Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer TV Rewind: Orange is the New Black 1.03: "Lesbian Request Denied"

“That’s exactly what I need right now. A reminder of my ebbing fertility.”

This episode of “Orange is the New Black” was all about relationships and sexuality, so it appropriate that the spotlight character was Sophia, a transgender woman. At the same time, we also see both “Crazy Eyes” and Alex make passes at Piper, and Piper’s relationship with Larry begins to unravel. This episode was interesting because I feel like we really start to get a feel for what Litchfield life is like for people other than Piper. It’s the beginning of that transition from Piper being the goody goody and everybody else being scary prisoners, to Piper not being so innocent herself and everybody else being complex human beings. That transition is what makes “Orange is the New Black” really worthwhile television as social commentary instead of just a sensational “ooh a women’s prison” diversion.

Like I said, this episode’s flashback character is Sophia. When we first see her, she’s still a man, and that man is a firefighter. Sophia in her male state is played by Laverne Cox’s twin brother, which I think is pretty clever. Anyway, in the first flashback scene, we see pre-Sophia trying to engage in some identity theft in a home where he just helped put out a fire. He swipes a passport and takes photos of some documents. Later, we see some of the stages in Sophia’s transition from male to female. We see her wife coming to terms with how her husband is changing. She handles it pretty well, all things considered, offering hair, makeup, and clothing tips. She just really doesn’t want Sophia to get rid of her penis, which I suppose is understandable. Sophia goes ahead with it anyway. Given that I couldn’t possibly contemplate what she’s going through, it’s hard for me to judge if Sophia is being selfish or not. She certainly seems selfish, especially since she’s using the ID theft to bank roll all her medical procedures. On the other hand, maybe that nagging feeling that you are the wrong gender is really that bad. Like I said, I don’t know.

Anyway, in the present day, Sophia is facing issues related to prison budget cuts. Her hormone dosage has been cut to the absolute minimum needed for maintenance, and she’s now getting a generic. This isn’t working at all for Sophia. She tries to work through the system at first, requesting the proper meds from Healy, but when Healy refuses, she takes more desperate measures and swallows the head of one of the bobbleheads on his desk. This earns Sophia a trip to the clinic, but the result is the opposite of what she hoped for. The doctor says that since her liver function tests are off, they need to take her off the hormones completely for a little while until they can do a liver ultrasound. She tries to get her wife to smuggle in the meds, but that’s just one bridge too far.

Meanwhile, Piper is having to fend off rather aggressive advances from Crazy Eyes. Crazy Eyes has started to call Piper her “wife.” I guess she thought the hot pepper incident meant something? Piper, in her trying to be a goody good hipster white girl way, tries to let Crazy Eyes down as gently as possible. She casually mentions in conversation that she has a fiancé. This conversation takes place while Piper is trying to run on the track. Soon after the run, the track is shut down, again due to budget cuts. When I first watched this, I was kind of pissed off about how the budget issues were handled in the show (I deal with government budgets in my day job), but the final twist made it all make sense, so I’ll spare you that whining! While Piper is trying to avoid Crazy Eyes, she’s also trying to avoid Alex, who keeps trying to talk to Piper. In one bathroom scene, Piper finally confronts Alex about whether or not Alex named Piper as a member of the drug ring. Alex said she didn’t, and she emphasizes that Piper wasn’t innocent. Piper carried the bag of drug money on her own free will.

While Piper is getting closer to Crazy Eyes and Alex, the cracks are starting to form in her relationship with Larry. Piper asks Larry to have his dad look into who exactly named her as a member of the drug ring. She’s also upset that Larry isn’t planning to visit her that weekend because he needs to help her brother repair the roof of his mountain shack. Larry and Piper’s brother, Cal, are an interesting combo. Larry is the very hipster urbanite while Cal is kind of a recluse redneck. Cal used to be the Chapman family embarrassment, and he laments that now Piper is in prison, his Parents want to upgrade him to a mention in the Christmas letter. He preferred to not have so much attention. Larry complains about the sexual frustration he has experienced since Piper has been locked up, and Cal suggests the technique of “edging.” We see Larry actually trying it by the end of the episode. Oh, also, Larry not visiting Piper leads to a hilarious scene where Piper’s mom and best friend/business partner visit instead. It’s pretty amusing to see their reaction to Piper’s prison stories.

Throughout the episode, we get a few more flashbacks about what Sophia’s pre-prison life was like. The change from male to female was hard both on Sophia’s wife and son, and though her son seemed to take it worse. The scene that really stood out for me was a scene where Sophia takes her son to buy a new pair of sneakers. He wants a really expensive pair, and Sophia is desperate to have her son’s love again, so she agrees to buy them. Sophia and her son then run into someone they know at the shoe store, and when the acquaintance expresses shock over Sophia’s transformation, Sophia’s son runs out of the store, embarrassed, as a devastated Sophia has to pay for the shoes. Ultimately, Sophia’s history of identity theft catches up with her, and that’s how she ends up in Litchfield.

The other big event of this episode is that Piper gets assigned to her permanent bunk. She’ll be bunking with Miss Claudette, a Caribbean woman who has been in Litchfield for many years. She runs a tight ship, and through this episode, we see her trying to convey her expectations for bunk cleanliness and lack of drama to her pre-Piper bunkmate. That bunkmate has no respect, however, and Miss Claudette clearly has a lot of pull with the Litchfield brass, so Piper gets assigned to her bunk instead. Piper tries to be accommodating of Miss Claudette’s rules, however things go wrong very quickly. Crazy Eyes is upset at being turned down by Piper, so in the final scene of the episode, we see her have a squat and urinate right at the entrance to Piper and Miss Claudette’s bunk. Clearly that’s not going to fly with Miss Claudette.

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