Photo: Paul Schiraldi/Netflix
It’s official: The other inmates are far more interesting than Piper. I can’t figure out what I loved more this week. Sophia intensely advocating for herself, Piper realizing that life is moving on without her, or Larry’s story line bringing us the return of Jason Biggs to his resting state of jerking off.
The show opens with a firefighter walking around a burnt home taking pictures of credit card statements found in a drawer; when he gets back to the firehouse and uses the bathroom only to reveal a set of hot pink underwear under his clothes, you realize it’s Sophia. This is the backstory we’ve been waiting for, and I’m glad it was frontloaded. She’s one of the freshest characters I’ve seen in a very long time, and I was ready to base my whole view of the show on how she was treated, knowing that few people writing for television know what to do with (a) women, (b) black women and certainly not (c) black transgender women. My grandma just got an iPad, and I think of her interaction with it the same way I do of most TV writers trying to think of things to produce for anyone outside of the white ideal; it’s sort of like something I already know, but I can’t quite take the time to figure out the nuances, so I’ll only explore the surface level of what it can do.
Sophia’s backstory is crucial to understanding part of her plight this week, as the prison switches to generic drugs and halves her dose of estrogen. While she easily passes jokes about her body (“It’s okay, honey, you can look — I paid a lot of money for it”), she also gave up everything in order to get it. Fucking with her estrogen is not just another little federal annoyance that comes with the territory of being in prison; an improper dose could send her tailspinning physically and mentally to a miserable place, not to mention the unfairness of the prison getting to make that decision for her. I loved that she ripped the head off a bobblehead dog on Healy’s desk and ate it in an attempt to see a doctor — she still has ways to exercise both her freedom AND her impulsive badassery. It’s a shame the doctor decides to take her off of hormones altogether while they run some tests, but it doesn’t make her actions any less admirable. Nobody, not even Red, can get estrogen for her, and she thankfully opts out of Pornstache’s gross request for blowjees in exchange for drugs, so she may be without for a while.
The snippets of her pre-prison life are mostly heartbreaking with a side order of fragility. We get a peek at the relationship she has with her wife, Crystal, when she tries on clothes she just purchased, upset that she doesn’t know how to dress herself because she “never got to be a teenage girl.” Her wife looks on patiently, encouragingly, and picks out a “classy” dress for her before taking a quiet moment to plead with Sophia to keep her penis. The disrobing, the advice, the overall love that they share is incredibly tender; her body may have changed but their love for each other did not, as schmaltzy as it sounds. Their embrace and kiss is interrupted by their young son angrily leaving the house, bringing to light a different set of circumstances and feelings that have to be considered in this scenario. Their young son is obviously angry, storming around the house and angrily leaving a destructive wake in his exit from a shoe store, making it that much more upsetting when Sophia is arrested and her son sits on the stairs, holding her wallet full of stolen credit cards. When Sophia asks Crystal to smuggle in estrogen the next time she visits, however, we get a glimpse into everything she has given up for Sophia, and how selfish Sophia has been up to this point. I love this show for this very reason — the inmate’s perception of themselves as innocent, as victims is often countered by the reality and effect of their terrible choices. At the end of the episode, Sophia looks deeply into the mirror, and sadly plucks a hair out of her chin.
Miss Claudette also has a fun week; when she gets a new roommate (Poussey) and lays down the law about how to treat their shared space, she gets a mouthful in return about “American” expectations. After a few days of thousand-yard stares, Miss Claudette finally has Poussey moved to another cell, much to her surprise, saying only, “Watch yourself, little girl. This is not America. This is the Litch, and I’ve been here a long while.” I cannot WAIT for Miss Claudette’s story, and would not be surprised to find out she was a Somali pirate. When Poussey moved out, Piper moved in, so we’re sure to find out soon.
