One prison, lots of sentences

By Caroline Nelson '16TV Columnist

Well, here we are at the end of the first season of “Orange is the New Black,” a show that came out of the gate with a lot of energy and ambition and finished strong. I’ve got high hopes for the next set of installments coming out some time in 2014, though in an interesting move, Laura Prepon, the actress who plays Alex Vause, will be leaving the show after four episodes, which, considering the length of Alex’s sentence, doesn’t bode well for her character or her relationship with Piper. This will be disappointing to those who prefer that couple but gratifying to those who like Piper and her fiancé Larry — oh wait, that’s no one. Larry is the kind of person you wouldn’t necessarily mind if he came to your house party in real life; he has the all too rare self-awareness to admit that he’s boring. But getting to know him too well, as one does in this show, helps make him tiresome. We don’t care about your masturbation experience, Larry. Possibly he is there to provide an identifiable male presence for any men who might wish to watch the show, since the prison guards mainly run the gamut from questionable through shades of douchebag to downright evil. Whereas Larry started out as the decent (if slightly jerky), boring fiancée, Piper has managed to become less of a hole in the middle of the show. Possibly this is due to her dialogue subtly shifting from lines out of Stuff White People Like to the conversation of the annoying yet endearing class know-it-all. A good example of this would be her unwanted explanation of a Robert Frost poem, which ended in two of her compatriots vowing to kill her eventually and making it sound like an endearment. Possibly this is due to her relationship with Alex. Or possibly it’s the introduction of antagonists decidedly less sympathetic then she. Though a couple of commentators have expressed distaste for Piper’s nemesis Tiffany “Pensatucky” Doggett, I was impressed by the way that “Orange”’s writers were able to take a character who its target audience would naturally despise (a former meth head, pro life, homophobic evangelist) and making her human. One of my favorite scenes features Pornstache (with all the tact and grace you’d expect from someone named Pornstache) telling her “You must know that God wouldn’t choose someone as fucking stupid as you to be his emissary,” and from the look on her face its clear that somewhere in her heart she does know this and tries doubly hard to proclaim herself as his representative. I would like to end this by pointing out one of my favorite things about this show. The group dynamic in many shows seems to divide along three lines: The Family, where the main characters are part of a group or a team and endlessly remind the audience that they are “family,” which can be heartwarming but is often tiresome; The Mafia, where the main characters allegedly form a unit and frequently murder each other; and The Water Cooler, where the characters are all interacting but don’t seem to like each other. “Orange is the New Black” occupies a refreshingly different space where none of the characters want to be there and they are deeply divided against each other, but form alliances and friendships and, in the end, a kind of community in a way that is a refreshing combination of honest but, at the same time, hopeful.