Orange Is the New Black: Season 5 – Opinion

Orange Is the New Black‘s fifth season hits Netflix on June 9.

“…trapped, trapped, trapped till the cage is full.”

One of the many issues discussed in Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black is prison overcrowding. This is somewhat ironic, as this once easy to follow show has become extremely convoluted, and a bit of a mess. Season three ended with 100 new inmates entering Litchfield Penitentiary, and the fourth season dealt with most of that fallout. With over a dozen new characters added into an already large ensemble, I felt annoyed spending time with the new and generally insignificant prisoners. In season five, mainstays like Yael Stone and Laverne Cox are kept in the background. Throughout the new 13 episodes, some storylines lay dormant for one or two episodes, only to pop back up when necessary. Simply put, there is just too much going on.

While the show is still lightyears above your average network fare, it’s still jarring to have Morello’s adventures not mentioned for a few hours. When the camera returns to her, you’ve completely forgotten she’s now married. “Oh yeah, Mendoza’s son is in the hospital. Totally forgot,” I found myself thinking. A guard is locked away, and we only hear from him a few episodes later It’s hard to provide more spoiler-free examples, but this happens often. Perhaps due to scheduling conflicts, Red remains out of site for most of season five’s front half, then becomes a centerpiece of the final stretch.

Plus, the new characters are very one-dimensional. They seem to only be there to increase the headcount of each race gang. Because Orange is the New Black insists on only having one character’s flashbacks per episode, we don’t receive proper explanations for the new inmates’ actions and motivations. This structure has worked for a long time, but perhaps it’s time for the writers to consider changing the format.

There is one good thing to come out of this. As screen time for any one character became scarce, the show’s focus shifted off Piper Chapman. Piper was the main protagonist for most of the show. Our introduction to the world of prison may have been through her eyes, but she was always the least interesting character. Fleshing out intriguing inmates like Taystee, Poussey, and even the prison’s staff, like Caputo, has made Orange feel fresh.