OITNB has become what a lot of people have wanted from the show - and I don't think they've had a season as good as this - but they could have done it differently to avoid the upset it's caused amongst POC and LGBT+ people.
Warning: End of season spoilers ahead!
I was lucky enough to attend the season premiere of Orange Is the New Black in Berlin last month. Amazing as it was, it left me hooked on Season 4 after just one episode, with no way of watching the rest for OVER A WEEK. So faced with a weekend home alone, with no responsibilities, I naturally finished the whole season in two days.
And what a season it was. Having not enjoyed the ‘Piper and Alex Show’ that 1-3 had been, I was skeptical for Season 4, even after watching Episode 1, and seeing Piper’s ‘gangsta with an A’ attitude. Orange Is the New Black has become the show a lot of shows want to be – actually addressing topical, relevant and serious issues, namely here, the relationship between guards who abuse their power and those on the receiving end of that abuse. But on the other hand, it’s becoming a show that people don’t want to see. It addressed some pretty big authority brutality issues this season, with the ‘bury your gays’ applying to OITNB as the dramatic finale sees Poussey (Samira Wiley) killed by guard Bayley (Alan Aisenberg). A black, gay woman – to prove a point, for an educational reason. While everyone understands why, for people that have the threat of prejudice for their race and sexuality on a day to day basis, it’s not exactly something they want or need to see in their entertainment.
The season had been building up to a pretty big revolt from the inmates. More prisoners arriving at Litchfield and Caputo’s staff walking out meant new CO’s were needed – the head of them, Captain Piscatella (Brad William Henke), came from a men’s high security facility. So you can imagine how lenient and kind he was to everyone…. Episode 12 ends with everyone in the cafeteria standing on the tables, reflecting Piscatella’s humiliating punishments for Blanca (Laura Gomez) and Piper (Taylor Schilling). When Suzanne (Uzo Abuda) starts freaking out, Piscatella tells Bayley to take her to psych, and when Poussey tries to calm Suzanne down, she ends up restrained under Bayley’s knee, saying she can’t breathe, and eventually, dying. Many people of colour have said it felt like the season was a lesson for white people. As my friend pointed out, the writers only have two people of colour, neither of whom are black. For a lot of people it feels like they have ignored their current viewers (bearing in mind they’ve advertised themselves as a show with a lot of female characters and a diverse cast), and it’s been written a completely different audience.
On it being a teaching moment, and people experiencing it in their day to day lives, we can see similarities to real life from Bayley’s and Poussey’s flashbacks. Bayley, a white man, is shown to have so much white privilege, when he just gets a warning for trespassing, and him and his friends having a joint on them in his youth. Poussey is in Litchfield partly for trespassing, partly for having weed on her with intent to sell. Similar crimes, different repercussions.
It just completely breaks my heart to look back at what I said in our pre-release expectations article:
“Also – this is just pure speculation – but one of the photos shows Poussey (Samira Wiley) talking with, smiling at, and generally looking adorable with an unknown inmate. Could she get into a relationship? Will there be yet another adorable lesbian couple in OITNB? I love her character and really want her to have a happy ending. But, there are three more seasons of Orange Is the New Black to follow, so there’s definitely time.”
They completely led us to think she’d be okay and happy, and then just showed how unchecked organisations can erase marginalised people, and then try to make a story to cover themselves before even calling the police. They killed her to tell this story.
And while everyone had their own story this season, the finale obviously dealt with the aftermath of her death. Suzanne tries to experience what it is like to suffocate, by piling books on herself and eventually a bookcase; Red (Kate Mulgrew) keeps her family busy; Judy King (Blair Brown) is given the opportunity to leave after seeing the dehumanising effect prison can have; but it’s Taystee (Danielle Brooks), being Caputo’s (Nick Sandow) assistant, who really sums up what everyone is thinking. “What are you asking me?” she retorts, “If she deserved to die?!” Poussey didn’t have a knife, she didn’t act aggressively in any way – and even if she did, could that really justify her death? “Ain’t NOTHING she could’ve done that called for that!”
Taystee, hearing Caputo’s statement, storms into her dorm shouting “They didn’t even say her name!”, leading to everyone marching into a riot from their racially segregated dorms. The COs can’t do anything. The gun villainous guard Humphrey (Michael Torpey) has brought in slides along the floor, into the hands of Daya (Dascha Polanco). The season ends in a literal whirlwind as the camera pans around her, everyone shouting at her what to do, as she aims it at his head.
Season 4 was more than I was expecting, and I don’t even have the words to comment on Lolly (Lori Petty), the tragedy of Suzanne’s backstory, or Alex (Laura Prepon) and the garden. But I’m here to comment on the finale, and it could have honestly been so much more than it was. Part educational, part a hurtful reminder for the marginalised of their lives, completely emotional and heartbreaking. Litchfield tried to erase Poussey, an already marginalised woman, and it brought them to the breaking point, with everyone together. We can only wait and see what the effects of this will be in Season 5.
Orange Is the New Black‘s fourth season is available in its entirety via Netflix.