What the 'Orange Is the New Black' Season 6 Finale Means for the Show's Future

orange is the new black season 6
Netflix
Netflix

This story contains major spoilers for Orange Is the New Black Season 6.

The sixth season of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black took some big chances in an effort to recapture some of the energy that made it such a hit out of the gate for the streaming giant. By switching its central location, the show became less focused on familiar faces (bye, Big Boo!) and more concerned with opening up the field, and not just for kickball. Being in Maximum Security required us to acclimate along with the "camp" transfers, or "cookies," to the new rules and rivalries, providing a welcome reset button for the show after an uneven fifth season. The show has always shown us the human side of the female convicts, but the move to Max brought out the sociopaths (hello, Badison!).

The stakes are higher now, too, with the SWAT team and investigators looking for a scapegoat for Piscatella's death, the Max guards toying with prisoners' lives via their game of Fantasy Inmate, and the Block kingpins pitting their soldiers against each other in a gang war. The finale neatly wrapped up those three storylines, and at the same time opened up some possibilities for season seven. Given that the rebranded MCC (now PolyCon Corrections) is getting into the Immigration Detention Centers business, showing us Blanca's journey seems necessary. Season 6 of OITNB definitely leaves you wanting more, which is a good thing.

What exactly happened at the end of the season?

Why do the guards at Max play Fantasy Inmate? Because if the inmates are fighting each other, they're less likely to fight the guards. The guards would like to keep this little riot-prevention strategy to themselves, which resulted in Gloria (who tried to spread the word) getting put in SHU, and the rest of B, C, and D Blocks pretty much in the dark. Tensions have been ramping up between C and D Block all season, and it looked like Alex and Nicky were going to be thrust into opposite sides of a gang war that neither of them wanted, especially after the touching moment they had shared at Alex and Piper's last-minute prison nuptials.

But in a nice turn of events, the promised bloodbath's only victims were its planners. Opposing sister gang leaders Carol and Barbara hoped to use their soldiers' deaths as a diversion to allow them to slip into "Florida," Block B, to kill Frieda, but ended up killing each other instead. Their deaths were a satisfying bit of justice in a show which hasn't provided a lot of that as of late. And so CO Ginger, who had been coming in last season, won Fantasy Inmate, just because two crazed sisters couldn't trust each other. Piper, on her way out of the gate on an early release, finally got to see the kickball teams enjoying themselves. Those soldiers? Most of them just wanted to play ball after all.

C and D Block now have a power vacuum

With Carol and Barbara lying dead on the floor, C and D Block have a choice to make: Continue the rivalry, or make peace. To do either, they'll need leaders. When Red gets out of SHU, she could try for a top spot, but she's not a major player in Max. Badison might think she should be top dog at C Block, but Carol had kept Badison's screw-ups in check, so we know Alex would be a better choice. (Plus, she's got to keep busy when she no longer has Pipes to protect, right?) Daddy and Daya will continue handling D Block's flourishing drug trade, so long as Daya doesn't use up all of the product. And with Carol and Barbara out of the picture, Frieda could become the boss of Block B. Someone needs to whip those girls into shape!

orange is the new black
Netflix

Taystee's trial comes to a heart-wrenching conclusion

Those lighter, satisfying moments balanced out the bleaker circumstances of Taystee's trial. Instead of hearing the verdict itself, it's as if we're trapped in Taystee's body with her. The voice of the jury foreperson, the uproar from the gallery, even her own crying fall away. All we can hear is the beating of her heart and rush of blood in her ears as she tries to process the horrible reality of the situation. While we could see this coming all season -- the powers-that-be looking for a patsy, her own friend hiding the truth -- watching the results of Taystee being framed for a murder she did not commit is absolutely devastating.

Still, there's hope. All season long, Black Cindy -- Tova to her Max radio fans -- wrestled with her conscience, which manifested itself physically via back spasms. She and Suzanne witnessed the frame-job, and she convinced Suzanne to keep it a secret. (And Suzanne, sadly, wouldn't make a credible witness anyway). While it might have seemed a smart move to steer clear of trouble, once Cindy provided a fabricated statement to the investigators, she was locked in, and to contradict herself on the witness stand could mean her deal would be rescinded. But what's a little more time compared to Taystee's life? Plus, she was handed another outlet when she became Flaca's co-host. Watching her waste airtime with insipid banter -- sorry, laughter and insightful observations -- became more and more frustrating as the season wore on. At least Gloria tried to use the mic for something real. (Then again, look where it got Gloria.) When next season returns, Black Cindy is going to have to come forward. Right?

What happens to the other characters?

Lorna, who's seven months pregnant, was last seen being escorted from her hiding spot, wet around the crotch and in pain. Is she miscarrying? Going into labor prematurely? That will have to be resolved next season, but it doesn't look good. Can someone notify Vinnie?

Several characters -- Big Boo, Ouija, Skinhead Helen -- are glimpsed at the Cleveland, Ohio facility where Linda from MCC gets her head shaved for lice. But are we done with Ohio? And where did Brook, Maritza, Janae, and Yoga Jones end up? We didn't hear about them all season. Plus Mei Chang remains at large, with the prison system none the wiser.

It feels like we may be done with some of these folks, unless season seven can reinvent itself yet again by giving us more of other facilities besides Litchfield Max or take us to the Immigration Detention Centers to follow Blanca. Since Piper was really the Trojan Horse to get us inside the prison system, let's not focus on her now that she's out -- save for visiting Alex. Let's see how Taystee's friend from her youth, CO Tamika Ward, plays a role in improving inmate/guard dynamics. And let's get more of Lorna's bunkmate, Adeola, because she's a riot.

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Jennifer Vineyard, a regular Thrillist contributor, has also written for Elle magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times.