When Orange is the New Black began in 2013, it appeared to be a show about a privileged woman named Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) entering the prison system. But over the course of its seven seasons, viewers met countless women whose journeys led them into and out of Litchfield Penitentiary. The show's final season found numerous ways to pay tribute to those journeys, often with callbacks to earlier seasons. And believe it or not, one of the most moving callbacks came in the form of a little, feathered farm animal. But why are chickens important on Orange is the New Black? They've been a meaningful metaphor on the series from the beginning. Warning: Spoilers for Season 7 of Orange is the New Black follow.
Orange is the New Black first introduced audiences to the idea of the chicken in Season 1 Episode 5, which was aptly titled "The Chickening." Piper, who was still very new to prison life, noticed a chicken roaming the grounds of Litchfield. She didn't think it was that big a deal, until she mentioned it to the other inmates and a commotion ensued. Piper learned that the chicken was a legend at Litchfield; very few people had ever spotted it, and it was believed to have magical qualities. Red (Kate Mulgrew) believed the chicken was smarter than all other chickens and wanted to cook it, while another group of inmates believed the chicken was filled with drugs and still another group thought it had candy inside it. No matter what they believed, all the women agreed the chicken was special. It gave them hope.
Despite their efforts, no one ever caught the chicken, and it made cameo appearances in subsequent episodes. But the chicken more or less moved to the back of everyone's minds as the series went on... until Season 7 that is, when a whole bunch of feathered friends descend upon Litchfield.
In the show's final season, the new warden Tamika Ward (Susan Heyward) was working to help the inmates improve their lives. One of the initiatives that she started was a chicken coop that would be maintained by the prison's neurodiverse inmates. Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) took the lead in caring for the chickens, and as she did, the she realized there was an extra chicken in her coop. The magical chicken had reappeared.
But just like how the show became about so much more than just one inmate, this chicken storyline became about much more than just the one chicken: all the chickens became part of a a sharp metaphor for the inmates themselves. Just as the chickens were confined to cages, so were the women in their prison cells — until they were released, of course. Suzanne really hammered in that metaphor in one of her final moments in the series finale, when the chicken coop was being shut down and the chickens were leaving Litchfield. As she watched them get packed up to go, Suzanne cried out, "I never prepared them for life on the outside."
The truth is, as the series demonstrates in its final season, no one is ever really fully prepared for what comes next. In the world of Orange is the New Black, chickens and humans alike both fight to survive and hold onto all the bits of magic they can find.
You can watch all of Orange is the New Black on Netflix now.