Season six hints that the end for the show is drawing near.
There are spoilers contained within this article.
Orange Is the New Black (OITNB) is still a Netflix staple. It might not have quite maintained the glittering success of the early seasons but it is still a show millions upon millions tune into world-wide every single year. OITNB‘s success coincided with the success of Netflix. They both helped each other rise to the very top, and transformed TV as we know it. But could OITNB be finally drawing to a close?
The end of the show has been talked about from the very first episode. The series is based upon a book that was quickly left behind, but that left huge interest about just how and when the show would end and whether it could carry on without Piper Chapman. The question has finally been addressed but will remain unanswered until season seven, as in the finale Piper was released and was asked what she would do next.
Piper had already discussed writing a memoir and so the show may now be drawing to a close. Or perhaps, Piper’s role will now just be winding down. This is a show that’s made clear it will set aside main characters for the wider cast, but the problem is that this season, it seemed to abandon that commitment to telling a much larger story. Now, it seems the show might finally be acknowledging that it’s time to draw to a close.
“The show might finally be acknowledging that it’s time to draw to a close”
Season six felt as though it was never sure what it was; a way to kick off the end storylines or as a way to give the show a reboot. Half of the cast were gone, which meant new characters were added. While their characters were engaging enough, “bullshit/bulltrue” quickly became tiresome and the deaths of two driving forces behind this new show felt rather pointless. So many of the new characters that got the focus this season were white. It made the show feel hollow. We lost Watson, Maritza and Soso, who had all shone in recent seasons. Alison Abdullah had been a superb introduction to the show too, and her absence was huge despite the fact she was not referenced by the characters.
OITNB just seemed to want its characters to go through chaos no matter what. Gloria locked the guard out to be able to broadcast that she knew the guards were betting on them all. She did this because she knew she would only have power if others knew the truth. But when the guard came in, she inexplicably blurted out her plan to him and he predictably put her in solitary confinement. Gloria’s rash action made no sense, except that the writers decided to see her suffer a bit more. Red lost her friends, Morello may be losing her baby, Taystee was betrayed and convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, Ruiz was almost drowned in a toilet, the trauma felt endless and, often, pointless.
TV should have trauma. It should show pain and uncomfortable stories but this should be done with a purpose. It should have some narrative reason. OITNB just shows women suffering – especially women of colour – with very little depth to the storylines. This has been an ongoing theme in recent series and the moments of good and defiance aren’t enough to outweigh the awful, tired and just uninspired. This extends even to basic dialogue writing the show completely gets wrong. The t-slur is thrown in for absolutely no reason, there are constant comments about ableism, and characters shouting “that’s ableism” but none of them are actually disabled are examining what it’s really like to be disabled. It’s a hard-arsed show trying to get credit for having so many women in the cast without truly delivering high quality writing.
OITNB has always been at its best when its main character, Piper, is at her worst. Piper embodies privilege so when she’s being called out or acting self-entitled it makes sense. It means Piper can take a backseat while other characters show her how the story really is. They get to control the narrative. They’re empowered through Piper’s privilege being called out and shown up. Yet, Piper, shockingly, became one of the most redeemable features of this season. She did still get her privilege called out once, but she was the one trying to pull everyone together and make them feel empowered. Piper was the most consistent character for much of the season, and one who wanted to help. She brought them kick-ball, she gave them some unity, but only because the writing utterly disempowered everyone else.
Piper was the character the show needed to not be too dark and yet her release feels like a smack in the face. How dark will the show get now if even she isn’t there to try to bring some lighter content? Why is it that Piper is free while everyone else must suffer? Will Flores get any justice? She was told she would be released only to be taken by ICE. Are the writers committed to showing the reality of that story, and of trying to tackle the serious nature of it, or did they do it just to shock the audience?
OITNB is, hopefully, planning its own end. This was the season where finally it felt as though there was some recognition that we don’t need more of this show, unless it is willing to change. Yet, still the writers could go either way. Still, we might get a show that throws out awful and offensive content thinking it’s okay because marginalised women are at the heart of the story. OITNB could drag on, but its glory will be in the decision to finally plan to say goodbye.
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