Orange Is The New Black is widely praised for its diverse ensemble cast. But at the heart of its story is Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). Piper's character is loosely based on Piper Kerman, the real-life author of the memoir of the same name, which served as inspiration for the series.
It makes sense for Orange Is The New Black's first few seasons to be centered around Piper's story. A well-off white woman who attended college at a prestigious New England university isn't the first person you'd expect to find in prison, which makes Kerman's story so appealing. The fact that she was able to tell the stories other women she met there, and to generate a renewed interest in prison reform, speaks to the quality of the book.
In real life, Piper Kerman served 13 months of a 15-month sentence for money laundering; she was released after after exhibiting good behavior in the prison. (And the real Piper has been married to her husband, Larry Smith, since 2006.) Kerman is an advocate for the rights of prisoners — she serves on the board of the Women's Prison Association. If the Netflix series wants its protagonist to have the same impact as her inspiration, it should release her from Litchfield so that she, too, can serve as an advocate outside the prison's walls.
As Orange Is The New Black has dived deeper into the backstories of Piper's counterparts, their characters have become much more interesting than Piper's. In the fourth season in particular, Piper often felt like a side note to the rest of the story.
There's also the question of the timeline itself. Roughly a year has passed in the show's first four seasons. And we know that the fictional Piper had her sentence increased by lying in court about whether she'd met the drug lord who Alex (Laura Prepon) was working for. Still, her time in prison has to end at some point — and, realistically, it will be before many of the other characters are released.
Piper Chapman elicits many eye rolls from the TV show's audience, and it's for good reason. Her privileged background stands in stark contrast to the experiences of many of her prison counterparts, and there are plenty of lessons she's learned from them along the way. Piper isn't always a great person — the used-panty ring was ill-advised, if not genius — but she is kind at heart. And if she wants to prove to her peers that she empathizes with them, the best way for that to happen onscreen is if she's fighting for their rights in the outside world.
The fifth season of Orange Is The New Black takes place over a three-day period, so it's unlikely we'll see Piper's release in the new set of episodes. From the looks of the season 4 finale, even Judy King (Blair Brown) won't be seeing her scheduled release date. But in season 6, it would be nice to see snippets of her advocating for criminal justice reform. It'd be a lot more powerful than more flashbacks that show she was a good kid, something viewers probably never doubted in the first place. Piper doesn't have to be an extraneous character — she just needs a new environment.
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