The theme of the latest season of Netflix original Orange is the New Black was the way that "this place changes you." While that theme has been a constant throughout the show, it felt more upfront this season. Before I get into the main theme of this article, let me first address the final episodes of this latest season. If you aren't caught up with the show, this article is presented in chronological order from the subtitle Piper Chapman onwards. *Seasons 1-4 Spoilers ahead*. As a precaution, I will mark the first paragraph with a spoiler warning; after that, you're on your own!
"Where We End Is Not The Way That We Had Planned"
Season four ended with the tragic death of fan favourite and OITNB original, Poussey Washington; occurring accidently at the hands of young CO Bayley. Throughout this episode, titled 'The Animals', we got to see Baxter Bayley's backstory; it showed us how innocent Bayley really was. Not long ago, he was in high school working in a small independent ice cream shop, hanging out with friends and doing things that any ordinary young adult does. As far as his Litchfield career goes, he is young and therefore inexperienced. He is easily taken advantage of as evidenced last season (3), when he became a part of Piper's illegal panty business, and wasn't ever entirely sure what was expected of him. He was not professionally ready to be caught in that situation or to be dealing with Suzanne "crazy eyes" Warren. Not to mention that the incident occurred after warden Caputo told him to get out of this job and the system before it destroys him. In a prison full of guards we generally dislike, Bayley was one of the good guys.
Poussey had been quiet this season - happy. The extent of her story this year was her relationship with Brook Soso. She was, in a way, one of the least relevant characters this season in terms of the main stories. It is not uncommon for characters to die in OITNB, but this is not a villain being run over or a character we haven't spent lot of time with committing suicide. This is the first character that we have really gotten to know through extensive backstories and gone through the show with since the beginning. It looked to remind us of the reality of these situations and almost to reflect real life. The episode was directed by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and his 'window to reality' feel and style really carried over.
The final episode ended with the start of a riot by the inmates following the prison's press conference concerning the issue by Caputo. He called Bayley the victim, which in a way he was, and did not mention Poussey by name. That obviously did not bode well with Poussey's prison family. The uproar united the prisoners in a season where they had spent all of their time at war with each other in their ethnic groups, coming together for a common cause: Justice. They had all been wronged by the guards in one way or another, from rape to being forced to eat a baby mouse, and they weren't going to stand for it anymore. The person to hold the gun pointing at the guards was Daya - another character who's been quiet this season, and the one with perhaps the most to lose. It all should make for an explosive season five.
Now, to the character that we've spent the most time getting to know throughout the show - Piper Chapman, portrayed by Taylor Schilling and based on the real life Piper Kerman.
Piper has really evolved throughout the show. At the beginning she was the snobby city girl thrown into a horrible situation. She was timid, sheltered and naive; always wanting to do the right thing and would never dream of hurting anybody, initially wanting to do her time as quietly as possible. Since then she has been starved out, felt up, teased, stalked, threatened, and called Taylor Swift. And that was merely the tip of the iceberg. She has been put in the SHU, had an ongoing on again-off again relationship with Alex Vause and had her fiancÃ© and best friend on the outside both leave her on favour of each other. She's been betrayed and beaten, and eventually it all caught up to her.
In a way, Piper's situation represents life in general, metaphorical for what we all go through at some point in our lives. Piper is a product of her environment. She was thrown into a place she knew nothing about - except for her studying of prison before she went in, constantly referencing 'the rules' and the things she thought she was entitled to. She quickly realized that this was merely fantasy; what she thought she may be able to handle was a place of darkness and misery. Just as we must do throughout our lives, she adapted - found a way to cope, put on a face.
"I Wasn't Ready."
Piper starts making enemies straight from the get-go. Towards the end of the first episode, Piper insults the prison's food, unknowingly in front of the head chef, Galina "Red" Reznikov. Red was initially nice to Piper, being a sort of 'mother' in the prison who nobody crosses, giving her a yogurt as a gift; after the insult, Red simply says "If you don't like the food, it's no problem" and walks away.
The following day, Piper receives a meal specially prepared by Red; initially Piper takes it as a good sign, but the taste soon turns very sour. In the days following, Red punishes Piper by starvation in order to make Piper appreciate her food. Piper eventually makes amends, and now the two share a sort of mutual respect.
Piper eventually learns to stand up for herself. Her controlling bunk mate, Miss Claudette, whom she is warned to "stay on her good side" gives Piper a telling off for making a mess; Piper snaps and tells her to "cut me some slack!"
Another key point in Piper's evolution was her situation with Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren. For some reason, 'Crazy Eyes' became a little obsessed with Piper, dubbing her her 'prison wife' and calling her "dandelion". Sounds cute, right? Well it was pretty darn disturbing. Piper had no idea what to do, who she was dealing with or what 'crazy eyes' was capable of. She was understandably terrified. Suzanne becomes so smitten with Piper that she threatens to "cut" Piper's on again-off again girlfriend Alex Vause for bothering her.
Piper begins to see the benefits in having a prison wife but eventually tells Suzanne to back off, as calmly as she can. The appropriately dubbed "Crazy Eyes" responds by urinating all over her bunk floor, marking her territory.
"Go F*** Yourself."
