Until “Lesbian Request Denied,” the third episode of Orange is the New Black, I was buying what Piper was selling in terms of her relative innocence in her current fiasco. She got caught up with Alex. Blinded by love, she became an inadvertent participant in the drug business, and a momentary indiscretion landed her in jail.
But suddenly I’m seeing Piper for who she really is—a little bit selfish (she’s petulant when Larry says he can’t come see her, mad at her business partner for making decisions without her), a little bit pious (she still believes her brother is the one who is the family embarrassment) and unwilling to take responsibility for her actions (her conversation with Alex was nothing short of enlightening).
“Lesbian Request Denied” also told viewers the story of Sophia (Laverne Cox), who used to be a man before undergoing a sex-change operation. I love the way Sophia’s backstory unfolded. It was surprising and not clichéd. On the surface, we’ve all seen a TV character like Sophia before (probably on a crime drama sassing a detective), but Orange delved deep to show us a complex and fascinating woman. Her wife was supportive of the sex change operation and still deeply in love with the person she married. And I appreciate that the show did not connect all the dots for us. It is implied that before becoming Sophia, fireman Marcus stole people’s personal information, used that information to open up credit cards and used those credit cards to pay for the operation. But the show never directly spelled it out for viewers. Orange knows viewers are smart enough to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Sophia’s story was heartbreaking. The prison changes her hormone medication to a lower and generic form of estrogen and when she goes to the doctor to complain, the doctor takes her off the medication all together, citing possible liver damage as a reason. Sophia’s struggle is misunderstood and ignored by the institution that holds her. “Why would anyone give up being a man? It’s like winning the lottery and giving the ticket back,” the warden’s assistant says.
In her desperation, Sophia asks her wife Crystal to smuggle into prison the drugs she needs. Crystal has reached her limit and won’t. She rightly tells her spouse to “man up.” Much like Piper, Sophia is being selfish for even asking this of Crystal. She is putting her needs above those of her family. As Crystal rightly points out, if she goes to jail too, who will be there for their son?
Then the awful prison guard George offers to get Sophia the drugs in exchange for sexual favors. On so many other shows, Sophia would have gone that route. But not on Orange. I clapped and cheered when she triumphantly told him, “You’ve got the wrong girl.” Cox was amazing in this episode. The final shot of Sophia plucking a hair from her chin was poignant and painful. But at the same time, the series does not let Sophia off the hook. She committed a crime, and her actions have irrevocably damaged her relationship with her wife and her son.
Meanwhile Piper is dealing with Suzy a.k.a. Crazy Eyes, who decides Piper is her wife, writes poems for her and calls her “Dandelion.” Crazy Eyes requests to share a room with Piper much to the chagrin of Healy, who is responsible for the great episode title when he tells Piper “Lesbian request denied.”
The exchanges between Piper and Crazy Eyes worked because they effortlessly flowed between comic relief and terror. “I threw my pie for you,” she tells Piper, and it both made me laugh and worry for Piper. By the end of the episode, Piper has the formidable Claudette as her new roommate. Claudette doesn’t want anything out of place in her cell. In the episode’s final moments, Crazy Eyes pees on Claudette’s floor. While the moment was again both funny and frightening, it also highlights something else the show does really well—it ends on a note that makes viewers anxious to watch the next episode.
Other thoughts on “Lesbian Request Denied”:
• The series does like to reference Jason Biggs’ American Pie past, doesn’t it?
• I love the little, delightful moments in the series like Healy searching for a replacement bobble-head doll online.
• Piper asks Larry to find out if Alex is the one who named her and turned her into the Feds. She won’t tell Larry why she so desperately needs this information. I don’t even think she’s told Larry that Alex is in the same prison. Interesting, very interesting.