By Jessi Walker
This article contains mentions of sexual assault, police corruption, and brief mentions of drug abuse. Spoilers for Orange is the New Black are also heavily mentioned in this article.
I feel like one of the only ones that hasn’t watched Orange is the New Black, especially because it was one of my sister’s shows that she watched regularly. My decision to watch the television show wasn’t random, as it was for my Friendship in Western Cultural Texts class, which is an English class that is offered by John Ronan at Kutztown University. I never expected I’d have to watch television when I came to college here for English classes. When I saw the syllabus for this class, I noticed for my final reflection project that I’d have to pick from a list of 12 different shows, and before I left for Thanksgiving break, I decided I would watch season one of Orange is the New Black. While I have to write a paper on this television show separate from this article, there are several things I noticed that wouldn’t fit for that paper concept for various reasons.
I Hate Piper Chapman
Piper Chapman is the main character of the series for season one of Orange is The New Black. While she is the most fleshed out character in the season, she does not leave much room for things to like about her. Piper got thrown in prison because of her small part in a drug cartel that her ex girlfriend, Alex Vause, was a major part of. Alex encouraged Piper to help her with her business by picking up a suitcase of money for the drug operation. Piper ended up leaving Alex and didn’t help out with the cartel anymore, but she was caught for what she did ten years later and had to self-surrender into prison. Piper struggled to get adapted to prison life throughout the season, especially when she realized Alex was held in the same prison as her. She got starved out by Red, the head cook of the kitchen, when she accidentally insulted her cooking, she managed to get an unwanted prison-wife, and she was assigned to room with a clean freak who had a lot of rumors surrounding her. However, while she certainly had struggles in prison, you can’t help but notice the privilege she really has.
Piper did not need crime to survive; she was a part of the drug cartel because she was in love and wanted to rebel a little in her life. Her friend, Polly, is her business partner, and even though she is pregnant and busy, has also visited her and didn’t fire her from the business right away because Piper was going to prison. Polly tried to make things work with Piper being in prison by still setting up phone call meetings so Piper can be a part of the business as well as updating her as best as she can despite the restrictions from the prison. Piper also had her mom visit her a lot, even though she had her issues, and so she still had a better family life than most of the prisoners there. She didn’t have to sleep with the correctional officers in order to buy drugs to cope, or to help her out of sticky situations. She had a proper place to go after prison, and a plan to actually marry Larry. She had more than what a lot of the prisoners would have if they ever were released, and the privilege she had added to my annoyance of her, even though prison life was terrible for her too. Her privilege makes her harder to sympathize with, especially when she refuses to admit to her own faults.
Privilege aside, Piper is actually a pretty mean person, even though she wants to be nice and to treat prison life like a social project. Piper participated in gossip around the prison, and she helped feed into delusions that Crazy Eyes had by letting her be her guard dog. Piper also cheated on Larry with Alex, and then was upset when Larry wouldn’t call her when he found out. She was upset when he talked to Alex in order to try to get her to back off and that he decided he wanted to leave her. Piper is also inconsiderate of how things will affect other people when she is in prison. In one episode, delinquent children spend the day with the inmates and the correctional officers in order to encourage them to not go into prison. A disabled child in a wheelchair is among the group of children, and plays off prison life the most. Piper is invited to help scare these children, but at first actively does the opposite of that. She changes her mind though, and then finds Pennsyltucky. While Pennsyltucky is a horrible person who was very homophobic towards her and Alex, she used the disabled child as a part of the scheme. This child became a victim of Pennsyltucky’s healing delusion, to the point where she was knocked out of the wheelchair, and in the end Piper only cared about how bad it was for Pennslytucky to be sent to Psych and then didn’t understand why Pennslytucky didn’t instantly forgive her for getting her out of that situation.
Larry Lacks A Grip on Reality
Both times he talks about Piper when she is in prison was a horrible idea for him to do. The article that he published was considered as insensitive, as he paints her as better than the other women in the facility and he makes his suffering with the situation sound worse. The radio interview was even worse than the article because he talked about sensitive subjects around other inmates and he was mad at Piper at the time, so he didn’t even get her consent to go on the radio show or talk about the stories she told him, which ended up causing issues for her in the prison. He also foolishly believes that Piper and him are still working and should get married when he found out about Alex and Piper’s affair, and continued to milk it for all it is worth. He didn’t bother trying to get Piper’s side either of why she was sent to SHU, also known as solitary confinement, because at the time she was just dancing with Alex.
