[WARNING: The following contains spoilers from Orange Is the New Black's Season 2 premiere. Read at your own risk.]
Alex has left the building.
At the end of the Season 2 premiere of Orange Is the New Black, convicted drug dealer Alex (Laura Prepon) gets sprung from prison after testifying against her former employer. Her ex, Piper (Taylor Schilling) doesn't fare as well — after she perjures herself on the stand in order to protect Alex, Piper's left to watch Alex walk out of jail, peering through the bars of her cell like a death row puppy who's just been passed over at the Humane Society. (And sorry, Pipex fans — it'll be a while before we see these two together again — until Episode 10, to be exact.)
Which brings TVGuide.com editors Sadie Gennis and Liz Raftery to this summer's Orange Bowl: Piper vs. Alex. Which one is worse?
A note: We are not saying either Piper or Alex is a "good" person. They're both terrible human beings, but that's not the issue at hand. The question is: Who is more terrible? Here's the evidence:
Sadie: Alex flipping on Piper is the ultimate betrayal. While Piper grew exponentially in Orange's freshmen season, the Season 2 premiere proves that Alex hasn't changed one bit. She uses the exact same manipulative techniques to once again get Piper on her side, convincing her to perjure herself because: "This the only way I can keep you safe." Except the second Alex sees an opportunity to cut a deal, all of the sudden her fear of getting a hit put out on her and Piper disappears. How convenient.
Liz: Alex did what she needed to do. "I need to do the right thing for a change" is one of the last things Piper says to Alex before they enter the courtroom. Thus, Alex goes in to testify believing that Piper isn't going to lie on the stand. The question of why Alex would think Piper's going to start doing the right thing now aside, she doesn't have any reason to think Piper intends to do anything but implicate her on the stand. At some point you have to look out for No. 1 — a philosophy with which Piper is all too familiar.
Sadie: Alex is a master manipulator. May I remind you that Piper had no idea what was in that suitcase. Alex tricked her girlfriend into becoming part of a drug ring and eventually turned her in. So not cool! Her defense: "You loved it." (Hmm ... where have we heard that before?) When you strip a person of their agency, you also strip them of the opportunity to "love" anything since you've already decided how they feel for them. That's not how you treat someone you love. Alex used Piper like an object and when Piper calls Alex out, she just throws out enough lies until she's once again the victim. "You broke my f---ing heart and maybe I've done a lot of f---ed up things in my life, but I've never lied to you. Ever," Alex says, lying through her teeth.
Liz: Piper's not exactly an innocent bystander! Piper may not have known exactly what she was smuggling to Belgium, but come on — there's no way she thought it was a startup kit for an artisanal soap business, and willful ignorance isn't the same thing as getting unknowingly duped. Piper was all too happy to let Alex take her for the ride of her life (I mean, really, who wouldn't be?); she's just unwilling to face the consequences of her decisions. And as far as Alex turning Piper in, as she points out in Season 1, she hadn't heard from Piper in several years.
And talk about being a master manipulator! Piper has that market cornered. Just watch the scene in Episode 1 where she breezily, effortlessly lies to her father on the phone about being overseas with Polly. Or how about her drawn-out boomeranging between Larry (Jason Biggs) and Alex throughout the second half of Season 1? No wonder they both ended up wanting to get off of Piper's merry-go-round once and for all.
Sadie: Alex is unjustly self-righteous. There is nothing worse than a bad person who acts like they're a good person. If you're going to be an a--hole, be self-aware about it. Then at least you get credit for being an intelligent a--hole. Instead, Alex waltzes around as though since the world screwed her over she's more than justified in screwing over everyone else.
Alex has a selective memory, where she always points out Piper's flaws, while never recognizing her own. When Piper confronts her about turning her in, Alex gets on her usual high horse: "No, it wasn't. And f--- you for thinking it was." Only — spoiler alert! — it was! Then when she cuts the deal in Chicago, Alex says she "had to tell the truth" as though she all the sudden discovered her legal (and moral) obligation — which is exactly what Piper had been preaching all along. You're only out for yourself, Alex. Just own up to it. Then at least I could respect you.
Liz: Piper's getting a much-deserved wake-up call. You want to know what's worse than a bad person who acts like they're a good person? A bad person who truly believes that they are a good person — a.k.a. Piper. Litchfield's most narcissistic inmate looks like someone just slapped her when Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) tells her flatly at the end of Season 1: "You're not a nice person." This notion has never occurred to Pampered Piper before, let alone been verbally hurled into her face. She's stunned. Alex's bravado is nothing but a defense mechanism that's become second nature after a lifetime of self-sufficiency. Piper's indignation is the result of an extreme lack of self-awareness.
Sadie's Closing Argument: Piper Chapman is the Marissa Cooper of Orange Is the New Black. She's no one's favorite character, but she's crucial to the show's success. While the show's first season was groundbreaking in terms of showcasing diversity, simply having a diverse, female-heavy cast doesn't make great TV. What made Season 1 so great was watching Piper, a privileged WASP who's biggest worry was Larry forgetting to update her website (sidenote: I would love to read Piper's website), transform into the (still privileged) but much tougher, self-aware bada-- who beats up Jesus Freaks and does whatever she the hell she wants. Plus, her naïve privilege gave us some of Orange's funniest lines -- ones that do not get enough respect, in my opinion.
Orange Is the New Black Season 2 is available on Netflix. Watch the Season 1 finale here.