Orange is the New Black is the TV show of the summer. I had no idea how good it was going to be when I signed up to write about it many moons ago. By the time it had debuted, I knew I was going to be sucked into the show. Finding out they had a trans character played by a transwoman who wasn’t in jail for prostitution sold me right then and there. I fell in love with this show so hard after the first ten minutes of watching. Like everyone else, a lady-centric show was what we all want and it is what we got. (Spoilers abound, proceed with caution)
We all have different favorite characters and the writers definitely knew how to make us love or hate those characters every episode. It was a gray scale of character building. Successful dramas use the gray scale so well now that we expect our heroes to become vilified by the end of the series and we expect to love the villains in the same sort of turnaround. By interweaving in the interesting back stories of other inmates with the boring couple bickering of Larry and Piper, the writers did us a favor by giving us something to like about the show.
Piper Chapman is a classic case of the Other trope. She is an outsider coming into an already existing social system. I believe you are supposed to like Piper. I did like Piper at first and then I got annoyed. I realized she was just another middle class, college educated white woman who thought she was better than everyone. At one point Alex calls her a narcissist and manipulative. Both of these things are true. Her character development over the series so far has been slow burning, though the last episode, well, I will leave it at that. The scariest thing for me though was seeing my 20-something self in Piper. I had been a manipulative, narcissistic lost 20-something and if cards fell wrong, I could have done something stupid enough to land me in prison. My wife pointed out that I had grown out of a number of those behaviors and that I was way nicer than Piper ever could be. So I guess that mitigates the horrible feeling I had by connecting with Piper.
Sofia Burset is the character I thought going into that I would identify with the most. Its rare to see a transwoman on a TV portrayed in a positive light. Its even rarer for that to be a transwoman of color. Learning that she had a wife who was still with her was even more of a unicorn finding. Almost always, transwomen are given male partners on TV or in film if they are given anyone at all. I cried a lot during Sofia’s episode because I did see myself in a lot of her feelings. Given that I have just started transitioning, the whole hormone saga was something I totally understood. I could not imagine having to go off them now. I really appreciated the friendship she and Sister Ingalls had. I am very interested to see where her story will go in season 2. Some of the revelations in regards to her wife are things that make me afraid of what is going to happen, but at the same time the last episode brought her son potentially back into the mix. I did end up identifying with Sofia a bit but not to the extent I first thought. I think our lives definitely are very different. I am still glad that TV finally has found a positive transwoman character. It is weird to think it took a prison show to portray the trans experience as something positive.
Alex Vause is a bad ass. Her makeup, even in prison, is impeccable. Her body is perfect. So why do I feel like this was the most fake character on the show? I loved Alex. I understand why everyone ships her and Piper. She just seems too perfect of a bad-ass. I think the last few episodes when she lets down her guard were the first real times you saw a person and not just some picturesque lesbian fantasy. To find out that Alex will only be in a handful of season 2 episodes is a shame. It feels, though, that maybe they did reach the conclusion of her storyline.
Poussey and Taystee are probably my two favorite characters. Their friendship is so strong and there’s such love between the two of them. Carolina and I loved them both right away. Female friendship built on actual love and not having to do with just being attached to men is such a missing element on TV. I can only think of a handful of characters whose friendships are not tied to them dating boys together. When Poussey sang “Amazing Grace,” it brought me to tears. It was such a beautiful moment. I so cannot wait for more of them in season 2.
I could go on and on about every character on this show. I would love to teach a writing class on tropes and use each character as examples of subversion. Doggett is probably the most fascinating character on that show. All the guards have had their ups and downs, some more up and down then others. This show is just amazing, period. I look forward to the second season. I know next year they will score a gerbillion Emmy nominations. This is the future of television. Thank you, Netflix.