In the years since fans were first introduced to Maria Ruiz on Orange Is The New Black, she's slowly shaken herself from the heartache of having to give up her child and channeled it into a fiery determination to persevere. In Season 4, she embraced her leadership instinct and launched a rival business to take down Piper; in Season 5, she rallied the inmates against the guards, then betrayed them for the chance to see her daughter; and now, star Jessica Pimentel tells Bustle Maria has nothing left to lose.
"She has that animal instinct in her. She has that gang mentality. That’s where she feels safe and comfortable and powerful, and all her safety and all her power has been taken away. Her one reason to live, her baby, has been taken away," Pimentel says. "So she goes home. She goes where she knows things can work in her favor, and getting her power back is always the undercurrent. Maria just wants to get to her daughter however she can, and if that means running the show from prison, she’ll do it."
Part of regaining that control means uniting the inmates around a common enemy, and in an unprecedented role reversal, they round up the guards and torture them. As a viewer, it's often unsettling to watch, but Pimentel says the women are just doing what they know.
"It’s these people taking their power back. They’ve been stripped of their humanity, they’ve been stripped of their rights, and they’re just acting the only way the know how – to do it in return and in the quickest, most direct way," Pimentel explains. "Writing letters, campaigning, that’s not going to work for them. They are mad, they are angry, and they have no human rights. When you’re not treated like a human being, you don’t act like a human being."
Maria, of course, has always been scrappy, but there's a desperation that seeps through Season 5. She tries frantically to maneuver the gun away from Daya, to force herself back to the top of the prison hierarchy, and she has no qualms about who she may hurt along the way. In a particularly telling scene, she seizes Gloria's plan to let the guards go for herself, hoping to cut a deal that could reunite her with her family. In return, she's granted a brief but immensely emotional moment with her daughter, and that's the last we see of her before the inmates are loaded onto buses to be driven away from Litchfield — likely for good.
Pimentel doesn't yet know where Maria is headed from here, but she thinks it could go any number of ways. "It could actually work in Maria’s favor. If she’s not around [the other inmates], no one can stab her. Or it could be really bad if they go to prisons where they don’t know anyone and people hear that she’s done some kind of bad thing," she says. "I would like for Maria to get happy and find her family again, but that may not happen. It may get even harder and colder, who knows? The mind of [OITNB creator] Jenji Kohan is a mystery."
But one thing, at least, is for sure: At this point, Maria's only loyalty is to her family.