When Orange is the New Black sprung onto our screens and into our hearts four years ago, it made waves for its direct, no-holds-barred exploration of lesbian relationships.
Of course, there was the initial, headline-grabbing titillation of lesbians (shock) acting in much the same ways all other sexual couples do (horror).
But in much the same way that the show started by centring on Piper, only to move on to focus on more interesting, diverse characters, depictions of Litchfield’s couples have developed too.
Since 2013, we’ve enjoyed multiple complex portrayals of couples who have warmed our hearts and – more often – caused them to break into a million tiny pieces.
We’ve all got our favourites.
Though naturally, they may not be the most well-functioning of the bunch.
Some have, of course, been objectively better than others.
A relationship which ends with one of the participants orchestrating the other being sent to maximum security prison – just for example – may be considered less than ideal.
Orange is the New Black’s friendships are generally more resilient than romantic entanglements in the harsh environment of Litchfield.
But it’s the couples who steal your affections.
So without further ado, let’s count down the best – and worst – of the show’s relationships.
Worst: Larry and Polly
God damn is this relationship toxic.
Yes, they’re sweet enough together, especially with lines from Larry like “you’re the only person I’ve ever met who can call me an idiot without actually making me feel like one.”
But from the very beginning, this is a messed-up pile of tangled garbage.
Individually, they’re not great. Larry, in particular, reveals himself to be a terrible person as the show progresses, and we’ll come back to that later.
But together, they combine to cause the most pain for everyone who knows them, and they don’t even seem to feel that bad about it.
After Polly’s husband Pete leaves for a trip, Larry takes advantage to leach onto her, despite the fact that she’s a: married and b: Piper’s best friend.
When Pete’s told about the relationship, he can’t be blamed for punching Larry directly in his entitled, whiny face.
And then the gruesome twosome visit Piper in prison to talk to her about them getting together, which is so gross.
Larry tells her: “We want your blessing,” just after Polly asks: “Do you hate us? Please tell us you don’t hate us”.
We kind of hate you, Larry and Polly. Just a lot.
Piper and Larry
Larry is the worst, part two.
Whether it’s using Piper’s imprisonment to advance his writing career or encouraging her to be a prison mole, Larry is stunningly unempathetic – and that’s on a show with actual villains.
Piper tells him: “You’re the moon, Larry. You have got to stop being the moon,” and she’s absolutely right. At every junction, he tries to use her rather than help her.
Every article or radio spot he does about his situation takes him further down a slippery slope to douche town, as he exploits Piper’s pain for his gain.
The title of his newspaper piece – ‘One Sentence, Two Prisoners’ – is characteristic of his victim complex.
“Wait,” I hear you cry. “Piper is totally also the worst.” You’re right. You’re absolutely right.
And with Larry, early on in a character arc which leaves her at least bearable going into season 5, she is at her worst, cheating on him not long after accepting his proposal.
To be clear though, Larry is a free, middle to upper class white, straight, cis man who doesn’t have to deal with being incarcerated. The dungheap-like nature of this relationship is mainly on him.
Stella and Piper
This poisonous relationship takes place during Piper’s “gangster with an a” phase (remember how Piper’s the worst?) in season 3.
Though their time together is brief, they still manage to hurt multiple people.
Alex suffers from Piper cheating on her, and at a time when she’s paranoid someone is coming to kill her – which, it turns out, someone is.
And the couple hurt each other: Stella steals Piper’s dirty panties money when she finds out she’s going to be released, and Piper retaliates to the max, so to speak.
Framing Stella by hiding marijuana, cigarettes, a lighter and Boo’s screwdriver in her bunk is badass, but also completely inhumane. Season 3 Piper – who, lest it be forgotten, also started a white power group – was such a bad person.
Ruby Rose will be back in season 5 to reprise her role as Stella, so sit back and watch the drama unfold between this awful pair.
Daya and Bennett
The only factor saving this illegal coupling with a screwed-up power dynamic from bottom spot is the fact that they have a number of genuinely lovely moments together.
He proposes to her with a ring made of gum wrappers! In reference to their first ever interaction, when she asks him for a stick of gum and he later hides one in her bunk!
But none of their cuteness can disguise the fact that Bennett abuses his power, tells Caputo that Daya’s pregnant without her permission, then abandons a pregnant Daya and his child in season 3.
