ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

★★★★

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - HE­LEN O’HARA

We sen­tence you to an­other 12 to 13 hours of Net­flix’s crack­ing pri­son drama.

OUT NOW / NET­FLIX EPS VIEWED 13 OF 13

CRE­ATED BY Jenji Ko­han

CAST Kate Mul­grew, Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Natasha Ly­onne, Taryn Man­nig, Lav­erne Cox,

PLOT Af­ter last sea­son’s riot, the in­mates of Litch­field pri­son are moved to a max­i­mum se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity and must ne­go­ti­ate a stricter pri­son regime, and a new group of scary fel­low in­mates.

IT’S A STRANGE para­dox that Orange Is The New Black is si­mul­ta­ne­ously one of the best-writ­ten, best-cast, fun­ni­est shows on TV, and yet one of the hard­est to watch. What it says, over and over again, is that pri­son is self-per­pet­u­at­ing, cor­ro­sive and con­ta­gious: that once in the sys­tem it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to es­cape from its ef­fects. If the guards don’t slap you with fur­ther pun­ish­ments, your fel­low in­mates may act in a way that forces you to de­fend your­self and break more rules, or sur­vival might en­tail be­com­ing an en­tirely dif­fer­ent per­son than you were be­fore. The cor­rup­tion can spread to your fam­ily, to the guards, to the sys­tem it­self. How­ever good the sixth sea­son is — and if it is less fo­cused than last time, it’s still ex­cel­lent drama — it’s get­ting tough to carry on. The meta­ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing the show feels a lot like be­ing one of the in­mates

— with no clear end in sight.

If there’s a theme this sea­son, it’s feud­ing. The core cast has been moved to a new max­i­mum se­cu­rity unit af­ter last sea­son’s riot, bring­ing them into con­tact with a new set of in­mates. They’re thrown into a pri­son di­vided into three main camps with, inevitably, bad blood be­tween two of these blocks. Sis­ters Carol (Henny Rus­sell) and Barb (Macken­zie Phillips) com­prise one pair of en­e­mies; soon long-term al­lies Freida (Dale Soules) and Red (Kate Mul­grew) are also at log­ger­heads, as Red finds her­self truly pow­er­less for per­haps the first time. And Piper (Taylor Schilling) wor­ries about the post-riot fate of her fi­ancée Alex (Laura Pre­pon) be­fore she falls foul of her psy­chotic new room­mate Badi­son (Amanda Fuller).

The se­ries starts big, with a the­atri­cal, colour­ful se­ries of visions from Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren (Uzo Aduba), phys­i­cally trapped in soli­tary but given to flights of fancy. But this is not a sea­son given to much in the way of stylis­tic flour­ish; at times it feels as locked-down as the in­mates. Even the flash­backs are not used as ef­fec­tively as in pre­vi­ous years, though they at least of­fer a tiny, mo­men­tary break from the pri­son’s sti­fling at­mos­phere. Taystee (Danielle Brooks) faces the brunt of the le­gal fall­out from the riot, and her threat­ened rail­road­ing of­fers some of the most up­set­ting mo­ments of the se­ries.

But for all its faults, this is still com­pelling view­ing. The cast are won­der­ful, and the writ­ing sharp as a tack. And for all the dis­com­fort of watch­ing this bru­tal­ity and in­jus­tice, the som­bre tone is not un­earned. At least it’s bet­ter than be­ing there.

VER­DICT Af­ter the high stakes and high drama of last sea­son this is some­thing of a come­down, but thanks to the ex­tra­or­di­nary cast, it’s still en­thralling.

They were queu­ing round the block for the re­ally big pieces of pa­per.

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