It’s time for another dose of Netflix’s increasingly addictive new drama, Orange Is The New Black. In this batch, Piper (Taylor Schilling) learns how a simple thing (a missing screwdriver, a mystical chicken) can upend the entire prison. But interested minds want to know: what’s happening between Alex (Laura Prepon) and Nichols (Natasha Lyonne)?
Let’s bitch it out…Each week we’re reviewing two episodes of Netflix’s women-in-prison drama. This week we’re up to episodes 4 &5.
1×04: ‘Imaginary Enemies’
The title of this outing is courtesy of Nichols, who insists that Piper’s new roomie, Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst) has a great deal in common with urban legends: the truth of the story has gotten lost somewhere along the way. It’s interesting that Orange Is The New Black hasn’t delved too much into the traditional “prison violence” storyline yet. Even here, despite the threat of the missing screwdriver and its implications for Mercy’s impending release, it’s actually Miss Claudette who delivers a healthy dose of violence.
Turns out Piper’s roommate has a strong moral code, not just persnickety attitudes about cleanliness. Well…she has those, too, but that’s probably because she worked at a maid service called ‘Clean Makers’ as a teenager. Turns out the maid service has a child-slavery workforce comprised entirely of underage girls working to pay off the debt they accrue coming to America (Ah the American dream). Miss Claudette’s is a story of heartbreak: after learning that her longtime object of affection has married a significantly younger woman, she decides to teach a client a bloody lesson after he assaults one of her girls. At least by the end of the hour things look like they might be on the turn-around when she receives word that her beloved’s wife has croaked and he’s coming back. Death has never been happier!
It’s kinda shocking that Miss Claudette really is a murderer after all. The show makes a big deal to demonstrate how much sway Miss Claudette has among the inmates because of her reputation (though her crime changes on the person). As we’ve learned in four episodes no one is in prison for the reasons we might suspect (my common refrain is that the majority of these women seem too smart to have ended up behind bars). I like that Orange Is The New Black isn’t afraid to make these women complex. I’m sure some of them have less substantial stories behind their incarceration, but even so, thus far all of the inmates defy traditional dramatic tropes (the dumb blonde, the lesbian, the bitchy one don’t really exist – none of these characters are so easily defined). This is probably closer to the truth than those of us on the outside suspect.
Meanwhile, prison-life continues for Piper, who gets to experience the joys of learning a trade when she’s assigned to electrical (education was shut down – woh woh). It’s a different kind of atmosphere thanks to guard Luschek (Matt Peters) who kinda reminds me of Parks & Recreation‘s Chris Pratt (aka a bit of a silly doofus). Naturally Piper makes a gaffe when she accidentally smuggles out a screwdriver, leading to a full blown manhunt since the tool is considered a weapon that can add 5 more years to a sentence (!) The whole incident really makes it apparent how easy it is for additional sentencing to add up.
As predicted Miss Claudette helps Piper cover up the theft and eventually Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) steals the damn thing. As with many things, however, things are not as they appear on the surface: turns out that Big Boo just wanted a new sexy plaything and she didn’t intend on using the screwdriver to shiv either Mercy or her girlfriend, Miler (Madeline Brewer).
- Just in case we didn’t know that Pornstache (Pablo Schrieber) is a douchebag, he uses the missing screwdriver as an excuse for a full pat-down of Chapman. Way to live up to that mustache, bud
- Piper does a great deal to piss-off Miss Claudette. Aside from the screwdriver, she unintentionally invites a pack of girls looking for help on their appeals into their cell. Guess Piper kinda ended up working in education after all, huh?
- At separate points in the episode Nichols is drawn into a discussion about life in prison. First by Piper, who admits that every morning she wakes up wanting to “cry, throw shit and kill myself”and then later with Alex, with whom she bonds in the library. This is our first real insight into Alex (previously we’ve only been exposed to her in Piper’s presence). Without her ex around to sway our perception, Alex is far less of a villain that we’ve been led to believe
- P.S. Piper accidentally admitting to Nichols that she was a squirter with Alex = hilarious
- Finally, more meet-cute romantic schtick between guard Bennett (Matt McGorry) and Diaz (Dascha Polanco). That tobacco teeth picking scene in the yard? Ugh…I just can’t
- Nichols (to Piper, referring Luschek): “He’s got breath like dead things”
- Piper (describing her relationship with Samira Wiley’s Washington): “I say ‘hi’. She says ‘shut the fuck up’”
- Miler (working on her comeback to Big Boo): “Yeah…well…you’re fat”
- Piper (ranting to Claudette): “I have been here for two weeks and in that time I have been starved, teased, stalked and called Taylor Swift.”
