According to sources close to the show, Prepon will now return for four — I repeat, four — of the 13-episode second season of Jenji Kohan's original Netflix series. Prepon begins filming in New York this week. Devoted OITNB followers will perhaps notice soon — through either paparazzi photos or the obsessive Instagramming of the show's cast — that the actress' hair has gone from Preponian red to Vause-ish black.
As far as Prepon's future with OITNB, she is currently negotiating her Season 3 status, which could lead to a more sustained presence for her.
Prepon's comings-and-goings with this show have been complicated to say the least. Here is some backstory culled from multiple sources.
When she took the pivotal role of Alex, the manipulative and hot criminal who had caused the downfall of young Piper (Taylor Schilling), Prepon did not have a contract beyond Season 1. Having completed the season loving the character but not the bleak prison setting, along with her desire to direct her first movie this year (as she told Vulture in August), Prepon decided she didn't want the commitment of being a series regular.
Then OITNB — which before its July debut had been in the shadows of Netflix's more high-profile entries into original scripted shows such as House of Cards and the return of Arrested Development — exploded. Though Netflix does not release viewership numbers, its recent quarterly earnings report revealed that OITNB has been its most-watched show. (Representatives from Netflix did not respond to a request to comment.)
A surprising development. And given how much of Season 1 was driven by the Piper-Alex-Larry (Jason Biggs) story, when BuzzFeed broke the news in August that Prepon would be returning for Season 2 only to wrap up her story, and then in another article that she would do that wrapping up in a mere one episode, the fervent OITNB audience flipped out. (Critics have also largely praised Prepon's performance.)
In the outsized reaction to Prepon's departure, even though the original BuzzFeed report said that the door would be left open for her to come back, there were even some conspiracy theories about Prepon not wanting to play a lesbian since she's a Scientologist. Prepon's representative did not respond to calls and emails, but for what it's worth, Prepon has talked about being flattered by her lesbian fans and she recently accepted an award from the LGBT organization the Human Rights Campaign.
Meanwhile, Kohan, who created Weeds for Showtime, has spoken often about being less interested in the story of a "white girl going to prison" than in wanting to use Piper Kerman's 2010 memoir to delve into stories about incarcerated women of color and other disenfranchised women. At a Paley Center panel for the show last month, Kohan also said the show going forward would focus less on Piper. "As much as I love Piper and Taylor and her journey, I think people are interested in everybody's journey," Kohan said.
So what to do? How do Kohan, Netflix, and Lionsgate (the studio that produces OITNB) balance a presumed desire to keep the show popular with Prepon's lack of availability, not to mention the fact that Season 2 has been filming since July and has moved in a new direction?
Luckily for the Prepon faithful — and perhaps for Netflix and Lionsgate — scheduling around directing her first feature has ended up not being a conflict. With Prepon's schedule freer, Kohan (who did not respond to an interview request sent over Facebook) and the show's other writers have reconceptualized the original plan to have Alex exit quickly. Sources say her story will now be more open-ended.
In other words, let the drumbeat of speculation about Prepon and Orange Is the New Black's third season, which would air in 2015, commence.