8:30am PT by Jackie Strause
'OITNB' Star Laura Prepon on Alex and Piper After Tragic Season 4: "It Makes Them Stronger"
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the entire fourth season of Orange Is the New Black.]
When season four of Orange Is the New Black ended, the show's famously on-and-off couple had found their way back to one another.
Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) and Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) have experienced a roller coaster of a relationship since before Piper even arrived at Litchfield. But the latest season of the Netflix prison dramedy put the pair through the ringer: Alex killed and dismembered her hitman; Piper was branded as a Nazi sympathizer; and they both witnessed the death of one of their own when Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) was murdered during the season-ending prison-wide protest.
"That stuff changes people," Prepon tells The Hollywood Reporter about the psyche-scarring events that Alex and Piper experienced. "When stuff goes down, they go to each other for help and love — and for a lot of different reasons."
Fitting with the pair's tumultuous history, their reconciliation was a slow-burning one. After breaking up last season following Piper's romance with Stella (Ruby Rose), it wasn't until episode eight when — in one of the more shocking scenes — the ex-lovers confess their sins while smoking crack in the cornfield with returning inmate Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne).
"Alex sees that Piper is totally freaked out and scared and in over her head," Prepon says. "It's one of those things where you almost can't help yourself."
So she gathers Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Norma (Annie Golden) and the three fix Piper's tattoo by re-burning the swastika on her arm into the shape of a window. In the moment, Piper apologizes for not believing Alex's paranoia with a sincerity she hasn't shown since before her "Godfather"-like rise.
By episode 12, the pair hookup and are back to flirting across the cafeteria tables, until they are all collectively rocked by Poussey's death.
"We all unite to defy these officers and then when that happens with Poussey, it’s even more of a feeling of: 'Wow, we’re in this together,' " Prepon says. "Everybody realizes that, even though there’s moments of levity, it's still a scary place. Poussey's death really solidifies a lot of the relationships and unites specific relationships in the prison. It makes them stronger, the fact that we all witnessed that. It brings Alex and Piper together on a deeper level."
Although Prepon highlights their tumultuous nature — likening the tension to Friends' Ross Geller and Rachel ("You can’t always have them together," she says) — the pair who usually make up to break up (or have hate sex) find themselves talking about the future and life after Litchfield.
"Alex is trying to do herself in because she feels so guilty about what happened and Piper stops her from doing that, because she doesn’t want her to get caught," Prepon says about Piper recognizing that she needs Alex. "Alex is having this whole moral dilemma in the end — she’s trying to write these notes around the prison and get caught — and Piper’s not going to let her."
While no one knows what creator Jenji Kohan has in store for season five — which went into production before the Independence Day holiday — all signs point to Alex and Piper continuing to need each other more than ever with the rising stakes. The season ends with a cliffhanger when Daya (Dascha Polanco) aims a loaded gun at two of the guards during a prison-wide riot over Poussey's death and subsequent cover-up.
"We’ve seen Alex and Piper go through so many things, but it’s always grounded in the fact that they do really love each other," says Prepon. "It’s this whole push-pull thing and that’s not going to change anytime soon. I don’t know if people like that can stay together for too long. But whatever comes in season five will be great."
Ultimately, she says: "You just can’t control where your heart goes."
Orange Is the New Black released June 17 on Netflix. For all of THR's cast interviews and coverage, head here.