The stakes are raised in the latter half of Orange, but it does not completely save the season. There are many short-lived stories, some of which I would’ve loved to see develop and some that needed to fizzle out earlier. But as quickly as the riot went (which surprised me- only 3 days? ALL that shit went down in 3 days??), so did these plotlines.
Motherhood was a persistent, yet strained aspect of this season. From Mendoza’s subplot of obtaining a shady furlough by undermining the cause and being by her son’s side while he is in the ICU, to Maria’s backstabbing methods to get to her daughter, and Daya’s episode detailing how Aleida treated her and what she must do for her own child, the thread that is usually only covered through one episode persisted over about five, possibly more. As I said before, none of those threads fully found fruition, however, besides maybe Daya’s. To me the winner was Mendoza’s story, as at the beginning she was questioning her maternal decisions as she was supposed to be Daya’s guardian after Aleida’s release, and now hearing about her son makes her resort to desperate measures. She seeks redemption only to be foiled by someone she thought was a friend, which was borderline heartbreaking.
Bayley’s journey continues for anyone to find him as guilty as he feels, until he finally sets foot at what seems to be an inevitable stop: Poussey’s home. He is not absolved of guilt as he looks into her father’s eyes. In fact it is quite the opposite, as Mr. Washington declares that he cannot satisfy Bayley’s request for punishment or peace. Instead, he hopes that Bayley lives to regret his actions until the end of his days. Which, in all honesty, is a very apt fate for him.
The best arc of the season, unequivocally, goes to Taystee. Amongst the many singular convictions of the convicts, Taystee was out for all the marbles. Between spearheading the negotiations between MCC and trying to secure justice for Poussey, to pointing a gun right between Piscatella’s eyes and punching out Caputo, Danielle Brooks was indeed a force to be reckoned with.
There was an aspect of Taystee’s arc that I could not fully believe, though. Taystee deciding to throw away everything she negotiated for, just for Bayley’s conviction simply did not make sense. Taystee spent the previous three episodes throwing out truth bombs at Figueroa about the conditions of Litchfield, and for her to throw that all away is frankly baffling to me. I understand that every character has to have a hubris, but we were introduced to Taystee’s strong grasp of numbers and business sensibility about two or three seasons back. Why would she throw it all away now? Just for the drama of it all? Still, without this arc the show would not be as complete as it was, and that is a bit of a stretch.
Last but not least, our main big bad Piscatella dies. Although the technical emotional “assassination” of the character came way beforehand, his ultimate demise comes from the incompetence of the system that he derived so much power from, a la a misfired pepper gun. A poetic ending? Sure. Was it justified/satisfying? Not really. It was only slightly better than seeing most of the antagonists on Game of Thrones meet their fate, to make an example, but that man is directly and indirectly responsible for the death, torture and mental incapacitation of many inmates.
Piscatella’s rampage was inevitable, with Red consistently trying to trap him in Litchfield for a murder confession all season. “The Tightening” gave us trite horror tropes, which was an odd theme to shoehorn into what ultimately ended up being torture porn. His actions do not go unchecked though, as Gina records the assault and makes it go viral. It is apt that the internet reacted so quickly to the girls’ pain rather than a call to justice—which mocked them through memes.
Overall, It was interesting (and stomach turning) to watch Piscatella’s version of dismantling the “family”. Gay villains are nothing new, but as opposed to his backstory, his reprehensible behavior in Litchfield lies in sexism rather than homophobia. It’s both commentary and unfortunate execution. We have a gay man that doesn’t understand intersectional oppression, which very well happens in real life. However, it is an odd reflection of the events of last season, and holds a parallel to my thoughts of last year’s writing. He really was just an evil Mary-Sue for this season, with the most skewed sense of justice he could have possibly possessed. And although in modern times, quite a few of our gay televised characters- especially those in Orange- have been quite cherished, Piscatella’s characterization works to counteract that, especially since the torture scene included many of said characters.
Oh, and let’s not forget some of the additional small, yet important happenings this season:
Piper and Alex Are Engaged
In the heat of a full blown riot, Piper and Alex still somehow have an entire episode dedicated to their relationship. I have no idea why it was necessary, but Mazel Tov!
Morello Is Pregnant
After hooking up with Nicky early in the season, Morello quickly unveiled early on that she’s pregnant. Nicky, all the way done with Morello’s excuses, convinced her that her claim was just that. This thread carried on through the season, which involved Vinnie running away from Morello’s claim just as much as Nicky did. Not entirely convinced herself anymore, Morello takes every test in the pharmacy, which all indeed come back positive. Upon discovering this, Nicky gets Vinnie’s shit together as well as her own, so that this baby might have a semblance of a future.
What the Hell Is Up With Pennsatucky?
I could probably write a whole article about this, but the mess of a plotline for Pennsatucky started last season and just became stranger as this one went on. At the beginning of the riot, she was protecting Coates because of the guard round up. She managed to get him to escape, but then proceeded to escape herself through the entrance that Maria created, only to find his on-campus house and hide out there. Honestly, this is all kinds of creepy. I don’t buy it, and by no means do I like it. But it happened.
Season 5 concludes with a roundup that is just as violent as the season began. Official and unofficial couples are separated, such as Flaritza, and it feels like next season will either become a different arrangement of the same series, or a push of the reset button. In a way, it reflects how this whole season felt for me-frayed and chaotic, with pretty much no resolution to anything like in previous years. Even though every season has a cliffhanger ending so far, Season 5 felt much less complete. Either direction could be interesting for the oncoming season, but I have a feeling that it will be something completely fresh.
All images courtesy of Netflix