Orange Is the New Black Season 5 Review: A Surreal Trip That Changes Everything

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There is no time like a riot to bring people closer together or to tear them apart.

Orange Is the New Black Season 5 starts up exactly where Orange Is the New Black Season 4 left off, and that's about as tame as things remain. 

It's not a spoiler to tell you the guards do not get the riot under control quickly because if I told you otherwise, you'd probably think I was lying. The storyline rests on the fact the guards at Litchfield are not properly educated or trained, and that wasn't going to change while a new season was filmed.

The Riot - Orange is the New Black

It wouldn't be Orange Is the New Black, though, if everything that could go wrong didn't go wrong, and you can expect a lot of that during Season 5. Litchfield could be the origination of Murphy's Law.

After the death of Poussey, the inmates are running the prison. Whether they knew Poussey or not, her death is an excuse to go nuts and blame the system for all that ails them. 

There are those who are genuinely suffering, though, and want to see changes as a result of such a senseless act. Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson doesn't need a gun or an excuse to act up, because she was Poussey's best friend. She wants someone to pay for Poussey's death.

Burn Baby Burn - Orange is the New Black

It's through her pain and actions that the positive steps are made on behalf of Litchfield, and she guides her friends on an interesting journey throughout the season to ensure the reason for the riot is not lost in the madness, and Poussey doesn't become a two-time casualty of prison politics.

Danielle Brooks steps into the lead actress category as Taystee becomes the focal point of her group and the face of anger and loss for Litchfield. She's always been a standout, but this season she's stellar in her emotional range.

Overall, the storyline brings to light characters who have not normally had a chance to eat up material are given the opportunity.

Angie and Leanne (Julie Lake and Emma Myles) have very beefy rolls and if I'd found them unpleasant before, they're barely tolerable by the time the last frames roll by, and that's a testament to the material and the actresses' ability to lose themselves in their characters.

Social Media Stars - Orange is the New Black

Maritza and Flaca (Diane Guerrero and Jackie Cruz) get to play in a way they'd never be allowed pre-riot, and with materials only available without fussy guards and rules keeping them back from connecting with an adoring public.

It's not very often, and unlikely ever again, we'll see the characters we've come to know talking as freely with their loved ones, playing on YouTube, posting on Facebook, singing along with popular music and creating special prison uniforms of their liking.

There are also inmate releases and arrivals, makeovers and a closeness discovered among some groups that could never occur without the surreal circumstances that come with a riot.

Odd Looking Inmates - Orange is the New Black

People are thrown together and discover they might have more in common than they realized, whether they're inmates or guards. There are arguments that turn into training sessions and others that become plots of horror movies. 

There is ingenuity in the storytelling that comes with the freedom of a riot, from the mourning and loss felt after a powerful death, and the prison powers and local government grasping at all available straws to get things under control that hasn't been available in other seasons.

As bad as things get, when the rubber finally meets the road and the madness begins to ebb, there is still a feeling of hope for the series. While the gong is beat about the atrocities faced by these women during incarceration, we also witness time and again that they are criminals.

Taystee Wants The Truth Heard - Orange is the New Black

Their actions put them into prison, but most of them are still as loving and caring as they were outside despite the mistakes they made to get inside. They've formed deep relationships and close bonds to one another that could last a lifetime. 

Orange Is the New Black Season 5 offers some promise to continue digging into those relationships and what they mean to incarcerated women. How the bonds they create in prison change them and offer hope for their stay inside and their lives afterward. 

By the end of the season, it doesn't feel like we're dealing with a superficial comedy any longer, but with something much more important. And I'm OK with that. In fact, I welcome it. The actors have earned it, and the stories have always hinted there is much more to discover inside the walls with women in prison.

Watch Orange Is the New Black Season 5 when it's released on Netflix this Friday and let me know if you feel the same way. It's worth it!


Editor Rating: 4.25 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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