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*Some spoilers ahead
Orange is the New Black has always sought to showcase what’s wrong with the world, whether it be specifically within the United States or even abroad. The newest season keeps true to that notion until the bittersweet end. Albeit, a bit more on the bitter side.
While the previous seasons of the show had much bigger obstacles to peruse, the final season of the show served as a denouement from the very last episode of the previous season—Piper (the main viewpoint character) was out of prison after a long and emotionally traumatizing stay. What follows is a plotline spread much too thin to have offered the same quality content that preceded the final season, sprinkled with some very important political movements, half of which seemed crammed into the story to deliver us to the 13 promised episodes we’ve consistently received in each season prior.
Taking place right after Piper is released from Litchfield Maximum Security Penitentiary, we follow Piper as she struggles to reacclimate herself back into civilian life. In typical OITNB fashion, a lot of light is shone on the pitfalls and redundancies associated with life-after-prison and all that is wrong with it—inclusive of the many fees covering drug tests for parole, region restriction, and finding a job when no one is hiring convicted felons. It proves to be an achievable process for Piper since she can rely heavily on family for most financial needs and her prison wife, Alex Vause, for some emotional comfort… but even that is put to the test of time.
If there’s one thing that has been consistent with Orange is the New Black, it’s the power of the women’s stories they’ve told along the way. This new season is no different, and for once we actually don’t get a handful of new characters to follow to the end. Rather, we see all of the previously important characters of the show end their stories in one way or another. Some are truly heartbreaking, and others see to the destruction of character arcs that have been building for so long.
A movement that was densely covered throughout the season was the “problem” with immigration into the United States via the southern border and the deportation of those without legal documentation. The show features two new characters, Shani and Karla, who fall victim to facing deportation back to their home countries, as well as recurring characters, Maritza and Blanca, who add a large sense of urgency to the matter due to their emotionally controversial backstories.
While this was a huge issue within the show (and an even bigger issue in the United States), it left many viewers shocked towards the middle when Blanca was released but Maritza—once one of the main supporting characters of the show—was deported back to the country she was born in, and even more disheartened when we learn she wasn’t even given an epilogue like almost every other character in the show; the same happened to the two other new characters, Shani and Karla, except Karla was given a brief moment in the end where she breaks her ankle on the way back across the border and is subsequently left by the group she was traveling with.
This, as well the children being tried as adults for illegally entering the United States, highlighted one of the biggest political issues going on in the U.S. at this time. It was the one controversial topic that felt needed within the show. However, that’s not to say the rest were just as necessary.
After the firing of former warden, Joe Caputo, it appeared as if his time for helping the prisoners was over and he had nothing left to offer the show. With his access to inmates being cut off, he needed to have some role to fill the void of his once very important status in the previous seasons. And with this, Caputo’s character in Season 7 became the target of #MeToo accusation for his relationship with one of his former female correctional officers.
Granted, this is a very important issue as well, but its implementation into the show just came off as a placeholder to keep the audience in check until Caputo could skip off into the sunset with the former female warden that preceded even him: Fig. In fact, in the last episode of season 6 Caputo had already had a decent ending and really didn’t need a return—a cameo might’ve sufficed.
Then came the problem with his girlfriend, Fig. Fig had always flaunted her thick skin and annoyance towards children in the past, and for her to have artificially inseminated a baby with Caputo—only to abort it later on—merely kept fans waiting for more of Piper’s story to follow. The real Fig would never have wanted a child, and when they ended up adopting a child regardless afterwards it only further stressed the lazy writing.
Barring most of the oddities of the final season, it also had some very compelling scenes. While one of the main points of the show was to show off the corruption of the legal system within the United States, it also dealt largely with reform in the lives of the women post-prison (or from within prison for Taystee’s case).
Since the end of the last season saw to the extension of life-in-prison for Taystee, it appeared like her life was over and she might’ve spent the rest of her life as a hateful person. While she unfortunately wasn’t able to reverse her case, a downward spiral nearly drove Taystee to suicide… if it hadn’t been for Poussey Washington. Poussey, being the whole reason for the riot’s breakout after her tragic death at the hands of a correctional officer, had a surprise flashback cameo leading up to the final episode. Therein, she consulted Taystee back when she had been released from prison and reminded her to always search for some outlook in life to spread joy or help others. It was one of the most heartwarming sentiments to grace the end of the series, as it saved a fan favourite from death.
Piper truly had an amazing story to tell, and all the colourful characters which bought her to the end served just as important a purpose. While it may’ve been doable to end the series in possibly 4 or 5 episodes, the 13 episodes we were shown did spark interest just as much as the others had. The final few minutes of the show, a montage of the prisoners and “where they are now,” was a real treat—especially after being devoid of knowledge of their whereabouts for so long. It will be difficult to find another series to wait for, year after year only to watch the entire season in a few days’ time, but it was a memorable experience to be sure.