Worst to Best
Orange Is The New Black
Season One

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7 Imaginary
Enemies (1.4)

One issue that blighted Orange is the New Black's later seasons was tonal inconsistency. There's an early sign of it here, where we're supposed to be on the side of Miss Claudette after her flashback reveals she murdered a man beating a girl, but earlier Piper is groped by Pornstache while being searched. While not exactly played for full-on laughs, neither is it played with horror or appropriate repercussions.
      Pablo Schreiber's Emmy-nominated performance (for episode 2.9) as George "Pornstache" Mendez is a good one, and he has a long career in television, including an almost unrecognisable TV debut as Nick Sobotka in the superb HBO series The Wire. The "Pornstache" role is broader and less "real" than other characters, but it's still far from the almost cartoon antics of later "villain" guards.
      A strong episode with a developing relationship between Piper and Claudette, along with Alex and Nicholls... as well as a nice misdirection on exactly what Boo planned to do with a stolen screwdriver...

6 Fucksgiving (1.9)

By this stage in the season, the drama can afford to hot up and show various different subplots without it feeling fragmented. The homophobia of Pensatucky and Correctional Officer Sam Healy here begins to reach critical mass, and will carry the season through to its dramatic conclusion.
     There's a lot packed into the runtime, with Sophia coming to terms with her wife meeting someone else, Taystee being released and Piper and Alex finally getting together. In amongst it all is an almost surreal subplot where Piper thinks she can hear a voice while in solitary, but it was possibly her imagination. Though this isn't as surreal as Taylor Schilling appearing to accidentally looking into camera for a split second.
      Meanwhile, Pornstache continues to intimidate Red in order to bring in drugs, and in a brief flashback viewers are introduced to Alex's dad and see her first meeting with her dealer boss. This last moment is perhaps a little hard to take, as it is, once again, the writers' hand in events, pushing things forward so we can finally see how Alex would have become involved in drug dealing in the first place... an unlikely happening, one not made particularly more believable despite the efforts of all concerned. Yet this a very good episode, with all the elements in place and moving forward nicely.
     Lastly, a point of trivia: an earlier OITNB article (since amended) mistakenly stated that the episode titles with swearing in them were officially spelt with asterisks in them, and said titles were reproduced in the articles as such. This is, in fact, not true - the episode titles actually only appear censored on Netflix, where the series is rated as "18". Their official titles (which never appear onscreen anyway, only in listings) appear without the censorship, and the DVD releases are rated "15".

5 Tall Men with
Feelings (1.11)

An episode that focuses on Pornstache, both in his after work drinking sessions, and in Red's plan to incriminate him. Pablo Schreiber's full-tilt performance, particularly in such an otherwise relatively low-key season, may split audiences. One thing Schreiber brings to the part is imagination, and in an interview with Vulture, he discussed how much of the part was improvised, including this episode's surreal theory connecting 9/11 with Sodoku.
      Elsewhere, Suzanne is humanised, leading towards her fan favourite status, asking the heartbreaking question "How come everyone calls me Crazy Eyes?" But perhaps the biggest character development is that Piper asks for Pensatucky to be released from psyche and takes the blame for her being there, after having convinced her that she had religious healing powers. Not only does this put the season finale in place, but it also swerves a chance to redeem Piper's somewhat selfish behaviour.
      A flashback shows Piper leaving Alex, and not changing her mind after Alex tells her her mother has just died. If the flashback was from Piper's POV then it could have shown she wanted to redeem herself to ease her guilt... instead viewers are shared the memory via Alex, so Piper's actions are her just deciding to do the right thing for a change. The episode concludes with Larry dumping Piper over the phone, and finally telling her that Alex named her as part of a plea bargain.

