I have a confession to make: I decided to use this precious time before the new season really kicks off next week to finally watch Orange is the New Black. And I made it halfway through season 1, with the full intention of finishing. But I needed to slow down. This is an intense show. It gets in your head. So I’ve decided to write recaps in the interest of not just barreling through. And thus: the pilot.
So we’re about ten seconds in before we get our first boob shot, which is followed by a whole scene about boobs. I really like their opening credits. It’s beautifully shot and a really cool song on top.
Piper and her boyfriend are preparing for her incarceration. It was a recurring theme in my nightmares as a child that my family would calmly walk into death. I thought it was just about the recurring TV theme of having to choose to die, until I started following Mark Watches and he tackled Star Trek: The Original Series. I’m a born and bred Trekkie, and of course I’d seen the original series as a kid. But not really since then, and I couldn’t accurately describe more than a few episodes. So I’ve been watching along with Mark, and when the episode A Taste of Armageddon came up, I went cold. I had no clear memories of watching this episode. You could have described it to me in complete detail and I would have stared at you blankly. But those people, lining up and walking calmly into machines that kill them? That was my nightmares. Clearly I had seen the episode at a very influential time. And the reason it could infest my nightmares is because in the culture that I am from – white, middle-class, usually intelligent – we follow authority. We do what we are told. And that’s the culture Piper is from. She is a little more upper-class, but it’s close enough. It may or may not ever occur to her that she and everyone around her is making a series of decisions that lead to her incarceration. It’s not just one bad decision as a kid. It’s answering the phone when lawyers call and pleading out and having last dinners and last fucks and climbing into the car to self-surrender. Those are all decisions. And she makes them because we follow authority.
Piper lashes out in such tiny ways, but soon even those ways won’t be available to her. I think Piper Kerman has given interviews saying that the intake scene is pretty exactly how it was in real life, that they lost her paperwork and made her wait forever and then didn’t want to let her say good-bye. I am excited that there’s a TV character with similar size feet to me. We have a few stores in LA that resell clothing from TV and movie sets, and the shoes my size are almost always drag queen shoes. Which wouldn’t bother me at all (who doesn’t need more fabulous shoes?) except the heels are so damn high. I already tower over most people out here, including men.
The transitions really are fabulous. Between the happy, free, sexy past, even with the threat of prison hanging over her, to the reality, which manages to be so much worse than she thought it could. Of course she gets engaged to a man who tapes the whole thing on his iPhone and has multiple family rings to choose from. A man who is specifically proposing now so that they will be engaged during what will be a very trying time in their relationship. You have to respect that, even if he does come across as something of a yutz. It’s on purpose, I think, that they both are; that they are completely unaware of how life is for so many people, but is it really their job to be aware? Or is it just their job to try to be happy, try not to hurt anyone else, and maybe make some other people happy too? Something in between? Anyway, the fact that we’re watching it on TV and how that came to happen does suggest a self-awareness.
I think I saw a special around the time Martha Stewart was in prison where the anchor (Oprah? Barbara Walters? Lesley Stahl would make sense – I do sometimes watch 60 Minutes.) interviewed inmates at a women’s prison. When asked who was there because of a man, every single woman raised her hand. I wonder sometimes how much pop culture, which so often fails the Bechdel test, plays into that. Also, the women joked about “LURs: Lesbian Until Release.” Which is to say that of course this counselor is being horribly homophobic, but I wonder if he saw the same news segment.
There’s a whole thing about sleeping in the bed vs. on top of the bed with the blanket over you, but I’m not understanding how big the difference really is. Like, okay, it means not moving the top sheet. But it’ll still get wrinkled by sleeping on top of it, so what have you accomplished? Does having the second sheet between you and the mattress really prevent that many diseases?
Piper starts talking to the other inmates and pretty immediately offends the one person she really should not be offending – the one who makes the food, and who doesn’t forgive. She’s smart enough to use maxi pads as flip flops. (I wonder what the men do in their prison.) She seems like the type to stay quiet until she gets the lay of the land, but she still has moments of thinking she has it figured out and being very wrong. And the wrongness catches up with her at the exact moment she learns she’s incarcerated with her ex-girlfriend. And this will be the series!