“Manipulative” Isn’t Piper’s Story

“Manipulative” is a throwaway description that never tells the whole story. Piper may be manipulative, but really she’s desperate for love (and scared of it). Wily ways to get what she wants, even out and out lies, might seem the best way to go. Especially since openness doesn’t work so well with her mom and dad. In the first 5 episodes of Orange Is The New Black Season 3; we see the emotional costs of Piper’s hurt.

Piper (Taylor Schilling) tries to be tough but she’s far from it. As Orange Is the New Black Season 3 begins, Piper is struggling with whether or not it’s better to tell the truth or to lie: “I lie and it’s wrong. I tell the truth and it’s wrong. I can’t do anything right. Maybe I am manipulative!” She’s talking to Red (Kate Mulgrew), who says: “You just want everyone to like you … stop telling everyone you’re clean. You play dirty.” Her eyes wide with shock, Piper replies: “You just described my mother. She’s a ninja WASP.”

Not a trustworthy mother to have. Playing dirty is what Piper has to do. If she comes clean that she needs love, she’s more than certain she isn’t going to get it. What other choice, then, but to manipulate things in her favor? Get things covertly. Look like she’s in control. Seem as if she doesn’t need anything.

Episode 3, Empathy Is A Bone Killer tells us more about Piper’s tough edges. Alex (Laura Prepon) is back and opening up becomes, even more, a dangerous proposition. Especially since Piper’s admitted that she’s responsible for Alex’s return to Litchfield (she called her parole officer). Alex, of course, is furious. In Piper’s mind, she’s saved Alex from blaming herself. Yet, doesn’t her admission also serve to push Alex away? She’s very ambivalent about wanting her.

Why Piper Lies in Orange Is the New Black

In a Drama class skit designed to practice empathy, Alex and Piper fight it out. Piper’s defensive and far from empathic. Alex feels betrayed. Piper admits she wanted her back. She missed her. She was lonely. Alex calls her selfish and controlling. Neither trusts love. They both fight for power over being hurt by the other. Alex yells: “When are you going to realize you don’t get to do whatever you want because it makes you feel good?”

Piper wants to feel good. She rarely does, it seems. Yet, when Alex gets soft and caring, Piper gets cruel and sarcastic. We see this same behavior with her mom and dad in Episode 4, Finger In The Dyke. It’s June 7th, Piper’s birthday, and her parents (with her brother and his wife) are there to visit. She tells them she has a girlfriend in an in-your-face way. They walk out. Sure, she’s provocative. She can’t want their love – when she knows she’s not the daughter they want.

Always doing something wrong – or being someone wrong – in her parent’s eyes makes Piper keep her walls up. She probably has since childhood. When you wall off love and pretend you don’t really need it, though, you can get pretty hungry and frantic. You might do anything. Even something without thinking – like whatever your drug-dealing girlfriend wants you to do to make sure you don’t lose her love. Never mind that it’s illegal.

Piper was manipulated by her need for love. Now, she guards against it. Manipulations and caustic games make her the one with the power. It’s safer that way. Since, as Piper knows too well, wanting love can get you in trouble in more ways than one.

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Dr. Sandra E. Cohen

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. I work with creatives in therapy, story/character development, and entertainment consulting. If you are a writer, actor, or director and want help with a character – or a chance to do some of your own personal work - call at 310.273.4827 or email me at to schedule a confidential discussion to explore working together.