As promised, here is the start of my character recaps of our favorite inmates on “Orange Is the New Black.” In lieu of formal episode recaps, which don’t really make sense when you binge watch, I thought we’d discuss the big-picture narrative arcs instead. And, just as we can all watch the show at our own pace (or all in one day like a crazy person like me), I expect to put these out at random intervals as well. I’d love to hear your thoughts, as always – this is a Safe Place. But, sorry, I don’t have any cookies.
Let us start where it all started. With the reason we met all these complex, beautiful, damaged, fascinating, troubled, magnificent women in the first place. Piper fucking Chapman. This could have so easily have just been a fish-out-of-water story. That it went beyond its simple set up – upper-class, educated white woman goes to jail – to become the richest portrayal of diverse female characters on television today is a testament to its creator, its cast and its writers.
Still, love her or hate her, we owe it all to Piper. She cracked open the door to reveal the wonders (and horrors) that awaited us at Litchfield Federal Penitentiary. But the story is no longer just about her, and therein lies the true strength of this amazing show. And by taking the spotlight away from Piper, it has made Piper a so much more interesting character. Less really is more. The Piper we met when she was first handed her orange uniform, by her own admission, is not the Piper we see today. She is changed – and, despite everything awful that has happened to her, it is for the better.
When you peel back all the artifice we surround ourselves with – our fancy clothes, our college degree, our artisanal soaps – what lies beneath is the raw truth of our lives. How we navigate our way in this world, how we treat other people. What matters is never, really, what we think matters. The car, the house, the country club membership. Who gives a flying shit about any of it. Take that away and we’re all just people passing time, trying the best we can – or not.
Piper isn’t perfect. She’s needy and co-dependent and privileged. She does things she shouldn’t be proud of, for her own selfish means. But then she does other things that show how much she is starting to own up to her own bullshit. She doesn’t give a flying fuck if Larry (Ugh, Larry) keeps her website updated anymore, and that matters. As she tells her father, who has never once visited her in prison, during her furlough:
Mr. Chapman: You are my little girl, that woman in there, that’s not who you are.And then to the older couple at the reception:
Piper: That is exactly who I am.
Older Couple: We’re sure you’re anxious to return to your old self.Plus, holy shit, they could teach a whole class on the complex motivations behind Piper’s decision to contact Alex’s probation officer. Is she protecting her from the drug lord’s retribution? Is she being selfish again to have her close? Was it good? Was it bad? Is it everything all at once? I know, I know – mostly you just don’t care because you’re happy it means the return of Alex Vause. Believe me, I feel you on that.
Piper: I’m not, actually.
In the end, Piper Chapman may well be the least interesting woman at Litchfield Federal Penitentiary. But she is getting more worth caring about with each passing day. And that, in the end, is what matters.