Orange Is the New Black
The season-six finale uses most of its supersized runtime to close up its two main arcs — Taystee’s trial and the Denning sisters’ feud — but we also get a brief update on Aleida’s, uh, Nutri-Health sales. Hopper having, in the last episode, insured himself against discovery by rigging Piper’s early release and thus keeping her from investigating his part in the Diazes’ heroin smuggling, Aleida now comes to visit Daya and excitedly updates her on how much better things are about to get for them. Daya, however, apparently forgot Aleida was coming and snorted heroin right before she came to the window, and Aleida can tell she’s high even before Daya nods out in the middle of their conversation. Back at Hopper’s that night, Aleida lays into him for not having told her Daya was using; Hopper was sure she knew. “A Latin mother would never sell drugs to her own kids!” Aleida yells. But since the money’s too good for her to give up, Aleida decides she’ll be the first, cashing in to get her other children out of foster care and giving up on her firstborn.
It’s time for closing arguments in Taystee’s trial, and after Fig yells at Caputo for acting like attending it is his job — with Caputo, in turn, accusing her of picking a fight about something she doesn’t actually care about because she can’t accept that their formerly meaningless affair has turned into a real relationship — Caputo is present in the courtroom when the prosecutor ends by showing crime-scene photos of Piscatella’s corpse, to counteract the effect of Taystee’s moving testimony. When Caputo visits Taystee afterward in her holding cell, she tells him about a game she played as a kid called “Guess That Shit,” where players act things out without speaking; later she found out white people call it Charades. Watching the prosecutor, Taystee says, it seemed like she was playing Guess That Shit — nothing was coming out of her mouth, but the jurors were nodding like they knew what she was communicating anyway. To buck her up, Caputo tells her two of the other plaintiffs filing suit against MCC — excuse me, POLYCON — said they were doing it because of Taystee. He insists it doesn’t matter that the jury won’t see any article about the case because they saw, on the stand, the Taystee he knows, who inspired him because she wouldn’t stop fighting for justice. Taystee sobs that there is no justice, for her or for Poussey. “Then what am I doing here, Taystee?” he asks. “What have we been doing this whole time?” She shakes her head and shrugs: “Charades.”
When the jury comes back, it’s charades for us as well: just as the foreman is about to read the verdict, the audio drops out.
Danielle Brooks is so good that even before we see the reaction of the outraged observers in the gallery, we know for sure she was right not to have trusted the system.
Caputo, who did trust the system, chases down Detective Herrmann to confront him about framing Taystee, basically, but when Caputo tries to press his point by taking a poke at him, Herrmann lays him out with one punch and goes on his way. Caputo goes from there to a PolyCon marketing event, where Fig — having apparently bought the leopard coat from Barneys she was pondering when Linda came to bother her back in “State of the Uterus” — gets him out of the party, puts ice on his busted eye, and tells him she’s sorry about Taystee’s conviction. When Caputo pouts about her still spending time with her closeted husband, she tells him, “It’s just for show. I’m not in there with him, am I?”
By far the most screen time is devoted to the event toward which the whole season has been building: the kickball game. And the way Piper learns that she’s not going to be playing in it is that she’s summoned into a line — which also includes Sophia and Blanca — and brought in to see a harried case manager, who distractedly tells her about a transport that she thinks is to take her to court until he tells her she’s getting released the next day. Piper immediately gets overcome with nostalgia for prison, even rapturously sniffing the soap in the shower. Blanca, a few stalls down, had bad news earlier that day when she got her period, but now gleefully tells Piper how excited Diablo’s going to be when she tells him about her release — thus giving Piper another reason to be conflicted about her news, since Alex still has years to serve.
Alex doesn’t hear Piper’s news right away because she’s called to a war planning meeting with Carol, flushing her B-school application on the way. We cut between the two blocks’ strategy sessions: the only hand symbols Badison knows are filthy, so she settles on “the shocker for Trekkies,” a.k.a. the Vulcan salute, as the sign she’ll throw at the game when it’s time to attack. D block has Lorna, who’s going to signal the attack on their side by faking labor to distract the COs.
After Mendoza’s discovery of the fantasy inmate score sheets — for which she’s been sent to the SHU — Alvarez announces to the COs that the game will end the following evening, after the kickball game. As the meeting breaks up, McCullough expresses to Hopper that she has ethical qualms about fantasy inmate, to which he asks whether she’s ever heard about a riot at Max. She has not. That’s why, he says, fantasy inmate exists: “To keep them swinging at each other. ’Cause when they’re swinging at each other, they’re not looking at us.”
When Alex and Piper meet back up, Piper delivers her news, which kind of dwarfs Alex’s triumphant presentation of a handful of coffee beans. Alex says it’s great that Piper’s getting out, but Piper’s not sure; she had been looking forward to getting “prison married” in front of all their friends. Alex assures her that this just means they’ll get real-world married. “I know I should be happy,” says Piper. “I’m scared. I don’t want to leave you.” Alex tells her it’s a good thing: “Just don’t fuck it up like I did.”
