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Orange is the New Black season 5 review: the inmates fight back

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 09/06/2017 By Isabel Mohan

© Provided by The Telegraph The last season of Orange is the New Black was the most powerful and affecting to date. The shocking, tragic death of Poussey (Samira Wiley) – one of the show’s most-loved characters, both by viewers and her fellow inmates at Litchfield prison – was seriously traumatic and took the show, previously a drama with quite a bit of comedy, into newly dark territory.

As season five begins (read the story so far here), the inmates are no more over Poussey’s death than we are – because the action kicks off right where we left it, with the usually (relatively) well-behaved Dayanara Diaz (Dascha Polanca) aiming a gun at loathsome guard Humps (Michael Torpey). In fact, in a risky experimental move, all 13 episodes of season five take place over just three days.

But what an eventful three days they are, as Litchfield descends into total chaos as the inmates take over. “It’s like a party, except terrifying,” the enchantingly deranged Lorna Morello (Yael Stone) notes accurately.

There are times when the action drags, and presumably that’s exactly how it feels in prison, but for the most part, this season is full of fascinating insight into some of the show’s strongest emerging characters, with former leads like Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Laura Prepon) taking something of a back seat.

The brilliant Taystee (Danielle Brooks) is at the forefront of much of the drama, fervently leading negotiations with the authorities to try and get justice for her best friend Poussey – no mean feat when many of her fellow inmates are more concerned with getting their grubby hands on Cheetos than fighting the system. 

Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva), one of the show’s matriarchal figures, also has serious matters on her mind, as she grapples with a huge dilemma: putting herself and her family first, but risking alienating herself from her 400 fellow inmates who are, of course, varying degrees of utterly terrifying. 

As well as being the possessor of one of TV’s finest resting b**** faces, Leyva is a fantastic actress. Powerful characters like Gloria are what makes Orange is the New Black so great – we know that these women would steal our handbags, stalk our husbands and plant drugs in our luggage, and yet somehow they still make us root for them, while the supposed “goodies” – the prison authorities – are largely abhorrent.

Speaking of abhorrent, until now meth-heads Angie (Julie Lake) and Leanne (Emma Myles) have mainly been comedy sidekicks to some of the more serious characters. This season, their true, vile colours rise to the surface, with a taste of power turning them into monsters. They’re truly a gruesome twosome, and even have us feeling sorry for their former friend, the more nuanced and complex Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (Taryn Manning). 

Instead, this season’s much-needed light relief comes from “Flaritza”, aka young, glamorous Latina duo Maritza (Diane Guerrero) and Flaca (Jackie Cruz). When most inmates finally get their hands on a smartphone, they call their families, but these two have bigger priorities, rapidly becoming beauty vlogging sensations, sharing their tips on how to contour and apply winged eyeliner with Litchfield’s limited resources, and against a backdrop of utter chaos and terror. 

Overall though – and particularly in the scenes involving Red (Kate Mulgrew) and captain of the guards Piscatella (Brad William Henke) – this season feels like a particularly well-written horror film, with so many increasingly macabre twists and turns that OITNB is starting to make Breaking Bad look like Teletubbies. 

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