Orange Is the New Black Season 7 Review: An Unforgettable Finish

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Ending a series after seven seasons isn't easy, but Orange Is the New Black has it particularly difficult.

There are a lot of factors at play as creator/producer Jenji Kohan tries to touch on just the right amounts of comedy and drama, the present and past storylines the series has juggled since inception, and the enormity of the cast now spread out in many different locations.

Whether you're ultimately satisfied with the result will depend a lot on how you've viewed the series over the years.

Waiting for the Bus - Orange is the New Black

Before watching the final season, you have to come to grips with the fact that Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) was the genesis for our engagement with all of the other characters.

Being a white woman of privilege has been a knock against her character from the beginning, and it was her drop off the pedestal that landed her in Litchfield.

Orange is the New Black Final Season Trailer Teases a Sad Goodbye to Litchfield

Based on the memoirs of Piper Kerman, the series uses the real-life scenario to go above and beyond her story to other fascinating areas scenarios and characters who wouldn't have otherwise come to life. Love her or hate her, the name Piper is how we got here.

Even if Piper wasn't the heroine in this story, seeing her tale through to its bitter end gives the series opening and closing chapters. This is my way of telling you that if you're not a fan of Piper, you could be in for a shock.

Street Level Fear - Orange is the New Black

Piper's release from prison offers her a lot of new challenges and shows that even with the benefits her life afforded her, getting out isn't easy. Everything is tainted with her experience from concern about her marriage to Alex (Laura Prepon) to finding and maintaining employment.

Piper stands in stark contrast to the other women we've grown to love. They may or may not get their shots outside of prison walls, and Piper's story proves that without supportive family or friends willing to go the extra mile to ensure their success, failure is almost inevitable.

The final season of Orange Is the New Black is rife with disappointment as even the strongest women grapple with issues so far beyond their control the light on the horizon continues to dim.

As it has always been, even though prison seems like enough of an obstacle, the system and those who work within it often provide even greater barriers to even a modicum of success.

Lurking with a Phone - Orange is the New Black

The guards were never pillars of strength, but after the riots and in the wake of Litchfield's new ownership, they're less likely to reach out and positively impact a prisoner.

And even those for whom we've gained some sympathy, such as Caputo and Fig (Nick Sandow and Alysia Reiner), have done heinous things over the years for which they need to atone.

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But they come off as almost savior-like in a final season that does its best to paint a dismal picture of the justice system as a whole.

Loss and despair reach almost dizzying heights before the final curtain falls, and at times while watching, I just wanted the never-ending browbeating of the perils of prison life to end. 

Bunkmates - Orange is the New Black

One of the most significant developments from the previous season to play out in the final episodes is the continuation of Blanca's story after her release and right into the hands of ICE.

Blanca's tremendous development showed how prison could drastically change an individual, and her time in ICE offers to do the same for the undocumented immigrants who get caught in raids.

Even if you're on the fence about immigration and how it should get handled, if OITNB is on the money with ICE story, it's even more harrowing than you expect. Taking the discussion away from the border intensifies the issue, and it's a timely story done well.

When it comes to the stories of the ladies who are still at the mercy of the justice system inside the prison walls, well don't get your hopes up for less heartbreak and disillusionment.

Lifer on the Move - Orange is the New Black

While we've watched OITNB over seven years, all that we've witnessed has occurred in under two years. That condensed timeframe has almost been catastrophic to those who lived it.

Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) struggles with her place in this chaotic world for a crime she didn't knowingly commit, while her now-sober bunkmate, Tiffany (Taryn Manning) tries to find creative and beneficial ways to pass the time.

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Taystee (Danielle Brookes) aches at the betrayal she suffered when the blame for the prison guard's death during the riot fell squarely at her feet, and Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) attempts to move forward under the crushing weight of her guilt.

Daya (Dascha Polanco) is almost unrecognizable after the measures she took during Season 6 to make peace with her actions during the riots, and her mother Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) tries to provide for her kids by using Daya as a cautionary tale to keep them in line.

Business as Usual - Orange is the New Black

After years of wishing and hoping for the husband and baby of her dreams, Lorna (Yael Stone) revels in her new status as a mother, while Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) continues to care for those she loves even as she pursues a new romantic love.

Gloria (Selenis Leyva) and Red (Kate Mulgrew) lean on each other through shared experiences and the friendship they discovered with their love of the kitchen.

The final season revisits a lot of familiar faces, too, as they come and go in various ways. In most instances, their reintroduction is natural and fits well into the narrative.

I've pondered whether or not that's for the best, but since the series has always balanced lives inside and out of prison, catching up with those whose stories took them outside of Litchfield's walls makes sense.

Lean on Me - Orange is the New Black

If there were less leeway in the storytelling, not getting closure would work best from a dramatic standpoint. After all, if you're in prison and your friend gets transferred, what are the odds you get to keep in touch?

But ending a series of this magnitude with an impact as socially important as Orange Is the New Black, the show gets to set its own rules. 

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For a show that has managed to skirt a formal decision on whether it's a drama or a comedy, even with the bleak nature of the final season, there is room for laughter.

Piper's life out of prison offers some madcap comedic opportunities, and no matter how grim it gets inside prison walls, the characters remain full of good humor as they strive to stay afloat. 

A Lonely Existence - Orange is the New Black

Justice, treatment of the convicted, how the system helps or harms those in its control, and the increased influx of immigrants into the country are such important topics that it will be sad to say goodbye to Litchfield.

There is much more to say about the experience from so many different angles, so hopefully, another series comes along with as much pathos as Orange Is the New Black to address it with a unique viewpoint.

Like HBO's stunning series OZ that shed light on life inside a maximum-security prison, Orange Is the New Black does a lot to remove the stigma of accounting for mistakes. An exploration of life we don't always understand makes us better people in the end.

Orange Is the New Black doubles down in its final season with the reality of prison life by taking a hard look at the events of the past six seasons and their consequences. Nobody is going to go into prison and exit unchanged, but maybe we can better prepare those who do get a second chance.

Visiting Time - Orange is the New Black

It's not easy saying goodbye to these characters, but the end of Piper's journey on the inside feels like the right time to let them go.

Orange Is the New Black Season 7 will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and while it doesn't seem like it will ever be enough, it will be unforgettable.

Orange Is the New Black Season 7 drops on Netflix Friday, July 26.

Review

Editor Rating: 3.75 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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Orange is the New Black Quotes

I want you to understand. You do not have to have lesbian sex.

Sam Healy

Larry: What?
Piper: You look beautiful, too.