Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dear Jenji Kohan

[this letter contains spoilers about all five seasons of Orange is the New Black)

Dear Jenji Kohan,

I finally finished watching season 5 of Orange is the New Black. Yes, it took me seven months, but this season was intense. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it was definitely hard for me to watch more than one episode in a sitting. I've been watching since the beginning, and this season made me realize just how complicated my relationship with this show is.

It's still one of the shows I love the most, simply because of how you manage to incorporate so many diverse voices and offer a rare perspective on so many lives, inside and outside of prison.

Yet, increasingly, I think you have a pacing problem. After five seasons, spread across five years, only ten months have passed on tv. Perhaps this pacing affects me because of how different my life looks than it did in 2013, when I watched season one in a single day with a few glasses of wine. When season 2 premiered, I was (very) pregnant, but I still watched the season in a day. Now that I have a 3-year-old, I mostly find time for Orange is the New Black when I travel (Netflix downloads are a precious gift.) Here is the biggest pacing problem: the most exciting moments are beginning to happen at the end of the season rather than the end of each episode. In earlier seasons, I couldn't help but watch one more because each episode ended with a cliffhanger. You know what episode in season 5 made me want to immediately watch the next one? The last one.

When Poussey, my favorite character, dies near the end of season four, I was ready because I read an annoying spoiler less than a week after it premiered (I know, I used to be one who could watch an entire season in less than a week, but I'm not anymore.) It devastated me, but I also thought it was smart and necessary storytelling for the show. The emotional impact of her death impacted the audience and the characters, and I knew it had the power to set some things in motion. The end of season four left me breathless. The beginning of season six enchanted me.

As season five continued, I found myself wondering, "where can this show go?" I loved to see how far the characters were taking the riot, but I also dismayed at how little time passed. It may seem necessary for this particular season to not cover much time, but combined with all of the other seasons, it felt stagnant. By the end of season five, Taystee reminded me that Poussey died a few days ago, and I realized that for me as a viewer, the emotional reaction to her death has passed, but (understandably), it's still echoing in Litchfield.

Jenji, I trust you to always tell a good story and tell it in a bold way.  I love this show, and I cannot wait to see what's in store for season 6. That cliffhanger might be the best and worst to date. I spent a lot of season 5 wondering if this season was a way to both make a statement and provide a reset for the show. Perhaps more than any other season, I'm really curious to see where and when the next season begins. Season 5 appropriately begins in the moments after season 4, but I think it's time for a leap forward in time. Either way, I'll be watching.

Loyally and lovingly,


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