Nicky continues to have the best scene-stealing one-liners, like, “Maybe I’ll get lucky and go bald everywhere but in the tits like Rosa here” when she sees her cancer-stricken roommate plucking a hair from her breast, or “How much longer are they going to keep me here with Darth Vader and Mr. Clean?” as she laments not having an assignment. Natasha Lyonne is so perfect for this part, and lands every acerbic note perfectly.
Piper keeps pipin’, by which I mean living in the no longer useful framework of her Waspy obliviousness. She’s still obtuse about her privilege (like bypassing an entire line of people waiting to use the facilities because she “just needs to pee”), but she has bigger problems this week as Suzy escalates to straight-up stalking her. She recited a poem that went over like a ton of bricks when Piper was done with her run around the now-closed track, but the real kicker was the lunchroom brawl she started with Alex after Piper insisted Alex was bothering her by sitting down. Suzy, true to her “Crazy Eyes” nickname, threw pie at Alex, slapped her own head, and pounded her chest while screaming, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!” and declared Piper to be her wife. Piper tries to deflect, but Suzy has already thrown her pie in Piper’s honor, so in her eyes the deal is sealed.
Her actual fiancé is so hard up he tries to turn grocery unpacking into a phone sex session (much to Piper’s dismay), and resorts to “edging,” a new masturbation technique he learned from her woods-dwelling brother, Cal. She had a disappointing visit from her mother and best friend Polly, Suzy is trying to petition for them to become roommates (giving Healy another chance to ride his wave of homophobia and mild bigotry), but there’s also good news this week — Piper got her commissary! Like an absentee father on Christmas Day, she starts handing out gifts left and right to the people she’s been depending on since she arrived. She finally has a pair of flip-flops, ushering in the end of her maxipad slippers.
Perhaps bolstered by her good fortune, Piper finally confronts Alex in the bathroom about putting her in prison and stealing “her good life.” Alex insists that she didn’t do it, and that Piper put herself in prison. That Piper thinks she’s innocent is part of her pathos; you get the feeling that she thought turning herself in would have resulted in a slap on the wrist and a sentence reduced to zero time served. She owns up to being in prison while simultaneously looking around for someone to say, “You did the right thing, Piper, and are free to go.” In the meantime, she calls Larry, wanting him to find out once and for all if Alex named her at her trial.
She finds a way to let Suzy down easily and is happy to finally get her assignment as Miss Claudette’s new roommate, only to wake up that evening to find Suzy hovering at the edge of her cell, squatting and pissing all over the floor. Piper, this isn’t over until Suzy says it’s over.
- Red cannot hold on to root vegetables because everyone keeps stealing them.
- The woman who is always sobbing on the phone in the background; if I could hand out Emmys for incidental characters who actually make the scene, she would get one.
- Suzy calls her dandelion because she’s pretty and yellow.
- Trying to fit in with Poussey and other black girls, they side eye until their retinas detach.
- On trying to explain her hair to her mother and Polly: “What happened to your hair?” “I gave it to a transsexual. For a weave.” As you do.
- Miss Claudette is Mr. Wizard — what is that egg-boiling contraption she put together using only pencils, two lamps and an outlet?
- I also love the prison gossip that Miss Claudette murdered someone, hasn’t taken a shit since the day she arrived, and Taystee’s insistence that she once “burned someone’s eyelids off, so she be looking like Beetlejuice and shit!”
- We find out that Bennett has served in Iraq, and at the same moment we find out he does not understand sarcasm.
- “I’m banging this underwater welder — you’ve got to have hobbies.” Never change, Cal, never change.
- New favorite inmate name: Fatovich!
- Finally, the warden’s assistant assessing the social implications of transitioning from male to female boiled down to, “Why would anyone give up being a man? It’s like winning the lottery and giving the ticket back.”
Verdict Is Still Out:
- Dayanara and Bennett are ultra flirtatious, but is she pulling a fast one on him?
- Is Larry in it for the long haul? He’s starting to show some cracks in the façade.