A lot has changed since the earlier seasons of Orange Is The New Black, where there was a garden club, the inmates sewed and smuggled panties, and of course, Sophia helmed Litchfield's hair salon, helping inmates feel beautiful despite their circumstances. Sophia's story took a dark turn when she was placed in solitary confinement for months on end, before surrendering during the riot early on in Season 5. But being in the protected "Florida" unit this season doesn't mean that everything is "better" for her, and Sophia's settlement scene in OITNB Season 6 is one of the most heartbreaking yet. And that's saying something.
Laverne Cox, the transgender actress who portrays Sophia in the Netflix original series told AM New York that she didn't appear in very many Season 5 episodes because of other contractual obligations, including those for her role on CBS' show Doubt, which was cancelled early on. Fortunately, that gave her time to re-immerse herself into Sophia's character, and she admits that even for her, Season 6 got deep.
“I got some scripts that I really was so excited about and some scenes that were really challenging for me and that made me just so happy to get to prepare,” she said. “When I have the time and can make the time to really prepare as an actor, that is just the best thing in the world for me . . . I’ve been with Sophia for a very long time, but when I just get to really prepare in various ways . . . I really, really love the process. So, I got some wonderfully challenging things that required me to do that this year."
What Cox means by challenging, is that in her few appearances on Season 6, Sophia is faced with what is, arguably, one of the most difficult decisions of her life. If you've completed the Season 6 marathon already, you know that most of it follows the investigation into the death of C.O. Piscatella, who was accidentally shot by CERT officers storming the prison to end the the riot. But the inmates are being framed for his shooting instead.
Taystee is one of the inmates who is wrongly pegged as guilty. After she tirelessly begs Caputo for his help, he decides to work towards making a case for her, which he says would benefit from Sophia's testimony against MCC (Litchfield's former ownership) in regards to its regular mistreatment of inmates. If Sophia chooses to testify for Taystee, Caputo offers her an early release from her sentence. In a vigorous counteroffer, MCC's new head honcho and former rioting inmate poser, Linda, offers Sophia $300,000 on top of a shortened sentence.
The catch? Sophia has to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) pledging to never reveal the ugly details of her experiences at Litchfield, including being unfairly trapped in solitary confinement for six months. Caputo begs her to testify for Taystee, proclaiming that it could save her and many other inmates. "Your voice will be heard," Caputo says. But in a momentous realization, Sophia decides to take Linda's offer and leave with the cash instead, silencing herself. "I'm done trying to be heard," she says. "No one's listening."
Sophia's decision to save herself, knowing no one else ever would, is a hard one to watch, especially because it's one so many women face in other situations. For example, so many women who came forward as part of the #MeToo and Time's Up movement have spoken about being forced to, or asked to, sign NDAs just like Sophia's — asked to bury the abuse they suffered in order to just carry on with their lives. Or, in Sophia's face, be released early and take care of her kid's college tuition with the payout money.
So although Sophia gets somewhat of a happy ending in Season 6 in that she gets to walk free from Litchfield, she walks away carrying all of her and her fellow inmates' stories, knowing that others may fall victim to the same abuses she suffered because of it. And knowing that she alone was going to be unable to change the culture within Litchfield. Her fictional situation mirrors the lives of so many other women in the real world and is a reminder that safety and freedom come at an unfathomably high price.