yet. It’s definitely the most experimental season in terms of staging and editing. Episode nine in particular – ‘The Tightening’ – is shot and put together as an homage to classic horror films such as Friday the 13th and The Shining. And in terms of acting, there will never be enough that can be said about the impressive amount of onscreen talent that this show has managed to attract. Each and every actress and actor deserves to be called out for their incredible work, but the all-stars of the season are definitely Uzo Aduba’s Suzanne, Selenis Leyva’s Gloria, Danielle Brooks’ Taystee, Kate Mulgrew’s Red, Dale Soules’ Frieda, and Brad Henke’s Piscatella. These six in particular turn in such dramatic, heartbreaking performances, exposing new facets and quirks of all of their characters, that it truly is like watching a master class in acting. If there is any justice in this world, come awards season, they’ll all be seriously considered by the various institutions to take home a few statues.

Orange is the New Black

Overall, season five is a triumph in dramatic storytelling. It’s hard to imagine how season six will resolve the cliffhanger season five leaves us on, and – after just witnessing a massive prison riot – it’s hard to imagine how much longer the show can really go on. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Jenji Kohan said it might end after season seven, which is how long the show is currently contracted for. Frankly, I hope it does end then. History has shown us that the longer a show goes on, the steeper the drop in quality. In addition, given the way season five ends, it potentially sets up an interesting, two season endgame.

After a lackluster season three and four, Orange is the New Black is back on top of its game with season five; it actually has me eagerly looking forward to season six, which is something I never would have guessed possible when I sat down to begin this batch of thirteen episodes. That, in and of itself, makes it a success in my book.


What did you think of Orange is the New Black’s fifth season? What are your theories for season six? Let me know in the comments below!

Anthony Caruso
Anthony Caruso
A resident of Gotham City. A graduate of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A survivor of the Zombie Apocalypse. A Jedi who is one with the Force. Anthony completed his BA and MA in English Literature over in jolly old England - because what better place is there to go to study English than England? An avid pop culture nerd, he is a huge movie buff (and owns almost 1,000 DVDs and BluRays, having underestimated how quickly digital downloads would take off!), comic book fan, and watches way too much T.V. He is also a strong defender of the Oxford Comma.