It all ended/started with a gun. In the final episode of Orange is the New Black’s explosive season four, audiences were left at the very definition of a cliffhanger with Daya (Dascha Polanco) pointing a gun at super-creep correctional officer Thomas Humphrey (Michael Torpey) as the prison teetered on the edge of an all-out riot. Season five starts exactly where the fourth ended, with the standoff between inmates and guards.
What unfolds is a version of Orange is the New Black unlike anything audiences have seen in past seasons.
Season five takes the rule book and torches it. Without giving away too much, the prisoners and guards go through a complete role reversal and the series departs from its usual format, with all 13 episodes taking place over a matter of days. Litchfield—or “Bitchfield” as its later renamed by some inmates—goes from prison to playground. Even though the outer doors are locked and barricaded, one important new element is finds its way into prison life: social media.
With access to the internet, the inmates get a piece of the freedom that was taken away from them when they first got locked up. Within a few clicks, they have unfiltered access to the society that they were cut off from.
Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and her crew—who are still reeling from the *spoiler alert* tragic death of Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley)—quickly make a video to get #JusticeForPoussey, only to realize that they don’t know how to use Twitter and YouTube properly.
“Man, for every year we in here, it’s like 100 Internet years,” says Taystee. “We ain’t never going to catch up.”
Some inmates, like Flaca (Jackie Cruz) and Maritza (Diane Guerrero), take to the newly introduced social streams faster than cat videos go viral. The duo combine forces to become Flaritza, an online vlogging team, uploading tutorials on how to do beauty behind bars. I won’t give it away, but according to their pro-tips: cinnamon, cumin and Sazón Goya might just be the secret recipe to a flawless face. (TBH, we hope this YouTube channel becomes a real thing.)
The clever use of social media pops up throughout the entire fifth season. While it may feel strange to see our fave OITNB characters scrolling through Instagram while in the cafeteria, the concept of helping prisoners connect to online networks is not new.
VICE reporter Seth Ferranti made the case for why prisons should let inmates use social media, in part, based on his own experience in the system.
“When I was in prison, I used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—through mailing hard copy letters to my wife—to build a career as a writer and stay in touch with my family, friends, and the world in general during my incarceration,” he wrote in 2016, shortly after various states moved to outlaw social media use in prisons. “Social media gave me hope and inspiration for a better life. It made me realize there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and that I could form and rekindle relationships with law-abiding citizens, instead of the criminals I was locked up with.”
That connection can also help the public get a taste of what it’s really like on “the inside.”
Last year, 21-year-old Natalia Stachowiak made national headlines for her updates from inside a Panamanian prison, uploaded using a contraband phone. Like characters in the latest season of Orange is the New Black, Stachowiak used the platform to showcase how the women were making it work, starting businesses like mani-pedi services or hair braiding in order to get extra cash, but also the treatment that the prisoners received.
The way society views criminals has long been a theme in Orange is the New Black, but this season may have the most direct message yet.
“The sad truth of it is, everyone in here is going to be way worse than when they started,” says Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning), in one of the many moments that will force audiences to reconsider the effectiveness of the corrections system.
If this season shows audiences anything, it’s the need for all people—prisoners or the public—to connect, and what can happen when we don’t.