What an incredible season of television for “Orange is the New Black“. The season started on a wild ride; the murder of the hitman sent to kill Alex, an influx of new inmates, a completely new group of guards. Tensions have been long simmering and this slow-burn became a fire last episode with the devastating death of fan favorite, the beloved Poussey Washington. To know her was to love her, and her friends are going to experience deep grief for a long time to come over her loss, much like we will. This is the last chance for the season to see the sadistic group of corrections officers either get what they have coming, or just completely break these women. After 4 seasons with them, we know them well enough to know they should never be underestimated.
In this season’s finale, “Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again”, Poussey is on a bus with he friends, on their way to The Roots concert, celebrating a last hurrah before she leaves America for Amsterdam to start a new life. She is happy, smiling and hopeful. Back in present day Litchfield, Piscitella is briefing Caputo on her death. The story he has decided on is that she got violent and attacked Bayley, giving him no choice. Caputo has had enough of Piscitella, and orders him to go home. When he pushes back, Caputo threatens to tell his secrets, including the apparently scandalous reason behind his transfer to the women’s minimum prison from the men’s max facility. This concerns Piscitella enough to obey the command, but not before spitting out his gum on the cafeteria floor in a final act of defiance. The cops have not been called yet, and Poussey’s body lay coldly where she died, covered by a blanket. She deserves so much better than this.
Of all the guards to be responsible for the death of Poussey, the last one you would expect would be Bayley. While he has straddled the line between staying true to his morals and wanting to fit in with the other guards, he is mostly good and has never hurt anyone.He is confused about what’s going on, and tells Caputo what he remembers before asking if Poussey will be okay. He doesn’t even know yet.
The women are grieving and the anger has boiled over. The guards order them to their bunks, where Suzanne stacks books on top of her body in order to know what suffocating feels like. They are all processing what happened in their own way, shock, devastation, disbelief, confusion, and they’re mad. They want answers. Piper crosses paths with Bayley in the hall as he’s approaching C-Dorm to tell Poussey’s friends it was an accident, and how sorry he is. She warns him they’re not ready to hear that, so he begs her to tell them for him. We feel badly for him, he is clearly destroyed by what has happened. When Dixon drives him home, he tells him deeply disturbing stories about murders against innocents he committed while serving overseas. He mentions having what sounds like PTSD, and it becomes apparent that if Dixon struggles with some semblance of guilt, that there is no hope for Bayley to be able to live with it.
The kitchen crew arrives for breakfast and realizes Poussey is still laying there. Red warns CO McCullough that they have around a day at best before decomposition leaves a permanent smell of death in the dining hall. They reassemble breakfast to be served outside. Poussey’s friends are rightfully upset that she is still there, but the other inmates are being very kind to them and leaving gifts as condolences. Janae demands Taystee tell Caputo to have Bayley arrested and get Poussey off the floor. Taystee is stunned when Caputo admits he hasn’t notified Poussey’s father of her death yet. He’s trying, but his hands are tied.
Legal is looking for evidence of violence in Poussey’s past, but of course there is none. They’ll settle for anything, even a picture that “appears” menacing, as long as they crop out the cute bunny ears. They refuse to contact the authorities until they get a story together that will absolve them from legal responsibility. The photo they’re looking at is from the night Poussey is with her friends at The Roots concert, which ends up being a cover band version called The Rootz. A club-goer steals her phone and she gives chase. She gets lost, and never finds the thief. She’s walking the streets alone, and a young Bayley walks past her, chatting with his friends. She notices him, two strangers passing on the street, their fates intertwined. She ends up having a surreal experience meeting strangers, including drag queens who invite her into the club. She finally reconnects with her friends on the phone and gets the address they’re at. Her night gets increasingly magical, with monks on lit up bicycles giving her a lift.
Pennsatucky and Boo enter the dining hall where “Donuts” Coates is guarding the body. When he becomes emotional, Pennsatucky offers to go talk with him privately, to Boo’s chagrin. He can’t handle being in the prison any longer, he sees what it turns everyone into. She wants him to stay and kisses him, which sets off his strong sexual urges. It doesn’t turn into anything, but this dynamic is so compelling. Are we supposed to forgive him, like she has? It’s hard to go that far. But we do recognize that he is trying, and he learned something. But toast can never be bread again.
