5:00am PT by Jackie Strause
How 'Orange Is the New Black' Tackled Black Lives Matter in Season 4
[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the entire fourth season of Orange Is the New Black.]
Orange Is the New Black closed its fourth season with its most shocking ending to date.
After Netflix released the entire fourth season Friday, dedicated binge-watchers of the prison dramedy from Jenji Kohan were left reeling after the tragic events of the final two episodes of the season.
After rising tension in the overpopulated prison between the inmates — especially those of color and the abusive new guards — Poussey Washington, a black inmate, was killed by a white guard during a prison-wide protest. The guard accidentally suffocated her when he held her down with his knee, killing the 92-pound fan favorite after the beloved character (played by Samira Wiley) fought for air, echoing the tragic real-life events of Eric Garner's death and subsequent "I Can't Breathe" and Black Lives Matter movement. Washington's body was then left on the floor of the cafeteria, where she shockingly remained for an entire day. Prison officials then covered up her death to the public, which propelled the inmates into a prison-wide riot against the injustice.
“This season means the most to me. It’s the most special season that I have had on this show," Wiley, who played Poussey for all four seasons, told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the premiere. "The writing for me is great. The message that all of our cast is telling with this season and my part in it, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Kohan is known for tackling hot-button social issues on Orange Is the New Black. Many of the key characters have fallen victim to her creative storytelling of the deeply broken prison system surrounding issues of mental health, racial and transgender injustice, drug and sexual abuse, but Poussey is the first fan-favorite to become a casualty.
"I knew for a very long time, and I think that gave me a level of comfort and that knowing, like, ‘Alright.’ It helped me relax, honestly," Wiley said about being Kohan's vehicle to tell the Black Lives Matter story. “With every season, there is a little more ease that creeps into our acting as a whole."
Fans flooded Wiley's social media accounts throughout the weekend as they learned of Poussey's death, bemoaning the loss of the hooch-making French book worm, who delighted fans for four seasons with her on-screen bestie Taystee (Danielle Brooks) before finally finding love this season with Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn). What's more, the episode was written by Wiley's girlfriend, Lauren Morelli.
Before her death, Washington was eyeing her release (she was sentenced to six years for possession and intent to sell) and sought out a job opportunity with new inmate Judy King (Blair Brown) so she and Soso could have a future when she got out.
Now her death will remain a legacy moment of the series, and a turning point for even darker and more provocative storytelling up ahead from Kohan. The finale ended with all of the culture groups banding together in a riot and Daya (Dascha Polanco) obtaining a gun and pointing it at some of the new prison guards.
Teasing what's to come for season five (the show has already been renewed through season seven) Kohan has only said: "It's bananas."
Season four of Orange Is the New Black is streaming now on Netflix. Follow THR's complete OITNB coverage, including interviews with the cast, all week here.