At the beginning of season 5, Daya’s child is in foster care and she’s pointing a gun at a prison guard’s face. The two are related, and much of the blame falls on Bennett.
Lorna and Vince
They’re lovely together, all naive and glad to have found one another.
But they’re also both so desperate and lonely that pretty soon after their lightning-fast relationship becomes a marriage, things start to unravel.
Vince, who still lives with his parents, strikes up a close relationship with Lorna’s sister, then calls Lorna “crazy” over the phone. This drives her into a panic that she’s messing it up, which isn’t fair.
Then again, Lorna does get Vince and his buddies to beat up poor, innocent Christopher for stalking her, which of course is the opposite of what happened.
Encouraging your partner to commit a crime? Not such a great basis for a marriage.
Suzanne and Maureen
So sweet. Very complicated. Many mental health issues.
There are so many positives. Maureen encourages Suzanne to carry on writing Time Hump Chronicles, the erotic stories which make her and a lot of prisoners very happy and entertained.
And even though Suzanne stands Maureen up in a broom closet, the pair end season 3 on the lake together, holding hands.
Maureen does take childish revenge on Suzanne in the next season, stopping their sexual encounter to make them even, but as they’re trying to figure out their low-level problems, tragedy strikes.
Suzanne is goaded into fighting Maureen by CO Humphrey and other guards, and ends up snapping and brutally beating her.
It’s pretty obvious that this was the result of Suzanne’s mental health problems, and she shows full remorse.
She eventually pulls a bookcase down on herself to make them even, and ends up in the medical area in a bed next to Maureen, suggesting there’s more to come from this couple.
And at least the two seem well-suited for each other. They make each other happy most of the time, which can’t be said for the majority of Orange is the New Black pairings.
Piper and Alex
Sure, their history is a tangled web of lies, cheating, betrayal, more lies and often being just plain awful for each other, but hey, it’s extremely entertaining to watch.
Plus, by the time they make up near the end of season four, they’ve taken on the air of a middle-aged married couple.
All the drama which dogged them for a decade and a half is gone, replaced by a deep affection for each other. They have a real connection, and they’re not messing with it anymore.
Piper even commits an unselfish act, helping Alex to find all the pieces of paper on which she’s written the name of her hitman – who she killed – and burn them.
She knows what’s best for Alex, and Alex returns the favour, encouraging her to keep her head down and stay out of trouble with her release date just three months away.
Nicky and Lorna
This is the best pairing for both of them. They genuinely care about each other, and almost always make each other happy.
Even after Lorna breaks it off because she feels guilty about ‘cheating on’ Christopher, then breaks into his house and tells Nicky there’s something wrong with her, Nicky doesn’t care.
She simply tells Lorna that she loves her.
When Nicky gets sent down to max in season 3, Lorna is devastated, foregoing makeup and generally mourning the loss of her partner.
Her loneliness drives her to find happiness in the arms of Vince, who Nicky ends up being predictably jealous of, leading her to tell Lorna that he’s probably cheating on her.
But when Lorna needs someone to confide in, someone to admit that she feels like she’s “f***ing everything up” with Vince, she still turns to Nicky.
Shots of season 5 show Nicky and Morello together in the medical supplies section of the prison, and even if they’re not together at the moment, they’re still great for each other.
Best: Poussey and Soso
Oh, my heart. Poussey, you were too good for this world/show.
Poussey saves Soso from death, but Soso returns the favour by bringing so much light and happiness into Poussey’s life.
The joy of seeing their relationship develop is the exact opposite of the painful, awkward experience of watching Poussey’s unrequited love for Taystee in the earlier seasons. Yet another representation of the Lesbian Falls In Love With Her Straight Best Friend trope? Nah, I’m good, thanks.
Admittedly, Soso does tell Poussey’s hero, Judy King, that Poussey is nervous around her because of her crack-addicted mother, which is completely untrue.
But both of them are genuinely decent people, and they eventually pair make up, realising that they have to get to know each other better.
This, of course, is denied them by Poussey’s tragic, untimely death.
It is understood that Soso’s season 5 will be centred on working through the grief caused by this catastrophe, which deprived viewers of the best relationship Litchfield has seen.