"I love that our way in was this kind of yuppie white girl story, because if you go to a network and you say, 'I want to talk about Latinos and blacks and their prison experience and the cycle of poverty,' it's not going to be a big sale," Kohan told TVGuide.com at the time.
But four seasons later, Kohan no longer needs to use an upper-middle class white woman to make audiences care about women of color, transgender women and others who have been historically marginalized in mainstream media. Because while Schilling is still the only Orange star submitted as a lead actress for the Emmys, Orange has become a true ensemble cast, with any of its dozens of actresses able to step up and carry a storyline on their own.
That's not to downplay the important role Piper has played in Orange so far. Although she's a character many fans love-to-hate, watching her go from an entitled yuppie to a wannabe "gangsta" with her own contraband empire has been a treat to watch. Piper's transformation has often been compared to Walter Walt's evolution into Heisenberg on Breaking Bad. But unlike Walt, Piper's tough prison persona was just that - a persona. She was playing a game and testing out a new personality, not unlike what many teenagers do when they switch schools and change their name to something like "Sky" or "Raven."
This season, the façade Piper constructed around herself came crumbling down when her attempts to save her panty business sparked an all-out race war, resulting in herself becoming the unwitting face of the Neo Nazi movement. "I think that I've been trying to win prison," she says, weeping, after being forcibly branded with a swastika.
Piper's now come full circle. While she isn't in the exact same place she started the series, she isn't too far off. Piper's back with Alex (Laura Prepon), still convinced C.O.'s such as Piscatella (Brad William Henke) like her simply because she's polite and white and still self-righteously convinced that prison should be a socially just environment, and that it's up to her to make it that way.
If after everything she's experienced in prison so far, Piper has yet to learn anything, where does she go from here?
Kohan likely has a trick up her sleeve for Piper next season (she always does), but as the show goes on, it's become harder to justify Piper's prominence in the series. Her storylines rarely feel as fresh or emotionally engaging as many of the other women's. This is no fault of the writers or Schilling, but simply due to the fact that a well-educated white woman's oblivious quest for self-validation has been explored on television far more often than the discrimination transgender inmates face, the prison industrial complex, how to face your rapist after suffering repeated sexual assaults and other important issues the show has addressed thus far.
Piper does have her moments (her inspirational speech about vagina sweat comes to mind), but her fish-out-of-water story appears to have run its course. And now that she's a good deal into her initial 15-month sentence, we wouldn't be surprised if Piper was soon walking out of Litchfield's doors and back to her Brooklyn brownstone.
Will we miss her? Maybe a little, but the show won't suffer in her absence. The beauty of Orange is that it's so much more than any single character, including the character that introduced us to this world in the first place.
Do you think it's time for Piper to be released?