OITNB: What is the Alex Vause appeal?

Disclaimer: I love Alex Vause. Also, spoilers.

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Any fans of Orange Is The New Black here? Season 4 of the popular prison drama is only 25 days away. It’s been a long 11 month hiatus from the Litchfield ladies, but soon enough we will be able to binge-watch all 13 hours of it in the space of a day or two.

Season 3 ended strangely, didn’t it? I mean, with the majority of the inmates having escaped through a hole in the fencing to the river next door to Litchfield, it was all quite happy. However, the last we saw of Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), the main love interest of lead Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), was her face-to-face with her former cartel colleague, Aydin (Juri Henley-Cohn). Although we are lead to believe that her fate rests in his hands, we know she survives (we see her shoulder and hear her voice in the trailer, see below). We have yet to see how damaged she will be afterwards and how these events will affect her on-off relationship with Piper.

What I want to focus on, however, is why Alex Vause is such a popular character. Her appeal amongst fans of the show is simply more than her striking and recognisable appearance. In an era where LGBT characters on TV at the moment are either dying or leaving (see: Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) of The 100, Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) of Grey’s Anatomy), Alex Vause has all the credentials to become a TV icon for the community, if she isn’t already.

The confident and flawed lesbian
One of her main appeals is her no-nonsense approach to being a lesbian. In 1×06, Alex approaches Piper and flirts with her, unknowing of Piper’s sexuality. Although it is not clear to us whether Piper had any prior experience with women before Alex, we assume her to be straight. It can be argued that Alex was flirting with her in the hopes of persuading her to be a mule, but it was clear from their body language that there was an attraction there, felt on both sides. That confidence is something that a lot of young gay women especially wish they could exude themselves.Although gay rights and social attitudes towards the gay community have changed for the better, there is still a long way to go. Not everybody can be out and proud.

It’s her look, too. She’s not exactly a stereotypical lesbian, she’s hardly Shane (Katherine Moennig) from The L Word. However, she’s got the same confidence that Shane possesses. It’s refreshing to see, the quashing of old stereotypes.

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Despite her confident and sensual demeanour, Alex displays emotional vulnerability throughout the series. In S1, she breaks down in front of Nicky whilst discussing “the swirling darkness in her head” and in S3, she’s paranoid someone is going to kill her. Depression and anxiety are all too common mental health issues that affect many of us directly and indirectly. They juxtapose her cool, calm exterior and remind us all that she’s still human.

Alex hearts Piper
In 2×10, we see Alex lying in bed with Piper. Alex, against what we learn to be her tough exterior, told Piper that she loved her. When Piper admits the same sentiment back, the story of how the gay girl got the straight girl has a happy conclusion – at this point. It could probably be said that falling in love with a person who identifies as straight is a rite of passage for young gay people. The fact that in this Alex gets the girl, probably fills many with hope that it is possible to get what you want. It’s a sweet conclusion, because Piper could have broken her heart.

It’s clear throughout their time in prison that Alex loves Piper and has done so even when they weren’t together. Alex’s love for Piper epitomises something that many can identify with, the idea that you can be loved regardless of the faults and scars you possess. Piper left Alex when her mother died, the only other human being that we are led to believe that Alex has ever loved. If Alex had said she could never forgive Piper for her actions, I don’t think anyone would have blamed her. However, she did forgive her.

“Drama!”
It has to be said though, despite how cute they are together, they are so unbelievably unhealthy for each other. Their seemingly never-ending carousel of drama has provided viewers with three seasons worth of binge-watchable material. However, on the face of it, could anybody handle a relationship like that? In S3, we even see Piper cheat on Alex with newcomer Stella Carlin (Ruby Rose). It remains to be seen whether ‘Vauseman’ reunite after the setback. Is their drama something we, as an audience of ‘Orange’, can identify with? Perhaps, even if it is just elements of their drama. Maybe we just like watching drama unfold when it isn’t our own.

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I hope that writers continue to explore the depth of Alex’s emotional capacity and her complex relationship with Piper. I hope that when the series eventually ends, the character of Alex Vause is one synonymous with other LGBT heroes on television.

Check out the trailer for the long-awaited season 4 here:

 

 

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