THE SERIES “Orange Is the New Black”
WHEN | WHERE Season 5 starts streaming Friday on Netflix
WHAT IT’S ABOUT With gun in hand, and a hundred screaming inmates telling her to pull the trigger, Daya Diaz (Dascha Polanco) stands over a corrections officer, and . . . so ended the fourth season on one of the biggest cliffhangers of just about the entire TV year in 2016. Following a long series of grievances, but especially following the death of beloved Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), Litchfield has revolted. Will Daya pull the trigger? Will the inmates of Litchfield finally topple the sadistic Piscatella (Brad William Henke)? The fifth season covers just three tumultuous days.
MY SAY For the record, or to address what you’ll eventually be wondering about anyway, there have been riots by women at New York state prison facilities before, notably one at Bedford Hills in 1974, when 200 inmates took over a couple of buildings and the rec yard. The so-called August Rebellion ended a couple of hours later. By contrast, the riot this season on “Orange Is the New Black” will end 13 hours later. And unlike Bedford Hills, there will be blood.
Let all that settle in before you hop on this wild ride — which of course you will. The fifth season is intense, compressed, accelerated and occasionally oppressive. A pervasive sense of confinement is heightened, too — all part of the irony that while the prisoners are free for the moment, they have never been more locked up. You can almost feel the days, maybe years, in solitary pile up for some of them after this is all over.
That’s also part of the desolation of the fifth season. Prison riots, male or female, never end well.
Netflix offered the first six episodes for review and from those, other fleeting impressions emerge. Initially this unfolds like “Lord of the Flies” meets “Animal Farm” meets “Oz,” which (incidentally) confined its own prison riot to just one episode in the first season. Day into night, there’s the constant echo of laughter up and down the halls of Litchfield. “Like a party,” says someone. “Only terrifying.”
Poussey was the match, but soon enough the fire is out of control. People being people, alignments start to form, power bases take shape. Daya has the gun. That makes her — Daya! — the boss for the moment anyway, with the Dominican gang and Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) in close second. Self-interest (or self-preservation) starts to sweep Litchfield, too. Chaos ensues. Splinter groups are created based on their own self-interests or needs (drugs, sex, food). A few pragmatists stand down, or aside: “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” says Red (Kate Mulgrew).
Then comes the blood lust, and the captured COs offer that particular escape valve. No spoilers here, but the irony will elude no one that it was Baxter Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) — the nice CO — who killed Poussey, and not sociopath “Humps” (Michael Torpey), last seen cowering by Daya.
What to make of all this? That the fifth could be a long season, indeed. As always, “OITNB” still finds a way back to its roots, when this was actually considered a “comedy,” albeit a savagely indignant one. There are plenty of great lines, a few laugh-out loud ones. But make no mistake — the fifth season means business, intent on establishing real-world parallels, notably with Black Lives Matter and Ferguson, Missouri.
And while most of the inmates may have forgotten what this riot was all about, Taystee (Danielle Brooks) hasn’t: “Her name was Poussey Washington. She was kind, loyal and our best librarian. She didn’t deserve to be in here, and certainly didn’t deserve to die in here.”
BOTTOM LINE Tough, occasionally oppressive, and — against all odds — still funny when least expected. But how will “OITNB” ever resolve this particular story?