First things first, everyone please stand up and give Orange Is the New Black the standing ovation it deserves and throw some bras on stage (you too, guys), because Season 1 was fantastic and a visual handbook on how not to screw up television. The Netflix series, an underdog in some folks' eyes, managed to evoke every single emotion on the human spectrum in a way that felt true and respectful to its wonderful and diverse cast of characters. I laughed! I cried! I worried! There are probably more emotions than that, and I'm sure I felt them, too. But the important thing is that I never wanted a "Get Out of Jail Free" card because I was perfectly happy being cooped up with the female felons of Litchfield. Give me a life sentence, throw away the key, I'll confess to blowing up an orphanage if it keeps me around. Orange Is the New Black is one of the best new shows of the year.
Okay, now everyone put their bras back on, because I'm here to talk about the final two episodes of the first season and not the season as a whole. We're going to work this one backwards, because honestly, that final scene of "Can't Fix Crazy" meant a lot more than the entirety of the 1.9 episodes that preceded it. Piper taking Pennsatucky to Poundtown... prison-style... was a fight-or-flight response on Piper's behalf, and it couldn't have been avoided. The whole sequence was terrifying. 'Tucky left the pageant to follow Piper outside,'Tucky stalked up behind her in an angel costume (how cool was that?), 'Tucky brandished a crucifix-shaped stabbing instrument, Healy willfully ignored the whole confrontation and Piper's pleas for help, blood dripped into the snow, and then Piper erupted. Brutal as it was, it was also a beautiful scene with amazing contrast between the serenity of the blanketed-in-white prison grounds and the whirlwind of fists and flying teeth. Brutal-ful.
Yet Pennsatucky deserved every lick she took, even if that wasn't the Piper we know who was dishing it out. The Piper in that scene was a Piper twice dumped, once by Alex and once by Larry. The dumpage was still raw and fresh, and it forced Piper into a vulnerable and unpredictable state, because nothing is scarier to Piper than loneliness. Then, all that anger and fear manifested itself in the resulting dents in Pennsatucky's face. I was simultaneously feeling shocked by the violence within the Barney's soap-maker and praising her with "You go girl!"s for finally putting that Jesus freak in her place, and that's exactly what the show wanted us to feel. And hey, the girls said Pennsatucky could use some new teeth anyway, so Piper was just granting her wish. Don't you kind of hope that Pennsatucky returns with a Moonraker-Jaws grill next season? I do.
How will this "incident" affect Piper going forward? It could stretch her 15-month prison sentence out a bit and guarantee that she won't be released for good behavior anytime soon. Maybe she'll suffer another stay in the SHU. But as far as prison politics are concerned, she was just defending herself, and she's got more people on her side than Pennsatucky does. Even Taystee told Piper to throw down! And it's that darker side of prison life that Orange Is the New Black really concentrated on in the later hours of Season 1.
But the most fascinating part of the whole ruckus was Healy's reaction when he acknowledged Piper's calls for help but didn't respond. His character arc has been been completely unpredictable, and it's one of the most spectacular downward spirals in recent TV history. The guy went from lovable grandpa figure to spiteful dick in a matter of a few episodes, and in "Can't Fix Crazy," he made the most despicable turn we've seen on the series so far. Wasn't this the man we all put our faith in to see Piper through this mess? And he left her to *gulp* die? I never would have guessed that it'd come to this when we first met the sweet, gentle Healy of 12 episodes ago. Now, no amount of domestic turmoil can save him in the eyes of the audience. Healy broke bad.
However, while Piper beating the meth teeth out of Pennsatucky's face was great exclamation point to conclude Season 1, the rest of the Orange Is the New Black universe slowed down or changed direction building up to it, like the show had run out of steam and was antsy to get a head start on Season 2. The much-anticipated showdown between Red and Mendez never really happened, as they played games while buffered bye Red's fellow inmates. Mendez deservedly got suspended for slippin' the sausage to Daya after becoming a pawn in Red's gutsy plan to transfer the punishable burden of paternity from Bennett to Mendez with the help of a few swabs and a pregnancy test. I still don't know how that's really going to work; I agree with Bennett, it's a half-baked idea. And Mendez got his revenge from beyond the gates by getting Bennett to bust Mendez's own drug operation, which would naturally be pinned on the queen of the kitchen, Red.
