*SPOILER ALERT * *SPOILER ALERT * *SPOILER ALERT * *SPOILER ALERT *
I've never been to prison. There was that one time I went to the county jail for a high school civic class (only Black girl, nearly all Black male prisoners. Bad day.) And there was another time I waited in the visitor's area of a jail for hours because my best friend got locked up for driving my car 100+ mph (while I was in it.) But that's the extent of my experience. I never got into "Oz", so Orange is the New Black is my first "real" taste of TV prison, which I am clear is crafted for my amusement and dramatic effect.
As far as prisons go, fictional Litchfield is bad enough. There's the SHU which drives everyone crazy, and tampon sandwiches, and religious zealots with shanks. You have little privacy-- although you can get enough stolen moments for lady sex and to electrocute yourself for the high-- there are crazy people and emotionally disturbed people, and sociopathic people and to be fair, very normal people who made seriously bad choices, often out of necessity, unlike our annoying heroine Piper Chapman, who did it for the adventure. But as bad as Piper thought she had it, she’s about to learn it can always be worse.
Season 2 begins with Piper being transferred from SHU in the middle of the night via a "mystery bus", then onto a plane to an undetermined location. Turns out it's to a new prison-— a temporary, but indefinite assignment— in Chicago, one that lives up to the horror stories of prison and it's inmates that Litchfield did not. Chapman thinks it's a punishment for killing Pennsatucky in their season-ending snow fight, but actually it's because her ex-girlfriend's ex-boss is standing trial and Chapman and her ex, Alex Vouse, have been called to testify for the Feds. Piper may be many (horrid) things, as Alex points out, but she is not a murderess.
At Litchfield, Piper squats and coughs upon entry. At The Metropolitan Detention Center, she bends over and grabs her ankles while a guard shines a flashlight up her ass. There's one hour of recreation time and one day a week in the yard, which is promptly cancelled when a fight breaks out because an inmate's "molest me, daddy" voice. Most of Piper's time is spent in a cell with her roommates, who include a Black woman who sings Aretha Franklin’s "Natural Woman" while taking one of her four—yes, four— daily bowel movements on a toilet in the cell, a Latina with a spider tattoo on her face who's killed 13 people-- and has the broken black hearts to prove it-- and perhaps the scariest of all, a white chick who Piper wrongly assumes is harmless because of her nerdy demeanor and odd interest in birth times and because Piper is Piper, her whiteness. But it's that chick, one with manic rage who once bit her girlfriend's tongue off and swallowed it, that climbs on top of Piper in the middle of the night and licks her face from chin to brow. Lesson: don't judge a book by its cover.
Piper starts off on the wrong foot with her new roommates when she steps on a “Yoda”, a "biggie slow" cockroach capable of transporting cigarettes on their backs (with the help of toothpaste) from one cell to another. Piper is charged with finding a replacement— or else.
When Alex and Piper finally meet up in MPD, Alex has strict instructions for testifying: lie. Alex's ex boss incorporates "revenge as part of his business model... sick, deep revenge", Alex says, and she suggests they both lie about knowing him so as to escape his wrath. Piper eventually decides to go along with this plan and lies on the stand, much to the dismay of her lawyer, her ex-fiance’s father.
Alex doesn’t take her own advice though. She tells the truth about her relationship with her old boss, and it conveniently lands her out of jail. I’m not sure whether she set Piper up so she would be more important to prosecutors as the only one who had testimony against her ex-boss or as Alex explains to Piper on her way out of jail, “everything just happened so fast” and she really did just change her mind at the last minute. (I've watched the whole season and still can't figure it out.)
Either way, Piper is in, possibly with a perjury charge coming, as her lawyer points out. And Alex is out.
Some other thoughts:
*I get that the crux of the show is Piper’s fish-out-of-water perspective on prison life, and she is supposed to represent the viewer, one privileged enough to own a laptop, have wi-fi, and a the disposable income for a Netflix account. And still, Piper’s middle-class cluelessness and inability to grasp the basic nuances of prison life or recognize her privileges is hella annoying. You’re asking the guard on an inmate transportation bus if he can stop to have a bathroom break? Really? In fairness, the flashbacks to her childhood show that she can't really help it. F---ed up people raise f---ed up kids.
*On the plane to Chicago, Piper sits next to an inmate who looks like what I imagine Ellen would if she never had money and did hard drugs. As much as Piper is freaking out about not knowing where she’s going, Lolly, who carries a “glob” of Vaseline in her ear to keep her face hydrated on the plane ride, doesn’t care. She’s excited for anywhere that has food daily, heat and a bed because “it’s better than where I been.” Prison is a preferable option to whatever she faced on the “outside.” And given the conditions of where they end up and how Lolly gets beat up in the prison yard, that’s scary.
*We don’t get many Black guys on a show about life in a women’s prison, but the self-described “predator” in this episode is the scariest and most stereotypical image of a Black prisoner ever— sort of. Piper thinks he’s a rapist, and it’s not far-fetched given his leers on the plane and the way he grabs his d--- at her in her in the cafeteria. That, and when Piper tries to barter a hand job in exchange for him passing a message to Alex, he asks for her four-day old panties as payment. I was as relieved as Piper to find out he was a hitman. I don’t like Piper very much, but I don’t want anything even worse to happen to her.
What did everybody else think of the FIRST episode?