Laura Prepon may be off 'Orange Is the New Black.' What does this mean for the show?

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Image Credit: Jill Greenberg/Netflix

Repeat after me: It’s only a rumor. It’s only a rumor. It’s only a rumor.

That said, diehard fans of Netflix’s addictive Orange Is the New Black had reason to panic yesterday, when word broke that Laura Prepon may appear in only one episode of the dramedy’s next season.

As of now, neither Netflix nor Prepon’s publicist has confirmed Buzzfeed’s report — or responded to EW’s requests for comment. While this might mean the post isn’t accurate, it also might be as good as a statement affirming Prepon’s departure. After all, if the actress were sticking around OITNB, someone would be quick to shut the exit story down. (When Buzzfeed wrote last month that Prepon would not return as a series regular in season 2, Netflix said the site’s report was “not accurate.”)

So as much as I’d like to stick my fingers in my ears and loudly shout Taystee’s freestyle rap, it might be time to start dealing with this — and wondering what it might mean for OITNB as a whole. (Spoilers for season 1 follow, obviously.)

The good news: Orange can survive just fine without Prepon’s Alex. Over the course of its first season, the series gradually transformed from a fish-out-of-water tale focused on one person to a rich ensemble piece. (Arguably, that change represents Piper’s own shifting perspective — but that’s a topic for another day.)

Though Piper is still nominally our protagonist, OITNB isn’t just about her anymore — meaning that the loss of her in-house love interest won’t affect the show’s master plot as much as it would have in the early days. Less time spent watching Piper moon after Alex means more screen time for Sophia, Yoga Jones, Big Boo, Nicky, Poussey, and on and on and on — which can only be a good thing in the long run. More broadly, Alex’s exit could make OITNB even less of a show about Piper’s specific experience — a direction I think most Orange obsessives would appreciate.

But unless the show’s setting changes entirely, Prepon’s departure also means that Alex must be leaving Litchfield. And there are only three real ways that could happen: She could be released, which seems unlikely given the severity of her sentence. (How much time does she have left in prison? “A f—load,” according to episode 4.) She could die suddenly, which would just seem cruel — and for what it’s worth, the original Buzzfeed report indicated that OITNB was leaving the door open for Prepon’s character to return.

Finally, she could be transferred to another prison. Season 1′s explosive ending indicates that the show may be spending some time in a maximum security facility next year; maybe that’s where Alex will end up. (This twist would also be vaguely in line with the true story of Piper Kerman, who wasn’t originally incarcerated with the inspiration for Alex’s character — but did run into her ex-lover in a different facility.)

In the end, that last solution could mean good things for the show, since it’d enable Orange to explore other facets of the prison system — if only for one episode. It could also provide a nice bow for the Piper/Alex story: Maybe Alex tries to cover for Piper by claiming that she’s the one who beat Pennsatucky to a pulp, or maybe she commits some heinous act in an attempt to follow Piper to max. Either way, it’d give the two of them one last chance to work out their feelings, and maybe even reach a point of closure.

Whatever happens, I’m sad to see Prepon go — but confident that Jenji Kohan and co. will figure out a satisfying way to end Alex’s arc. And if nothing else, we should all be grateful for one thing: There are no car crashes in prison.

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