The situation with the screwdriver ended up being really dumb on Piper’s part. I am surprised she wasn’t told to return her tools before she went outside for lunch, and that it was suspicious to put it in her pocket anyway. She should know this because she’s studied prison before she showed up, and also because it is just common sense. The system of matching chits didn’t seem to be effective to begin with, which is a disaster waiting to happen. The chits require a name to be written down, but they should just have two pairs of the same chit, one for the spot of where the tool is at, and one for which one is given to the prisoner. The chits could be compared to which one the prisoners have, and Piper with the matching chit should have been caught there. A name list should not be necessary, and it shouldn’t be blamed on the person who wasn’t even told they were supposed to do that.
The screwdriver is also disgusting, as there was an unnecessary masturbation session Boo had with the screwdriver that she later gifted to Piper at the end of the season. This scene was not truly needed to advance the plot and just to make things super gross. The fact that Boo regifted the screwdriver makes it even weirder, as she knew where the screwdriver was inside of her. What Boo did with that screwdriver will be permanently burned into my memory.
The Voice in the Vent
Piper was forced to spend time in SHU because she was seen dancing with Vause by her counselor. She was only kept in SHU for less than 48 hours, as it was obvious her trip there was completely unwarranted, as she did not break any real rules by dancing. However, she is quickly unhappy with the place. People inside of SHU were screaming and crying, and while that is bothersome, Piper seems to have already started going crazy. She hears someone in the vent chatting with her, and they talk together about how terrible SHU is. The voice is supposedly of an inmate that had been there for months. The voice of this individual was very questionable to me, but they seemed very real as they understood the struggle of the time in SHU. However, when Piper started crying about how she will not look at Alex anymore, the voice stopped responding to her suddenly. This feels like it is meant to imply Piper hallucinated the voice, but she wasn’t in solitary for that long. Part of me believes the voice was actually Healy putting on a fake voice, as the voice sounded masculine and the voice also said things that scared Piper, and stopped talking when Piper said she’d give in.
The correctional officer, Bennett, seemed to be one of the nicer guards at first, but we learned he was having an affair with Daya, an inmate in the prison that he supervises. Bennett knew that this was considered rape, as he used to be the guard that followed rules and moral codes, but he still did sleep with Daya. He gets irritated with Daya when she gets pregnant and wants to keep the baby. Daya tries her best to make this up to Bennett to make the situation possible for them to still have each other by sleeping with Mendez to frame him for the pregnancy, but Bennett is very misunderstanding of the situation. While I get he didn’t want Daya to have to resort to this, he still offers her no empathy about her and the baby. He acts like she was a monster for doing this, when she is clearly just a suffering inmate that he took advantage of. Their romance is seen as romantic in the first season and isn’t often questioned, but it was super inappropriate and unfortunately, a real part of prison for the correction officers to abuse their power like that with the women there.
The chicken is one of the weirdest plots of the television show, for many different reasons. One of the major issues with the chicken plot is how disregarded Piper is treated about it. Piper is very new to the prison, and likely did not know the rumors beforehand. She casually mentions the chicken and then gets blamed for stories being spread about the chicken having drugs inside of its butt, cash, candy, etc. While the chicken was a myth in the prison, Piper had no reason to lie about the presence of one yet. The weirdest thing is how it just disappears, like it wants for us to think Piper is crazy, especially when she abandoned her business for it. It was so weird about how the person on the phone refused to even look, as is the case for most of what Piper experienced when spotting the chicken.
Pornstache, or Mendez, is clearly the worst correctional officer in the building, as he is constantly taking advantage of the inmates. When he was trying to intimidate Red, the head cook in the kitchen, into selling drugs, he ended up contaminating the food the prisoners were about to eat by peeing directly into the gravy in front of Red. Mendez is constantly having sexual relationships with inmates as he is a smuggler and feels like the inmates are beneath him and just his dolls. He is obsessively destructive with his roommate searches, and he got away with framing Tricia’s death as a hanging when she really overdosed from his medicine when he locked her in a storage closet. It is very confusing how much he can get away with, which hints at an idea that the prison might not actually have any cameras that work, which is weird for a prison. Mendez should have been caught doing some of these things. When he slept with Daya, it seemed out of place for him to fall in love with her as he has been sleeping with almost every inmate and has groped them. It is confusing he was able to act like he had such a connection with Daya, who clearly didn’t enjoy sex with him.
The first season of Orange is The New Black is alright, but it leaves you with many questions. I noticed the intersectionality that was taking place in the story, as well as the LGBTQ+ relationship reputation that the show had helped improve media’s possibilities of accomplishing shows like these. A lot of brilliant, dramatic scenes had just the right amount of comedy with them. I don’t think this show makes my favorites list quite yet, but I will probably start watching season two, especially after that season finale. I think I made the best pick for my Friendship in Western Texts course to write a paper on it. I can see why my sister enjoyed it, and it was refreshing to have a majority female ensemble on Netflix with lesbians, considering usually shows featuring this group of people gets pushed aside and forgotten, even if the show is truly a gem.