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As Scene on TV: "Orange Is the New Black"

Orange is the New Black: “Thirsty Bird” – Piper’s Transferred


Season one of Orange is the New Black ended on a nail-biter of a cliffhanger.  Series protagonist Piper was assaulted by the meth-head Jesus Freak Pennsatucky, leaving Piper to defend herself in a violently bloody brawl.  The season ended with the audience uncertain whether Pennsatucky lived or died, and what consequences would fall upon Piper.   After nearly eleven months, the second season premiered, only to further delay answers.

Throughout the series, Piper has served as the “every man” eyes and ears inside the US prison system.  As a college educated, middle class career woman, Piper has more in common with many Netflix viewers than the uneducated blue-collar woman who comprise the majority of the prison population.  Throughout the season, we’ve been astonished with her as she’s navigated the prison world.

The premiere episode of season two brings us even more intimately to Piper’s state of mind, as her time spent wondering what fate will befall her for her actions mirrors the fan frenzy that has swirled since season one.  We can see that her time in solitary has allowed Piper to sink into a troubled state, where her only comfort comes from creating art from her breakfast eggs.

When the guards arrive and order Piper out, she’s as confused as we.  Neither the audience, nor Piper, knows Pennsatucky’s fate.  While Piper struggles with her guilt, the audience yearns for an answer.  When she’s transferred, Piper assumes this is a reaction to Pennsatucky’s likely death, inferring her information from minimal exposition, just as the television-savvy audiences are wont to do.

It’s not until well into the episode that we learn the real reason for Piper’s transfer, and it’s not until the start of the second episode that we learn what happened to Pennsatucky, and how their violent confrontation will impact Piper’s sentence.  In some shows, stringing out these reveals could feel like a cheap attempt to maintain dramatic tension.  In Orange is the New Black, however, the lack of information leads to greater empathy for Piper, and by extension, all of the prison population who face regular dehumanization in a variety of ways, including the withholding of pertinent information.  By withholding catharsis from the audience, Orange is the New Black symbolically helps us identify with the prisoner characters.

Angela Jorgensen originally hails from Iowa. She currently resides in Los Angeles and aspires to write for hour-long television dramas. She’s currently producing a documentary called The Longest Straw [].