TV

Should You Bother Watching: ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Season 6?

I want to immediately reassure you that 'Orange Is The New Black' is back, baby.

Welcome to ‘Should You Bother Watching’, Junkee’s new column which helps to answer the streaming-age’s biggest question: is this show for me? In this one, we tackle Orange Is The New Black Season 6.


Let’s get this straight — there’s a very good chance that you fell off the traumatic wagon that was the last few seasons of Orange Is The New Black. There were a lot of reasons for you to do this, and they were all valid. That show was highly unenjoyable for a while.

*Spoilers for seasons 4 & 5 abound in this article, but not 6, I’m not a monster*

A show set inside a prison is obviously not going to be a barrel of laughs all the time, but OITNB at its best was a delicate balancing act between the inherent sadness of incarceration in America, and some dang goofy hi-jinks. The show managed to be supremely human by balancing both humour and tragedy, and it skated that line adeptly for a long time.

But, for whatever reason — perhaps fatigue, perhaps boredom, perhaps sadism — they pushed too hard towards tragedy in Season 4, and with the death of Poussey they lost a lot of viewers who weren’t able to hang on for more unrelenting grimness.

Perhaps ironically, for the first time it truly felt like we were imprisoned in a horrifying situation which we couldn’t get out of. It’s no surprise we fucked off.

But, I want to immediately reassure you that with Season 6, OITNB is back, baby. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely not distress porn like the last two seasons, and it’s definitely worth getting back into. Let’s find out why:

Pros

They Literally Burned The Place Down And Started Again

Season 5 of Orange Is The New Black lacked structure, which kinda made sense considering the whole thing was a long prison riot, which is inherently chaotic. It was honestly pretty hit and miss, with some good moments and characters (including the Martha Stewart stand-in, who was a welcome breath of weird air), ultimately let down by an awkward mixture of almost melodramatically high stress and grinding repetition. Cool!

But, the ultimate consequence of the series is that Litchfield Penitentiary is now done and dusted, and every single inmate has been shipped out of the now riot-cursed prison. This is important — we’ve been stuck in the same prison, with the same group of people for five seasons. Splitting everyone up and moving them elsewhere is like shaking up the bottle so all the sediment rises to the top. It shifts everything around, makes it fresh, makes it new.

Orange Is The New Black Season 6 is now set in Litchfield Max, a big-league maximum security prison which is supposedly a much scarier place than the relative laxness of the old prison. It’s full of murderers and druglords and other scary people, and as we soon discover, is embroiled in a kind of arbitrary yet brutal gang war.

There are no rules, new people and even new cells to look at, and it’s so refreshing. There is a very real fear and tension in the first half of the series about how everyone will fit in to this much crueller environment. Spoiler: There are varying levels of success!

One of the best things they’ve done with the soft reboot of the show is mix up where all the characters are. Not only did a whole slab of them get shipped offscreen to another prison in Oregon, they finally mixed up all the enclaves of race-based cliques, and instead placed them in completely separate sections of the prison, giving them new friends, new enemies and new allegiances.

Best Villains For A Long Time

There’s a whole bunch of new characters in Max, as you might imagine, with the two major additions being the absolutely enthralling sisters Barb and Carol. As we discover, it’s Barb and Carol’s personal enmity that fuels the ferocity of the gang warfare that drives the plot of this season.

They’re a perfect blend of sinister and comical, able to give us some of the season’s lighter (if still extremely black) comedy, but still making it incredibly believable that they are dangerous. They are hands down the most complex, enjoyable and upsetting villains the show has ever had, and the best new characters from Orange Is The New Black Season 6.

Cons

It’s Still Piper’s Show

For far too long, we have had to put up with Piper as the main character of Orange is the New Back. I’m not one of those people who hate Piper, but six seasons is way too long for her bullshit. I mean, I get it — we can’t have her making good decisions, because that is not the kind of person she is. She makes bad decisions, and everyone suffers for it. That’s her schtick. That’s her entire character.

And folks, I hate to say it, but she continues to do this. Sorry, there’s no way around it. But luckily, it’s not the main act — there’s plenty of other meatier and more interesting characters and stories for us to enjoy, while Piper continues to be mostly insufferable.

The Regina Spektor Theme Song

Still an inescapable ear-worm that will destroy your tiny brain. “Trapped, trapped, trapped.”

So, Is It Worth Watching?

Short answer, yes. All the things that Orange Is The New Black does well feature in this season, and there’s enough new stuff to make it feel rejuvenated, full of energy and vim and vigour. It’s not as vital as the show was back in its first few series, but it’s getting on. It’s an old dog now, not a puppy.

It’s also continuing the frank and sometimes brutal examination of race and minorities held in US prisons, as well as the fucked increase of privatisation in that sector. There’s some important topics, that it’s doing a really great job of exploring.

And judging from the rather distressing end of this series, looks like next season will continue in the same vein. Go watch it.

Orange Is The New Black seasons 1-6 are currently streaming on Netflix.

Patrick Lenton is an author and staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.