The series, created by Jenji Kohan (known also for the tonally and comedically similar Weeds television series), is at its sixth season, with the newest iteration being released on July 27, 2018. As a fan of Kohan’s Weeds series, I am aware of the degradation in-quality that series faced, and I am also aware of how often shows tend to wane in-general, whether from overstaying their welcome, lack of fresh ideas, or being tainted by outside factors. That said, does Orange is the New Black stick the landing with its sixth season?
In a political bind, the higher-ups believe they need to make a declarative statement, dealing out swift life-sentences, the narrative is that justice takes a backseat to that statement. Inmates are forced against each-other and instruct to act a certain way, regardless of what the truth may be. They are backed against a wall with the only way they can avoid substantial amounts of time being added to their sentence is by either wrongfully accusing fellow inmates of committed a crime or by wrongfully accepting blame for a smaller crime.
This is only part of the whole conflict on-display in our latest visit to our favorite inmates, however, as a new setting brings a new set of characters and the dynamic between them. One specifically worth discussing is the dynamic between sisters Carol and Barb, who’ve built a gang-like dynamic between blocks, brought about from their hatred had against each other. Their distaste for each-other, their distaste for Frieda who “wronged them” decades prior, and their rivaling gangs act as a pivotal part in the new season.
As a series and as a sum of all its parts, I believe Orange is the New Black is a good series in the way it juggles characters and the way it blends comedy and drama, and while it may not always be a perfect marriage, the series always entertains on some level through and through. Sometimes the characters, particularly the inmates, can be shown in an empathic and careful light, and sometimes the characters, like the security guards, are depicted with a more ham-fisted and over-the-top execution. A lot of it is for the narrative the series wants to accomplish, the way that, for instance, the security guards begin to look at the inmates less as human-beings and more as pawns for their own entertainment. Sometimes it’s done well, other times, it can feel a little heavy-handed, see-through, and convenient.
This new season willingly touches on relevant topics about our criminal system and tries to freshen the series with new characters with their own unique backstories. The characters don’t bring the house down or break from the mold of the series, and, for that, it could be it follows a formulaic shtick all while changing the window dressings.
The series’ discipline has long-since been thrown out the window in-terms of following the linear path of Piper Chapman and her time spent in-prison, which has its faults and merits. Allowing other characters to be front-and-center has bought more mileage for the series and has instilled a certain “free-for-all” charm to the series. Of course, this makes for several subplots that might entertain fans of the character but can other-wise come off as filler to the series overall.
I think contrived is a fair word to describe this season of Orange is the New Black. The “gang war” story-line and the relationship between Carol and Barb doesn’t mold in the ways I would like, and the pay-off itself makes it feel nonconsequential. I couldn’t help but leave their part in the season with a numb apathy, like not enough time was devoted in making us care about the characters, especially given how high-stake their threats seemed in-comparison to the rest of the series.
Although I liked some aspects of the season, and certainly thought the series maintained it’s sheer “watchability,” I couldn’t shake that the season felt transitional. It seemed like most of what was important from Season 6 was from cleaning up the wreckage Season 5 left behind. If you’re a fan of the series, then, I think you’ll know whether it’s for you, but if you have been soured by the series before this, I don’t think it will change your mind.