SPOILERS for all of #OrangeIsTheNewBlack Season One. You’ve been warned.
While Orange is the New Black may be loosely based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, the #Netflix series is definitely not the same as the memoir (we know; we’ve read it).
Created by Jenji Kohan (previously best known as the creator of Showtime’s #Weeds), #OITNB is genius because it merely uses Piper as the viewers’ way into the Litchfield Correctional Facility. Through her eyes, you get to know a host of characters intimately, in ways a lot of other TV just doesn’t approach.
It’s a fish-out-of-water tale, but not a straight-up comedy at all. Main character Piper Chapman (#TaylorSchilling) is so WASP-y, she actually uses that term to describe herself on at least one occasion. She ends up at Litchfield as a self-surrender after being named as a low-ranking member of an international heroin ring during a federal trial.
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that she smuggled drug money (not actual drugs) one time, out of love for her then-girlfriend, Alex Vause (#LauraPrepon). This whole thing took place over 10 years ago, when Chapman was “finding herself.”
Cutting back to the present, she’s engaged to a nice NPR-listening writer and Jewish boy named Larry (#JasonBiggs). Larry’s dad is Piper’s lawyer. It’s through the court case that Larry begins to learn about Piper’s past, about which she’s never told him—including the fact that she used to be in love with a woman, which led her to do this particular stupid thing that’s biting them both in the ass now.
Despite everything, Larry’s as supportive as anyone could possibly expect in this situation. He even drops her off at the prison, where the officers start echoing a theme you feel throughout the first season: Piper’s a white, well-educated, upper-class WASPy woman—so what’s she doing in prison? She’s a socioeconomic anomaly.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the dialogue about how Piper did homework before going to prison, reading as many books as she could get her hands on to tell her about what she could expect as an inmate. So she comes in with a huge number of assumptions—most of which get proved wrong.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Litchfield Correctional Facility turns out to be a lot like high school. Different groups of women with common backgrounds all band together into distinct cliques. As Lorna Morello (#YaelStone) explains when Piper arrives, “it’s tribal, not racist.”
MEET YOUR NEIGHBORS
It’s easy to not find Piper Chapman a sympathetic character at first. But this show’s greatest strength is in how it spends time humanizing all the inmates—including Chapman. Above all, you learn that most people are essentially good, but flawed.
Name: MORELLO, Lorna
Morello seems to view all of life as though it’s West Side Story. She may not be the brightest bulb in the lighting department, but she’s sweet. She’s preoccupied with planning her wedding to a boyfriend who hasn’t visited since the first three months she was locked up, according to other inmates. Meanwhile, she’s having sex with Nicky Nichols (#NatashaLyonne), but breaks it off because she wants to stay faithful to this guy she’s supposedly going to marry when she gets out.
Name: NICHOLS, Nicky
Nichols is a junkie who came from the kind of mother who put the happiness of her boyfriend ahead of her own daughter. She spent her life trying to get her mother’s attention and love, finally ending up with a massive drug-induced infection in her heart that resulted in surgery and a memorably nasty flashback scene.
Name: WATSON, Janae
Watson (#VickyJeudy) was a talented runner who scored a college athletic scholarship, but who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. All she wants is to be able to run on the track at the facility, but it’s been closed since before she got there.
Name: WARREN, Suzanne
Warren (#UzoAduba) is more commonly called “Crazy Eyes,” because that’s the first thing everyone notices about her. She develops a crush on Chapman in the first couple days that Chapman is there, nicknaming her “Dandylion” because she’s bright and yellow and sunny, just like a dandelion. Warren starts referring to Chapman as her wife, even going so far as to throw pie for her to send Alex Vause away.
Name: BURSET, Sophia
Burset (#LaverneCox), more commonly called Sophia, is Litchfield’s only current transgendered inmate. We learn that she transitioned while she was a married man and father of a son named Michael, and that she loves her wife and son very much. Through flashbacks, we see how difficult Sophia’s transition was for her family, but that her wife was mostly very supportive throughout the process. Son Michael had a harder time adjusting to his father becoming a woman, especially since he himself was going through puberty at the time.