And, of course, there’s time for a prison wedding the next day, which Alex surprises Piper with — officiated by Nicky, witnessed by Lorna, and with Luschek buying them 20 minutes by covering the door. In her vows, Alex brings up how guilty and regretful she still is about hurting Piper; she pledges to make it up to her for the rest of their lives together. In classic Piper style, her “vow” is actually a demand that Alex not do anything to add more time to her own sentence; when Alex calls her on it, Piper corrects herself: “Then my vow is to wait for you.”
Luschek heads from the wedding to SHU, where Mendoza finally has a chance to warn him about the imminent bloodbath at the kickball game — though, given what she now knows about fantasy inmate, she contemptuously doubts that he’d do anything to stop it since he and the other COs have a financial interest in it getting violent. “How many points did you get when I got dragged into SHU?” she snaps. “Actually, I don’t have you,” he admits.
In their last moments together, Piper and Alex discuss how they’ll stay in touch, Piper making Alex promise not to use any contraband prison phones to call her lest she get caught and add time to her sentence. It’s probably good Piper doesn’t know that Alex has become one of Carol’s lieutenants, so that phone possession will probably be the least of her offenses going forward. To wit: Badison covertly gives Alex a shiv, saying Carol wants more soldiers on the field, and then turns her attention to Piper: “Happy release day, Gapman. I would’ve got you something, but you’re a stupid bitch who I never liked.” (I’ve never related to Badison more!) Alex promises that Piper doesn’t need to worry about her, but as Piper and the others file out, Alex can’t stop her face from crumpling. Noting Piper’s heartbreak, Blanca grins, “You still didn’t realize? This is the best day of your life.”
In one storage closet, Nicky and Lorna are hiding out from joining the battle when Annalisa hears Lorna knock down a broom. Nicky goes out to sacrifice herself, showing Annalisa the shiv she was there to pick up while, unbeknownst to Nicky, Lorna goes into labor for real. In another closet, Barb and Carol suit up in pink scrubs so that they can enact the actual plan for which the kickball battle is just a cover: When that happens, the old biddies of Florida will be evacuated first. Barb and Carol will blend in with the crowd, find their way to Frieda, and kill her.
Speaking of whom: It’s time for Suzanne and Pennsatucky to go play, and though Frieda had told Sophia earlier how much she’d like to go outside and look up at the sky without a grate in her way, she believes it’s not safe for her to go, and Suzanne feels she should stay and bodyguard her.
Frieda, with a pang of guilt only we see, tells Suzanne she should go look at the sky; Suzanne insists that, as her friend, she can’t leave Frieda, so Frieda has to dish out some extremely tough love: “I’m not your friend. I’ve been using you for survival. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. That’s how I like it.” Suzanne is hurt, but Pennsatucky kindly leads her out to try to forget.
Outside, as everyone gets giddy with their (still relatively limited) freedom, Ruiz urgently tells McCullough that, for everyone’s safety, the captains need to pick new teams. McCullough is justly suspicious, since she still remembers what Ruiz did during the riot, and when she asks why she should trust her, Ruiz frankly says she doesn’t know. But McCullough takes a chance, ordering that the captains — Ruiz and, stepping in for the absent Piper, Badison — start picking, Ruiz immediately going with a C-block player. Badison quietly flashes her smock under her coat and tells her fellow C-blockers, “These colors don’t run.”
With play underway — the players indicating their teams by wearing their coats either right side or inside out — Badison throws her sign. But everyone’s having so much fun that hardly anyone even notices, and when Suzanne kicks, the ball goes straight for Eckelcamp… who drops her shiv to catch it. Badison can’t believe what’s happening, but Alex is pleased to see Piper’s dream of athletic fellowship realized: “Why are you still fighting? Look around. Nobody wants this war. Not even Carol.”
Speaking of: Still in their supply closet, Barb and Carol start getting paranoid that their respective armies haven’t set their plan into motion, and we get the episode’s one and only flashback. Teenage Barb and Carol are working at the restaurant when their co-worker regales them with a tale of going out and getting a patron a newspaper to fulfill his request for the classifieds, only to find out she’d misheard “glass of ice.”
The story Frieda wasn’t going to die for didn’t even belong to either one of the Denning sisters …
… who end up fulfilling their destinies and killing each other before they could kill anyone else. “That’s double points for murder and murderer,” Alvarez tells Copeland as they discover the bodies. “You just won fantasy inmate.”
And then it’s time for a montage. Piper and the rest of the parolees are prepared to reenter society — changing into civvies, signing for the receipt of their belongings. Frieda eats pudding alone in her cell, safe at least until Red is sprung from SHU. Blake helps a laboring Lorna to the infirmary. Piper is surprised to see that she and Blanca are being led down separate hallways …
… but it seems Blanca is getting the opportunity to participate in PolyCon’s exciting new initiative: ICE detention centers.
Poor Diablo, with flowers, has no idea why his beloved Blanca isn’t coming out to greet him as Sophia is her wife, and Piper her brother. Piper uses her first free moments to hug Cal, and to watch the joyful kickball game she worked so hard to arrange. Piper has no idea that as Cal is driving her away from Max that a U.S. Marshals van is driving Taystee back to it.
And as devastating as it is to see Taystee return to serve her life sentence, we also know Blanca is probably about to live through something even worse. Piper, however, has the luxury of any number of possible answers to Cal’s season-closing question: “So? What are you going to do now?”
A previous version of this recap misidentified Danielle Brooks.