I haven’t seen a show get as quick of a following as Orange Is the New Black. It could be due to the new binge-watching phenomenon, it could be that the characters we’ve never seen on television (women! with fully developed stories of their own!), or it could be that the setting is provocative and provides for both engaging interpersonal plot as well as larger implications. I am one of its most devout converts, watching the whole season in the span of two days and wishing I can erase that time and watch it again for the first time. I’ve devoured every think- piece written on it and did my share of commenting on any online discussion of the show. If I am such a fan, why do I feel the need to discuss the flaws? Because that’s the beauty of an art form: when you embrace it, you embrace all of it, even the parts that you don’t like.
Daya, who arrived at the prison at the same time as Piper, intrigued me immediately. She’s gorgeous, which you can’t help but notice, but she’s had an interesting role with her family. With a selfish and emotionally abusive mother, she’s had to take on the parenting responsibilities of her younger siblings. As the ultimate revenge to her mother, she’s landed in jail. (There’s more too this story, which I hope we will see more of in the second season). It was no wonder prison gard John Bennett fell hard for her. Their courtship is sweet as they sneak around and try to get to know each other better in the limited time they have alone.
However, once they get together, their relationship turns into daytime soap opera levels of drama. She finds out that she is pregnant, there’s a [albeit very dysfunctional] love triangle with Mendez and John. She spends more time arguing with John about their relationship than actually having fully realized conversations like they did earlier. She seems to be used as a pawn to further a provocative plot than to show her as a rounded character. I hope we get to see more of her taking charge of her story than being a pawn in her mother’s manipulation.
That escalated quickly.
Mr. Healey, Piper’s case worker, who we thought would be a great ally for Piper at first, reared his ugly, misogynist side when he decided to punish Piper for not being the well-mannered, straight, white girl he wanted her to. He showed his true colors when sending her to spend time in isolation and calling her fiance Larry to report her “inappropriate lesbian behavior.”
However, the last scene of the season shows that he is in cahoots with Pensatucky to have Piper seriously injured, even killed. As the internets would say, “that escalated quickly.” Seeing Piper and Healy in a battle of wits and manipulation would be a good story. Having him straight up want to kill her gives it no where to escalate. A prison staff can be just as, even more, corrupt than the inmates, but does everyone have to be purely evil people?
Why the Jewish stereotypes?
The show is revolutionary in that we see all different types of women- not just race, but shape, personality, values, and life stories. Why then, are Larry’s parents straight out of “Writing Jewish stereotypes 101” comedy class? His mother is literally shoving food in his mouth faster than she could shove guilt. It’s surprising and quite annoying.
Larry and Piper are the worst.
And then there’s Larry and Piper. Ugh. Are these two of the most insufferable, self-centered people we’ve seen in such a “high-brow” television series? Some are calling Piper the “anti-hero”, which is quite the go-to for television leads these days. The show certainly does posit that she is flawed, spoiled, and sanctimonious. However, an anti-hero still has a purpose and something to offer the audience in the way of sympathy.
Piper, arguably before jail, is somewhat spoiled and self-centered, and plays the role of manic pixie dream girl for Larry. Larry, the square, neurotic type, gets excitement and life lessons from the unpredictable, exciting Piper. She has aspirations of starting an artisanal soap company. She loves Whole Foods. She meets all the requirements of a privileged Manhattanite.
Piper uses her privileges in education, looks, and general way in dealing with life when she first gets to jail, but despite that not working for the first several times, she doesn’t change her actions. She also thinks that she knows better than most of the staff and fellow inmates, almost claiming to know what is better for them. Hey, it worked for her thus far in life, how can it possibly not work in this situation?
Nothing illustrates her privileged ignorance this more then when she is nominated to serve on the Women’s Advisory Committee (WAC), which, is masqueraded as a governing body of the prison, but is really a way for Healey to think they have importance. Piper, innocently enough, uses her position to ask for some more improvements, including better educational services, but is shut down by the other members, who are just happy getting the free donuts and getting the time to spend together. Piper doesn’t recognize that the mere existence of having the group is still actually helpful for these women, and still insists on her improvement campaign. Piper, at this point, has been there for only a handful of weeks, and has a mere fifteen month sentence compared to several of the others who are serving several years. She refuses to sit back, at least for a bit, and see what the culture is, again deciding what everyone needs instead of what they want. Objectively, advocating for the GED program and the track to reopen is inherently a good thing, but Piper’s insistence and incredulousness that she can’t have what she wants is not endearing or relatable, it’s obnoxious.
The love triangle between Piper, Larry, and Alex is irritating. Piper seems to give into any attention that will satisfy her immediate need and not thinking of the other. Sure, prison is hard and the comfort of a lover can ease that, but that’s not being fair to Larry, whom she has already put in a tough position. Not to mention her toying with Alex’s feelings when Larry gives her an ultimatum. It’s selfish and immature, which doesn’t give Piper “real person flaws”, it just makes her immature and shows her narcissism.
Jason Biggs, forever relegated to the nerdy neurotic type, does a good job of bringing humanity to Larry rather than neurotic hi-jinks. But his use of Piper’s prison sentence to bemoan his own woes and to use her story to get ahead as a writer are standard asshole behaviors. This is not my interpretation; his selfishness is a major plot point, but it just shows that Larry is as selfish as Piper. I realize that no show is complete with dramatic stakes in a relationship, but when both people have such obvious flaws, I cease to care about the success of their relationship.
Viewer reactions to the secondary characters have been overwhelmingly positive, which may influence the writers to bring them into the main story lines more. I hope we will learn more about their time before prison, and my favorites Big Boo and Poussey will get an origin story.
There is no obligation for the writers and producers to satisfy the fans’ wants, much less mine alone. Good television has layered, controversial moments. Perfect shows don’t exist. If they did, there would be nothing to talk about.