WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Orange is the New Black Season Five!
Could Orange is the New Black go on without Piper? Jenji Kohan, creator of the Netflix dramedy, has gone on record calling Piper her “Trojan horse,” whose purpose was to get the show a green-light and subsequently pave the way for stories about women of color, old age, and varying sexual preferences. She called Piper an “easy access point,” attracting general audiences that might not otherwise be interested and presenting them with diverse characters. Piper began the show as a fish out of water, an audience surrogate character to help establish the world of OitNB. But if Piper has already served her initial purpose, what’s the point of her going forward?
The truth is, Piper’s absence wouldn’t damage the show all too much. Orange has decidedly become a ensemble TV show long since Piper’s introduction. If Piper were to leave, the show would go the way of Game of Thrones post-Ned Stark – surviving and maybe even thriving, despite the vacancy of an inarguable protagonist. As it stands, with Piper still on the show, the proclamation of any character as the lead would certainly be debatable. Considering the fact that Piper is an irritating character to many, her departure could even make the show better. When she was revealed to be a Trojan horse, the show not only continued to work but also improved.
However, there are benefits to keeping Piper onboard. Given how fantastic Taylor Schilling is in the role, it’s impossible for Piper to ever be a genuinely detrimental link in OitNB‘s cast. There are also benefits to be found in the character on her own. Annoying as Piper can be, her waspishness is a staple of the series. She’s a textbook “love to hate” character, or at least a “love to roll your eyes at” character. Losing Piper also means losing the Piper/Alex relationship which, though equally eye-roll inducing, is still one of the show’s defining features. A conversation about Orange is the New Black would be incomplete without at least a mention of Piper and Alex’s toxic relationship. With Piper gone, the only area of the show needing immediate attention would be Alex, because, as is, she wouldn’t work without Piper in her corner (or on her case).
Alex is a decent enough character but she stands out primarily because of how she bounces off of Piper. Because of who they are individually (and what they’ve done to each other), they can’t stand each other. But they also can’t live without each other. There is love between them, whether it’s healthy or not. So if Piper is out of the picture, that doesn’t leave Alex much to do and Jenji Kohan and her writers would have to come up with better storylines for Alex immediately. There was a possibility of Alex having a solo arc early in season five. After publicly disrespecting a leader in the Litchfield prison riot, Alex unintentionally unified inmates wanting to remove themselves from the chaos, finding herself a hesitant authority figure, potentially a reluctant hero.
But then that arc fizzles, and Alex, once again, becomes intrinsically tied to Piper’s story. This is especially a shame when you notice how great Laura Prepon has been on the show. Even though she works extremely well with Schilling, she couldn’t do as many interesting things with Alex by herself. Prepon already nails Alex’s undying paranoia, brought on by life as a drug dealer. That anxiety could believably turn inwards if she was faced with the responsibility of leading followers. And given how Prepon seems more involved in the show than ever (she directed an episode for the latest season), she’d probably be more than game to dig deeper into the character.