Behind The Most Heartbreaking Backstory In "Orange Is The New Black" Season 3
Taryn Manning — the actor behind the character who made us angry, and then broke our hearts — talks to BuzzFeed News about what Doggett's been through and where she’s going next. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
When Netflix's Orange Is the New Black first debuted, Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett, played by Taryn Manning, was its unofficial villain. She was the meth-mouthed bully in the laundry room, and though her tattling that the inmates were "lesbianing together" became one of the show's most quoted lines, Pennsatucky still hadn't won fans over. Now that's changed.
Season 3 of Orange Is the New Black, which debuted earlier this month, saw Pennsatucky's friendship with Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) blossom, as well as a budding relationship between Doggett and Officer Coates (James McMenamin), which then quickly crumbled in the most devastating way possible: He sexually harassed her in the woods and then raped her in the backseat of the Litchfield van, where they once innocently flirted. It was easily the most jarring scene of Season 3, as the camera zoomed in on Doggett's blank face and a single tear fell from her eye and down her nose, a detail Manning told BuzzFeed News was not in the script.
For the actor, who found out about Pennsatucky's Season 3 storyline during a wig fitting before filming began, it was a huge surprise, but one she looked forward to tackling. "It was definitely shocking," Manning said. "It was exciting in the sense that this is going to be an interesting arc to play as an actor."
Doggett and Coates' relationship, at the onset, was completely charming — they ate doughnuts together, she helped him understand the dynamics of the prison, and they fed ducks together. "I don't think you can really tell that that's what's coming," Manning explained. "We were having just great onscreen and offscreen chemistry. He's a really great guy, we were getting along, and yeah, I think that people on set, everyone was just like, 'We love them together!'"
Even one of the producers behind the show wanted to reverse the storyline. "I remember one of the producers even went to Jenji [Kohan, OITNB's creator] and was like, 'They get along so well! Are you sure you want this to happen? Maybe this can happen to another girl.' And she's like, 'No. That's what's going to be so messed up about it.'"
And it was. Things first took a turn when duck-feeding led to Coates yelling at Doggett to fetch a doughnut from the dirt with her mouth before pushing her up against a tree and kissing her against her will. But still, Manning said of her and McMenamin's arc, "I don't think that either of us saw that coming" — "that" being the van scene. "I sorta knew, but I didn't know how in-depth it was going to get," she added.
McMenamin, on the other hand, was stunned. "He was very shocked. He was surprised he had to deal with it," she said of the actor, who'd just ended his run playing a stalker and rapist in a play called Extremities from the Berkshire Theatre Group. "He just was a little thrown off. Not really ready — married, just had a baby. He was kind of like, 'Oh great! How am I gonna tell my wife about this one?'"
The actors discussed the technicalities of the van scene "very, very much," according to Manning, who also did research to give Pennsatucky's Season 3 arc authenticity. "There are so many victims of this — men and women… If I'm gonna play someone, real or not real, I hope that I'm playing a storyline sincere," she said. "I felt that, after sort of lifelong sexual abuse, seeing sex and intimacy as literally nothing — you let them do what they're gonna do and that's just that. I think she's checked out. It's a very common mechanism for a lot of victims of rape and abuse. ... I'm not a victim of rape, so in my research and studies, there's different ways you can react, and that's one of them. ... She knows what's happening and checking out, but, 'Man, I actually really liked him. Like, really? Yeah, this feels like not a good thing happening to me, but I'm not gonna get too emotional. But this hurts.'"
That "you let them do what they're gonna do" mentality stemmed from Doggett's mother, as fans saw in a flashback earlier in Episode 10. When her younger self first gets her period, her mother tells her, "Let 'em do their business," referring to men. And later on, we see that Coates is not the first man who's raped her. "I look up to my mother very much. Like, what my mom says is the gospel. I think my mother is everything. So it's like, let's put that into Pennsatucky's world. That's who raised her. Whether it was good or bad, that was her moral compass, or lack thereof rather. And that just goes back to whatever happened to her mom," Manning said. "I always think there's like a lineage of abuse. It's always like, who's the person who's going to change the cycle, and clearly it wasn't her mom."
But it may be Pennsatucky. When Boo realized what Coates had been doing to her, the two hatched a revenge plot: They drugged him, dragged him into the laundry room, bent him over a table, pulled down his pants, and planned to sodomize him with a broomstick, but then Pennsatucky decided it wouldn't change what had happened, saying, "I don't have rage. I'm just sad."
"I think that was a moment of two people that are super radical in their ways of thinking and operating, who would typically probably do something really ugly, in fact. And I think that was a moment of, 'Is this worth it? If we got caught, we're doing more time,'" Manning said of the averted plan. "I think Big Boo is a little disappointed and thrown off, but it's not like she fought it. It's almost like, 'I'm doing this for you. What do you mean you're not gonna do it?' And I think Pennsatucky was just kind of bummed. She kind of liked him and was extremely thrown off by it and, 'Was it [rape]?' If you see the way it was raised, it could be misconstrued."
Manning, who just started filming on Season 4, said it's been a dream come true to see Pennsatucky grow from intolerant adversary to self-assured friend. But there was even a point, the actor said, when she was so surprised by how much her character had evolved that she felt it was uncharacteristic for Pennsatucky to do or say something that was in the script. "There were fans in Season 2 that were like, 'We want mean Pennsatucky back. Mean, mean, mean!' And I was like, 'Yeah, why are you guys making her so nice? That was fun to play,'" she said. "But then I was like, 'She's growing.' By Season 3, I really appreciated what they were doing with her."
And as for what's next for Pennsatucky, Manning said "she's going to have to deal with [Coates] for sure, and we have to see what he's up to," but in the larger picture, she noted, "I just want to see her become, I think, the smart, clever, perhaps rehabilitated person that I see. You know, a lot of people come out of jail and they're not changed at all. They're just thrust back into society, sort of as the same form. So it would be really cool to just watch her evolve. It doesn't have to be good, or bad, just change."