And They Lived Happily Ever After? Piper & Alex, OITNB Season 5
[This article contains spoilers for season 5 of Orange is the New Black.]
The dysfunctional on-again-off-again rollercoaster of a relationship between the characters Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) and Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) in the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black never fails to shock, amaze and infuriate.
The audience has followed the duo from their shady beginning as drug smuggler and Smith-graduate-turned-drug-mule all through their incarcerated passion in 5 seasons of upheaval, heartbreak and betrayal. Seldom is there a happy moment for the couple on screen, yet despite their many flaws as a couple and individuals, the magnetic love Piper and Alex have for each other is the bedrock that keeps bringing them back together.
While the chaos of a 3-day prison riot is raging within the walls of Litchfield prison, season 5 finds Piper and Alex in perhaps the best place we’ve ever seen them before. Seasons 3 and 4 saw the two emotionally separated for the majority of the time, each dealing with their own struggles and failing to connect. The beginning of season 5 finds them determined to stay out of the chaos and other people’s drama, in so much as being in the midst of a riot allows. Each demonstrates an unparalleled level of peace and forgiveness towards the other in season 5; a welcome refresher after witnessing them hurting and betraying each other so much in previous seasons.
The dynamic between the two has shifted this season. Up to this point, Alex was the more aggressive in the relationship, originally manipulating Piper into her drug crime and landing her in prison. This season however, Piper takes the upper hand, becoming the protector, initiator, and making it clear on a number of occasions that she is in it for the long haul. Piper is calm, supportive, for once acting unselfishly, and finally allowing herself to love Alex with no hidden agenda and no strings attached.
Alex, usually displaying the tough veneer, is still nervous, guilt-ridden, and anxious about the murder she committed in season 4 and the possible fallout she feels is inevitable once her crime catches up to her. She is slightly more aloof than Piper, cautious in their tumultuous relationship, and hiding her feelings behind sarcasm, as we have come to expect from our one and only Alex Vause.
Yet with Piper’s gentle affection and the real sense of forgiveness the two seem to be extending towards each other this season, the couple falls in to the comfortable rhythm of attempting to do their best to sit out the madness that is the prison riot and build a makeshift “home” with tarps and bric-a-brac out in the prison yard.
Episode 10 culminates sweetly for the relationship with a somewhat shocking marriage proposal from Piper. The riot has caused her to re-evaluate her life priorities and she realizes that for the first time in her life she is afraid of dying because she doesn’t want to leave Alex. She wants to stay around because of Alex. On her knees in a make-shift prison bunker with tears streaming down her face, Piper tells Alex what she has taught her about the pain of loving and living, and asks if Alex will be her partner for life. After some hesitation and a little snark, Alex says the only thing she can to the love of her life: yes!
While Piper and Alex leave the season on a high note, their relationship is only one small piece in a much larger, more dangerous story. The finale leaves the fate of Piper, Alex, and 8 more of their fellow inmates entirely up in the air. Will they ever get their happy ever after?