After over a year of living without the women of Litchfield in “Orange Is the New Black,” it’s time to re-examine those beloved characters.
**WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the series “Orange Is the New Black.” Reader discretion advised.**
“The animals, the animals…” Fans of the Netflix original series, “Orange Is the New Black,” likely still get goosebumps when they hear the first few words of Regina Spektor’s haunting “You’ve Got Time.”
The song played under the opening title of the beloved show that ran for seven seasons on the platform. “Orange Is the New Black” has been praised for its complex characterizations of women, addressing the abusive conditions within the prison industrial complex and ICE detention centers and discussing all kinds of social issues such as racism, transphobia and sexual abuse. The final season was released on July 26, 2019. For over a year now, we have been deprived of the resilient, oftentimes hilarious women of Litchfield penitentiary. But are all the characters really as great as we remember them?
It’s time to take a look back at the women who made the show so memorable. All characters will be put into a “block” grading scale: A Block for the best characters, C Block for the not-so-great characters and B Block for the ones floating in the middle. This scale is completely subjective so feel free to disagree with me!
Piper Chapman – C Block
Even though Piper was our leading lady for the series, I couldn’t stand her. She was unbearably privileged and was often the very definition of “first world problems.” When it came to her relationship with Alex, I thought Alex could’ve done so much better. Piper, especially within the relationship, was selfish, bossy and obtuse. She didn’t believe Alex when she thought someone was trying to kill her (i.e. the end of season three), she cheated on Alex and she abandoned her right after Alex’s mother passed away. Yes, I am obviously biased towards Alex but these seem to be the actions of someone who is objectively awful. This is not to say Piper deserves all the horrible things that happened to her; I don’t think she deserved to have a swastika burned into her arm. But, nonetheless, she was an accidental Nazi sympathizer and I think that speaks enough to how unlikable she is as a character.
Alex Vause – A Block
Perhaps I liked Alex so much because she was relatable; she was cynical, sarcastic and laid back (most of the time). Her biggest flaw was loving Piper. While she cheated on Piper with a corrections officer towards the end of the last season, I see her affair as a bit more justified, considering Piper had been released from prison at that point and Alex was all alone and scared. Alex had been disappointed by people most of her life (her father, ex-lovers [including Piper], her “co-workers” within the drug smuggling ring she worked for, etc.) and I see her as someone who just needed to catch a goddamn break. I mean, she had to murder someone in self-defense and cut up the body to save herself from getting life in prison. Need I go on?
Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson – A Block
Talk about needing to catch a break. Taystee was one of my favorite characters from the very first season. Her and Poussey were my favorite comedy duo and when they fought throughout season two…it just broke my heart. What broke my heart, even more, is when she was sentenced to life in prison for a crime she did not commit. If you need a refresher: she was accused of shooting and killing CO Piscatella when the riot at Litchfield was raided but really the riot police (or whatever their official title was…) was responsible for the murder. Taystee tried to fight it in court, was sentenced to life and then tried to appeal her case once new evidence came to light. None of it worked and she ends up serving her life sentence working to better the lives of the women at Litchfield by teaching them about the micro-loans she helped organize in honor of Poussey. Of course Taystee would use her time to help others; that’s who she is. That’s why I love her so much. I’m upset that the writers of the show gave no justice to her. But I know that’s how life is; there’s often little justice.
Nicky Nichols – A Block
I love Natasha Lyonne. Even more, I love Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Nichols. She is the definition of a flawed character but that’s why we love her so much. We know her addiction troubles stem from a childhood full of neglect and sadness. We sympathize with her being in love with a woman who will likely never love her back (Lorna). Or at least, I hope you did. Nicky’s fierce loyalty and biting wit make her one of the series’s strongest and most lovable characters. Her relationship with Red illustrates perfectly how blood does not dictate who our family is. I thought her ending was one of the most poetic and beautiful out of anyone in the series: she followed in her mother’s footsteps. Nicky ended up being in charge of the ICE detention center kitchen, reflecting Red’s leadership and initiative to turn her kitchen into a bright spot in a gloomy place.
Galina “Red” Reznikov – B Block
I really liked Red at the beginning of the series. In the war between Vee and Red in season two, I was all-in for Team Red. However, once we hit season four, Red’s priorities started to spiral. Red was a fierce, unwavering matriarch that no one could touch. But then she started to obsess over Piscatella and became hell-bent on destroying him. I hate to admit it, but she is the reason Piscatella snuck into the prison during the riot and attacked her friends. I’m not saying it’s her fault any of them got hurt; that blame is solely on Piscatella. But, like it or not, she is the one who lured him in. Then, in season six, Red got sucked into the “prison war” mindset and once again lost sight of her priorities. She tried to attack Frieda (who sold her out after the riot) when she finally had the opportunity to see her grandchildren. It was just sad to see her integrity as a character deteriorate. Not to mention she kind of had feelings for Sam Healy at one point in the series, which is disgusting due to his racism and misogyny. C’mon, Red. However, it is very very sad to see her end up in “Florida” (the cell block for the old, infirm and mentally impaired) at the end of the series because of her early dementia. Oh, how the mighty fall.
