Seeing a sequence played out by a cast as acclaimed as that of Orange is the New Black is a sight to behold, even if you’re just around for a two-scene string.
Inmate “Black Cindy” (played by Adrienne C. Moore and curiously in guard garb) wheels around what looks like a sedated Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), a.k.a. “Crazy Eyes,” who’s in a tense confrontation with Taystee (Danielle Brooks). They remember their cues, their marks, and when they stumble a bit over their lines, the director doesn’t need to yell out “Cut!” They start over, still steeped in whatever emotion carried them up to that point, and carry on.
There is an emergency, an overtaking, a riot going on around them at the Litchfield Correctional Facility, and the three prisoners seamlessly transition into another scene that’s been set up — this time, a tender one between on-again, off-again friends-with-benefits Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) and Lorna (Yael Stone).
The sequence is intense and happens towards the end of the fifth season of Orange is the New Black, Netflix’s most-watched original series, which comes out June 9.
Perhaps it’s the series’ version of a midlife crisis, but this season adopts a new format: capitalizing on the depth and spectrum of grief and oppression, its 13-episode run happens in almost real-time. We get a long, slow look at the characters’ unraveling over the three days that follow the accidental death of inmate and fan favorite, Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), at the hands of an incompetent corrections officer. It’s a death that resembles Eric Garner’s at the hands of the NYPD in 2014 during last season’s penultimate episode.
The prolonged gaze is often uncomfortable and unpleasant. At worst, the prison’s resulting situation feels infinitely hopeless.
Selenis Leyva, who plays inmate Gloria Mendoza, says: “These women really are going to have to kind of find a way to come together in order to survive what’s happening.”
Picking up after a hell of a Season four cliffhanger where Daya (Dascha Polanco) points a gun at two guards, the show defies, yet again, the conventions of storytelling: they show the gun at the end of the season, but it doesn’t go off just yet.
* * *