1×05: ‘The Chickening’
Of the two episodes, I much preferred ‘The Chickening’, though that may just be because it’s the most fun episode of the series to date. There’s an absurdist comedy streak running through Piper’s adventures with the chicken, including a bizarre rant from Red (Kate Mulgrew) about making a Kiev of the elusive creature after it appears to her in a dream wearing a top hat. That the street value of the chicken morphs from a delectable entity (for the Russian chef) to a drug mule (for the Spanish girls) to an arms poultry (for the black girls) is an enjoyably adult twist on the game of telephone. Cap this off with Piper’s lapse in judgement at episode’s end when she abandons her Barney’s-securing phone call with Polly (Maria Dizzia) so that she can “shuffle” after the chicken only to lose the damn mystical thing between the fences and the whole thing almost feels like an existential farce.
And that doesn’t even address the burst electrical pipe that came down under the weight of Pennsatucky’s (Taryn Manning) arts & craft cross in the church. I may have guffawed about the amount of damage that resulted.
Essentially the whole episode is filled with gut-busting laughs and one-liners. And yet there’s still a heady mixture of insight and even drama mixed in. The flashbacks in this episode belong to Diaz and her mother, Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who have a…tense relationship. Now we know why: turns out that after Aleida took the fall for her sleazy drug-dealer boyfriend, she (correctly) accused Diaz of sleeping with him (Whether Diaz does this because she genuinely wants to or just to get back at her mother is unclear). Presumably Diaz ends up behind bars for the same reason as her mother, and here the story takes a darker turn as mom repays the favour by hijacking her daughter’s burgeoning relationship with Bennett with some nekkid time in the utility room.
Ugh – this is going to get nasty. So much for that meet-cute relationship.
- The plotline with Sophia (Laverne Cox) trying to snag Sister Ingalls’ (Beth Fowler) estrogen pills is a little obvious, but the actresses make it enjoyable nonetheless
- Morello (Yael Stone) breaks things off with Nichols because she feels guilty about cheating on her fiance. I’m gonna side with AfterEllen on this one: that’s a pretty shitty thing to say to someone after they’ve gone to town on you and you have yet to reciprocate. Poor sexual etiquette alert!
- Just in case you started to like Alex in the previous episode, she’s back to full Machiavelli mode here. Following the church’s destruction, AA takes over the yoga space and Alex takes full advantage of Piper’s proximity to trash her to the other addicts
- Sidenote: the moment Alex clarifies that she considers herself a drug importer before adjusting her glasses is full-blown perfect diva moment. LOVE IT
- I was wondering how long it would take Larry (Jason Biggs) to realize that Alex is in prison with Piper. I liked how the scene with his Jewish parents began very stereotypically, but his father turned very wise when he advised Larry to lie about Alex’s indictment of Piper. P.S. Not sure why Larry was so adamant about not lying to Piper – we know he’s been watching Mad Men without her
- Speaking of stereotypes, the events revolving around the mystical chicken bring out an interesting variety of stereotypes that the different races believe about the others. The prison may have a healthy tolerance (for the most part) for sexual diversity, but race remains a formidable boundary.
- Where searching for the chicken, where did the black girls get a dog?!
- Just in case you didn’t love her enough after her dedication to Harry Potter and her awesome dancing abilities in ‘Imaginary Enemies’, Taystee admits to the AA group that her “rock bottom” moment involves BBQ sauce and a dead man. She’s quite a character
- I’m less certain what to make of Pennsatucky. I’d read comments that it was a polarizing performance, which I can agree with. It feels like Manning doing her usual dim-as-a-lightbulb Southern act (see also: Hustle & Flow). I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen a little more, but she’s not my favourite member of the cast
- Finally, in case you were wondering, it has been three weeks since Piper surrendered herself. Time flies when you’ve got lovely foliage, a cup of mostly hot tea and a mostly good book (she would be reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, too!)
- Morella (after Piper talks about the beauty of the trees): “Oh yeah I got incarcerated so that I could see the changing of the leaves”
- Aleida (leaving her daughters to fend for themselves as she heads out for the evening): “I’m eating oysters, bitches.” Mother of the year, right here
- Pornstache (when Pennsatucky begins to explain how she survived infancy): “That’s a rhetorical question! Do you not know what a rhetorical question is?!”
- Red (when Piper misinterprets Red’s comment to mean all black people want to eat chicken): “Don’t be racist. Black people are all on heroin.” Umm…
As we head into the mid-season hump, I’ll freely admit that I’m finding it difficult to pace myself. I can completely understand why folks binged on the show; these are amazing characters and great stories that absolutely make you want to dig into the next episode immediately.
I’ll flip it back to you: which girl/storyline is your favourite? Do you expect Piper and Larry to lie to each other more? Should Nichols and Alex hook-up? Whose backstory do you want to see next? (Taystee!) And, most importantly, can Piper’s soap business be saved with a passive-aggressive twit like Polly at the helm? Comment away below
Orange Is The New Black S1 is now available in it’s entirety on Netflix. Please refrain from discussing future episodes in the comments – we’ll get there shortly.