Your favourite inmates are back. But it isn’t home as we know it for the ladies of Litchfield. Season Six of the hit Netflix show sees a select few of Litchfield’s felons sent to the prison’s maximum-security unit as the scapegoats for season five’s riot. In a desperate bid to cover their backs and curb the ensuing PR scandal, the fat cats at MCC are ready and raring to throw a carefully selected few under the bus.

Operating in foreign territory, the gang must separate and learn how to navigate prison bloc warfare, merciless COs, and a system hellbent on keeping them down. A change of scenery was a good ploy to keep things fresh for viewers, but the show’s effort to incorporate numerous storylines (a more cynical critic might say that there were too many) may leave the viewer feeling detached. It also felt as though some characters were only included to establish their appearance in the next season, which renders their presence a little hollow.

Having said this, noteworthy performances from Danielle Brooks (Taystee), Kate Mulgrew (Red), and Uzo Aduba (Suzanne) provide the emotional backbone of the series. Brooks delivers a particularly moving performance as Taystee, with the fallout from last season’s riot, following the death of her friend Poussey (Samira Wiley) at the hands of a guard, providing the emotional undercurrent for the season.  It was also very satisfying to see the show explore Taystee’s relationship with ex-warden Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow). Admittedly, this felt at first as though the creators were scraping the bottom of the character arch barrel. Yet, as the season progresses their relationship dynamic really takes hold, making for some tantalising performances.

As ever, the show intertwines an engaging plot with poignant themes. The sixth season hones in on racial privilege (or lack of, with the show placing some focus on the Black Lives Matter campaign), corporate corruption, and the dehumanising effect of the carceral system. By weaving this sort of honest and raw material in with the laughs and drama, the show becomes far more potent than your average TV binge.

Pacing is a bit of an issue for this season, which only properly gains momentum about two thirds through, with the tension rising to the expected level in time for the finale. Despite this, the cross-cutting between on-goings in the carceral-world and the outside-world creates an enjoyable juxtaposition, as it makes the gang warfare between prison blocks seem relatively trivial. In turn, by pulling the viewer out of one reality and into another, the show leads one to question the nature of morality.

A word must be said about the soundtrack. The show usually delivers high quality vocals, but with the silky tones of Moses Sumney, Angel Olsen, and Weyes Blood gracing our audio, Season Six flies high and above the rest in terms of musicality.

In essence, this season successfully delivers a fair amount of excitement, tension and tears – but it does not quite pack the same punch we’ve come to expect. Perhaps producers prematurely signed on for more seasons than they could guarantee a deliverance of quality for. Despite this, in places Season Six does defy expectation, and it is in these places where OITNB really resonates.

3 stars

Image Credit: Movie DB.

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