By now, you, human streaming television viewer, have probably finished the third season of Orange Is the New Black, assuming it is a show that you're interested in. (If you haven't, turn back now because spoilers abound.) Unlike the previous two seasons, which delivered fairly standard "Prestige TV" narratives and generally adhered to the rules of logic and reality, season three said "fuck it" and threw damn near everything but the kitchen sink at the viewer.
Some of it was great, but more on that later. There were elements of distinct, focused insanity, like the subplot involving a full-on cult cohering around the silent Norma. That stuff was flat-out ridiculous, and not in a "fun ridiculous" way like a USA Network show, just in a "punctured the suspension of the viewer's disbelief" ridiculous. Characters were dispensed with left and right—the wise-ass recovering heroin addict Nicky got sent down the hill to maximum security, and the one-legged, one-penised guard Bennett skipped town after getting freaked out by the knowledge that he was going to have to raise an inmate's baby. Other elements of the show (Crazy Eyes becoming an unlikely erotic fictionalist, the ill-fated romance between prison cook Red and Counselor Healy, and the put-upon Warden Caputo turning heel after having sex with former Warden Figuerosa) were just plain bizarre.
Perhaps no character exhibited the show's encroachment upon shark-jumping better than erstwhile principal Piper Chapman, who in season three finds herself relegated to a bit player on the show. Having already cultivated a crop of bad vibes by getting her ex Alex sent back to the slammer, Piper spends the majority of her screentime transmogrifying into the most unlikable version of herself. While in the first two seasons Piper functioned as an audience surrogate in the strange land of prison, or—and this is an uncharitable view—as a robot programmed to act in the most awkward and clueless way possible, the Piper of season three bucks her programming, going rogue. She begins her unlikely road trip to Walter Whitesville by starting an illicit used-panty business with her brother Cal, dumping Alex for Stella, a tattoo-covered femme fatale who ends up robbing her (but not before she gives Pipes a prison tattoo that says "trust no bitch"), and then gets said bitch sent to maximum security by planting contraband in her bunk. Not to mention she has a tenuous relationship with the inmates who were assisting with her business, who have unionized in an attempt to get paid.
This pattern, of sending a main character completely off the deep end, is one that series creator Jenji Kohan also followed in the later seasons of Weeds, when she completely uprooted mom-pot mogul Nancy Botwin, banishing her from the exurbs on a wild-goose chase to Mexico. Weeds essentially asked viewers to remain invested in its characters long after it divorced them from the show's initial concept, which involved selling weed in a sleepy, manufactured Orange County town.
With Orange Is the New Black, Kohan has again accomplished this, albeit in the inverse. She's kept the location and concept the same, but sent her main character down a path that made her as unlikable as humanly possible. Now that Piper has shown herself to be selfish and probably more evil than anybody else she's in jail with, Kohan is asking us to hang on because of our love for everything surrounding Piper.
It's a shame that Piper has become some sort of reverse-self-actualized jail cyborg, because the ensemble surrounding her has become that much more interesting. Danielle Brooks's Taystee comes into her own as a leader in the prison, and the viewer learns to sympathize with Pennsatucky, whose troubled history is delivered in unflinching detail. Litchfield Prison becomes privatized and converted to a for-profit institution, which offers an illustrative look into America's complicated relationship with the prison-industrial complex. By the end of the season, a whole host of new inmates are being bussed in, effectively doubling the prison's population.
It remains to be seen what these new inmates will be doing. Will they simply serve as obstacles to be navigated by the characters we already know? Will they inject new life into the show, offering new stories to be told? Perhaps one of them will shank someone. Perhaps one of them will shank Piper.
Now, I do not wish death upon anyone, even a fictional character. But at this point, Piper Chapman is deadweight on a show that was at first strictly about her. She's been painted into a corner. She's become a villain. This could be forgivable if she was still fun, but at this point the viewer's sympathy for Piper has all but evaporated. There's nothing left for her to do, no redemptive arc that could justifiably bring her back from betraying everyone close to her. If she gets released from Litchfield, that means we're going to be stuck with her for yet another season as she attempts to reintegrate into society, probably getting back with her equally distasteful ex Larry, who used Piper's unfortunate situation to gain literary fame. They're both shitty people, and they deserve each other. But there's no way the show can survive if we're asked to hang out with two simpering assholes for much longer.
There's always the possibility that Piper can get caught running her secret used-panty business (will the spurned Flaca turn snitch on her?), but that's no good either. She'll get sent to the maximum-security prison down the hill, which runs into the same problem that we're faced with if she gets released: that Piper takes screen time from characters who are genuinely interesting.
That leaves one option. She's gotta go.
Killing off a show's main character is bold, but not unprecedented. Recently, the ever-confounding Game of Thrones axed Jon Snow, perhaps the show's only possible hero. As with any show featuring a robust cast of characters with byzantine plotlines, the show will be fine. After Charlie Sheen took his private shitshow public in 2011, Two and a Half Men killed his character off and threw Ashton Kutcher in his place. The show actually saw a ratings bump following Sheen's departure. The powers that be killed off Marine-turned-terrorist-turned-spy-turned-terrorist-turned-spy Brody in season three of Homeland, though the show's audience being jerked around seems to have led to a decline in the show's popularity. The Wire, of course, killed beloved characters off with seeming glee.
Orange Is the New Black has, perhaps, already set Piper's death up. She's pissed off a whole hell of a lot of people by turning on her girl Stella and firing Flaca from her business for trying to unionize. Cal, her panty-man on the outside, has developed a formula for making new panties smell used, so it's not like he necessarily needs Piper to keep sending him contraband. It's very possible that he could cut her out, leaving Piper's employees angry that their money has been fucked with. One of them could kill her in retaliation, or Stella could send word up the hill for someone to take Piper out. There's also Piper's ex Alex, who ends season three with a gun pointed in her face by a crooked guard who was sent in to assassinate her for snitching on the drug kingpin Kubra Balik. She's crafty, and it's not out of the question she could convince the guard to let her go in exchange for murdering Piper instead.
There's all sorts of ways this could go down. All Kohan has to do is pick one and take the rest of us out of our misery.
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