After all these years, one thing I really admire about Orange is the New Black is its ongoing willingness to change up the status quo. A lot of people hated last season’s three day riot which stretched over thirteen episodes and involved a lot of seemingly filler material, but I appreciated the attempt to be ambitious and to try something new, rather than repeating the same old formula, which starts to takes its toll on an aging show as it is. This year, the aftermath of the riot had to continue to play out, so if you hated that story so much you quit the show, I guess I wouldn’t recommend coming back to it, but I actually though this very busy, all over the place Season 6 was, overall, the show’s best since Season 2.
First of all, we jettison quite a few of the inmates to a prison in Cleveland, transferring most of the mains over to Litchfield Max, the effect of which is to mix a lot of the original regulars up together regardless of the usual race and ethnicity cliques, so we can see new pairings of characters we’ve known forever, like Flaca and Cindy, or Suzanne and Doggett of all people. The aftermath of the riot continues to play itself out, as the feds come in to investigate what happened and pin the incident on a handful of prisoners, Red in particular, who suffers big-time consequences for her actions last year. The new max settings provide for a new group of far more dangerous inmates for our regulars to encounter, divided into prison block gangs led by the sister murderesses Barb (Mackenzie Phillips) and Carol (Henny Russell), who function more or less as this season’s villains and do a pretty enjoyable job of it, actually. Piper (Taylor Schilling) is reliably focused on staying out of trouble for once and just wants to settle down with Alex (Laura Prepon), since her prison sentence is finally coming to an end (the longest thirteen month jail sentence in history), but is tormented by the season’s worst new character, Boston bully Madison Murphy, a max inmate played by Amanda Fuller, who insists on doing possibly the worst Boston accent in the history of acting- I’m sorry but she was so irritating that she redefined the term nails on a chalkboard all over again for me. I can’t believe we’re going to have to continue with her into next season.
But as always, the storylines and the massive cast of characters keep the plots moving along like clockwork so that if one person is so annoying she makes you want to claw your eyes and ears out (sorry Murphy) we usually jump over to something else going on to take your attention away from it soon enough. The good part is that even though so many characters leads to dull filler and has over the years, this time with our main characters consolidated, there isn’t really any time spent with people you don’t know by now or aren’t invested in. In a way it’s a throwback to the first season, when Piper was introduced to all these people- this time as she finishes her sentence (yes, she does get released in the finale), it’s like playing catch up with all the people we got to know best through her. Tastee goes on trial for the murder of last season’s sadistic Piscatella, while Nick Sandow’s reliable Caputo tries everything to help her beat the rap, and Doggett has a brief sojourn on the outside before finally (this took way too long) getting rid of the awful Coates and voluntarily turning herself back in. In non Piper/Alex romance news, Caputo and Fig finally start a real relationship, and Daya starts a fling with a female prisoner (the appealing new addition of Vicci Martinez as “Daddy,” I’ll take more her and less Murphy please) and starts doing heroin as she settles in for life after pleading guilty to murder of her own accord last year.
As always, there are allusions to current politics (an ICE storyline is promised for next season for poor Blanca) and plenty of jokes and shenanigans with inmates like Nicky, Cindy and Flaca to keep things light and keep OITNB the dark comedy (yes, comedy) I have always believed it to be. With Piper finally out now though and no prospect for a return to Litchfield minimum security, it may be time to start winding things down- I wouldn’t be surprised if the seventh season is the last, but unlike some, I think the show continues to remain on the whole, engaging, funny, interesting and provocative- not so easy a feat for a long running series, but one that this show has managed wonderfully well for a long time.