4 Bora Bora Bora (1.10)

Bora Bora Bora is one of the bleakest episodes of all. There's fun to be had, including a nod to Beyond Scared Straight and an absurdly sexualised first meeting between Larry and Piper, but the centrepiece of the episode is Tricia Miller (Madeline Brewer) dying of an overdose and Pornstache, her supplier, faking a suicide to cover his tracks. The real beauty of season one is that everything presented within it is something that is potentially believable, a far cry from season five's cartoon antics. Pensatucky's "healing" ceremonies are about as extreme as the first season got, but it's forgivable for such a harrowing instalment.
      While season two was OITNB at its brilliant best, there were some logical inconsistencies and character retoolings that jarred. Note here how Poussey tells a group of "scared straight" prison visitors about how Piper is a lesbian... Poussey's own homosexuality came completely out of left-field during season two, and here is the strongest indication that the writers hadn't thought of it at the time. It's also intriguing to look at how earlier relationships between the regulars change: this is the first episode where Flaca and Black Cindy team up, and, rewatching Big Boo mocking Pensatucky, it's hard to imagine how they would not only become good friends, but Pensatucky would evolve into one of the show's most likeable and sympathetic characters...


3 Fool Me Once (1.12)

Christians in drama are rarely shown positively, and, while Pensatucky eventually becomes one of the most likeable characters, against all the odds, that's when she loses her "old time religion". Here the show gives us one of its ironic twists by using the flashback to show Pensatucky shooting an abortion clinic worker who had insulted her for having her fifth abortion... a Christian legal group, misunderstanding her true intentions, back her with free legal aid as they believe she was doing "God's work". The episode ends with a dual cliffhanger: Larry asks Piper to marry him immediately in an attempt to save their relationship, with Pensatucky decides she's got no option other than to kill Piper.
      For lovers of trivia, then this is the first episode to state that the prisoners have racially segregated shower areas, with Gloria referring not only to the "ghetto" area, but also the "Spanish showers". This is significant in that Gloria is involved in a plot strand relating to the segregated shower areas in season two, despite the fact that not only have mixed showers been shown throughout the first season, it's even the centrepiece of the very first scene. However, the final episode of the season features a guard telling Pensatucky that a shower area isn't her "assigned bathroom", so perhaps Gloria's remark about "Spanish showers" is just an informal nickname for an area that happened to be allocated to most of the Mexican prisoners.

2 I Wasn't Ready (1.1)

A strong start to the series, but more importantly a reminder of how good the show used to be. Characters, such as Loreto, who gradually became two-dimensional and cartoonish, are here low-key and believable, often with different accents. Performances change and evolve over time, and it's striking looking back just how restrained it is. The series became about grandstanding, but here - where the most famous actor involved was Jason Biggs, and the cast, save Kate Mulgrew, were all largely unknown, certainly over here in the UK - there's a concerted effort to try.
      For the later years of its run, the "flashback" sequences have been virtual afterthoughts, but here it's integral as the narrative bounces around several years in Piper's life to build up a large picture. There are perhaps those who prefer post-season one OITNB as it becomes an ensemble series that more directly questions the nature of American society. But the first, Piper-centric season isn't just a vessel to get to a place to tell more diverse stories... it's a season where all play their roles straight, and any laughs arise out of the situation, rather than amped-up performers doing "turns".
      While later OINTB is still far from awful, it lost the believability it once had, the art of making you believe that what you were watching could be real. While always billed as "comedy drama", it's a surprise to look back and see just how dramatic the show was, with laughs just breathing points between the drama.

1 Can't Fix Crazy (1.13)

Although DVDs are rapidly becoming outdated in this age of streaming - particularly when the entire show is available on Netflix - the DVD sets do contain a few extras. Season one isn't overloaded with features, just some short "talking head" segments about various elements of the series, along with a commentary track on the first episode and this one.
      Featuring producers Mark Burley, Tara Herrmann and creator/executive producer Jenji Kohan, while the commentaries aren't essential listening, the track for this episode does bring up some interesting bits of trivia, such as the fact that the episode originally overran by seven minutes and that, while Netflix had no issue with it, production company Lionsgate wanted it trimmed. Most of what was left on the cutting room floor was Red's sabotage of the kitchen, explaining why it becomes a montage. Also of note is that they weren't sure if they'd be recommissioned for a second season, so the last act was written as if it might be the real ending. Lastly, all of the singing and piano playing were live takes.
      A terrific concluding episode where Piper experiences her worst day, being dumped by Larry after agreeing to marry him, and rejected by Alex. After being repeatedly threatened by Pensatucky, their final clash occurs in the snow-filled yard, as Healy leaves Piper to her fate, and Piper, after being told by Pensatucky that she's not worthy of love, finally snaps. There's a terrific ironic juxtaposition as the beauty of the carols forms a backdrop to Piper savagely beating Pensatucky with no control.


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