The 'Orange is the New Black' cast talks THR through the most shocking, hilarious and heartbreaking scenes — all the way up to the gut-wrenching final moment. (Major spoilers ahead)
[Warning: This overview contains spoilers from Orange Is the New Black season four.]
The animals, the animals.
The binge-watchers of Orange Is the New Black heard those lyrics spin around their heads 12 times while watching season four, but by episode 13, the "You've Got Time" theme song held a wildly different meaning. The Netflix prison dramedy delivered its most shocking ending to date when it killed off a beloved character in the penultimate episode, titled "The Animals."
(Stop reading if you haven't finished the finale.)
Fan favorite Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) died during a prison-wide protest that turned fatal, capping off a season filled with injustice of too many kinds inside the walls of the deeply broken Litchfield prison. The provocative episode, and the finale that followed, saw the black inmate suffocating at the hands of one of the white guards and her death being subsequently covered up, spurring protests of Black Lives Matter and ultimately ending in a cliffhanger of a prison-wide riot. (See Wiley talk about it below.)
Though the Jenji Kohan-created series delivered on its promise to be the darkest season yet, season four also provided long-awaited reunions and moments of outrageous comedy.
Here, the Orange cast takes The Hollywood Reporter behind the scenes of 10 moments — listed in order of how they unfolded on the season — in which the addictive series managed to up its levels of insanity.
Additional reporting by Ashley Lee.
Lolly saves Alex's life when she finds her in the greenhouse with hitman Aydin, but it's Alex who later finishes him off with her bare hands — something that haunts her as the season progresses. With help from Lolly and murder mastermind Freida, Alex gets her Dexter moment when the trio dismember the body and bury him in parts around Red's prison garden.
Laura Prepon (Alex Vause): "We loved shooting that scene. We shot it in the dead of summer in the greenhouse, which already traps heat, and we had garbage bags taped on our wrists and arms and everything. We were dripping sweat the whole time — I literally felt like I was cutting weight like a fighter, thinking, 'I’m cutting weight for a weigh-in, this is insane.' But the scene was so awesome. I knew it would turn out great. (Read THR's full chat with Prepon about season four here.)
Lori Petty (Lolly Whitehill): “Shooting that with Laura was just awesome. It was 500-billion-trillion degrees, and I’m going, 'Where’s the freezing cold van? Where’s the cold tent?' She’s like, 'Oh Lori, it’s OK,' and I’m like, 'No it isn’t!' She’s the nicest person on the planet and I’m all: 'I want my Oompa Loompa now, Daddy!' "
Exploring their honeymoon phase, Morello and new husband Vinny engage in epic rounds of prison phone sex, capped off by an in-person sex scene during visitation hours. With an audience — including a horrified Gloria who is enjoying a minute with her teen son — the pair loudly finish the act without ever touching each other.
Yael Stone (Lorna Morello): It was deeply humiliating! There was a young actor extra in the room and I repeatedly asked if that was going to be OK, and the mother assured us all it was going to be fine. It was pretty weird but also so much fun. Vince is played by John Magaro and he’s an excellent, intelligent, versatile actor. We did it in a few takes — we had to get it out of the way. I’ve done a number of fairly exposing things on this show, and I have my own line I’m willing to draw, but I felt this was in the name of good fun: good for story, good for my character and I’m with people I trust. I’m such an unfunny, boring person! But Lorna’s got this light and shadow and to give her devastating heartbreak and comedy scenes like that, it’s an incredible gift.
Season four delivered on two exciting character returns when it traveled down the hill to Max. After bringing back fan favorite Nicky (who disappeared at the beginning of season three), this season also saw the return of breakout star Ruby Rose for a short Stella cameo. Stella, who was sent to Max after Piper's betrayal, reminds Nicky of the time the recovering addict was screaming her name one night during a bathroom rendezvous. But Nicky, who just celebrated three years of sobriety, shuts her down once she sees that she's doing drugs.
Natasha Lyonne (Nicky Nichols): Nicky would have gotten off on everybody being scissor sisters, that’s right up her alley — stone-cold sober or high, that would really appeal to her sensibilities. And also, Stella's hot. We know that Nicky really likes to get it on, especially if she’s sober, as an escapist tactic. In that scene, as much as Nicky enjoys getting her rocks off to kill time, I think that she also is out of place when we re-find her back at Max, that she’s not trying to sacrifice [her sobriety]. Once Stella is sort of risky business in the drug department, it’s no longer appealing. (Read THR's full chat with Lyonne about season four here.)
