*ATTENTION* this is a review of season 5 of OITNB and will contain plot spoilers from previous seasons as well as season 5, please read on if you are up to date or don’t mind plot points being revealed.
Orange Is The New Black is a show that has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2013, spearheading the phenomenon of on demand streaming through its parent service Netflix and been the very definition of a show one binge watches to completion within days, I can safely say that OITNB season 5 is no different, it may not be the shows strongest season but it is certainly it’s most ambitious.
It’s all change at Litchfield penitentiary in the aftermath of Season 4’s finale which saw the inmates retaliate against the death of fellow inmate Poussey Washington at the hands of an over zealous and undertrained guard resulting in an all out riot and the inmates taking control of the prison, taking guards hostage and making demands for change at Litchfield. The change of direction with the inmates in control is a refreshing, the principal characters now in the seat of power effectively running the prison, now almost broken into little fiefdoms with the Spanish prisoners invoking a Spanish Harlem in the bunk room with the guards held captive in ‘the bubble’, Leanne & Angie embark on a pantsing odyssey, Vause & Chapman staying clear with a bunch of other prisoners in the yard whilst Taystee, Black Cindy & Janae lead the pursuit of justice by trying to open dialogue with the outside. It is an interesting and compelling dynamic to have all these disparate groups embarking on their own quests for personal freedom.
The performances from the cast are as strong as ever, particular praise is owed to Danielle Brooks who’s role as Taystee takes more of a front seat this season, deservedly as she has increasingly become the heart and moral compass of the show. The phenomenal Uzo Aduba is as strong as ever with her massively sympathetic, humorous and heart-rending performance as Suzanne and the likes of Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon and Kate Mulgrew all lend excellent support as in prior seasons.
It’s not all positives for this season, the usually constructive flashbacks feel throwaway and needless this season offering no real insight to those they are about with the possible exception of Piscatella’s flashback, the episodes of prior seasons focused on characters each episode using the flashbacks to place context on their actions & motives, this season suffers I feel from a lack of focus in this department. There are a few instances also this season where the usually spot on juxtaposition of humour & drama don’t quite work as well as in prior seasons, the humour feels a little more forced on occasion and at times doesn’t sit as well next to the more serious moments.
It was a brave move and I believe the right move to try and play with the formula this season, some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Too many shows in a similar position as OITNB coast by doing the same thing each season without taking risks and with OITNB doing this at the height of its popularity, it should be applauded for its guts. Where the show goes from here after its Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid-esque cliffhanger is anyone’s guess, things have changed and it’s pretty hard to see how they can ever go back to how they were with any kind of believability. I can only hope the showrunners have a long game planned because going forward we are going to be treading in uncharted climes.
All seasons of Orange Is The New Black are currently available to stream via Netflix.