Quick Answer: In Orange Is the New Black, Piper Chapman's life centers around her time in prison. In addition to serving as the setting, prison functions as the catalyst for the breakdowns of her relationships, the majority of her reckless actions and all of her predicaments. The vital presence and impact of Litchfield raises the following questions: Is there a place outside of prison for Piper Chapman? Does her life have meaning without its influence? While there might be a new life after Litchfield for Piper, it will be extremely different from the life she left behind. Her two most significant intimate relationships have both been dramatically strained, the dynamics of her family unit are damaged, and her strongest friendship has disintegrated. Most importantly, Piper herself has changed beyond recognition, so it's fitting she can no longer return to the outward life of her former self.
In Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black (2013 - ), Piper Chapman’s (Taylor Schilling) life revolves around her imprisonment. Throughout the show’s first three seasons, we see prison transform from an environment in which Piper struggles to exist to a territory in which she has claim and authority. Not only that, but prison functions as the catalyst for the breakdowns of her relationships, the majority of her reckless actions and all of her predicaments. As viewers delve into the recently premiered fourth season, we can’t help but ask the following questions: Is there a place outside of prison for Piper Chapman? Does her life have meaning without its influence?
Piper’s time in prison has significantly affected her relationships. Following the end of the third season of Orange Is the New Black, viewers can assume that Piper’s relationship with Larry (Jason Biggs) is over. She has essentially “gone back to girls” by falling into Alex’s (Laura Prepon) arms once again and reigniting her homosexual desire. Up until that point, Piper had considered lesbianism a part of her past, something that characterized the time in her life pre-Park Slope and pre-Larry. However, the fact that she reignites her desires and embraces homosexuality in Litchfield eliminates the chance of her relationship with Larry ever working. Furthermore, Season Three marks the end of Piper and Alex's relationship and the beginning of Piper’s short-lived relationship with Stella (Ruby Rose). This signifies a shift for Piper. Her lesbianism is no longer merely associated with Alex. Rather, it has become a fuller part of Piper’s identity.
Jason Biggs as Larry and Taylor Schilling as Piper in Orange Is the New Black (2013 - )
It's debatable to what extent Piper’s attraction to Alex and their complex relationship may work inside of prison, but we know that it does not work on the outside. They have not seen each other for a decade prior to being incarcerated. Their relationship was initially intense and loving but became dark, turbulent and volatile – qualities which eventually led to their dramatic split ten years earlier. Although Piper enjoys Alex’s company in prison again throughout the first two seasons, Season 3 uses Alex’s significant absence to suggest that their bond will not amount to a strong enough relationship on the outside. As Piper’s impending release date approaches, the chance of their relationship ever working also diminishes.
Taylor Schilling as Piper and Laura Prepon as Alex on Orange is the New Black (2013 - )
In addition to losing both of the most influential romantic partners in her life, Piper has seen her family unit change beyond recognition since she went to Litchfield. Her relationship with her father has failed to withstand the repercussions of her crime, her mother is disappointed in her, and her brother Cal’s (Michael Chernus) life has continued to progress. Most heartbreakingly for Piper, her dear grandmother Celeste has passed away, meaning that the matriarch of her family and her confidant is gone. Overall, Piper’s family unit is not the one that she knew before she entered prison. Whatever family life waits on the outside for her is not the one that she left behind.
Tracee Chimo as Cal's Wife Nemi, Michael Chernus as Cal and Taylor Schilling as Piper
Before Piper went to prison, her relationship with her best friend Polly (Maria Dizzia) appeared perfect. From the show’s onset it was evident that the two were inseparable. Piper and Larry choose to spend their last night together with Polly and her husband, Pete, which demonstrates how close the group is. More notably, Piper spends the majority of said night in close proximity to pregnant Polly, declaring her love for her as her best friend and even crying to her about how much she will miss her and the arrival of her unborn child. This highlights the significance of their strong, longstanding friendship. The pair’s business partnership further demonstrates the strength of the influence that they have on each other’s lives. As soon as Piper enters prison, however, her bond with Polly begins to disintegrate before rupturing altogether. It starts with Piper’s absence becoming increasingly apparent in Polly’s life and ends with Polly doing the unthinkable by sleeping with Larry. Worse still, she embarks on a relationship with him behind Piper’s back. Piper makes it clear that this is not something she can ever forgive. As a result, her future outside of prison will never be the same again due to the absence of her previous life's loyal friendship.
Maria Dizzia as Polly and Jason Biggs as Larry
It goes without saying that the Orange Is the New Black narrative benefits from keeping Piper inside of prison as long as possible — likely for as long as the show continues or Taylor Schilling continues to feature in it. This interest in keeping Piper incarcerated may partially explain the writers' motives as they continue to push Piper down a dark path of reckless mistakes that risk increasing her sentence. If she continues this behavior, there is even a chance that Piper may continue to land back in Litchfield for the rest of her life and never form a permanent existence as a free woman.
While there may still be a life outside of prison for Piper Chapman, any new life will be fundamentally different from the one that she had before. Her two most impactful intimate relationships have been dramatically — if not irreparably — strained, the dynamics of her family unit are damaged, and her strongest friendship has disintegrated. Her career path has also stalled.
Most importantly, Piper herself has undergone profound transformation thanks to her time in the prison environment. She is no longer the same person, so it's fitting that she can no longer return to the outer life of her previous self. In order to maintain a life outside of prison, the first three seasons of Orange Is the New Black suggest that Piper Chapman will be required to create an entirely new one first.