Orange Is The New Black turned Laverne Cox into a breakout star almost overnight, and now fans can’t wait to get more of her character, Sophia Burset. SPOILERS for OITNB Season 5 ahead. However, for the second year in a row it feels like she barely appeared on the show — and now her fate seems more up in the air than ever. Some are even wondering whether Laverne Cox might leave Orange Is The New Black for good.
This season, Sophia gets herself sent to SHU so she can check on Sister Jane Ingalls. The radical Catholic nun was sent there in Season 4 so she could try to get Sophia out, after Sophia was put in SHU “for her own protection” after a series of transphobic incidents that went down in Season 3. The plan worked and Sophia was re-introduced to minimum security, but at the end of the season Sister Ingalls was still in solitary. And she still is, as far as anybody knows — after Sophia goes to find her, neither she nor Sister Ingalls are seen for the rest of the season.
Season 5 isn’t the first time Laverne Cox has been noticeably absent from Orange Is The New Black, however; because her being sent to SHU has become such a large part of her narrative over the past few seasons, she hasn’t been a very big part of the show at all. For the first three years, Cox appeared in about nine to ten episodes per season; in Season 4 she appeared in only five episodes, and this season she’s only appearing in four.
For her part, Cox hasn’t said one way or the other whether she’s leaving the show — but as she told Metro in the lead-up to Season 5, she knows that no one on OITNB is safe. “I feel like I’ve been aware from season one that anyone can go at anytime because it’s prison,” she said. “I’ve been very in the moment with Orange and very non-attached to any kind of result. I’ve been on for the ride and trusting Jenji [Kohan]’s vision and that’s been a really wonderful thing to do because it’s taken us in some really wonderful directions.”
Part of the reason for Cox’s decreased role might have to do with the various other projects she’s taken on outside of Orange Is The New Black, which might have interfered with filming. Although her new show Doubt was cancelled after only two episodes, CBS produced a full 13 episodes that she starred in; she also appeared in FOX’s recent TV production of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it naturally must have required a lot of rehearsal time to truly nail the "Time Warp."
Now that Doubt’s been cancelled and Rocky Horror is over, however, it’s entirely possible that Cox will find her way back and return to Orange Is The New Black for a larger role. But even if she doesn’t, it’s clear that she’s got bigger and better things in mind for herself — maybe another network TV show, perhaps?