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Orange Is the New Black Refresher: Five Storylines to Remember

With the final season of the Netflix dramedy debuting this week, here's where we left off.
  • Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) officiated Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex's (Laura Prepon) prison wedding in Orange is the New Black Season 6. (Netflix)
    Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) officiated Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex's (Laura Prepon) prison wedding in Orange is the New Black Season 6. (Netflix)

    When Orange Is the New Black debuted in 2013, no one could have predicted the impact Netflix would have on the way television is made and consumed. As one of the first Netflix originals, it was a canary in a coal mine that reaped many rewards as it pushed the kinds of boundaries previously associated with premium cable. On July 26, the seventh and final season of Orange Is the New Black lands on the streaming platform, bringing with it the end of an era. But before we wave bon voyage to the women of Litchfield, there are a number of storylines that need wrapping up.

    Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, creator Jenji Kohan took what was essentially a story about one white woman’s prison experience and used it as a jumping-off point to explore a diverse range of topics including race relations, LGBTQ rights, the prison industrial complex, abuse, sexual assault, addiction, and immigration. Balancing tragedy and comedy in a world this oppressive is no easy task, especially when weaved with some of the show's "ripped from the headlines" storylines. The murder of fan-favorite Poussey (Samira Wiley) at the end of Season 4 led to a season-long prison riot the following year, which was ambitious in scope but was called out for being a caricature of the Black Lives Matter movement. In dealing with the riot fallout in penultimate season, those who were deemed responsible were moved to the maximum-security facility. New characters, alliances, and grudges helped reinvigorate the flagging narrative.

    Can’t remember who was blamed for C.O. Piscatella’s (Brad William Henke) death or the characters who were freed in the final episode? Not to worry: here's a pre-final season OITNB refresher with all you need to know.

    Taystee Took the Fall

    Friendly fire during prison raid killed Piscatella; however, in a cruel twist, the SWAT team found a smoking gun of sorts, covering up their blunder by framing one of the Litchfield women. The FBI didn't care who actually did the deed, but they needed someone to take the fall. Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and Cindy’s (Adrienne C. Moore) fingerprints were on the weapon, which the FBI used as leverage to get Cindy to sell out her friend. Along with Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), Cindy witnessed the SWAT team cover-up, but in a system stacked against her, she took the plea deal offered to her.

    Taystee refused to take the blame for something she didn’t do, pleading not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder. It didn't matter that there wasn't sufficient evidence, the game is rigged, and Taystee was found guilty. Season 6 ends with a life sentence added to Taystee’s time, despite the support of the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow). Any sense of hope has been crushed.

    The Kickball Game That Stopped a Gang War

    The war between inmates on C and D-Block had been brewing for years as a result of the decades-long battle between sisters Carol (Henny Russell) and Barb (Mackenzie Phillips), who were in prison for murdering their younger sibling. Lines were divided between those who wore blue (C-Block) and khaki (D-Block), as the new residents end up on sides they had little or no choice in. Piper’s (Taylor Schilling) attempt to keep busy saw her campaign to bring back the C versus D-Block kickball game, the last of which ended in violence decades earlier.

    The pink ladies of the neutral B-Block (or "Florida") included Suzanne, Sophia (Laverne Cox), Doggett (Taryn Manning), and also Frieda (Dale Soules), who started her sentence in max in the 1980s, but after snitching on Carol she scored a transfer to minimum-security. Now plunged back into max and in Barb and Carol's sights again and fearing for her life, she told the FBI that Red (Kate Mulgrew) was a riot instigator, adding another enemy to her long list. Frieda spent most of Season 6 convinced someone was going to murder her, which is what Barb and Carol intended to do using the kickball game as a distraction. But when both teams decided to play rather than shiv each other, the paranoid sisters turned on each other. The season ended with them both bleeding out, leaving a power vacuum at the top.

    MCC Rebranded and Caputo Grew a Spine

    Riots and death are terrible for a business portfolio, and after months of embarrassing scandals, MCC became PolyCon. Linda (Beth Dover) got a hefty promotion after blackmailing her superiors and was given the reins on the prison's restructuring and PR push. Getting into bed with ICE was the next step, as PolyCon has now gone into the Immigration Detention Center business. As part of the restructuring, 25 inmates were granted early release, including Sophia (after she was approached to be part of a civil suit against MCC to help with Taystee’s case). In an incredibly cruel turn of events, Blanca Flores (Laura Gomez) was granted early release and barely got to taste freedom before she was back in cuffs again, transferring from Litchfield into ICE custody.

    Changing the system from the inside is a pipe dream, but Caputo finally attempted to wield his power for good, quitting his MCC job and going to bat for Taystee. He tried to uncover the conspiracy surrounding Piscatella’s death, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

    Red and Gloria Are in the SHU

    Frieda wasn't the only one who named Red as a riot co-conspirator, but unlike Frieda, Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) came to her prison mother before committing the same sin, earning her forgiveness. Red spent most of the season lamenting her lost power and prison family, channeling her anger into revenge schemes. She gave up the chance to meet her grandchildren for the first time when she tried to strangle Frieda, landing in solitary (aka the SHU).

    Meanwhile, Gloria (Selenis Leyva), in an attempt to stop the bloodshed, took to the prison airwaves — on Flaca and Cindy’s radio show — to plead with both sides to stand down. She also stumbled upon the Fantasy Inmate score sheets, which sent her to the SHU, so she didn’t blab.  Fantasy Inmate, for those who don’t remember, is the dehumanizing game the COs play, with the excuse that by pitting inmates against each other, it means they won’t come after them.

    Daya’s Drug Business and Addiction

    Daya’s (Dascha Polanco) Season 6 trajectory was bleak even by her previous storyline standards. She admitted to the murder charge, which resulted in multiple beatings by the COs. In trying to dull the pain, she took oxy and ended the year strung out on heroin. A relationship with Barb’s second-in-command Daddy (Vicci Martinez), provided her only comfort as she got more hooked. Drugs that Daddy introduced her to and are now entering the prison via her mother Aleida (who is dating a CO).

    Four Other Things to Remember

    • Alex sold herself to protect Piper: In order to help Piper fend off her cellmate, Badison (Amanda Fuller), Alex offered her services to help kickstart their drug trade. Now Barb is dead; will Badison have enough leverage to get Alex to comply with her original deal?
    • Lorna went into labor: At only seven-months pregnant, Lorna (Yael Stone) going into labor is troubling when coupled with the very noticeable bloodstain on the crotch of her prison khakis. Is she going to lose her baby?
    • Nicky is still sober: Nicky spent most of the season trying to do everything she could to stop the inter-block wars as a way to protect Red. She also helped Barb get sober, which earned her a place at the top table. Unlike her last time in max, Nicky stayed clean.
    • Piper is now free: Piper, of course, landed on her feet with an early release. On her last day inside she got "prison married" to Alex (Laura Prepon), but bemoaned the loss of the six months she thought they had together.

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    Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina

    TOPICS: Orange Is the New Black, Netflix, Adrienne C. Moore, Beth Dover, Brad William Henke, Dale Soules, Danielle Brooks, Henny Russell, Kate Mulgrew, Laura Gomez, Mackenzie Phillips, Natasha Lyonne, Nick Sandow, Samira Wiley, Selenis Leyva, Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Yael Stone