Spoilers ahead for Orange Is the New Black season six.
Orange Is the New Black’s very existence is predicated on the fact that justice is uneven by design. It’s based on the story of a white upper-class woman who spent a year in prison for her involvement in laundering drug money, and whose story only got to be told because she got out. The stories of her vastly less-privileged fellow inmates are relayed to those on the outside from her slanted perspective, because it’s the only one afforded any freedom. For six seasons, OITNB has been building up to the impasse when that divide would expose its irreversible damage. It finally arrives in its latest finale, “Be Free.”
OITNB’s better-but-not-great sixth season ties up the loose ends left dangling at last season’s cliffhanger: Litchfield Penitentiary is dissolved, the majority of its inmates are bused out to prisons in Ohio and elsewhere, and the remaining few involved in the riot to seek justice for Poussey’s murder are sent to max to face the consequences. MCC, the corporation that owns Litchfield, has now rebranded itself as PolyCon, but it’s still scheming to wash the blood off its hands. Its new tyrant Linda Ferguson (Beth Dover) — promoted after she blackmailed MCC for getting her falsely imprisoned last season — attempts to save face, or so it seems, by ordering the release of 25 inmates based on an easily manipulated scoring system.
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) isn’t supposed to be one of them, but Piper catching breaks she doesn’t deserve is the point of this show. She’s informed she’s being released within a day, as are Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) and Blanca Flores (Laura Gómez). The difference is that Sophia had to make a deal with the devil for her release: silence about the prison’s inhumane treatment of trans inmates in exchange for freedom and hush money. Blanca had to also carefully negotiate her release, calculating the opportune moment to rat out a friend to avoid extra time, then keep out of trouble and wait for a miracle.
Taystee Jefferson (Danielle Brooks) doesn’t have the same bargaining chips. She’s taken the fall for the whole riot and been framed for the murder of CO Piscatella, who was killed in friendly fire during the raid. The trial isn’t about whether she’ll ever get her life back, but what her life will continue to look behind bars. Like Taystee tells Caputo as she awaits the verdict, the justice system is nothing but a cruel charade. So much presumed guilt has clouded Taystee’s past, present, and future that any chance to reclaim her innocence was just a legal formality. She is found guilty of murdering Piscatella and sentenced to life in prison. But really, it’s a death sentence for Taystee, whose livelihood — all that joy, charisma, and promise — has just been executed by the prison system.
It’s fitting that the best day of Piper’s life, as Blanca tells her it will be, becomes so many inmates’ worst. Piper gets to “prison marry” her fiancée Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) just like she wanted, because Piper is rarely denied her happiness. As Piper later gets escorted out of prison and to her brother’s car to start a new life, Taystee is transported back to Litchfield in handcuffs to count down the end of hers. But watch closely as Piper exits: Two lines are formed, one for whites and blacks, the other for the Latinx releases. Both Piper and Blanca notice the segregation but don’t know what to make of it. As they’re funneled through two different doors, the scene cuts to Linda at some private prison schmoozefest where she introduces PolyCon’s latest partner in what should be a crime: ICE. The prison will now own and operate immigration detention centers, and that is where Blanca has been handcuffed and seemingly banished to, trading one prison for another. Once again, OITNB painfully reminds its viewers that you can do your time for one offense, but being brown is a life sentence.
It’s easy to read this conclusion as a series finale, given how it punctuates so many of our favorite characters’ stories, but the show got picked up through season seven back in 2016. This isn’t the last we’ve seen of Litchfield, though its population will likely continue to phase old characters out and new ones in like any actual prison. If season six was a hard reset, what other shake-ups lie ahead? Below, we round up our biggest questions and concerns going into season seven.
• Have we seen the last of Piper? Doubtful. Since the idea of Piper penning a memoir about her prison experience gets introduced in season six, that’s likely where season seven will follow her. (Similar to how the show has continued Aleida’s story after her release.) But let’s say the show deviates entirely from the source material and Piper gets sent back to prison. It’s happened before, when Alex got released on a plea deal in season two, only to have Piper get her locked up again, and when Taystee broke her parole because she couldn’t readjust to life on the outside. Who’s to say Piper wouldn’t also intentionally violate parole just to be with Alex, who’s still got another four years on her sentence? She’s done dumber!
• What’s going to become of Taystee? She’s about to spend the rest of her life in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. There’s a chance she could appeal, but at what emotional cost? In her last conversation with Caputo, she alluded to suicide if she were found guilty. I worry that’s where her story is headed.
• Oh God, this ICE partnership. With the Litchfield baddies Carol and Barb now dead, it seems OITNB already has its new villain — and it’s worst one yet.
• Will Daya get sober? She was also given a life sentence for killing a CO in the riot (which she also technically didn’t do) and is coping by getting addicted to heroin, which Daya’s mother Aleida and her CO boyfriend have been smuggling into Litchfield to keep Daya and her block’s cash flow going. Aleida doesn’t find out until the finale that Daya is using, but plans to keep the business going regardless if it kills her daughter. Will Daya ever have a mother figure who gives a shit about her life?
• How long will Gloria and Red be locked up in SHU? After everything that happened with Sophia, they’re still doing this.
• Is Lorna okay? When Lorna goes into labor while hiding out in the supply closet where Nicky left her, she appears to be in distress. She’s only seven months along and it looks like there’s blood soaking through her pants. The last we see of her, Lorna is being walked over to medical by a CO, in writhing pain. Protect Lorna at all costs!