Name: REZNIKOV, Galina
Reznikov (#KateMulgrew), more commonly called Red, is a Russian immigrant who had a small mom n’ pop restaurant on the outside. Inside, it’s no surprise that she’s in charge of the kitchen. She smuggles small comforts in through the produce truck—stuff like electric toothbrushes. No drugs, though; if you’re one of Red’s girls, Red’s biggest rule is that you have to stay clean.
Name: DIAZ, Dayanara
Daya (#DaschaPolanco) shows up on the same prison transport trip as Chapman, and one of the first things you see when she comes in is another inmate slapping her hard. We soon learn that the slapper is her mother, Aleida Diaz (#ElizabethRodriguez). Daya has a complicated relationship with her mom, one where she was responsible for taking care of her younger siblings all the time while her mom went out and partied. Daya also loves to draw anime-style characters.
Name: DIAZ, Aleida
Aleida cares about her daughter, but doesn’t know how to show it. She became a mother pretty young, and often seems like she’s in competition with her daughter (as well as all other women) for resources. She views men as a means to an end, and thinks they’re only good to use to get what she wants. Meanwhile, Daya has a more romantic view—one that’s frequently at odds with her mother’s.
Name: VAUSE, Alex
Vause, more commonly called Alex, is Piper’s ex-girlfriend who Piper hasn’t seen since leaving Alex right after Alex’s mother died. Piper spends the first season bouncing back and forth between Alex and her current fiancee Larry, ultimately hurting both of them and bringing drama wherever she goes.
Name: PELAGE, Claudette
Pelage (#MichelleHurst), more commonly called Miss Claudette, is a sort of revered mother figure in Litchfield in the first season. It’s rumored that she murdered a man, and over the course of the season, we learn that it’s true. However, she was repaying terrible abuse that the man in question had done against one of her employees. Miss Claudette’s heart was broken when the man she loved moved away and married another woman, and she’s refused to have any visitors or consider attempting to gain parole for the past 10 years.
Name: JEFFERSON, Tasha
Jefferson (#DanielleBrooks), more commonly called Taystee, is both smart and funny, and runs the tiny prison library. Over the course of Season One, she gets paroled but quickly ends up back in prison after learning how tough life is on the outside and how hard it is for an ex-con to get work. It doesn’t matter what crime you committed; as soon as employers see that you were a felon, good luck getting any kind of job—even a crappy one.
Name: WASHINGTON, Poussey
Washington (#SamiraWiley), more commonly called Poussey, is an ex-army kid who moved around a lot with her military father and was named for a town in France that he stayed in. She’s also Taystee’s best friend.
Name: JONES, Yoga
Jones (#ConstanceShulman) is the resident hippy, leading everyone in yoga classes and saying ‘namaste’ at every turn. Also, she killed a kid by accident. She has some serious anger and guilt issues for which she's trying to atone through lots of yoga and meditation, and helping other inmates to do the same.
Name: INGALLS, Jane
Ingalls (#BethFowler), more commonly called Sister, is a nun. She’s practical, down-to-earth, and bonds with Sophia over the course of the first season.
Name: DOGGETT, Tiffany
Doggett (#TarynManning), sometimes called ‘Pennsatucky’ or ‘Tucky’, is a meth-head who’s also a very vocal born-again Christian. She needs new teeth, and also needs for you to believe in her Lord and Savior as much as she does—otherwise you’re disrespecting her, as Piper finds out.
Name: MILLER, Patricia
Miller (#MadelineBrewer), most commonly called Tricia, is the youngest inmate at Litchfield. She’s a street kid who’s been living wild since she was a kid, and keeps a notebook full of dates and items she’s “borrowed” so that she can either return or repay the people she “borrowed” them from. Unfortunately, it’s that code that got her tossed in prison in the first place—and even more unfortunately, she’s also a drug addict.
Name: MENDOZA, Gloria
Mendoza (#SelenisLeyva), most commonly called Gloria, stays largely in the background in S1 until Red gets framed for drugs coming into the kitchen. When Red is kicked out of her cushy cooking job, Gloria’s called up to lead the kitchen. Even Red’s girls like her cooking, though they’d never say so to Red.
