Opinion: ‘Orange Is the New Black’ is just about ready for lethal injection

A messy season five lacks in both tone and pacing.


Illustration by Ivan Benavides

Thomas Chiles, Features Editor

I hate to say it but season five of “Orange Is the New Black” is a sign that the show has jumped the shark.

In its first season, the Netflix original garnered 12 Emmy Award nominations, winning three. By the time season three rolled around, the show received zero Emmy nominations. Despite this, the character development kept the show above water.

And although season five was brimming with potential, its execution was poor and left me nostalgic for the first and second seasons.

What went wrong?

The biggest problems with season five revolve around its pacing and tone, with the 13-episode season taking place during a four-day prison riot.

The flip-flop between comedy and drama is abrupt and ineffective. The season begins with a guard getting shot in the leg by an inmate, but just moments later, inmates are cracking jokes as if they aren’t in the middle of a riot.

While it should be acknowledged that it’s tough to balance the heavy plot point of a prison riot with the lighthearted jokes from previous seasons, it was poorly executed here.

On top of the messy back and forth between comedy and drama, the writers sprinkled in a bit of the horror genre into season five. At one point, a large prison guard sneaks into the prison and begins taking out inmates like a cheesy slasher film. This confusing plot point muddles the overall tone and sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to previous seasons.

This season was meant to give social commentary on our prison system and its desperate need of reform. Unfortunately, the focus is dragged away from the matter countless times, with the show instead focusing on characters’ irrelevant side plots.

In previous seasons, flashbacks to characters’ lives outside of prison gave insight into who they were while remaining relevant to the current story unfolding in present time. In this season, the flashbacks seemed forced and gave very little new or important background information about the characters.

Cast members Adrienne C Moore, Selenis Leyva, Natasha Lyonne, Dascha Polanco and Danielle Brooks attend the Peabody Awards. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The positives

  • Despite the plot development significantly slowing in season five, the show’s focus on the characters fortunately didn’t wane.
  • Dedicating an entire season to a riot, while it could’ve been more successful, at least helped to highlight the injustices of our prison system.
  • Another great touch was having Linda Ferguson, the director of the corporation that bought Litchfield Prison, get trapped inside the prison during the riot. She experiences first hand some of the corporate cuts made to save money that now affect the daily lives of inmates.

The future of Litchfield

The fifth season of the show ends on another cliffhanger, and while this one is not as exciting as season four’s, it does to some extent make you want to find out the fate of the Litchfield prisoners.

With Netflix having already signed on for a season six and seven, the drama is sure to continue for at least two more years. I for one hope it doesn’t continue past season seven.

As much as I loved the first and second season, my expectations have been lowered.

And yet despite all of this, “Orange Is the New Black” still did what it does best: portraying inmates as human beings.

Grade: C-

Thomas Chiles is the features editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @thomas_iv.