Has there ever been a more dramatic pop culture relationship than Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) and Alex Vause’s (Laura Prepon) in Orange Is the New Black? You could write a thesis on their highs and lows, stops and starts. Their relationship is many things (sexy, tumultuous, based on a true story), but it’s never easy.
In the final season of the long-running Netflix show, “Vauseman” is confronted with a final obstacle: freedom. Piper is released from Litchfield State Penitentiary, but Alex still has three years to go. With that, the “domestic bliss” phase of their relationship comes to a close. Will their marriage survive? And was it ever real in the first place?
In the season 6 finale, Alex and Piper get married in a ceremony facilitated by the great Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne). Their vows address all the elephants in the room: The fact that Piper was getting released in an hour, and that Alex put her in prison in the first place. Alex vows to make up for what she did. Piper vows to wait for Alex.
It's a real wedding, in the sense that Alex and Piper take their promise to each other seriously. However, unlike Lorna's (Yael Stone) wedding to Vince (John Magaro) in season 3, which had a licensed officiant, Alex and Piper's is not a legal marriage. There's no paperwork in involved, essentially. It's a "prison marriage," as Alex says.
But when Piper leaves prison, their marriage's validity is questioned by everyone from her father (Bill Hoag) to her parole officer (Alysia Joy Powell). Slowly, Piper's own certainty in their relationship is eroded. The more isolated they become from each other, the easier it seems for Piper to slip away from marriage as if it were a dream, or left behind in a parallel universe.
"When things get hard, it's easy for you to leave," Alex says to Piper over the phone.
She's right: Piper does consider leaving. The door to another life swings open not long after Piper leaves Litchfield, and reveals a sleek redhead named Zelda (Alicia Witt) waiting on the other side. Zelda is obviously the "right choice." She has an impressive job as a professional fundraiser. She has an apartment with a view. Zelda brings Piper to a charity fundraiser, and Piper is like Cinderella at the ball.
Then, midnight strikes. Piper can't go through with her affair with Zelda. Ultimately, after some fumbling at New York galas and in Litchfield closets with McCullough (Emily Tarver), Alex and Piper choose each other. They treat their marriage as if it really were legally binding. At the end of the finale, Piper moves to Ohio to be closer to Alex.
Do you agree with Piper's decision? A lot of people in her life probably won't. But the ending of Orange Is the New Black shows that going forward, Piper won't deny the time she spent in prison – nor will she deny the relationships she forged there. Piper is being true to her experiences, and true to Alex, in one fell swoop.
In three years, when Alex gets out, we suspect they'll seal the deal — with a real wedding.