After launching a prison-panty war against the Dominicans and their leader Maria, Piper allies with the white power group. But after she incites a "white lives matter!" chant, none of her friends are around when she's snatched by her enemies. Maria, who has had an ax to grind since Piper's tattling landed her extra years on her sentence, instructs her crew to burn a swastika into Piper's arm as a permanent reminder of what she's done.
Jessica Pimentel (Maria Ruiz): The show needed to go there because some people were thinking this was a cute subject matter, and falling in love with the characters. We’re in the dirtiest, grimiest place on earth. We have to remind you every once in a while: This is not cute, this is serious. The scene was very difficult emotionally, physically and technically. Emotionally because we actually like each other, so it was hard to watch. The fight was choreographed so we had to rehearse it several times and things go wrong. There was one point when I got nauseous, we had to take a break and and I was just an observer. So many things happen that are so powerful, and nobody phoned it in. [Between takes,] I stayed in character, I didn’t check in with [Taylor] and ask, "Are you OK?" We shot it at night with no one around. It was dark with a small crew, super intense and no one else got to be there. Usually there are a lot of distractions, like dogs running around and craft services — but this was about just doing it as realistically as possible and I think we hit it. (Read THR's full chat about how she and Schilling made it through filming the scene here.)
Taylor Schilling (Piper Chapman): The consequences of her actions are [the hardest part for Piper this season] and then she has to figure out why she did what she did. [It's all about] consequences. … It changes her. I don’t know if she bounces back. There are things that happen this season that make an indelible imprint on who Piper is as a person. She’s a bit stronger and a bit more wary. There’s a loss of openness.
After her branding, Piper comes across Nicky and Alex while they're smoking crack in the cornfield near the garden. Nicky, who has relapsed, convinces Alex to join her in a momentary escape and Alex, still struggling to come to terms with what she's done, accepts. Piper has also reached a point of desperation and she too accepts. Alex is shocked at Piper inhaling and the exes confess their sins to each other, while Nicky, high as a kite, witnesses the turning point.
Natasha Lyonne (Nicky Nichols): It's actually a true reflection of the nature of life, in its own weird way. That crack scene is probably a good metaphor for Donald Trump: The idea that we’re all continuing to go on with our day-to-day lives while living in a reality where this guy is a candidate. Where things continue to be hilarious when they couldn’t be any darker. But it’s why I really respond to jokes and this show in the first place because it's like: What else are you gonna do? It’s another substitute for: “Get me the f— out of this place."
That scene was really, really heavy to shoot. We were in the cornfields and it was really hot that day. Phil Abraham was directing it, and he’s an incredible director, and with the three of us, sometimes it just clicks and everybody chooses to really go all the way. You never really know which scenes are going to end up taking you to that place; the scenes can have a life of their own and that was one of those moments. That was a particularly heavy and wild scene to shoot so I’m glad that it also came out funny and as enjoyable to watch.
Laura Prepon (Alex Vause): With Alex and Piper, we’ve seen them go through so many things, but it’s always grounded in the fact that they do really love each other. So when everything hits the fan, they go to each other. … When stuff happens like what Alex or Piper has gone through, that changes people. When the branding happens, Piper learns a lesson and in that moment when we see that she’s totally freaked out and scared and in over her head, Alex is there for her and realizes she’s going to be there for her.
In the same episode in which one of the new guards under Piscatella's reign forces Blanca to stand on a cafeteria table until she urinates on herself, another takes Maritza up on a game she had been playing with Flaca. Illustrating the rampant C.O.-to-inmate abuse, Humphrey puts a gun to her head and makes her answer her own hypothetical question: Would you rather eat a live mouse, or swallow 10 dead flies? Scared for her life, Maritza swallows the mouse.
Diane Guerrero (Maritza Ramos): This season shines a light on the problems we have in the prison system, and the justice system, of people who get away with things versus the people who are affected and can’t really have a say in their own lives, and rarely get justice. When you’re an inmate, you’re treated as such, and it’s wrong. Already, you’re in an environment where you’re under someone’s rule and thumb and to [be in her position], it’s scary. It was definitely interesting to see that dynamic shift and how we deal with it afterwards.
