Orange Is the New Black is back for the very last time. As a TV writer, it’s wild to think of the journey that television and subscription services have gone on since OITNB debuted as Netflix’s second ever original series in 2013.
I can specifically remember thinking: “All the episodes at once? How odd!” And then I watched all the episodes at once…and then Netflix took over the world, and now we get a new original rom-com every day, and the Queer Eye gang can makeover a whole person and a run-down Victorian in a weekend flat, and we can watch them do it all over again eight more times in a single Friday night if we’re feeling particularly lethargic.
Of Netflix’s first wave of original series (House of Cards, Hemlock Grove, and Bloodline among them), none has been as enduring—or as endearing—as Orange Is the New Black. Because what is there to do inside the walls of Litchfield except endure? For as much as the TV landscape has changed since OITNB premiered, its vast array of characters have certainly traversed more. Deaths, births, a prison riot, a prison wedding, the switch from minimum-security to maximum-security, a block war, a dodge ball league…
And at the middle of it all has been Piper Chapman; not Litchfield’s most captivating inmate, but our consummate inroad nonetheless. It only makes sense that the premiere of OITNB‘s final season would start just as the premiere of the first season did: with Piper…
With Piper monologue-ing about herself, specifically, her astrological sign—how apt. But surely we can give this to Piper who things aren’t going great for following her early release from Litchfield. She’s living in her brother Hal’s spare room where he and his wife try to get their newborn baby to poop over the sink while simultaneously laying down the law on Piper needing to pay rent. She has a new job as a waitress at a Thai restaurant that we see in flashback she once deemed too sketchy to eat at back in her fancy-soap-makin’ days with Polly. And this rehabilitation process is all overseen by Parole Officer Capers (Alysia Joy Powell, whose performance I am loving so far) who administers Piper’s weekly drugs test that she has to pay for herself as part of her early release.
“A Gemini’s lucky color is yellow,” Piper says romantically in voiceover as she passes Capers a cup full of her own urine.
But the only thing on Piper’s mind, even amidst all this chaos, is making it to Litchfield to see Alex—her wife—during her visitation time in a few days.
Alex, who’s promised Piper she’ll keep a clean nose during her remaining three years in prison. But that’s made more difficult given that her cell is still next to Badison’s, a nightmare wrapped in a Boston accent and smarm. Badison swings by Alex’s cell to be vaguely threatening, but mostly annoying, so Alex devises a little plan to get rid of her for a few days. She gets a phone from Nicky, has Lorna snap a photo of Badison, makes that photo the wallpaper on the phone, plants it under Badison’s pillow, and then calls it to get her caught with contraband…
Except Badison’s roommate Taystee is in the room when the phone rings, shuts it off, and hides it. But Taystee is in no mood for games given that the entire prison riot was recently pinned on her, she was sentenced to life in prison, and basically everyone she’s ever loved has betrayed her. As Suzanne explains it while she and Doggett watch Taystee stomp around the yard: “She used to be really fun; she always wore her dancing shoes, her singing pants … doesn’t do that anymore. Still wears pants though. Just now as a murderer-no-smiler.”
Suzanne doesn’t remember that she’s one of two witnesses who know Taystee didn’t actually murder anyone in the prison riot, a fact that Cindy later jumps down her throat for forgetting even though she’s the one who helped Suzanne forget in the first place (guilt is a helluva drug, folks!).
But no one else at Litchfield is forgetting about Taystee’s fatal reputation, nor her life sentence, and it’s taken a toll on the formerly jubilant inmate. When Badison enters their cell and Taystee tells her to get rid of the phone, Badison of course escalates the situation, finding Taystee’s denied appeal letter under her pillow and mocking her for it…
So Taystee slams her head against the sink, the guards are called, are both women end up in solitary confinement. (We also briefly see Gloria and Red in neighboring solitary cells, the former of whom is keeping alert with aerobic exercise, the latter of whom is…not doing well.)
Alex’s phone scheme didn’t go as planned, but it did still get Badison out of her hair. The only problem is, with Badison in solitary, C.O. Hellman has no one to push his heroin. Since Carol trusted Alex before her kickball-related-death, Hellman tells Alex she has to sell his stash. Given that refusing a crooked C.O. isn’t really an option, Alex does the smart thing and goes straight to Daddy to sell the whole load to another seller rather than actually getting back in the drug-dealing game.
The only problem is, Daya comes in on the tail end of this exchange, and like many other inmates, Daya is…not doing well. She’s clearly still using and she’s paranoid about Daddy stepping out on her. Given, she did literally catch Daddy having sex with another inmate, but as Daddy explains it, these are business transactions. So Daya gives Daddy some hooch inside a shampoo bottle to show that she forgives her…
The next thing we know, Daddy’s roommate is running out of her cell saying Daddy is “bugging out,” and Daya is looking pleased with herself for pulling one over on her girlfriend. Daddy’s collapse leads to a full cell sweep with drug-dogs, which means…everyone is in trouble. There are drugs everywhere that could lead back to Aleida and Hopper who are very much still smuggling them into the prison and reaping the financial rewards (Aleida is also very much still sleeping with Cesar and planning to leave Hopper the moment she’s milked him for all he’s worth.)
But more immediately, Alex has 20 grams of heroin hidden inside her pillow case. Hellman swarms into Alex’s cell as the alarm bells sound for the sweep and literally forces her to swallow the bag in a traumatizing display of assault. So, now not only does Alex run the risk of that bag exploding and her dying, but the best case scenario is that she passes the heroin and immediately has to start selling it…
But not to Daddy. Whatever Daya’s intention, she overshot it and killed Daddy, a fact that she seems troubled by, but not, like…troubled enough by.
Alex does pass the drugs, and has to start dealing them herself; that is the mindset with which she enters the visitation room to see Piper who was finally able to make it to Litchfield after begging her reluctant father for $50 to take the bus, and finding out on the way there that she’s been fired because she asked for too much time off to get to Litchfield.
During this visitation that they’ve both been living for, Piper and Alex tell each other repeatedly that they’re doing fine…toootally fine.
Jodi Walker writes about TV for Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, Texas Monthly, and in her pop culture newsletter These Are The Best Things. She vacillates between New York, North Carolina, and every TJ Maxx in between.
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