'Orange is the New Black' Season 1 review (Spoiler alert)
Actually, hey, we notice that almost all of the correctional officers are men. Why is this?
We notice that almost all of the inmates are nonwhite. Why is this?
Also, the USA has the highest prison population in the world, both per capita and in absolute numbers. Why is this?
These rhetorical questions have real-world answers. In the world of the show, we see a structure that guarantees that the inmates will be abused by those who are supposed to be guarding them, and we see a prison administration obsessed primarily with covering its own ass.
'Guys... Where are we?'
Charlie uttered that immortal line on "Lost", but it could apply to OITNB, too. Litchfield Federal Penitentiary is a character in and of itself. It's eerily quiet most of the time, and every inmate is always watched.
(Litchfield is based on FCI Danbury, where Piper Kerman was sent in 2004. Her memoir, " Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison", is the basis of Jenji Kohan's OITNB series.)
The series takes place mostly in the minimum-security camp, up the hill from a higher-security area, which includes the SHU and the psych ward. We discover the layout of the place as Chapman does: when we first hear the term "SHU", it isn't explicitly defined, but we all figure out that it's the solitary-confinement wing, based on the inmates' reactions to hearing it named.
A girl named Alex
OITNB centers on Piper Chapman, but Alex Vause is its vexing muse. As Healy and Chapman both bristle at Vause being called "The hot one" by Luschek, we viewers have no choice but to acknowledge the inevitable. She has mastered the art of staying cool in a world where your composure conveys your status.
The more we learn about Vause, the more we learn about Chapman, and it ain't flattering. The format of the show suggests a girl lost in the woods, but we soon learn that Chapman is just as nasty a piece of work as Vause, if not worse: at least Vause is honest about what she is.
Look how long it took Chapman to even acknowledge that Vause wasn't to blame for her predicament.
Okay, yeah, so Vause ratted Chapman out, but only because Chapman was bolting from the relationship on, like, the day that Vause learned that her mom had died.
Years later, when Vause was indicted and the DA was, as Dom Toretto would have put it, throwing big numbers at her, of course she named Chapman. Of course she flipped on the woman who stomped on her heart.
What you in for?
The back-stories of our inmates were compelling for the most part, particularly those of Red and Sophia. We saw Red rise from frightened wifey to stone-cold mafiosa. We don't yet know what got her sent to Litchfield, though. Maybe there was some sort of schism with the Brighton Beach mafia, which would explain why she didn't just have Pornstache killed one day while he was on his way home from work.
Sophia, played by real-life transgender actress Laverne Cox, has perhaps the most complicated situation going on. A former firefighter, married with a son, she spends all her money on gender reassignment. She gets into credit-card fraud to pay the mounting bills, which lands her in Litchfield. Besides navigating the same prison environment as everyone else, she also has to maintain the physical aspects of her gender.
Nichols' back-story was perhaps the least illuminating: we only know that she was an IV drug addict with a crappy relationship with her mother. Duh. Weak family ties seem to be a recurring issue, even when mom and daughter are both inside.
I'm also annoyed that we didn't get a Lorna Morello back-story. What did she do? She's not the sharpest tool in the shed, so it probably wasn't white-collar crime, but wouldn't it be mind-blowing if she were, like, a computer hacker?
Not sure I even want a Crazy Eyes back-story. Maybe let's just let the mystery be.