After a season full of WTF moments, Orange Is the New Black saved its most surprising twist for last: Daya’s got a gun.
Season four ended with a cliffhanger of epic Litchfield proportions, with Daya (Dascha Polanco) pointing Humphrey’s own gun back at him as he and another guard kneel before all the cheering inmates. Propelled by 13 episodes of abuse and brutality at the hands of the new COs — ultimately leading to the death of fan favorite Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) in the penultimate episode — the finale’s prison riot raised the stakes and delivered a clear message in its final minutes: Everything is about to change.
“The boiling point has tipped over,” Polanco tells The Hollywood Reporter about her character holding the future of Litchfield in her loaded hands. “At this point, Daya is thinking, ‘F— everyone. I’m going for it.'”
After Poussey was accidentally suffocated by Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) during a protest, the finale continued to shine a light on the injustice. Poussey’s body was left on the floor for an entire day and her death was covered up, prompting Taystee (Danielle Brooks) to incite all of the inmates to come together and riot.
The season (which bowed June 17) ended with the camera rotating around a resolute Daya before cutting to a final moment with Poussey. Left on the edge of their seats, binge-watching viewers have continued to bemoan the yearlong wait to find out if Daya will pull the trigger and where the Netflix dramedy can ricochet from here.
“She’s in a dark place,” Polanco says of the usually nonviolent inmate who barely hesitated when faced with keeping the gun or passing it off to a more likely suspect, Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel). “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 over it.”
While many of the characters experienced direct abuse from the MCC authorities this season, Daya’s frustrations have been simmering since season one. Growing up in a drug-dealing and violent household landed her at Litchfield with her own mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) as a dorm-mate. After finally finding love with a CO, Bennett (Matt McGorry), she got pregnant, had to give up her baby and was then jilted by her fiancé in season three.
“Throughout the seasons we’ve seen different stages of Daya and in season four, you really get to see her become a woman,” says Polanco. “At one point, there’s a role reversal and you see her become a mother to her own mom. But there’s something she’s harboring inside and you know she’s going to have a point where she’s going to break and rebel. For the most part, she’s very disappointed with the people around her.”
After Bennett and her daughter’s disappearance in season three, season four featured the release of her mother, Aleida. That left Daya in prison alone for the first time since her arrival.
“Mom is not there. She had that security all throughout Litchfield, regardless of the relationship that they had,” says Polanco. “She just keeps getting poked: Now her mom is not there and her daughter is gone. She’s thinking, ‘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.’”
While Orange began production on season five this week, Polanco knows nothing of creator Jenji Kohan’s master plan (the Netflix dramedy has been renewed through season seven) and can only speculate about what may happen.
So could Daya actually pull that trigger?
“Yes,” Polanco says. “I think Daya’s definitely experiencing some postpartum depression. She might pull back and think about being a mother and not wanting to miss the opportunity of being with her child. But a woman going through postpartum — at that point, they’re very fragile and very sensitive.”
Polanco also points out that no one, not even she, knows why Daya landed in prison in the first place and that the character shouldn’t be underestimated.
“Daya may be nice and naïve, but she did live in a household where there was a lot of anger and that resides within her,” she says. “Knowing that it’s a guard on the floor, especially, she has resentment and that really flipped that switch.”
With all signs pointing to more Daya when the show returns next summer, a Bennett return could be life-saving given her current predicament.
“I would love for Matt to come back,” she says of McGorry, a series regular on ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder. “I love working with him, but he has another job and he’s doing great things. Daya wants love. She’s a hopeless romantic. Everything in her life has gone to the negative side and if Bennett were to come back, I think she would just cry. Trusting Jenji and the writers, this next season is going to be a lot of revelation.”
Orange Is the New Black is streaming now on Netflix. Read more interviews with the cast and check out all of THR‘s OITNB coverage here.