Orange is the New Black used to be huge. It blew up when it began, and for the next four years, everyone and their mother was watching it the day Netflix would drop a new season. Then came the Riot. The Riot is still what singlehandedly ruined the show for me. It symbolized for me that the show didn't have anymore more to say other than "there is injustice in the world that we can do nothing about". After finishing the final season, I've come to the realization that maybe that's all they needed to say.
Goodbye Litchfield, Hello ICE
Orange is the New Black has always preached the same message throughout it's seven season run. This is that there are some injustices that our system is too broken to handle. This is never more evident than in the final season, when our main characters are made to prepare meals at an ICE detention facility. We've seen mistreatment, abuse, and dehumanization of our leading women before, but even then we could attribute it to the fact that they were prisoners. When we see the trials that characters like Shani and Karla go through, we realize that the system isn't just broken, it is fundamentally flawed on almost every level. All these women want is to be treated fairly, and all we want as the audience is to see things go their way. Which brings me to my next point
I think it's intentional that not many characters really gets a sense of closure by the end of the series finale. The few that do (Cindy, Piper, and Taystee, to name a few) all come with some extreme caveats. Piper has upended her entire life to start new with Alex in Ohio, even given that their relationship has been acknowledged by everyone around them (including Alex herself) as being toxic. Cindy has the truth with her daughter out in the open, but her life is still complicated and will never be ideal, given the 10+ years of lies she's told. Taystee manages to set up a fund to help prisoners get back on their feat with small loans after release, but she is still facing a life sentence in prison.
Satisfying closure is such a rarity in this show that they make it a point to put most of our characters through hell before the end. Red is diagnosed with dementia, Lorna suffers a mental breakdown, Doggett overdoses. No character really feels safe. A major theme of this show has always been the importance of family, and to fit in with the pessimistic message of injustice for all, our two main families are torn apart by the end of the show. Red's family is broken down one by one, and the Diaz family ends in a (potential, we don't see the outcome) murder of Daya by her mother.
So What Did We Gain?
We've spent seven years with the women of Litchfield Penitentiary. We've seen their short-lived highs and their astonishingly deep lows. But did we gain anything from it? I said before that my investment ended at the riot. That was 3 years ago. Have I gained anything since? I think I gained what the characters themselves gained. They all know the despair of their situation, it's something they have to deal with on a daily basis. The ones who don't end up too far down the rabbit hole (Nicky comes to mind) are made to make the best of their horrible situations. Maybe that's what this show was trying to teach us. The system is broken and sets us up to fail, but we can still find reasons to keep going.