sat 19/08/2017

Orange Is the New Black, Season 5, Netflix review - counterpoint in a three-day prison riot | reviews, news & interviews

Orange Is the New Black, Season 5, Netflix review - counterpoint in a three-day prison riot

Orange Is the New Black, Season 5, Netflix review - counterpoint in a three-day prison riot

Jenji Kohan's drama narrows the time span but enriches its characters and storylines

Piper (Taylor Schilling), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Janae (Vicky Jeudy), Cindy (Adrienne C Moore) and Alison (Amanda Stephen) burn the MCC's bribesNetflix

Rippling outward from the initial story of a seemingly nice WASP woman who finds herself having to adapt in a women's prison, Orange Is the New Black quickly developed into the most multilayered, almost indigestibly rich of American TV dramas. By the second series, it had become a tricky-to-balance polyphonic symphony, giving its mushrooming cast of important characters a plethora of vital story-lines, combining themes, forging unlikely alliances. Season Five, scripted by 11 writers including the creator Jenji Kohan, had a brainwave of an idea: focus on the three-day life of a prison riot, limiting the time-scale and turning the tables so that the prisoners become the guards, and see how they behave given the fragile sense of freedom and power.

All 30 or so of its leading characters – the official hierarchy gives us 17, but that’s too limiting – seem credible. That’s even true of the initial protagonist, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), whom people I know would discuss as "not very likeable" or “phoney” in the early stages, confusing the actor with the character as they pledged their allegiances, just as the series intended, to her sassy, sexy, dangerous girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). These two forged perhaps the least interesting strand of the most recent series, at least until the tenderness of the penultimate episode. More interesting, to me at any rate, are the wise ex-drug addict with a penchant for re-addiction (Natasha Lyonne) and her on-off relationship with manic-depressive Italo-American Lorna Morello (Yael Stone, the two pictured below). There’s also the messed-up developing love story between Lea DeLaria’s butch wisecracker, strutting around in a suit as MC half the time, and the private company’s director of purchasing who masquerades as an inmate (Beth Dover).Scene from Orange is the New BlackWe all have our special sympathies. Mine have always been with the wildly articulate and funny team known as the "Black Girls Group", out of which Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson now steps to become the one born to lead under different circumstances, ultimately a towering semi-tragic figure in the performance of the season from Danielle Brooks. The demands she puts together to a corrupt Management and Correction Corporation (MCC) – better healthcare, provision of tampons, decent food, the simple desire not to be treated like animals, among others – prove that reality bites; only a couple of days ago Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker were calling for new rights to support the dignity of women prisoners (fat chance under Trump).

Season Five’s chief focus was bound to be on Taystee, her riotously funny pal “Black Cindy” (Adrienne C Moore) and sensible Muslim Alison Abdullah (Amanda Stephen), since the riot stemmed from the accidental death of a good friend (I'm trying to avoid spoilers in case you're not up to speed, but it's tricky). The other figure who tears at our souls is the beloved fringe member of their group, super-intelligent but mentally ill Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren (Uzo Aduba, a phenomenal actress, pictured below). Again, issues of mental health are central, as they are in all real-life prisons; they're epitomised in a funny-scary vein when Lorna takes charge of the pharmacy, and in the shape of the former meth addicts Angie (Julie Lake) and Leanne (Emma Myles), Falstaffian Ladies of Misrule. It's typical of the scriptwriters' Tolstoyan attitude to character that you feel a little sorry even for these monstrous big kids.Uzo Aduba in Orange is the New BlackThere's more wit and pathos from the Hispanic contingent – at one extreme the two who set up as vlogging style icons (Jackie Cruz and Diane Guerrero), at the other the hugely sympathetic mother-confessor Gloria (Selenis Leyva) whose desperation to see her son in hospital triggers another crisis. And in the ensemble work, the guards held hostage are also central; at the peak of the initial adrenalin rush, there's a scary-wild “Litchfield Idol” show in which the meth heads slave-drive the ransomed “contestants”.

Dramatic pace, in fact, is nearly always pitch-perfect: one episode deals with a brief afternoon idyll, another with a Gothic nightmare including the dramatic reappearance of gay-bear warder Piscatella (Brad William Henke), and the denouement is so superbly balanced that just as your eyes begin to prick with tears, it's on to the next thing and laughter takes over. No higher compliment could be paid to a series like this than that you care about the characters and believe in their reality. It's going to be a long wait now to find out... Well, I feel another spoiler coming on, so let's just leave it at “what happens next”.

Reality bites: only a couple of days ago Elizabeth Warren was calling for new rights to support the dignity of women prisoners

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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