For some reason I did not review the forth season of Orange is the New Black. I do not know why I did not review it because I loved that season. It was filled with such great character moments, and the show really did a good job balancing between the humor and the drama. It never felt overwhelmingly dramatic, nor overwhelmingly funny. The season did end on quite the cliffhanger, so I was certainly looking forward to this new season. So how is it? Well, it is okay. It is definitely the weakest of all the past seasons, but there is still plenty of like.
We need to speak as one united group
So this season decides to approach the show in a different way. Throughout these thirteen episodes, only three days pass by within the show. This shakeup is very refreshing, but just how effective is it? Well, it is not as effective as it could be. The problem is that while the season starts off strong, and finished mostly strong, the middle drags. The focal point of this season is these three days where the inmates of Litchfield are rioting. Some are rioting in honor of Poussey, while others are rioting because they want to invoke change within the corrupt system.
The first few episodes are really good because not only do they focus on this, but they also focus on the terrifying nature of a prison riot. The way that the inmates treated the guards was often times disconcerting, and while there was some comedy involved, it never took away from the reality of the situation. There was also a power struggle during those early episodes. At one point Daya was in control, Maria sought control, Leanne and Angie were in control as well. There were many fascinating angles that these early episodes were taking, so I was invested with what was going on. Before I go any further I need to comment on Leanne and Angie. They are both awful characters this season. In the past the show attempted to give them some depth, this time around they are used solely for laughs. By laughs I mean groans because I never found them funny at all. They are fine when they linger in the background, but for some reason this season used them quite a bit.
We the inmates of Litchfield are human beings
The big problem with this season is that there is a lack of focus, and some major inconsistency. The comedy feels much more forced than past season, it also does not land quite as much either. While the show does go to some dark places this season (as it should, I mean they are rioting), it never goes too dark. Who are the causalities of this riot? Humps is really the only one who died, and it just kind of happened. There are some intense repercussions, but I wish there was a bit more to take away from this. The flashbacks have always been one of my favorite aspects of this show, but this season I did not care for them. They felt like they were thrown in with very little thought and did not add much to flesh out our characters. Also, I have to mention how the show has severely screwed up Piscatella. Initially he was an interesting character, but this season all the show does is turn him into some sort of over the top cartoony villain. Season 5 episode 9, “The Tightening”, is without a doubt the worst episode of the show. Piscatella is basically Jason hunting down the inmates. It is such a tonal departure from the rest of the show that I hated almost every minute of it.
While this season did have many problems, as noted above, it is not without its moments. Following Taystee on her quest for doing right by Poussey was great to see. Ultimately she thought a bit too much with her heart rather than her head, which led the governor allowing the guys with riot gear storm in and drag the women out. I also really liked how the show used Maria and Gloria. It showed how far each of these women would go for their loved ones, and allowed each of the actresses to deliver some standout performances. The central conflict of the season is complex and I certainly enjoyed witnessing it. Along with that, there are plenty of questions that have been raised. Are the inmates the good guys? Are those corrupt guys the good guys? How can diplomacy be reached? Was anyone innocent in the riot? I am not here to answer these questions (I still have figure them out for myself), but they are worth thinking about.
This is not a bad season, but it is underwhelming. It has an interesting approach to its message, even if it occasionally derails the show’s storytelling. The balance between comedy and drama is not as sharp this time around, and certain characters who do not deserve more screen time somehow get too much screen time. As far as the next season, I am curious what will happen. I did enjoy the finale, even though I hate the cliffhanger. It honestly felt like the writers had no idea where to go next, so they opted to fade away before committing to anything major. The prospect of the inmates being separated is interesting, but we will have to wait and see whether it will actually take hold.