Following the “Litchfield’s Got Talent; festivities, the ladies are ripped out of their various states of intoxicated slumber when the power suddenly jumps back on thanks to a YouTube electrical tutorial and Gina’s (Abigail Savage) stubborn determination. The TV room comes alive with enthusiastic chatter about meerkats—just a little livelier than Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) can handle at 6:47 a.m., but not as bad as the headache caused by the latest headlines surrounding their protest: The news channels’ major concern isn’t the appalling conditions under which the Litchfield ladies are forced to live, but what they have dubbed a terrorist hostage situation involving “the red states’ favorite chef,” Judy King (Blair Brown).
With only one doctor left in the medical ward, the women are coming to realize just how dire the situation could become, and the first warning signs are already well on their way. Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), who holds her risk for hallucinations and emotional outbursts in check by staying on a very strict schedule and making regular trips to the psychiatric ward, is starting to suffer under the chaos of the riot. Fortunately, Gloria (Selenis Leyva), though initially irritated by Suzanne’s insistence on keeping up her day-to-day routine, recognizes the importance of putting on a show of normalcy for her.
But Suzanne isn’t the only one in danger of spiraling out of control. Leanne (Emma Myles) and Angie (Julie Lake) down cough syrup and any other pharmaceuticals they can get their hands on until their puke turns purple. On top of that, Donuts (James McMenamin), who’s remained in hiding thus far with the help of Doggett (Taryn Manning), accidentally shoots the tip of Leanne’s index finger off when they finally capture him. For the moment, most ladies are too busy having fun running the prison on their own terms, and even adopt their own trial and punishment system to determine Doggett’s fate. Some are convinced it’ll all be over soon, while others struggle with an urgent question: What is going to happen to us?
Fully aware of the consequences they’ll face once Piscatella (Brad William Henke) gets the go-ahead to storm the prison, Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Blanca (Laura Gómez) are on a mission to out him as the sadistic swine he truly is. High on supposedly natural energy pills, they turn his office upside down in search of evidence to support their case and strike gold whilst slurping on McCullough’s (Emily Tarver) green smoothies and fantasizing about paddle-boarding: a box containing files on Piscatella longer than Infinite Jest. To their horror, he is more of a monster than they could have imagined; he once killed an inmate who was found with severe burns over 80% of his body. Worst of all, they realize that Caputo (Nick Sandow) knew all along and did nothing to prevent Piscatella from possibly doing the same at Litchfield.
Orange Is the New Black has always had a knack for pairing the most unlikely characters together, and Red (“The Mad Russian”) and Blanca (“The Eyebrow”) are, without a doubt, my favorite duo since Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Doggett joined forces. Watching these two communicating perfectly in their respective languages (Russian and Spanish—not exactly similar in sound or execution) and growing more obsessed with the task at hand is hilarious. But as is true for most genius ideas conceived during wild drug benders, Red and Blanca’s plan to lure Piscatella into the prison and force a confession out of him is just plain wacky.
My favorite flashback of the season so far is Frieda’s (Dale Soules)—I’ve always liked the no-shit-taking ol’ bat and have been eager to get to know more about her. “Fuck, Marry, Frieda” certainly did not disappoint, and I was far from surprised to learn she was raised a survivalist. But Janae’s (Vicky Jeudy) flashbacks in “Sing it, White Effie” may be even better: The episode informs her character, the current situation at Litchfield and the world at large all at once. Janae, who was always a gifted student and athlete, came to recognize what it means to be a black woman in a white world at a young age. While being asked to stand idly by as her white peers engaged in shameless cultural appropriation, the realization that she would never be granted the same opportunities shaped her understanding of the world and the privileged people in it.
So, when Taystee (Danielle Brooks) insists on making Judy act as the spokeswoman for their protest, knowing full well that their audience will respond better to the “plight” of a white, middle-aged celebrity, Janae is understandably upset. In her eyes, advantaged white girls have no business taking on their fight, because they’ve never experienced what it means to be poor and brown, and refuse to acknowledge how being white, rich and powerful immediately puts them ahead of the game. But listening to Judy’s infuriatingly false words doesn’t sit right with Taystee and, to Janae’s relief, she takes over, doing Poussey right by delivering an emotionally charged speech before pushing Judy towards the reporters and setting her free—much to the dismay of Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), who still had grand plans of making Judy tend to her “African sunflower.”
Meanwhile, Frieda invites her chosen tribe—Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman), Anita (Lin Tucci), Gina (Abigail Savage), Gloria and Norma (Annie Golden)—to join her in her spacious hideout, fit for prison royalty. Frieda has been anticipating this day for a long, long time and has it all sorted. They have enough provisions, space and entertainment to get them through the riot, if not their entire prison sentences.
The very next day, the governor’s office meets the prisoner’s demands in the form of hot Cheetos, Takis and tampons, and expects them to hand over their hostages in return. Livid, Taystee, Cindy, Janae and Alison (Amanda Stephen) proceed to confiscate the chips from the happily munching inmates. Dumping a huge pile of the snacks in front of the guards, police and press outside of the prison, they video-call the governor’s representative and invite her to watch their hot Cheetos and Takis go up in flames—literally—and demand to be taken “motherfucking serious.”
Read all of Paste’s reviews of Orange Is the New Black Season Five here.
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.