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Orange is the New Black – Season 6 Spoiler-Filled Review

After the complete disaster that was season five of Orange is the New Black, I wasn't sure I even wanted to return to Litchfield and check-in on our favorite federal inmates. But, while season six was still disappointing on a number of fronts, I'm ultimately glad I came back for another round in upstate New York.

The Good

  • It was wonderful to spend some (all-too-brief) time with Lolly this season. The addition of Lori Petty to the case in season four was one of the smartest moves the series made, and losing her in the truncated arc of season five was a real blow to the show. Able to toe the line between comedy and drama with a skill honed by her years gracing our screens, Petty is one of the show's biggest assets. I would have loved to have had an entire episode spent in Psych this year (Ruiz's temporary stay would have be perfect), as there are many stories to be told about the conditions within that section of the prison and the prisoners who languish away behind its walls. Perhaps in season seven?
  • By far, the most effective arc of the season belonged to Taystee (the incomparable Danielle Brooks). Not only did it turn Caputo into one of the show's strongest and most noble characters, it also drove home the glaring truth of our criminal justice system: Things are different if you don't have the privilege of money. Even with the support of the ACLU, Taystee was unable to fight against the multiple things stacked against her. While Piper is still a mess of a character (I'll get to her story further down this list), her situation juxtaposed itself perfectly against Taystee's in the final shots of the season. Piper, who still has her head so far up her ass she doesn't realize how lucky she is, is a free woman through failing her way to the top of the release list, while an innocent Taystee, who has so much more to offer the world than Piper, will spend the rest of her life behind bars.
  • While I still have reservations about Pennsatucky falling for her rapist, I was pleased to see that she's grown as a person from the angry, spiteful young woman of season one. Turning herself back in to accept punishment is not something that brash woman would have done. This new, more mature woman is interesting to watch and worth our investment. OITNB can cut corners with character development, but they didn't here, and that has made all the difference.
  • Speaking of character development, what a season for Suzanne. Uzo Aduba once again gave an inspired and layered performance as our favorite Litchfield inmate. If Taystee is the soul of OITNB, Suzanne is the heart, and giving the character a chance to grow beyond her mental illness this time around was really great to see. And pairing her up with Pennsatucky? I never saw that team-up coming, but boy did it pay dividends.

The Not So Good

  • Oh, Piper. While she was our gateway character into everything that Litchfield Prison had to offer way back in season one, the show has never seemed to really want to commit to developing the character all that much throughout her stay behind bars. Rather, for every moment of growth Piper had, there were another three slip-ups that proved her to be nothing more than a cipher for the generic rich white girl. And that's all well and good when it works- as it did in juxtaposing her accidentally making her way into the release list (by scaring the head guard into thinking she new he was the one bringing in the heroin, when all she was doing was trying to get protection from Badison) with Taystee's inability to escape prison, despite being innocent of the crime she was convicted of, and Blanca thinking she's going free only to realize that she's being taken into ICE custody. But when it doesn't work (as was the case for most of the season, where she tried everyone's patience complaining about everything), it just makes Piper a flat, uninteresting character. It's hard to understand why Alex would want anything to do with her, especially because Alex has grown and changed over these past six seasons, unlike her fiancee.
  • Trimming down the show's cast was a great decision. But if you do that, you have to be sure to add new characters to fill the void left by the missing characters, and that was not what happened this time around. I'll get into my thoughts on Badison later (so many thoughts there), but none of these new characters were remotely memorable or really added anything to the story (and that's saying something, since they were all integral to the main arc of the season . . . which wasn't a good arc at all). I was a bit intrigued regarding the feuding sisters, and their particularly heinous crime, but the writers didn't do much to flesh them out in the present. Which was a shame, seeing as they were meant to be the puppet masters behind the action throughout the season. While I suspect their deaths will create a power vacuum that several characters will try to fill, the actual deaths had almost no emotional impact due to the lack of character development.
  • I suspect the character of Daddy was meant to fill the butch void left by the banishment of Big Boo to Ohio (out of all the missing characters, Boo's loss was the hardest felt this season, as Lea DeLaria's larger than life presence injects so much into her scenes), but boy, did that not happen. Sure, Daddy gave Daya an actual arc for the first time in several seasons (‎Dascha Polanco‎ finally got the chance to show off just how good she is this season), but OITNB needs to stop casting people just because they're hot (see also: Ruby Rose). Vicci Martinez is a talented singer, but she is not an actor. And it really showed when the series chose to put her up against Polanco.

The Awful

  • I didn't think it was possible for the series to create a character more annoying than season one Piper, but the writers managed to surprise me with the advent of Badison. Everything about this character was a misstep, from her casting (Amanda Fuller might be a great actress, but this was not the role for her), her accent (seriously, we've established that it's hard to convincingly do a Boston accent, and Yael Stone is already rocking a different version of the accent on the series, so why create a dueling accents situation by making her from Boston), her cast (it looked pretty fake, which is an issue with most onscreen casts, and was also pretty pointless), forcing the character to swing between broad comedy and menace (which made it nearly impossible to take anything about her seriously), and her strange vendetta again Piper. Her backstory was, I suppose, meant to make us better understand her fluctuating rage and her desire for a mother figure, but it only served to make her even less sympathetic (much like Piper using every excuse in the book for her own failings, Badison's backstory made her out to be a spoiled brat whose desire to be popular almost got someone killed). Basically, Badison is the worst and I am not looking forward to spending time with her next season.
  • The Gangland War Arc might have sounded great on paper (split up our regulars and get them involved in a war that could leave a bunch of them dead or injured), but was pretty awful in practice. The reason Barbara and Carol hated each other so much was pretty ridiculous and turned them into sad, angry old women instead of vicious mob bosses (which might have been the purpose of the reveal, but it served to undercut the tension of the finale). Throwing the audience into this new world, refusing to explain how it worked, and then revealing its leaders to be weak wasn't the best way to go about this arc. If Carol and Barbara had proven themselves to be the true leaders their blocks's believed them to be, this would have played out to be more than a cheap farce. But when you spend all season building to something and then just abruptly end it, well, it tends to make the audience feel cheated. I'm not sad we won't be seeing Barbara or Carol again next season, but I wish their existence had meant more to the story.
Rating
7.0
Pros
  • Some nice character beats throughout the season
  • Danielle Brooks once again anchored the cast
Cons
  • Badison and Daddy weren't great additions to such a strong cast
  • The main gangland war arc fell flat

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About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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