Red's demotion opened up the kitchen to Gloria, and she brought her chicas in to help. (Is this how prison jobs really work? One position changes and all of a sudden that person can install a bunch of her friends?) Thus began the feud between Gloria and Red, which involved Red sabotaging Gloria's kitchen and (unintentionally) shooting a giant fireball at Murphy. Gloria vs. Red is a fine rivalry, but kickstarting it in the season finale and leaving Mendez roaming around the parking lot feels ill-timed.
The same can be said about the sudden interest in Figueroa's budgetary siphoning or Taystee's return; as standalone stories, they're fascinating, and I can't wait to see how they play out. But starting them now is almost cruel to binge-viewers. Launching a bunch of new arcs in preparation for Season 2 took some weight out of the finale, don't you think? With Red and Gloria now at each other's throats, Figueroa about to be the target of a New York Post investigation, plus a few other nuggets (Yoga Jones' tearful admission, Mendez's obsession with Daya, Caputo's decision to report the drugs), it feels like we're ending things right in the middle rather than concluding a chapter.
For those of us who finished watching the first season of Orange Is the New Black in the span of a month or less, that means an extra long waiting until the show returns. This is just my personal opinion, but I think the Netflix model should steer showrunners toward making more self-contained seasons, as Netflix originals are consumed differently. Shows that "compartmentalize" their seasons, like The Wire and American Horror Story, would make excellent Netflix series because they have very clear beginnings and endings for each string of episodes. I'm envious of the viewer who starts watching Orange Is the New Black in Season 4 and can settle in for marathon, to bridge the show's plots without a wait.
– I should also note that Taryn Manning was fantastic in that final scene, to the point where I even felt sorry for her while she spewed the type of religious fanaticism that sometimes results in a lot worse than someone their face crushed in. Pennsatucky may be an ignorant, mean hag, but she's such a solid character and Manning has owned her.
– Pennsatucky's flashback was one of the best of the season, hands down. I finally got my "this woman is in prison because she's crazy" flashback, instead of another heart-tugging, wrong-place-wrong-time story. And the development that her Jesus-freakishness began when a magical Christian defense attorney appeared out of nowhere and support of anti-abortion pro-lifers coupled with the irony that she had just gotten an abortion was fantastic in showing just how lost and starved for support Pennsatucky was.
– I hope we're not automatically taking Red's side in the Red-Gloria showdown. Gloria is the beneficiary of a unfortunate situation, through no action of her own. She's not the bad guy here. Besides, her spicy eggs are delicious.
– Even scarier than that final scene was the first confrontation between Pennsatucky and Piper in the shower. With Pennsatucky's flock in tow, that could have gone a lot further than what would have happened outside.
– Mute inmate Norma finding her voice at the pageant felt a little trope-y. Sorry!
– And the pageant, while a nice little shindig, never felt that important to me. After a very strong four-episode run, it seemed like the season ran out of story.
– To add a smidgen of a happy ending, we saw little snippets of Sophia receiving a letter from her son while she sat in the chapel producing the pageant. Good for Sophia, but not exactly the sharp storytelling we're used to from Orange Is the New Black. It just felt tacked-on and lacked depth.
– Boo saying "Jesus F*cking Christ" during the pageant was everything that's right about this show.
– I understand what Larry was trying to do in meeting Alex: He wanted her to see that she was hurting a real person. But boy, did that turn out to be a bad idea. Alex was more than happy to tell Larry that Piper initiated their tryst. Anyone can argue that attempting a relationship while one party is in prison is a proposition that's doomed from the start, but it's hard not to place the bulk of the blame on Piper. She did betray Larry. But that's what I like about Piper as a character; there's a good person inside of her, but she's flawed and she makes bad decisions just like the rest of us.
– One of the things I'm most looking forward to in 2014, in addition to finding the cure for cancer and winning the lottery, is a flashback to Suzanne's story. That is going to be amazing.
– Even though the final two episodes of the season weren't Orange Is the New Black's best, I can't emphasize enough how incredibly strong of a series this is. What was your favorite episode? Mine was Episode 11, "Tall Men With Feelings."
What did you think of the finale, and Season 1 overall?
– Orange Is the New Black "Tit Punch"/"Lesbian Denied" Review: Love and Lunch (S01E02 / S01E03)
– Orange Is the New Black "Wac Pac"/"Blood Donut" Review: Political Animals (S01E06 / S01E07)
– Orange Is the New Black "Moscow Mule"/"F*cksgiving" Review: The SHU Doesn't Fit (S01E08 / S01E09)