Saturday, June 14, 2014

Summer TV Rewind: Orange is the New Black 1.02: "Tit Punch"

“Because no matter how hard you try, and how much we want it, there’s the people who serve the bread and the people who eat the bread. And for once it would be nice if you would be on my side.”

As with most television series, once the pilot is out of the way, it’s time for the creative team to show what they intend for a show to be like on a regular basis. The scene has been set, and now it’s time to dig into the story. From this episode of “Orange is the New Black” we see how each episode is going to have several important elements. Piper is going to immerse herself more in prison life, we’re going to get some flashbacks to Piper’s pre-prison life, and there will be other flashbacks to illuminate the past of one of the other inmates. “Tit Punch” is Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) flashback episode. We start to see the sequence of events that will land her in jail. We also get a glimpse of what she means to the Litchfield community, as the present day scenes in this episode focused on Red and Piper’s war over the food. Peppered throughout are some great overall observations about how this particular prison runs, which the policy geek in me enjoyed.

It’s orientation time for Piper and her fellow new inmates, and that’s where we get most of the episode’s social commentary. There’s a video left over from the 80’s that warns the ladies of potential prison violence. There’s also a demonstration by Officer Mendez (aka “Pornstache”) of some of the MacGyvered weapons Litchfield’s residents have put together over the years. The piece de resistance is a razor blade melted into a toothbrush handle. The Executive Assistant to the Warden also stops by to tell the newbies that if they have any lady issues, they should tell her and she’ll handle it personally. When Daya actually raises her hand to ask a question, though, the assistant hightails it out of there. There is also an incident where Litchfield’s big freezer goes on the fritz, and Red uses the occasion to try and negotiate a new freezer. Healy keeps nattering on about how they have budget issues.

As I already mentioned, Red is the subject of this episode’s flashbacks. Before coming to Litchfield, she was the cook in a restaurant/shop she owned with her husband. It’s a Russian Mob hangout of choice. Red’s husband wants Red to make nice with the wives of the local crime bosses, because he thinks the connection could be helpful for their business. Red agrees, and we see her go powerwalking with the ladies. Red doesn’t really fit in with the other wives. She tells off-color jokes, and her hair isn’t bleached blond. The ladies ditch Red, and when she realizes what has happened, she is furious. She punches one of the wives in the chest and breaks one of the woman’s breast implants (hence the name of the episode). Later, Red tells her husband that she just didn’t want to be left out, and she had hoped they could move up in society. Red’s husband says that the crime boss husband of the woman she punched wants them to pay $60,000 for a new surgery.

The Piper flashback of the episode is kind of inconsequential, and it depicts a time when Piper decided that she and Larry should do the Master Cleanse. Larry is not at all enthusiastic about it, but Piper guilts him into it. It turns out that Larry takes to the cleanse much more than Piper. Larry is feeling great, but Piper is ready to quit after five days. This is juxtaposed with the beginning of Larry and Piper growing apart in the present day. While Larry is visiting, Piper begs him not to watch Mad Men while she’s gone. She wants them to both watch it together in bed when she’s finally home. Larry promises Piper that he’ll wait, but near the end of the episode, that changes. We see Larry flipping through sports channels, frustrated that nothing he wants to watch is on. Eventually, he settles on Mad Men, and he watches it in spite of his promise. While it seems kind of trivial, this can’t bode good things for Piper and Larry going forward.

Piper thinks that if she just really, sincerely apologizes, Red will allow her to receive food again. Piper couldn’t have been more wrong. Red takes criticism of her food personally, and she sees Piper as being nasty like the wives who cut her out of their walking group. She refuses to accept Piper’s apology, even when Piper offers to fight her to save face. Pre-Litchfield, Piper was working on starting an artisanal bath product line, and she uses those skills to ultimately end the starve-out. Red has back problems, and Piper thinks she can make something that will ease Red’s back pain and motivate Red to call off the war. There’s just one problem. A vital ingredient to the back cream is capsaicin oil, and Piper can’t find any hot peppers. Piper does some pretty ingenious trading to get the other ingredients for the cream, like shea butter, but the peppers are proving especially difficult.

Through Piper’s quest to find hot peppers, we start getting to know one of the more interesting denizens of Litchfield – the woman known as Crazy Eyes. Crazy Eyes does indeed have a case of the crazy eyes, and she tends to make people uncomfortable. She also has taken a liking to Piper. She tops by Piper’s room one evening and starts telling Piper about how she once had a Mexican girlfriend. The upshot of this conversation is that Crazy Eyes has some jalapeños, courtesy of said Mexican ex-girlfriend. Capsaicin procured, Piper is able to make her lotion, and she gives a bottle to Red. Red is dubious at first, but she tries the lotion and it really does help her back. By the end of the episode, Piper is once again given food from the chow line. The person who is starving now is Alex – punishment for trying to give Piper food during the height of the starve-out.

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