Wednesday, July 09, 2014

OITNB Inmate Profile: Piper Chapman

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.
Piper: That is exactly who I am.
And then to the older couple at the reception:
Older Couple: We’re sure you’re anxious to return to your old self.
Piper: I’m not, actually.
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.

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.


Carmen SanDiego said...

I really liked having less Piper this season even if her transformation has been very interesting. Great analysis DS
Looking forward to Morello's post

Anonymous said...

Nice write-up. I found, in the first season, I wanted to know about everyone but Piper because they were all so unknown. However, this season, I found myself wondering what the future held for Piper and looking forward to her storyline just as much as anyone else's. That's great story writing.

fridax said...

At first, I didn't like Chapman (most of all attitude), but paired with Alex, it was quite enjoying to see her become her real self - cunning, desperate, lusting for life and her one true love (Alex and Piper do deserve each other, for better or worse).

Although we already learned a lot about Chapman in S1, there were still new bits and pieces about her throughout S2. Indeed, of all the inmates she seems to be the most transparent character, still Litchfield would not be the same without her. Also thanks to Chapman (and some sorting out of scheduling conflicts), we'll have more of Alex.

Looking forward to more profiles, DS.

egghead said...

Piper Chapman was in the first season a great, dynamic comedic character, paired with either Suzanne or Alex. This season she's still there but not quite so fresh. Now she's seasoned. Anyway, I love watching privilege parody. It's like porn for me. Look at "Almost Royal" on BBC. Poppy Carlton is hilarious along with her bro, Georgie. I don't know, it's just so timely and goddamned absurd and funny. Yeah, everyone is just passing time, but some of us are definitely on cloud nine, blissfully, triumphantly ignorant!