Name: BENNETT, John
Bennett (#MattMcGorry) is a new guard at Litchfield. He’s young, baby-faced, and more than a little self-conscious about his prosthetic leg. He’s also a veteran, although he didn’t lose his leg while serving his country. Over the course of S1, he develops a relationship with Daya that starts out really sweet, and gets complicated after she gets pregnant and they have to figure out how to not make him lose his job because of it.
Name: MENDEZ, George
Mendez (#PabloSchreiber), more commonly called Pornstache, is a guard who’s also a piece of work. He takes advantage of Red’s contraband smuggling ring to bring drugs into the prison, and is indirectly responsible for addict inmate Tricia’s S1 death, which he then stages to look like suicide. Daya tricks him into having sex with her, hoping to stage it as a rape (federal prison inmates can’t legally give consent, even if they’re of age; they’re considered wards of the state) and simultaneously explain her pregnancy while getting Pornstache fired. Pornstache turns the tables, tells Bennett that Red has been bringing the drugs in, and frames Red for his illicit drug operation before he’s put on leave.
Name: HEALY, Sam
Healy (#MichaelHarney) is a counselor and also senior officer in charge of the other guards at Litchfield. He tries to seem reasonably friendly to the inmates, except when they make him angry—which usually happens if even a hint of lesbian activity is observed. Healy has an unhealthy fixation with lesbianism, which frequently becomes an issue and upon which even his fellow prison staffers comment throughout the series. He’s married to a Russian woman who he seems to love, but with whom he has little in common. He has a congenial relationship with Red, and even convinces her to give him advice about his love life and translate/mediate for him with his wife.
Name: FIGUEROA, Natalie
Figueroa (#AlysiaReiner), more commonly called Fig, is the prison administrator, and a total hardass. The one time in S1 where she seems slightly sympathetic is when she encourages the guards to show a little humanity instead of cracking jokes after Tricia’s “suicide” is discovered. Over the course of S1, it becomes clear that she’s involved in a scheme to skim funds intended for programs at the prison, such as the GED and other inmate betterment programs. Just how involved she is, we don’t know yet.
Name: Caputo, Joe
Caputo (#NickSandow) is director of human activities (fancy title for “warden”) at Litchfield. He only makes appearances in S1 when something very serious happens, such as when a screwdriver goes missing from the electrical shop. Outside of his job, he plays bass and sings in a pub band that makes occasional appearances when other guards are out letting off steam after work.
We’re briefly introduced to other inmates and prison staff in S1, but barely have time to learn their names (much less anything significant about their lives).
Inmates: Maria Ruiz (#JessicaPimentel), Big Boo (#LeaDeLaria), Little Boo (Big Boo’s therapy dog; part of a prisoner program that Fig hasn’t cut), Leanne Taylor (#EmmaMyles, one of ‘Tucky’s followers), Norma Romano (#AnnieGolden, Red’s mute girl who finally comes to life with an angelic singing voice in the S1 Christmas play finale), Marisol Gonzales (#JackieCruz, aka ‘Flaca,’ who has goth style and loves the Smiths, not reggaeton), Maritza Ramos (#DianeGuerrero), Gina Murphy (#AbigailSavage, aka ‘Squirrel,’ who gets badly burned in a grease fire when Red’s plan for revenge on Gloria after she loses control of her kitchen goes horribly wrong), Chang (#LoriTanChinn), Cindy Hayes (#AdrienneCMoore), Angie Rice (#JulieLake), Miss Rosa Cisneros (#BarbaraRosenblat)
Prison Staff: Scott O’Neill (#JoelMarshGarland), Wanda Bell (#CatherineCurtin), Susan Fischer (#LaurenLupkus), Joel Luschek (#MattPeters), Eliqua Maxwell (#LolitaFoster), Chaplain Royce (#JoannaAdler)
In the very first episode, Piper manages to accidentally offend Red by insulting her cooking (Piper didn’t realize Red was in charge of the kitchen at the time). Red retaliated by starving her out until Piper used her previous soap-making knowledge to scavenge necessary ingredients to make a handmade bar of jalapeno soap to get Red to forgive her thoughtlessness. Even in prison, manners count.
