By the time the theme song for Netflix’s new series “Orange Is The New Black” starts vibrating through the opening credits, the conflicting worlds of comfort and chaos have already begun to merge. The first forty seconds, voiced over by main character Piper Chapman, describes her happy place. In her case, it’s the shower. The images of her as a child, making bubble bath mounds and later years spent seducing various lovers, displays this dwelling of ease and relaxation. Her fellow inmate Taystee commanding, “It bests be some hot water left”, interjects her calming commentary. Just as an alarm clock jolts a sleeping person from their sleep. Taystee’s intrusion alerts Piper of two things: You are in prison and this place is not happy.
The next scene is flashback of Piper’s last meal as a free woman. It’s a pig roast with her fiancé Larry, played by Jason Biggs, her best friend Polly, and Polly’s husband Pete. The mood is mix between melancholy and humor. Polly talks about what Piper will miss and reminds her to maintain her eyebrows. When Piper exclaims “On to the last supper”, it becomes apparent that everyone in this light-hearted group is parading a brave face for their condemned friend.
After dinner, Piper and Larry seem intent in making memories that will serve to sustain their love and hopefully their mutual fidelity over the next fifteen months. It highlights the naivety and loneliness that both characters are feeling. This notion is illustrated when Piper flees the bed to go to the bathroom, just after Larry tells her “ Hey, you look beautiful.” Piper sits, half dressed and alone, slumped on the rim of the toilet seat, as the corners of her eyes start to brim with tears. She collects herself, tidies her swirling thoughts, comes back to Larry, smiles and says, “You look beautiful too.”
The explanation for why she is going to prison comes when she tells her family. She dated a woman, who is named Alex. In a flashback, Piper sultry strip tease causes Alex plead for Piper to come around the world with her. She promises Piper that she wouldn’t have to do anything. During the relationship, she carried money for Alex one time. And now she’s going to jail for it, ten years later. She missed the statute of limitations by two years. Her family’s main response to this story was, “You were a lesbian?”
The correctional officer yells “Piper, rhymes with sniper,” when Piper surrenders herself. She says goodbye to Larry. They embrace and she tells him to keep updating her website. Larry’s first task will be to send a check to Iowa without funds; Piper can’t buy anything from the prison commissary. The officer gives Piper her uniform and she marvels at the fact the prison shoes remind her of TOMS. She’s strip searched and corralled into a van where she meets two other inmates Watson and Morello, who is driving. Morello begins talking about her post-prison nuptials and it is as though these are three women having an ordinary conversation, anywhere in the world.
They pull up to the prison and the long walk to the front door is lined with whistling prisoners. Piper goes to processing where she is photographed by a new officer named Bennet and a veteran named Mendez. Her attempts to talk to them are silenced when she is told to “shut your mouth and stand still.” She reports to Mr. Healy, her case officer and they go back and forth over her charges. She professes with a tone of sullen innocence, “well, I did it, that time, ten years ago.” Healy assures her that he’s her advocate and warns her, “You do not have to have lesbian sex.” She tells him about her fiancé and he responds with an approving smile.
Piper and another inmate named Diaz join three other women in a cell. Diaz is ridiculed because she doesn’t know Spanish, as opposed to Piper who is white and does. Piper is shocked when Morello tells her “we take care of our own” when she thanked her for her help. Its clear Piper wants to maintain a distance between her and everyone else. She learns that “SHU” means solitary and it also mean, “you don’t want it.” The inmates direct her to sleep on top of her sheets to save time and that they clean everything with maxi pads. When another inmate, Nicky, asks her why she’s in prison. Piper tells her “she read in a book you shouldn’t ask that.” Nicky responds, “Did you study for prison?” Piper’s gullibility is a plus when talking to people like Healy but, with the inmates, it serves as pure humor.
Her naivety gets her in trouble in the next scene when she insults the cafeteria food. Similar to the prison letting Morello to drive, the inmates control the food in the prison. In this case, an inmate named Red, who just befriended Piper and gave her a yogurt, turns stern when Piper says “the food here is disgusting.” Red, unfortunately for Piper, runs the kitchen. During phone call to Larry after dinner, Piper breaks down, Larry reminds her “It’s all temporary.”
The next morning, after a very public and alarming shower, Piper heads back to the cafeteria for breakfast. A server gives her a specially made breakfast from Red. Chapman opens it and a McTampon is revealed. Horrified and with the other inmates laughing faces frantically flashing before her eyes, Piper runs into the courtyard. She’s panicked, she’s panting and then in the reflecting edges of a puddle on the ground a familiar face emerges: Alex’s. Piper screams when their eyes meet and the screen fades to orange.
Will Piper make prison her new happy place? Will Larry and her survive? Will Alex serve as a new beginning? Time can only tell. But as the Regina Spektor crooned theme songs states “She’s got time.”