'Orange Is the New Black' review: In season 6, the end seems to be drawing closer
SERIES "Orange Is the New Black"
WHEN | WHERE Season 6 starts streaming Friday, July 27, on Netflix.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT By the end of season 5, the riot police had stormed Litchfield, and finally swept up the 10 who had hidden in the abandoned pool — Frieda (Dale Soules), Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Red (Kate Mulgrew), Piper (Taylor Schilling), Alex (Laura Prepon), Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), Gloria (Selenis Leyva) and Blanca (Laura Gomez). The season's Big Bad, Piscatella (Brad William Henke), was killed in the closing seconds, and part of the sixth season hangs upon the dramatic question — who did the killing? Netflix won't say what the sixth season is about, and this review won't either. But for a spoiler-free "reveal" that reveals nothing, we can say this much: Maximum security will test old bonds, form new allegiances and bring forward unlikely alliances.
MY SAY With the approaching end of "House of Cards," "OITNB" will soon be the one remaining show that put Netflix on the map five years ago. And, oh, what a map and what landmarks those were: Third-wave feminism meets the most diverse cast in TV history, with an attendant shock of the new that made Netflix itself suddenly feel so very new.
But that was five years ago. What has "Orange" done for us lately? This year, Netflix earned a record 112 Emmy nominations, while "OITNB" got exactly zero. By this measure, an important one, "OITNB's" endgame is now closer, and it seems reasonable to approach the sixth in this spirit or with at least this question in mind: How much closer?
In hindsight, the fifth season was a mistake, if perhaps an understandable one. You do a prison drama, you expect to do a prison riot arc at some point. The mistake was that this arc lasted a whole season, which was compressed into three days. The story robbed "OITNB" of its rhythm and, to an extent, its formula. The stakes were heightened but so was the pace. Over the first four seasons, "Orange" was a languid show because if there's one thing in abundance in prison, it's time. The show had always found character beats and story in long, quiet moments disrupted by intensely dramatic ones. By contract, the fifth season collapsed time and scrambled those comfortable beats. The crazy finale was also a game changer, but what sort of game? What sort of change?
If the fifth was the riot season, then think of the sixth as the season of consequences. Consequences here mean new characters, and lots of them, including lawyers, guards, inmates, adversaries and also new cellmates. The riot is over but that doesn't mean "OITNB" can't devise a different form of anarchy (and does). Consequences also mean new perils, particularly for Taystee and Red, and new opportunities as well (for Chapman). This can also mean a new setting, and to an extent that happens as well. But "Litchfield Max" was always a star in its own right, and it's hardly a spoiler to reveal that this star isn't exactly going anywhere.
What about other stars, the human ones? There is a huge departure in the sixth season, along with a pair of life-changing events. In fact, all three are so pivotal that the sixth — even though a reset — feels like a season that's preparing fans for something momentous. Or for something conclusive.
Will "Orange" wrap at seven? (Only one additional season has been ordered.) The sixth season absolutely suggests that possibility. Yes, series "suggest" that all the time, and (yes) then often go on for years, becoming shadows of their glory days. But the good ones know when to wrap, and "OITNB" — still one of the good ones, Emmys or not — probably knows when to, as well. While a reset and back-to-the-future season, the sixth also has the faintest autumnal glow. The rest of the world has passed "Orange" by — a world that "Orange" helped make — even if devoted fans haven't. Tempus fugit and all things must die. Time to prepare for the inevitable?
BOTTOM LINE Fans who hated the fifth season should mostly love the sixth, which is a return to normal, or as "normal" as "OITNB" ever gets. But the end does feel a little bit closer.