“Orange Is the New Black” is turning the drama up to the “Max.”
The Netflix series returns Friday after its fifth-season slow-down with its inmates headed to a new maximum security prison.
“They really truly are all fish out of water this season,” says Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee, one of 10 inmates left in the prison pool as the SWAT team approached during the previous season’s finale.
The riot plotline infused a new purpose into the series, addressing issues like prison reform and becoming a voice in the Black Lives Matter movement. At the same time, it destroyed Litchfield as we know it, leaving it impossible for the series to return to its familiar place.
“There’s a lot in the realm of paranoia and chess playing this season. There are questions of loyalty and major consequences to suffer, obviously, for how season five ended,” says Natasha Lyonne, aka Nicky.
Brooks adds: “The beauty of the ending was that these girls come together and realize they need each other for the next step for survival. We end off with them holding hands and getting ready to face the wrath of what’s next.”
Fans who spent the past 13 months pondering what could happen to their favorite inmates after last seeing them being transported by buses to separate camps will have a bittersweet return to “OITNB.”
The sixth season primarily focuses on a select few inmates whose lives will be significantly impacted by the aftermath of the riot.
An internal investigation sends the pool group to Litchfield’s maximum-security prison (a set on Staten Island), where detectives are hungry to place blame by way of decades added to inmates’ sentences.
“With every story, there’s several sides,” Brooks says. “In this case, you’re going to get 50 different versions of each individual’s truth, which definitely impacts the fate of what happens to these women.”
Those under question spend a significant amount of time in “Max” cells alone, breaking up the dynamic duos (like Red and Nicky; Taystee and Cindy) that fans have grown to love.
“The reality of the prison system is how much it sort of attempts to dehumanize people, then the irony, in a way, is seeing just how deep and meaningful these relationships have become to these characters,” Lyonne says, explaining the significant move away from traditional on-screen pairings.
As if legal interrogations and new surroundings weren’t enough to tip the inmates over the edge, threats from rival gangs in the prison add to the conflicts brewing between “OITNB” vets who once ruled the grounds of Litchfield.
Newcomers Carol and Barb Denning (played by actresses Henny Russell and “One Day at a Time’s” Mackenzie Phillips, respectively) thrive off of dueling cellblock drama — blue smocks vs. khakis — that dismisses the old bonds made in Litchfield.
“We’re going to really find out who is ride or die; who’s going to tell the truth? And that’s on every aspect from characters like Caputo to all those girls who were in that pool in the end. Who’s going to survive this moment?” Brooks says.
Fans hoping for plotlines involving supporting characters, like Maritza, to evolve this season are out of luck. Several favorites have little to do with the season’s progression, or fail to make appearances at all.
Still, the season leads up to a nail-biting crescendo as it progresses with its core inmates.
“I think it’s going to leave the audience craving to know what happens to these women,” Brooks teases.
“OITNB” returns to Netflix with its full sixth season July 27.