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With Orange Is the New Black's Deaths, Was Justice Served?

Were Season 5's endings what the inmates really needed?

Liz Raftery

[Warning: This article contains spoilers from Season 5 of Orange Is the New Black. Read at your own risk!]

Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black ended with the death of beloved inmate Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), and in Season 5, the ladies of Litchfield finally got their revenge. Or did they?

The fifth season of Netflix's acclaimed drama also included a couple of casualties, but this time they were prison guards. And their deaths could have long-reaching implications among the prisoners.

The first victim of the riot -- which was essentially caused by Poussey's death -- is CO Humphrey (Michael Torpey), who dies not from being shot in the leg by Daya (Dascha Polanco), but after suffering a stroke once Kukudio (Emily Althaus) blows oxygen bubbles into his IV in the medical unit. Humphrey spends the majority of the season slumped in a hospital bed or a wheelchair, his face slack due to the paralyzing effects of the stroke. Finally, he's unceremoniously dumped onto the floor of a storage closet by Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), who needs his wheelchair to transport Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), and his body is discovered by members of the SWAT Team after they storm the prison.

It's an ironic, fittingly undignified end for Humphrey, arguably the most sadistic of all the guards who were brought to Litchfield in Season 4. It's because of Humphrey goading Suzanne into beating up Kukudio that the two ladies got sent to the medical unit in the first place, and his winding up as a patient in between the two of them marks the beginning of his downfall. It's also unclear at which point Humphrey actually dies, though his death could potentially have disastrous consequences for Daya. No one witnessed Kukudio blowing into his IV, but there were dozens of prisoners -- not to mention another guard -- looking on as Daya aimed a gun at Humphrey and pulled the trigger.

Brad William Henke, Orange Is the New Black
Jojo Whilden/Netflix

The second and perhaps more satisfying demise in Season 5 comes at the very end of the season, when Humphrey's fellow CO and partner-in-cruelty Piscatella (Brad William Henke) is shot by a trigger-happy member of the SWAT Team as they prepare to round up the last of the inmates. Moments prior, Piscatella has managed to narrowly escape what would have undoubtedly been a more gruesome and painful fate, when his nemesis Red (Kate Mulgrew) cuts him loose from the chair he's been tied to, shortly after Taystee (Danielle Brooks) drops the gun she was pointing at Piscatella's head. As Piscatella walks out of the room where the women are hiding, he barely has time to get out the word "Hey" before he's felled with a bullet to the head by a SWAT Teamer, who mistakes him for a prisoner.

Piscatella's death is a convenient way for Orange Is the New Black to give viewers a sense of justice (the season ends before the prisoners find out he's dead, but surely their vindication will come in Season 6), while at the same time absolving the characters we've come to know and love of any wrongdoing. In fact, it gives them the upper hand, morally speaking. The other prisoners manage to talk Red out of her initial plan to obtain a full confession from Piscatella through torture, and Taystee can't bring herself to kill a defenseless man when she has the chance to -- even if he did essentially cause the death of her friend days prior.

Orange Is the New Black: 8 burning questions from Season 5

So, was "justice" served? As Alex (Laura Prepon) puts it at the end of the season, was the riot "worth it"? In the most black-and-white sense of the notion, yes. The two worst guards no longer pose a physical threat to the ladies of Litchfield, and many of their victims believe the men's ultimate judgment will come soon enough. But in another sense, it's possible the guards' deaths will only create more problems for the inmates: the video of Piscatella assaulting Alex that was released online may expose the fact that she's still alive to her former drug kingpin boss Kubra, and the legal implications of Humphrey's death on Daya and potentially Kukudio are still TBD. Not to mention, it's possible the members of the SWAT Team will try to pin Piscatella's death on the prisoners, since there was no one else to witness the accidental shooting.

The idea of revenge may be sweet, but on Orange Is the New Black it might ultimately prove to be a bitter pill to swallow.

Season 5 of Orange Is the New Black is available to stream on Netflix.