Gloria Mendoza – A Block
At the beginning of the series, Gloria was a bit forgettable. However, the writers soon gave more weight to her character and we got to see how she really was. She had a rocky start in the beginning, with her beef with Red and her issues with Sophia (which were blown way out of proportion thanks to Dayanara’s mother, Aleida), but Gloria eventually grew to have some very redeeming qualities. Gloria is a fiercely caring woman: she loves her kids, she looked after Dayanara after her mother was released and she would do anything to help anyone. She protected her kitchen staff and took pride in her food in the kitchen. Her and Norma are the ones to thank for finally getting rid of Vee (season two’s main antagonist). In the last season, Gloria risks her release date in order to help the women in the ICE detention center. Unfortunately, she did have that awkward “romance” (if you could even call it that) with Litchfield’s laziest guard, Luschek, but in the end, it is such a joy to watch her get released from prison.
Suzanne Warren – A Block
The writers really asked themselves: what is one of the saddest possible backstories we could give to one of these characters? Then they gave it to Suzanne. Suzanne was in prison because she accidentally “kidnapped” a boy and ran him off a ledge in her apartment. It’s unclear whether the boy survived or not but, judging by how high up the apartment was, he presumably died. Suzanne’s childlike mindset just wanted a friend to play with and it ended up costing her her freedom. That described most of her time in prison as well: she just wanted a friend. Whether it was Piper or Taystee or Vee or Frieda, Suzanne just wanted someone she could talk to and play with. People took to calling her “Crazy Eyes” but it deeply hurt her feelings and was offensive, considering her mental capabilities. Suzanne’s brutal honesty and pure heart won the hearts of viewers all over the world. And won Uzo Aduba two Emmys.
Dayanara Diaz – B Block
Daya’s choices stress me out. She had sex with a guard without protection and wound up pregnant. She then decided to pursue a relationship with the guard who impregnated her and even got engaged to him, even though he disappeared shortly thereafter. She shot a guard at the beginning of the riot in season five. Once in the maximum-security prison after the riot, she became a drug kingpin and started using drugs herself. Despite all of this, I know Daya was a product of her environment. Anyone raised by Aleida Diaz was bound to have some problems of their own. Even though I don’t necessarily agree with Daya’s choices when she was in maximum, I was at least proud to see that she finally stood up to her mother. Plus, I can’t judge her too much on how she chooses to spend life in prison. I have no idea what I would do in that situation.
Lorna Morello – C Block
I’ve heard lots of people say that they don’t like Lorna because of the way she obsesses over men. However, I think that’s completely unfair because she was obviously mentally ill and needed professional help to address her thought processes. I’m putting Lorna in my metaphorical C Block because of her blatant racism. Throughout the series, it could be seen as somewhat humorous and I assume many viewers laughed it off. However, once she’s working in the kitchen at the ICE detention center, her comments angered me greatly and I realized that I would despise her if I knew her in real life. That being said, I do feel sorry for her in the end. She lost her baby, her husband and she ends up in “Florida” with Red. All that pain finally broke her and it’s hard to watch.
Blanca Flores – A Block
Much like Gloria, Blanca was forgettable at the beginning of the series. Then she was portrayed as this humorous wild woman and I started to like her. Then season four dropped and I realized she was a stone-cold badass. She was the one who first stood up the abusive conditions within the prison and she stood on a table for days to fight for the rights of the incarcerated. Putting her in A Block rather than B Block with Red might seem hypocritical since she also helped lure in Piscatella during the riot. However, the last season is driven by her time spent in the ICE detention center and I sympathized with her so much more in that final season. I thought was strong, intelligent and resilient in one of the most horrific situations that can happen to a person. I really respected her and was rooting for in a way I never thought I would when I watched the first season. Also, I thought her relationship with Diablo was so cute and I’m so glad they finally got to be together.
Cindy Hayes – C Block
I never had any major issues with Cindy throughout the series. She was selfish, yes, but she was also funny and seemed like a dependable friend, especially when it came to Taystee. Season six turned all of that around. While I understand that she feared for her life, she was completely in the wrong when she betrayed Taystee and basically framed her for shooting Piscatella. She testified against Taystee in court and doomed her to a life in prison. It was a betrayal that hit deep. Again, I have no idea how I would react in that situation. But I would hope I would be more loyal to my friend and not condemn a human being to life in prison.
Poussey Washington – Her own private, luxury cell<3
I saved the best for last. Much like Judy King in season four of the series, Poussey has a luxury, private cell with flowers and a water seltzer machine in my metaphorical blocking situation. Poussey loved books. She was kind and honest and funny and intelligent. No one deserved her fate but she least of all deserved it. At the time of her death, Poussey finally found a relationship that made her happy. She loved her friends and she was making the best of a bullshit prison sentence. (She was busted for selling marijuana and was sent to prison, further illustrating the ridiculousness of marijuana-related sentences.) Watching her die was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to watch on television. Her death hit hard and it’s an episode I’ve still only seen once after several years. Her spirit and her light inspired a cry for change within the prison and her name was used for the micro-loans Taystee created to give women a second chance on the outside of prison. Poussey was a true friend and brilliant human being. She deserved so much better.