Not only did Blanca (Laura Gomez) leave prison early to be unwittingly carted off to an immigration detention centre while her husband waited outside the prison with a bouquet of flowers, but Natasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks) went down for the murder of CO Piscatella – which she didn’t commit – at the end of season five’s riot. Any hope she had of returning to the outside world is now gone – and, unless a witness retracts their testimony, she will serve a life sentence in Litchfield.
To compound this, Blanca and Taystee’s respective fates were revealed just as Piper (Taylor Schilling) was granted an early release, underlining the racial imbalance in the USA – both as a result of the stringent anti-immigration measures that have defined Donald Trump’s rule, and the systemic racism that predates him by a few hundred years.
After the brief glimpses of hope that we saw during last season’s riot – where the inmates temporarily held power over MCC, the corporation that owns Litchfield Penitentiary – this was a steep drop down to reality.
The show has always trodden a fine line between drama and black comedy, tackling issues such as sexual assault, guard-on-inmate violence and racism throughout its run – but the finale was the first time that the reality of the situation for many of these women really hit home: that they are on the bottom rung of the social ladder, and there is no happy ending in sight.
Here, we dissect a few of the key issues from the finale.
What’s next for Taystee?
Taystee’s fate loomed large over the final few episodes. Her discovery that her friend Black Cindy (Adrienne C Moore) testified against her, after making a deal with the prosecutors to avoid getting more jail time, felt like the nail in her coffin. It was both surprising and devastating to watch Taystee fall apart as the head juror read out her guilty verdict in a scene shot without sound. Taystee has been a beacon of joy throughout the show’s run, and it’s been heartbreaking to see her story turn so dark so quickly, all in the name of seeing the guard who killed her best friend, Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), brought to justice (this was why she incited the riot at the end of season four).
As Danielle Brooks told The Hollywood Reporter, it doesn’t feel like there is any way for this injustice to be corrected, despite Black Cindy and Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren having witnessed the officers shooting Piscatella’s body in the aftermath of the riot. “She’s there for life,” Brooks said. “I don’t see that turning around. Unless somebody recants their testimony, there’s no coming out for her.”
We can still hold out hope that something miraculous will reverse the situation, but it seems like the writers have plowed ahead with this storyline to exhibit the reality of racial discrimination that pervades the justice system.
In one of the closing episodes of the season, Piper rather laughably looks to Taystee – on the eve of the criminal trial that will decide her fate – for advice on why she has faced relentless torment from her fellow prisoners throughout her stay in Litchfield.
Taystee explains that when they look at Piper, all they see is her privilege.
“At least that’s only in here,” she says. “People been f***ing with me out there my entire “f***ing life. They see dangerous, poor, ghetto black girl that should be locked up in here forever. So if you wanna trade places…. I’m game.”
Piper and Taystee have slowly become the yin and yang of the series, representing two factions of society at opposite ends of the spectrum – and this moment exhibited that brilliantly.
Will Piper return for series seven?
When Taystee’s verdict came in, Piper was packing her bags to leave Litchfield and return to the real world, after a guard had fudged the numbers on her record to push her forward into the lucky 25 recipients of an early release (a PR move by MCC in the wake of the riot).
They were both present at the scene of the crime, but while Taystee was scapegoated by the prosecutors for pulling the trigger – and goaded and beaten by the guards upon her return – Piper has received yet another leg-up in life, leaving the prison eight months earlier than she had anticipated. Piper will be back, though, according to executive producer Tara Herrmann.
Is Blanca going to be deported?
It looks that way. As Blanca (Laura Gómez) was leaving the prison with Piper, she and a few other inmates were directed into a separate line, where ICE officers (charged with immigration enforcement) loaded them onto buses, presumably headed for a detention centre. She is the subject of the writers’ desire to address the current political situation in the USA, which has seen the Trump administration step up measures – including a hugely controversial border policy which has seen families separated – to stem illegal immigration.
The writers did a brilliant job of investing in Blanca’s story over the course of the season (prior to this she had been a minor character, whom we knew little about). We saw her and her partner Diablo attempting to create a child through prison-grade artificial insemination (the specimen was snuck in via the visitors toilets and implemented by Nicky via an apparatus made of straws), and began to care about their life on the outside – only for the rug to be pulled away so cruelly during the finale.