In the garden, Red is doing her best to make her group of friends feel safe and comforted. She decides they will rebuild the garden–inspired and in tribute to Poussey–but later confesses to Frieda she senses trouble, and keeping her girls busy means keeping them out of it. Nicky calls Morello out on her fantasy life in her mind. She confesses to Nicky that she’s blowing it again, with Vinny this time. Piper notices Alex acting strangely and catches her leaving a note in the garden. She’s written down the name of the hitman she killed, and has been leaving the notes scattered throughout Litchfield. Piper convinces her to retrieve them all, and even though Alex feels deeper guilt because it turns out that she knew him, to let it go. Angie and Leann find the hooch, get drunk and destroy the time machine, as they believe it to be cursed.
MCC ordered Judy King released early, to backdate it to before Poussey died. They don’t want her attached to it, but she was attached to Poussey and cared about her a great deal. She is affected by her loss just like we are, because (as mentioned) to know Poussey is to love her. Soso knows this better than anyone, and is broken into pieces over her loss, getting drunk on Hooch Poussey had hidden. She hears a loud bang in the library and finds Suzanne buried underneath a huge shelf. She finally succeeded in her mission, and lucky for her Soso was there to save her life. Suzanne is sent to medical, and ends up next to the battered Kukudio. MCC’s new angle is to throw Bayley under the bus as an aggressive, violent guard who murdered her. Caputo knows that it’s all ambiguous, and really was a tragic accident, brought upon by Piscitella’s command. EMS finally arrives to take her body. Sankey makes a joke about it and takes a hit to face from Janae. When Cindy and Janae get a look at Alison’s bright red hair, they laugh uncontrollably. It’s either that or fall apart.
Caputo shows up for his press conference implicating Bayley as criminally responsible for Poussey’s death. Taystee listens in. They’ve prepared a statement for him to follow which makes Bayley sound like Humps. He is disgusted and excuses himself to do what he knows should’ve been done long ago. He calls Poussey’s father to break the terrible news. When Caputo starts to read the statement on camera, he goes of script. He stands behind Bayley, and Taystee finally boils over with rage. They’re ready to revolt. All of the groups of women are storming the halls, ready to confront their tormentors. Judy King is being released in the midst of the fracas, with Humps and McCullough guarding her. Humps has been hiding a gun strapped to his ankle, which slides across the floor when Maritza pushes him as he he tries to draw it. Daya picks it up while everyone around her chants and shouts. She points it at them both and tells them to get down. The women finally unite against the common enemy once and for all.
Back in Poussey’s one perfect night, she learns the Monks are actually a group performing improv. She is full of energy, life, possibility. The future is bright for her and she is ready to get it. The final shot of the season is from Poussey, who breaks the fourth wall and looks directly into the camera, smiling. Happy.
This was such an experience this season. We have so many questions. The guards are finally at the mercy of the inmates they’ve tortured. What will Daya do?? Did she shoot Humps? Alex and Piper are in a good place again, bound by tragedy and poor choices. We wonder if Donuts will really quit, or what will happen with him and Pennsatucky going forward. Nicky is struggling with getting clean, can she last? Is Morello going to lose her mind again? How will Suzanne and Kukudio co-exist now? Will all of the women stop dividing among racial lines and learn more about each other in the wake of Poussey’s death, like how she lived? We recall earlier in the season, when Soso and Poussey talk about lucid dreaming. The surreal, happy experience she had on her one amazing night before getting busted felt like a dream to us. Was it her way of being in that state of limbo, not ready to pass to the other side until she was able to come to terms with her reality, or alter it in a way she needed to move on? Either way, she was happy. She left happy, and she deserved that. We are so excited to know that Netflix has renewed the show for at least 3 more seasons. We will be here to cover it all for you next year when season 5 kicks off. Grade: A+.
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This review was written by Michelle Wilmot and if you’re not already following her on Twitter, you can do so at the link here. (Photo: Netflix)