Orange is the New Black season five, episode one review: Riot FOMO (S05E01)

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Warning: spoilers ahead

This is how the Litchfield Penitentiary Riot of 2017 starts – not with one gunshot, but two.

The season begins as promised, with the guards overthrown and chaos reigning as every inmate must decide for themselves how to react.

Would YOU survive an Orange is the New Black prison riot?

There’s blood everywhere, and a consistent, low-level panic which gets some audible representation from the alarm that underlays most of the episode.

Orange is the New Black season five, episode one review: Riot FOMO (S05E01)

Gina tells Luschek: “We have to cut the alarm, it’s making everyone nuts,” but in reality everyone has their individual reasons for acting how they do, some overlapping and some not.

Diaz, powerless for so much of her story arc with Bennett, finally gets the chance to wield some power in the shape of a gun.

But she’s no riot leader. She repeatedly points the gun at people who are trying to help her – like Ruiz – or who mean her no harm, like Red, and spirals until she gives in and calls her mum.

The fact that Aleida doesn’t pick up is symbolic of how Diaz has been let down time and time again – by her family, by the prison system and by Bennett.

We can only assume that the blunt object which subsequently knocks her out was held by Piscatella, the only out gay guard and general bad guy of last season.

It also shows how much use the gun actually was, and the episode drives this point home by name-checking no fewer than six mass shootings – all of which happened in the last decade.

Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Virginia Tech, Charleston in South Carolina, Aurora in Colorado and Fort Hood are all mentioned, making an important point about gun laws in the US.

Orange is the New Black season five, episode one review: Riot FOMO (S05E01)

The cliffhanger leaves us staring at an anonymous boot, and the message is clear: this season of Orange is the New Black, you’ve got to watch your back.

And in the background, it’s also clear that the prison authorities won’t go away without a fight, even if the human version of MCC is in Caputo’s office, willingly tweeting out Taystee’s video.

The only person who doesn’t consistently let Diaz down is Gloria, who pushes Sophia into being the hero which Diaz needs her to be, and saving CO Humphrey.

Oversight of the prison is so bad that they leave Humphrey bleeding for ages because a white supremacist is able to vaguely realistically impersonate a guard over the radio.

But despite enduring a mouthful of transphobia from Humphrey, who tells her “I need a surgeon, not a f***ing fire tranny,” Sophia helps him.

She’s been let down too – by her son, by Caputo, who threw her in isolation, and by Gloria herself, who had her faction beat Sophia up and leave her rotting in isolation for much of season four.

Nevertheless, she persists. She shows her undying humanity.

Plus, we got a penis shot! In both senses, almost. In terms of putting as much penis on TV as there are breasts, this was a step forward, even if it was Humphrey’s – and flaccid.

And, surprisingly, Piper also shows her altruistic side when she saves Linda from an uncertain fate as she wanders the halls.

This is no longer Piper’s story – and the narrative is all the better for it – but she still has a compelling character arc.

After her dabble in white supremacy last season, she’s trying to be good – sometimes too good, like when she remarks: “If this is a real riot, do you think this is a step forwards or backwards for equality?”

(If you’re playing Orange is the New Black bingo at this point, make sure to cross your ‘Piper is a think piece personified’ square)

But she does help Linda, telling Alex: “I don’t wanna not lay low, but I also don’t want to lose my humanity.” She pauses. “Again. I’m in a making amends for bad behaviour phase.”

Like Piper, all of the inmates are just planning for the short-term, trying to come up with solutions to the problems immediately in front of them.

Orange is the New Black season five, episode one review: Riot FOMO (S05E01)

When Sophia is on the edge of giving up on Humphrey, Gloria tells her: “No. You gotta pull it together right now. Fake it, I don’t care; I can’t let this guy die.

“So get up, put one foot in front of the other, and help me load this sack of s*** back into the cart and roll, now.”

This line is basically a mantra for how to get through anything traumatic. They’re all finding their way through difficult, terrible events, whether it’s Soso and Taystee’s individual grief, or a riot.

It’s never that simple, as Soso proves when she stops Judy King’s stream of inspiration in its tracks.

Not even put off by Soso telling her she’s attempted suicide, Judy tells her: “You’re still here, right? Not so easy to shake this mortal coil.”

After a pregnant pause, Soso says, without missing a beat: “‘Til someone sits on you ‘til you die.”

“Yes, well. Yes, there is that,” comes the downbeat reply.

Still, at least Soso has someone to be with her, and the episode emphasises time and again that those who have someone, have it easier.

The inmates who pair up are left in relative peace – Alex and Piper, Nichols and Morello, Red, Flaca and Martinez, Angie and Leanne – whereas Diaz consistently resists help and isolates herself.

Unfortunately, this leaves her down on the ground, vulnerable to a further attack – the exact opposite of how she started the season.