Orange is the New Black dropped its final season, season 7, on Netflix recently. I, like many others, devoted a good part of a weekend to watching the last ever episodes of this groundbreaking marvel of a television masterpiece roll by.
Every season has a social justice theme. Season 7 was about ICE, immigration detention, and how the criminal justice system tears families apart. OITNB powerfully makes it clear that America is not doing justice, immigration, or rehabilitation right.
In terms of the individual characters and their stories, season 7 was nostalgic, it was heartbreaking, it was joyful. People got out of prison, people got thrown back in prison. People died. People lived. People went crazy. People were cowards. People were courageous. People were evil. People were good. There was love and hate and kindness and despair.
Somehow, in 13 episodes, there was a way to say goodbye to all the characters. Even if we didn’t like how every story ended, all our favorite characters were there. Some only for a brief moment, but they were there.
A few new characters came into the immigration detention center storyline. Karla (Karina Arroyave) was an important one because she had legal knowledge. She helped Blanca.
So many issues were locked up in the detention center with the immigrants. Rapes, ignorance of legal rights, language barriers.
Shani (Marie-Lou Nahhas), an Egyptian woman who had been genitally mutilated by her parents, had a romance with Nicky, who was working in the detention center kitchen. Her situation introduced a new issue involving sex into the series when it seemed like every possibility had been covered.
I’m not giving you spoilers and individual storylines here, but Bustle gives it all away.
There were no bad performances in Orange is the New Black. Every actor showed up and did a fantastic job making their character real and believable and human. These were nuanced, complicated, growing women.
There are a few people I thought were superlative among the acting talent. Uzo Aduba was amazing in every circumstance, season after season. She’s one of the most talented American actors, period.
Danielle Brooks is another member of the cast whose performances were brilliant season after season.
Finally, I found Selenis Leyva head and shoulders above the crowd in performance terms.
I’m probably not being 100% fair singling out these three, because everyone was so damn good. But as I was watching I often found myself thinking about their extraordinary talent.
The Meaning of the Performances
It isn’t just the quality of the performances from everyone involved in Orange is the New Black. It’s also what those performances meant in cultural terms. Orange is the New Black has blown the ceiling off diversity and women’s stories forever.
Laverne Cox took her recognition and acceptance as a loved character on this show and ran with it. She brought transgender issues and understanding to a whole nation through this series.
It was the pretty blonde lady (Taylor Schilling) who took us into and out of the story. It was the real Piper Kerman who wrote the book that lead to this series, and who consulted on the story every step of the way. Being a white woman, I can tell you that white women get blamed for a lot of things – like electing the idiot in the White House – but in the case of OITNB, the white woman started it all.
But it wasn’t the white lady who became what the story was about. She was just a part of the larger tale told by many women of many different ethnic backgrounds. Stories about black and brown women. Asian women. Christians, Jews, Muslims. The diversity of every woman.
Oh, the sex. Characters we loved were bi, or lesbian, or straight. Every sexuality. They were masculine or feminine. Remember Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and her strap on? Remember every sex scene Natasha Lyonne made feel real? Oh, right, that was all of them. Remember the epic, 7 season love stories between Piper and Alex (Laura Prepon) or between Blanca (Laura Gómez) and Diablo (Miguel Izaguirre)? The performances ran the gamut.
Characters were old and young. They were mothers and sisters and daughters. They were deep and shallow and broken and whole. Every woman.
The friendships among the women saved minds and lives. Women’s friendships were the girdle holding in all the diverse events of OITNB.
All those performances were a guide into the broken prison system, the horrors of America’s legal system, the terrors of power and greed and inequality. OITNB opened our eyes to the desperate need for prison reform, police reform, legal reform, and reform in the care of the mentally ill. It did that very well by using a huge cast of characters and storylines that captured us season after season. Women’s stories.
Some Lovely Season 7 Surprises
I loved Suzanne and CO Dixon (Mike Houston) getting the whole cell block singing about Mountain Dew in a beautiful counterpoint duet for Tiffany ‘Pennsatucky’ Doggett (Taryn Manning).
I loved that everyone came back for at least a hot minute – even the chicken.
I loved that Laura Prepon and Natasha Lyonne directed episodes of the final season.
I loved that Taystee found a way to honor Poussey.
The Poussey Washington Fund
What better way honor the insights offered by Orange is the New Black than to make a donation in Poussey’s honor?
A Pinnable Poster made with Fan Art
The Farewell Show
I haven’t mentioned the show’s creator Jenji Kohan yet. But the actors do it for me in this farewell video.
So, time for you to share. What did you think about season 7? What did you love about the show? What made the most powerful impression on you?