Brad William Henke (C.O. Desi Piscatella): A lot of the stuff those guards do, [my character] didn’t tell them to do. I told them to be firm, but they took it to another level. There are some things that went on that I didn’t know was going on, even at the end, I still didn’t know about the things that Humphrey and others were doing. I hope this storyline gets across that the inmates are all individual people, and they should be recognized and treated as such.
Humphrey and the guards resort to horrific levels of abuse when they incite a fistfight between on-and-off lovers Crazy Eyes and Kukudio during the nighttime prison-wide lockdown. Crazy Eyes beats her to a pulp and psychologically enters into a tailspin. Simultaneous to what's happening in the prison, viewers are finally treated to the flashback where her crime is revealed — Suzanne scared a young boy while trying to befriend him and he fell down a fire escape to his death trying to escape.
Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes/Suzanne Warren): I was surprised, but not. It hurt my heart because it made sense. … I was told just before we got the script. I felt heartbroken because I felt like I understood where she was coming from a bit more. This wonder and "it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt" mentality and why that phrase exists, and how much further we have to go with the conversation of mental illness. When someone’s view of the world is somewhat incapacitated or different, what sort of repercussion is the result?
Judy King, her roommate Yoga Jones and her paramour Luschek solidified their Three's Company relationship with a drug-fueled threesome, while high on Molly. After the trippy trio let loose, Judy was the only one to wake up without any regrets — and barely a hangover — the next morning.
Blair Brown (Judy King): People were walking around asking, "Have you read the script?" And I said no and and they said, "OK …" Kate [Mulgrew] just rolled her eyes and said, "Oh my lord." I thought it was one of the funniest things I had ever read and I could already see Connie Schulman reacting, and of course Matt [Peters]. I can’t think of two more hilarious actors and characters to have done a threesome with. Talk about Judy's M.O. of "what’s good for me is good for you." She’s perfectly fine later and I love that she and Yoga Jones are completely hungover and wasted. Regardless of my age, it's very nice to get to do this type of scene, because love scenes are always hot and serious and so rarely are fun! You never see sexy movie stars laughing in a love scene, they are usually so intense so I love that this one was absolutely nuts. And we needed a little relief. (Read THR's full chat with Brown about Judy King joining the ranks here.)
When all of the groups band together to peacefully protest the injustice they've experienced at the hands of the new guards, specifically the C.O. in command, Piscatella, Crazy Eyes launches into a fit of violence as she's being pulled down from a cafeteria table. Poussey runs to help her, but gets pinned down by Bayley, who inadvertently suffocates her with his knee. Only 92 pounds, the beloved character chokes for air as all of her inmates and friends, including Taystee who collapses to her side, witness the horrific moment.
Samira Wiley (Poussey Washington): It was the first time we’d all been on set since season one at the same time, so that was really special. We have so many people on our cast now, we had to do it on a weekend just to coordinate everyone’s schedule. It was so amazing to have the support of my entire cast on the day that this had to happen. There were faces that I hadn’t seen in a long time and it felt like a real sendoff to have everyone in the same room together. Our set is such a loud, boisterous, loving set and everyone’s always joking and there’s always noise. But on that day, it was much more quiet. I’d known for over a year, but my castmates didn’t know until maybe the week before or so when they got the script. It wasn’t some big announcement. They had much less time to process than I did and because of that, a lot of them were doing their grieving on that day. I had really come to terms that this is my story and because of that, I think me, Samira, had to do a lot of making sure that everyone else was OK. That day, it was much harder for them than it was for me. … [When we filmed Taystee collapsing,] we were wiping each other’s tears between the takes. It was really great to be able to do that with someone like Danielle who I have a long history with and who I love like my sister. But that was hard. (Read Wiley's full interview with THR about the episode — which was directed by Mad Men's Matthew Weiner and written by Wiley's real-life girlfriend, Orange writer Lauren Morelli — and her entire run on the series here.)
