Worst to Best
Orange Is The New Black
Season Five

The fifth season of Orange Is The New Black was released on Netflix on 9th June 2017. With the action set over a few short hours, it features the aftermath of season four's prison riot.

JUNE 2017

The first four seasons of the programme are available via Amazon. SPOILER WARNING: In order to discuss season five, it was necessary to discuss several key plot elements. It's best to watch the season before reading this article.

13 Riot FOMO (5.1)

Orange is the New Black seems to have settled into a pattern of increasing the drama throughout a season, but this does mean that this weak season opener is arguably the worst episode so far. The show has always skirted a very delicate, sometimes unsuccessful, balance between drama and comedy, but opening with a guard being shot and beaten and trying to mine it for laughs is a step too far. What ended season four as an mounting, intense drama is suddenly rewired as a fast-paced farce. The whole season sends out mixed messages in regards violence: expecting us to guffaw at over half a dozen bloody noses, a shot finger and a crotch kick one moment, then expecting us to be filled with horror when torturous violence is meted out to Red and her friends in episode ten. It sits badly, and doesn't help that many of the characters here are drawn so broadly by creator Jenji Kohan.
     Also troubling is that OITNB is usually such a well-made show, but unfortunate continuity errors crept into this run: look out for the cart with bloody towels that is pushed into the front of Sophia's salon, then mysteriously reappears behind her. A similar thing happens in episode six, where Red speaks to Frieda while wearing her glasses... Except on reverse shots, Kate Mulgrew clearly doesn't have her spectacles on.

12 Litchfield's Got
Talent (5.4)

Josh Koenigsberg and Tara Herrmann get to share writing credits here with Jenji Kohan, and it's a real shame that the show's creator has begun to craft the silliest scenes. While OITNB was always a humorous show, that humour grew out of the situations, whereas here many of the characters are almost cartoons.
     There's perhaps a certain resting on laurels and knowing that the show's audience will be there - early episodes made both the main prison action and the flashbacks not only enlightening, but often dovetail in inspired ways. This doesn't happen here, with a talent show of guards which is ultimately pointless, and an uninspired backstory for Alison Abdullah which largely goes nowhere.

11 Sing It,
Effie (5.5)

Molly Smith Metzler became the new executive story editor for the season, and Sing It, White Effie became her first (and, to date, only) episode as writer. Keeping a series like Orange is the New Black fresh has to be the hardest challenge because so many of the characters can't move on, either figuratively or literally. Familiarity is a burden to any series, particularly one set in a fixed location. Once characters like Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren were new and fresh, but after five years on air their stories have become played out... a situation not helped by a greater compassion in society towards mental health since the series first aired.
     The once relatively subtle themes around real world events have become overstated to the point where this episode's subtexts of slavery and the negative representations of Muslims in the media can hardly be classified as "sub"texts. The flashback story here belongs to Janae Watson, one of the least compelling characters in the show... Journee Brown plays her as a younger girl.

10 Fuck, Marry,
Frieda (5.2)

Written by Jordan Harrison, there is an uncomfortable element to events here, as guards are stripped and violated on stage to the roars of the prisoners. Presenting rape as some form of entertainment - even if Alex is one of the few to voice her disapproval - is awkward subject matter, and it doesn't quite come off.
     Still, Harrison has some nice lines for the characters ("Real Russians have no proverbs; we have vodka and misery.") and the flashback story with Frieda is ultimately rewarding, as her cold war paranoia upbringing has led to her developing her own hidden bunker under the prison.

9 Pissters! (5.3)

A backstory episode for the MCC Director of Purchasing, Linda Ferguson (Beth Dover). Dover is an attractive woman, but was 38 when the flashback was filmed, and having the actress play herself as a college teen doesn't really take. The backstory does, however, hint at her future lack of compassion and ruthless streak.
     Better are events inside the prison, where she is helped by Piper and Alex to integrate with the prisoners after being trapped there in the riot. Dressing in prison clothes and retitling herself the "Counterfeit C*** of Connecticut", it leads to a strong cliffhanger where Warden Joe Caputo has decided to get his staff to strangle the next prisoner to enter the room where they're trapped, only for Linda to be the one to enter...

8 Breaking the
Ceiling (5.11)

The first episode to be directed by Wendey Stanzler, and halfway through a very curious thing happens: while Gloria is escorting hostage guards out to release them, the entire thing turns into a pop music montage sequence. Orange Is The New Black has always, as previously noted, been good with its musical choices, but seeing a gloomy women's prison drama converted into some MOR split screen beach movie sequence with a Eric Hutchinson soundtrack is completely out of left field. Though considering another of the subplots almost homages Weekend At Bernie's it perhaps shouldn't be so much of a surprise.
     Thankfully the rest of the episode fares better, with numerous subplots that mix perverse drama and angered farce in the best OITNB tradition. There's not one standout, though seeing Suzanne in distress without her medication is particularly heartbreaking.
     Lastly, for a further example of bad continuity in this season, look out for Black Cindy's discussion of Judaism around 15 minutes into the episode... she makes her case by pointing with her left hand... only to cut to an instant reverse shot with her left hand in her pocket.

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