This was a pivotal moment, the scene where Piper started to lose it. Where she let it all out and started giving in to the madness that was taking over her. After being caught dancing in a "sexually provocative" way with Alex Vause, Piper is sent down to solitary confinement The SHU ("special housing unit") by corrections officer Sam Healy, who feels betrayed as he thought Piper was the sensible one, on a different level to the other inmates, and started to develop feelings for her.
Whilst down there, Piper starts hearing voices and questioning her morality and entire existence. When Healy comes down to see her, well, she lets it all out...
"This Place Changes You."
Piper soon realizes that there is more to her than the woman that first came into Litchfield. She discovers this other side to herself, a side that is much darker and more dangerous, and slowly starts to give in to it. A particularly stand out scene in Piper's evolution was when the prison brought in some young kids who were on the wrong path - just to show them what prison is like and scare them a little so they can behave themselves. There was one girl in particular that was having none of it. She was the "I don't give a shit" one of the group, seemingly completely uncaring of what was going on or where she was.
The other inmates put on a little act to frighten the kids, but not Piper. Piper saw through the girl immediately; whether the girl was masking her real fear or really had none, Piper made damn certain that she put it there. Piper was completely real in her words, and it was terrifying.
Just because it was so damn good, here is that scene in full:
In the final moments of season one, Piper's transformation reached its boiling point. Piper had had a rough few months. She had been ripped from her upper middle-class life of luxuries to a place where luxuries were but a dream, a place where dignity and privacy are a distant memory. Pennsatucky chose the wrong time to provoke Piper.
Devout Christian Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett took an immediate disliking to Piper, believing her to be "the devil" and that God "wants me to smite you!" During the Christmas play, Piper decided to take some time by herself, and Pennsatucky followed her out into the cold. Just as the encounter was getting serious, Healy walked out and saw the situation and despite Piper's pleads for help, he walked away. At this moment, Piper realized that she was alone. She realized that here, she has to fend for herself and that it's every woman for herself. As Pennsatucky went to attack, Piper retaliated and grounded her, punching her continuously like a woman possessed, completely losing herself in the blood and flying teeth.
As said by a real-life (unknown) prisoner in a poem:
"Prison is a place where you lose respect for the law because you see it raw, naked, twisted, bent, ignored, and blown out of proportion to suit the people who enforce it."
"Trust No Bitch."
Piper continues to harden through season two and by the start of season three, she is almost unrecognizable. Season three saw Piper at her darkest and most manipulative; she starts an illegal panty business where she sells worn undergarments by prisoners online through her brother, Cal, on the outside and with the help of the easily manipulated young CO Baxter Bayley.
She meets new Aussie inmate Stella Carlin (Ruby Rose) and they quickly become acquainted. Piper lets Stella in on her business and in a last minute desperate attempt to have something to fall back on after her release, Stella steals all the money that Piper has made through the business. After realizing Stella's betrayal, Piper stashes a load of contraband in Stella's bunk, causing her to be sent to maximum security. Piper then reveals a new tattoo in white ink on the inside of her forearm that reads "Trust No Bitch."
As big boo said, "That is some stone cold shit."
Following the incident with Stella, at the start of season four, Piper believes that the other inmates are scared of her, and some of them are. One of the new inmates is told that Piper is "la jefa", meaning "the boss." As the saying goes, "With great power comes great responsibility." Piper seems somewhat unsure of how to handle this status and 'Red' tells her that she needs 'protection.' She hires new inmate and new bunk mate Stephanie Hapakuka to follow her around at all times, which Stephanie accepts begrudgingly.
The Hispanic inmates, namely Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) start a rival panty business in an attempt to knock Piper off of her pedestal, taking the girls from Piper's side to her own. After some of the other inmates find out about Ruiz's secret business, Piper becomes worried that it would be traced back to her. She plants panties in Ruiz's bunk and becomes responsible for extending her sentence. Ruiz promises to "bury" Piper. Later, Piper is set up by Stephanie and taken by Ruiz's girls, beaten and branded on the stove with a swastika on her arm.
Following the branding, Piper is left traumatized and unable to properly function the following day. After Red and some of the other girls find out, they take Piper and burn the swastika into a window shape.
Piper's rise to prison head is quickly cut down and she realizes that she's been trying to "win at prison." Piper is noticeably changed following the incident, becoming more calm and having a nicer, more easy going attitude. Piper realized that nobody wins in prison. Everybody is in there because they did bad things; nobody is better than anybody else, and people forget that. Her situation came full circle. Piper may just now be ready to put her head back down and stay out of the spotlight. Having said that, Piper's original sentence is only 15 months, we've gotta be close to the end by now. And with the show already being renewed for another two seasons, only time will tell...
"Every Sentence Is A Story"
In a lot of ways, I find Piper's journey very similar to our own. As we do throughout life, Piper must continue to change with her environment and her situation. She must continue to evolve in order to survive- she must adapt. Even after all that she's been through, deep down, Piper is still scared. She still knows that she does not belong there and she's trying her best to keep a face on and let nobody see her weaknesses, like what she said to Dina (sub heading "This Place Changes You.") Piper can only do what will keep her sane in an environment that rejects it.
OITNB is like no other show in it's involvement and portrayal of every type of person, racially and sexually. It deals with mental disorders and includes characters that we will all recognize from some encounter in our lives.