Danielle Brooks (Taystee Jefferson): Matthew Weiner, who directed this episode, and Lauren Morelli, who wrote it, is just phenomenal, her talent is beyond. I’m really grateful for the entire cast and crew for giving us the space to work in a very comfortable way. We took it very seriously, there was no playing around that day. I remember telling Matt, ‘I have to tell you, there’s only so many takes of this I can do. So let’s do it. No holding back, when you say action, I’m giving you everything I got so make sure everybody’s ready.’ I did the close-ups on that twice and I kept going back to Lauren and Jenji [Kohan], who was there that day, and checking in with them. I wanted to make sure that they were really feeling every emotion that someone like that would go through. I remember shooting it twice and then Matthew saying, 'We got it.' And I thought, 'Great,' because I can wash all of this away now. I had to do The Color Purple on Broadway that night, so I'm thinking, 'Now I can try to move into another headspace.' Sure enough, he comes back and says we have to do it again. I'm like: 'Are you serious?' I remember taking a walk with Lauren and just taking a second. I took a minute or two to kind of collect myself and get back into that world. I’m an actor, I went to school for this. But doing that over and over and over again is not an easy thing to do. And then, just looking at Samira. Seeing her on that ground and imagining my friend who is really my friend, not being with us, brought me right where I needed to be. And after we shot the last shot, I just held Samira for a very long time. (Read THR's full chat with Brooks about the episode, its impact and what's to come on season five here.)
Alan Aisenberg (Baxter Bayley): We did it — and this does not feel like an exaggeration — over 100 times over the course of 22 hours. The first time we did it in rehearsal, I was looking down at the back of Samira's head and I remember hearing a gasp and looking up and everyone was just staring. No emotion. It’s this image that is already implanted in our brains and to see it re-created in front of you was super impactful. We shot it hundreds of times. If you watch that scene, it feels like there’s no one camera angle that’s used more than once, which adds to the frenetic [nature] of the situation, very much by design in the way that Matt, Lauren, Jenji and [cinematographer] Ludovic Littee imagined. When the close-up was on me, I wanted to give it 100 percent and same for Samira. We got into this mode of it feeling constantly new and fresh and terrifying every time. When you see it, it never feels comfortable. It never feels like he knows what he’s doing or that the situation is under control for anyone. Doing it that many times helped keep it, not repetitive, but sporadic or unpredictable, because we never got into a groove. We never knew when it was going to be done, it just kept evolving and going and getting crazier. (Read THR's full chat with Aisenberg about the episode and what the surprising fan reaction has been here.)
After Poussey's death, her body is left untouched on the cafeteria floor for an entire day while Caputo and MCC deal with the fallout. Ultimately, Caputo covers up her death and turns Bayley into the victim. Taystee spreads the news like wildfire and after all the racial and inmate injustice they have suffered, the entire prison comes together in an Attica-style riot. In the final scene, Humphrey's gun gets loose and Daya picks it up. Instead of handing it over to Maria, she aims it directly at the C.O. while her inmates cheer around her. The final moment cuts to Poussey's flashback, with the character staring straight into the camera for a powerful goodbye.
Dascha Polanco (Dayanara Diaz): Dayanara’s in a place where the boiling point has tipped over. Where it’s like, “F— everyone. I’m tired, I’m frustrated and I don’t know what the hell to do. I’ve been in love — I feel like it was an enigma — and now I’m over it and trying to break through.” I think that she’s in a dark place, however, you have to understand that Dayanara’s a victim of her circumstance. It’s a cycle that keeps on repeating itself. She’s been fighting it for so long and now there’s no way of her fighting it. Right now, it’s her accepting things and I think she’s just over it. (Read THR's full chat with Polanco about the ending and what might happen next here.)
Samira Wiley (Poussey Washington): In the last scene, I’m looking off and we do that a couple times and I think we’re done. Then someone runs over and says, "Jenji wants you to look into the camera." And I’m like, “This is Orange Is the New Black, we don’t do that — that’s crazy!” And of course it wasn’t crazy. That’s why I’m not the director and I’m not the creator! It’s very, very powerful and it seems to really be hitting people, that last shot of Poussey looking right into the camera. … The anticipation that I have for season five after seeing the end is like, “Wow, where do you go from here?” I’m just excited to honestly be a viewer and experience it. It's a turning point and I don't think it can ever be the same.
Laura Prepon (Alex Vause): The riot is a cool place to go because it really happens. We’re dealing with that and we’ll see the aftermath. I have no clue what they’re setting up, but it’s going to be crazy. Nothing is taboo for Jenji, she goes there and that’s the story she wanted to tell. She doesn’t steer us wrong. We fully believe in her and her storytelling.
Jenji Kohan (creator): We're already starting on season five and it's bananas.