Last binge-watching season of Orange Is The New Black, viewers found the show mirroring the harrowing events of Eric Garner’s police officer caused death with Poussey Washington’s correctional officer caused death and Daya’s sudden possession of a gun. It’s hard to place what kind of theme the show could follow after that — especially since it strayed from its perfectly balanced social criticisms, witty humor, and woman empowerment themes it originally followed. There wasn’t any possible way that the show, with it’s already tough and diverse characters, could possibly become something more — something more fitting for the world currently being experienced.
We see Spanish Harlem as one of the leading figures of the resistance, holding the correctional officers hostage and reprimanding them for all the damage they have caused them and the people in their lives. OITNB sticks to the stories of the women before they got into prison and gives us their hurt and lives to hold with us for the duration of the series. We are connected once more to recurring characters and their personalities to see how the fit in with the riot inside of Litchfield.
Piper and Alex, while their relationship is on and off a lot of the time, we see them cohabitating and riding out the consequences of the riot — minus Piper’s inability to stand up when she see an injustice being played out, something Alex is more than happy to do. Alex, too, then finds herself the leader of the resistance against the resistance — something way more peaceful than to have been imagined when thinking of a resistance.
The show ventures heavily into the #BlackLivesMatter pool with Taystee’s never-ending effort to try and attain justice for her murdered best friend. The leading members of the Ghetto Dorm even enlist the help of Judy King to speak for them before Taystee takes the platform with a moving speech that gives a voice to black women whose stories have gone unheard.
“Our fight is with a system that don’t give a damn about poor people and brown people and poor brown people. Our fight is with the folks who hold our demands in their hands. Which you people need to read, by the way, and stop watching this fool shit coming out here online and get a hold of our demand list because those demands are fair and necessary, and show that we intend to keep this demonstration peaceful and focused on change,” — Taystee Jefferson, Orange Is The New Black
The show even goes on to venture on a guilt-ridden CO Bayley who tried various times to turn himself in for what he had done only to be turned away on account of no charges being pressed against him. Mental illness takes a place on the stage with Bayley who attempts suicide and the inmates who are placed in a negative light for their behaviour by mass media.
Thirteen episodes are dedicated to the reaction following Poussey’s death. There is never an episode where So-So isn’t crying for her, Janae isn’t angry about it, Black Cindy isn’t praising Taystee for her efforts in trying to find justice for Poussey, or Taystee isn’t demanding that Bayley be imprisoned for murder.
This fifth season is a living and breathing reminder of the people we have lost and are losing to police brutality and the prison system’s very real failures when it comes to basic human rights. While something like the riot in OITNB may never happen in real life, it brings to light the ever-present realities of prison life and the inhumane instances they suffer.