The explosive, twist-heavy Season 4 of “Orange Is the New Black” has barely been on Netflix long enough for many people to binge — but nevertheless, some are already calling it the best season yet. A dramatic highlight comes in the second-to-last episode entitled “The Animals,” where things reach a boiling point and a main character is killed.
How will the residents of Litchfield react to the shocking death? Read on for the details but beware: From here on out spoilers will be an inescapable as the show’s orange jumpsuits.
The inmates plot late in Season 4 to stage a peaceful protest, but when some overly-aggressive prison guards escalate matters, things turn deadly. Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) is one of the few kind-hearted men policing the female inmates, but he accidentally kills fan-favorite Poussey Washington — played by Samira Wiley.
For the rest of that episode and into the finale of the season entitled “Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again,” many of the racially-divided, so-called “families” deal with Poussey’s death in fairly predictable ways. The black girls who regularly hung out with her go into mourning; the Latinas, who run the kitchen with Red, try to stay focused on work; the White Power girls make crude jokes. But since the wide-smiling character took pride in transcending many of these groups (before her death, she had even begun a romance with the loner Soso, played by Kimiko Glenn), her death hits hard.
Making matters more potent, regardless of color of affiliation, all the inmates realize that it just as easily could be them lying dead on the floor.
Throughout the first three seasons of “OITNB,” Wiley had been a rare ray of sunshine in a show that often gets quite heavy. Smiling, singing and always making her signature prison booze, Poussey was an inspiring figure for the “Orange” audience — as well as the fictional fellow prisoners who loved her. When it came time for a laugh, Wiley’s excellent work — and Poussey’s inventive mind — were quite welcomed.
Kudos to “Orange” for sending the character off in style. Often, the best parts of the Netflix series are flashbacks to what these women’s lives were like before they were imprisoned — so, once Poussey dies, the final episode tempers that sadness with scenes from what may have been the happiest day of her life. Young, spontaneous and exploring New York on a wild night filled with nightclubs and bike-riding monks, the last image we see of Poussey is her looking right into the camera, smiling.
Where do things go from here? The inmates are riled up enough to revolt, Caputo is trying to do his best with a situation that the prison’s parent company wants to spin for good publicity — and nearly 24 hours later, Poussey’s dead body remains on the cafeteria floor. When “OITNB” returns for Season 5, Samira Wiley will be missed — but it seems safe to say that Poussey’s presence will still be felt.