And now, it looks like Blanca will be a major part of season seven, as we look at ICE’s temporary immigration imprisonment (MCC, now called PolyCon, also revealed in the finale that it would be opening immigration detention centres).
“That’s kind of where we leave off with Blanca — we see that face of ICE,” Gómez told Buzzfeed. “It seems as if we continue in that direction, there’s another side of talking about the privatisation of prisons that we are going to see, which is ICE, which is another side of the prison complex and how it’s being used.”
Is Orange is the New Black now set in 2018?
Interestingly, the decision to tackle Trump’s immigration policy comes at the expense of the show’s timeline. Believe it or not, we are only 10 months into Piper’s sentence, meaning it should be 2014 in the drama – two years before Trump was elected.
But throughout the series, there are references to the #MeToo movement, and Trump’s border wall – not to mention Blanca’s fate, which is very 2018.
Has Sophia (Laverne Cox) left the show?
While we now know that both Piper and Blanca will be back, it seems unlikely that the same can be said for Laverne Cox’s Sophia, who was also released from prison.
Sophia has become something of a shadow figure since she was thrown into solitary confinement for six months in season three. In season five, she explained to Gloria that she was finished playing games in prison, and that she just wanted to serve her time without drawing any further attention to herself. Her release comes after she had taken a hush payment of £300,000 from MCC, by agreeing that she will not join former warden Caputo’s lawsuit, which he hopes will turn the PR tide against the company and sway the public in Taystee’s favour.
She unapologetically explains her reasoning to him, announcing that she will now be able to send her son to college and support her wife. While she was a powerful character in the series, it feels like her story has come to an end here – and we’d be surprised to see her life on the outside revisited next year.
Where are Soso and Maritza?
The two most notable absences this season – and greatest casualties of the riot – were Brooke Soso (Kimiko Glenn) and Maritza Ramos (Diane Guerrero), the late Poussey Washington’s girlfriend and Flaca’s basic BFF. We know that many of the inmates were placed on buses and sent to different prisons (and we got a brief look at one, where Big Boo now resides). It is likely that Soso and Maritza are in the same prison, as they were seen boarding the same bus at the end of season five – and it is possible that they will figure in season seven in one way or another, but we won’t be holding our breath.
Other notable absences include: Janae Watson (Vicky Jeudy) and Alison Abdullah (Amanda Stephen), Leanne Taylor (Emma Myles) and Angie Rice (Julie Lake), Kasey Sankey (Kelly Karbacz) and Brandy Epps (Asia Kate Dillon), and Chang’s (Lori Tan Chinn).
Is Alex going to get more time added to her sentence?
Depsite her best efforts, Alex got further embroiled with new girl Badison Sinclair and her boss Carol in the gang warfare between C and D block in Litchfield Max as the season progressed. She made deals here and there to get Badison to leave Piper alone (she had been trying to get more time added to Piper’s sentence) – and ends up with an unwanted position at Carol’s table. However, Carol and her sister (whose 40-year-old rivalry had sparked the vendetta between prison blocks) literally killed each other, after their plan to jointly murder Frida (who had betrayed them both years earlier for a place in the minimum security arm of the prison) had capitulated. So, there is now an empty seat at the head of the table, which is likely to be filled by Badison – arguably a crueler tyrant than her predecessor. It’s fair to say Alex faces an uphill battle to stay out of trouble (she currently has another three years left to serve).
A brave, important finale
While the ending has, quite understandably, drawn some ire online, the writers should be praised for upending our expectations, and telling a bleak, but necessary story. Taystee’s fate is heartbreaking, but, as she says in her closing testimony during the trial – she is one of millions of women who have faced injustice thanks to the privatisation of the prison system, and systemic racism. These stories need to be told.
The same can be said for Blanca, who has suddenly found herself among the major players in the series. The current situation in the USA is alarming, and it is great to see it being addressed so pointedly in a mainstream drama.
Orange is the New Black season 6 is streaming on Netflix UK NOW
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