Revisiting Orange is the New Black (kind of) after watching the first season during my junior year of high school, watching the first episode is jarring. Specifically, seeing the Piper Chapman of the pilot after seeing the Piper Chapman of later in the season is jarring.
I chose to focus on the writing of the pilot episode of the show because I want to break down the ways the rest of Orange is the New Black is set up through it (and definitely not because I didn’t have time to re-watch any other episodes). In reviewing the writing of “I Wasn’t Ready,” I will try to keep my focus on this episode, but I may have to write about future episodes. You have been warned.
“I Wasn’t Ready” was written by Jenji Kohan and Liz Friedman. Save for the opening voiceover monologue, the episode is heavily dialogue driven. In a monologue-heavy show, we learn a lot about the protagonist, so much so that all other characters serve only as auxiliaries. By depending on dialogue, the show ensures that, even if the protagonist is clearly Piper, other characters can be developed and can change as much as Piper will, and can affect Piper’s own character development. The decision to depend on dialogue allows for the existence of more multi-dimensional and fluid characters.
The structure of the episode bears many similarities to shows such as The Good Place in its dependence on flashbacks to provide background information on the plot in small, often non-linear fragments. In Orange is the New Black, this tactic is also used to give viewers details about Piper’s past involvement with the drug cartel in small parcels, in order to keep the viewer hooked. By not revealing everything about Piper’s past in the first episode, the show writers ensure that they can continue to use it to drive the show along and reveal more about Piper throughout the course of the show. The pilot uses these two technical details to great effect, making for an episode that serves as an excellent foundation for the show.
However, this is only evident in retrospect. The pilot fails to stand on its own, depending way too much on the final cliffhanger to keep viewers watching the show. In many ways, the episode plays it safe (which is typical of a pilot). For example, it addresses racial division in the prison, but only with a surface level mention of it. Perhaps this is an intentional choice, made in order to accentuate how the show dives into these topics later on. But despite the writing having a limited immediate effect, Kohan and Friedman did an excellent job of setting the tone for the rest of the show.
“‘Orange Is the New Black’ I Wasn’t Ready (TV Episode 2013).” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/title/tt2400770/.