The prison bars clang shut, then the pounding first beats of Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time” start each episode of Orange is the New Black. But entering the series finale, something is different. Instead of the rockin’ anthem we associate with the ladies of Litchfield, “You’ve Got Time” has been reworked into an orchestral piece, setting the stage for an emotional farewell.
The Last Time We Were in Prison
The past 6 seasons have been a long, heartbreaking and occasionally uplifting journey. There’s too much to remember, so I recommend watching the recap before diving into the the 7th and final season.
A major focus of this season is the new branch of the Litchfield Correctional System, an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention center. Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) is back as the “ICE queen” running the center. Featuring new and familiar characters as detainees and cleverly developing a story that links the ICE facility to the other prisoners in “max,” viewers are given a look into the specific struggles of immigrants in detention centers.
Continuing with current events, Season 7 integrates storylines about Me Too, the gender wage gap, abortion and the struggles faced by inmates after their release. As in every season, creator Jenji Kohan is committed to spotlighting the brokenness of the American Judicial and Prison System.
In case you missed it, Pipex is the ship name for Piper and Alex. Pipex faces new challenges with Piper starting her life over on the outside as Alex contends with the drama in Litchfield Max, serving the remaining years of her sentence.
Gee That’s Taystee
Danielle Brooks delivers a powerhouse performance as Taystee grapples with the outcome of last season’s trial. Season 6 saw Taystee sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a prison guard that she did not commit. Her search for meaning in a life of captivity and monotony brings some of the most poignant and inspiring moments of the season.
Selenis Leyva (Gloria) also gives a standout performance this season. Gloria struggles to stay out of trouble as her prison release date approaches. Her head tells her to assist detainees at the ICE detention center but her heart knows her kid’s need her at home. Her story will bring about a heroic and selfless act from an unexpected source.
Arcs and Circles
Watching Season 7, viewers can’t help but notice the profound influence prison has had on the inmates. They may try to hold fiercely to who they were before incarceration, but the violence, sorrow, drugs and dehumanization of prison acts a crucible. Some will seek redemption while others become lost in addiction or increasingly menacing criminal activity. In seven seasons, the change in characters like Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) and Daya (Dascha Polanco) are nothing short of staggering.
Lockin’ It Down
In the end, Orange is the New Black is a story about prison. Sure there are going to be triumphs, but there is no way to maintain any semblance of realism without a healthy portion of tragedy. We are treated to some lighter moments, some Outlander references and moments of justice, but this show has never been for the faint of heart.
As the series ends, there are appearances from inmates who’ve been MIA since the prison riot of Season 5. Despite hardships and injustice, OITNB ends in lightness. Oh, and there are chickens.