A live chicken somehow makes it onto the grounds, and Piper is the first one to see it after she takes a granola bar and some coffee and goes to sit outside one morning instead of eating breakfast. When she starts talking about it, everyone sees what they want to see in the chicken: Red sees a delicious meal, while many other inmates think the chicken is a way to smuggle in anything from drugs to other contraband. Everyone tries to catch the symbolism chicken, but no one actually does.
Pennsatucky wages an ongoing battle to display her huge cross and faith-heal other inmates throughout the season. Whenever anyone doesn’t believe the way she does, she takes it as a personal affront. This becomes incredibly important later in the season.
Around episode 6, Piper finally starts to realize that her own mistakes (not someone else’s) are what brought her to prison. She finds a hidden cameraphone in a women’s bathroom stall, and Healy decides to hold an election for the Women’s Advisory Council. He later admits this is a way for the inmates to feel like they have power, even though all they really end up getting is donuts once a month. Because Healy identifies with Piper, she mysteriously wins a seat on the WAC even though she didn’t even run.
Larry, Piper’s fiancee, publishes a story called “One Sentence, Two Prisoners” in the Modern Love section of the New York Times. This leads to a radio appearance on Murray Kind’s Urban Tales on NPR, which leads to everyone in prison hating Piper after he shares many unkind observations she had about her fellow inmates on the radio. Ultimately, he wants to either marry her immediately (instead of putting it off until she gets out in a year), or else break it off, because Piper’s yo-yo between him and Alex is too much for him to take.
Tricia freaks out when her girlfriend Mercy gets released, trying to make Mercy promise that she’ll wait for her on the outside. Mendez holds her in thrall with the drugs he supplies. Red doesn’t want anyone doing drugs if they’re one of her girls, which Tricia is. Instead of disappointing Red, Tricia decides to get rid of the drugs Mendez is forcing her to sell another way. She overdoses while locked in a mop closet because Mendez didn’t want to let her out to go scare some delinquent kids into not becoming criminals. Mendez moves her body and rigs it to look like she hung herself with an electrical cord, which the staff and other inmates later accept as fact.
Larry lies to Piper about Alex’s involvement in naming her and getting her convicted, so Piper forgives Alex and they quickly get back together. Healy freaks out about lesbian activity after Alex and Piper dance together, and throws Piper in solitary (SHU) for Thanksgiving.
Red flushes Pornstache’s drugs down the toilet, and tells him about it when he comes looking for them. In retaliation, he whips out his dick and urinates in the Thanksgiving gravy. (Red doesn’t serve it.)
Taystee gets released, and is happy at first, but later comes back because life is really tough for ex-cons. No one wants to hire you, even for terrible jobs that don’t pay anything. She was stuck sleeping on someone’s floor, didn’t know what she was going to eat, and ended up with lice. At least in prison, she knew she was getting fed and would have somewhere to sleep at night. She explained this all to Poussey when she came back, and Poussey gaped at her in disbelief.
Piper encourages ‘Tucky to use her faith-healing skills on one of the delinquent kids who was sent to the prison as part of a “scared straight” program. This girl is in a wheelchair. Guards are called in to take ‘Tucky to psych, because she knocks the girl out of her chair and assaults her with a faith-healing attempt. Although Piper eventually relents and gets ‘Tucky out of psych, ‘Tucky swears she’s going to kill Piper.
Larry meets Alex at visitation, and they both realize that Piper’s hurt each of them, and come to the mutual conclusion that that’s what Piper does. Larry finally breaks it off with Piper after getting Piper to confess that she loves Alex—but not before breaking the news that Alex really was the one who named Piper and got her convicted in the first place, which he’d lied about before.
Healy is so angry and disillusioned with Piper by the end of the season that he lets ‘Tucky come chasing after her, and even stands aside while ‘Tucky tries to shiv Piper with a cross. However, Piper received the missing screwdriver for her Secret Santa present, and has been carrying it as protection ever since. Season One ends with Piper knocking ‘Tucky out and stabbing her repeatedly with the screwdriver while ‘Tucky’s dressed up like an angel for the Christmas play (which all the other inmates are inside performing in and/or attending).
Thanks for joining us for our recap of #OITNB Season One!
If you haven't already, be sure to FOLLOW THIS STORY, as we'll be recapping Seasons Two and Three in the lead-up to the premiere date of Season Four on June 17th, only on #Netflix!