Creator: Jenji Kohan
Cast: (among others) Taylor Schilling, Danielle Brooks, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgre, Uzo Aduba, Dascha Polanco, Laura Prepon
Setting: Litchfield Women’s Prison, New York State
The new season five of this show, now available on Netflix, is as unforgettable as any TV show I can name. The action takes place over only a few days as the unrest began last season among the prisoners turns into a full-scale riot. The outstanding character development, skillful writing, Emmy-level acting all carry the viewer along through moments of terror and moments of love.
Orange Is the New Black refuses to let us look away from the horror of our prison system, as many of us do every day, our heads in the sand only occasionally coming up to view what is happening to so many Americans. Orange shows us plainly what some humans have become and what others fight against becoming. It shows us honor, pain, leadership and inhumanity on many levels, for many reasons, some more understandable than others. It’s difficult to understand why one prisoner in bed with a badly damaged face in the infirmary would gleefully introduce air-bubbles into the injured guard’s IV, the guard that has been shot, the guard who has committed various atrocities and numerous indignities against prisoners. She seems unable to comprehend she is committing murder. It’s easier to identify with the energy so many in the prison feel at even a few moments of freedom.
For those of you who may watch this series or may want to give an episode or two a try, I’ll alert you to some of the acting performances considered stand-outs. Many of the characters explore their humanity and are changed by this experience. The actors are able to convey the struggle and the change. Selenis Leyva as Gloria Mendoza, always something of a leader, the woman who cooks for the entire prison population, tries valiantly to affect the situations with more strategies than one would think any one person could muster.
Perhaps you didn’t think Dascha Polanco as Dayanara who finds herself holding a gun in the opening episode had the acting chops to pull off an emotional scene later in the season that punctuates all of the drama. She delivers in one of the most unforgettable scenes of the series. Among the prisoners, it is Danielle Brooks as Taystee Jefferson who rises to the occasion, in order to uphold her beloved, but murdered Poussey. She is central to all the action and she becomes the person many viewers thought she could be. As always, Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman delivers a nuanced performance. And, Kate Mulgrew is heartbreaking in so many scenes. This viewer had counted on her to steer the rudder, but not so much.
There are many others I could name. You will see how each episode surprises as many characters grow and change. Others do not. This is a prison. Some characters harbor a good supply of brutality, as of course do most of the guards.
What struck this viewer about this season is the balance of horrific with the solace of love, love of many different kinds. But I would not use the term rollercoaster in speaking of the development of these different feelings and actions, rather a variety of self-discovery on the part of so many and at a multitude of levels.
There is no sugar-coating the situation or the outcomes or the inhumanity of some characters. There is no romantizing, only pain. But thank goodness, for many the discovery of love and what that requires in the place they find themselves is a central theme. Most heartwarming for this viewer, especially after so many flashbacks of family dysfunction over previous seasons, was the many mothers and other family members who stood outside the prison, hoping for a glimpse or at least news from their loved ones.
I would not have missed a single episode of such fine television. Time moves forward at an unknowable speed even when the action slows down. Many of the characters are embraceable even in their weak moments. Hats off to creator Jenji Kohan and her staff of writers. WOW!