Countdown! Only 10 days until season 4! Who’s excited?
I’ve been putting off writing about Orange is the New Black for a while now, purely because it’s so intimidating to write about. This show has so many characters, and each episode adds layers and layers of depth to the main cast. The characters evolve so much so that you actually go from sympathising with the ‘main’ character, Piper, to being completely pissed off at her by the end of the second season. Conversely, characters that are seen as antagonistic in the first season become sympathetic, and even likable, further down the line. The writers achieve this in a number of ways, the most obvious being allocating all the flashbacks in one episode to a particular character’s back story.
I’m going to work on the assumption that most of the people reading this have already watched OITNB, perhaps more than once, so I’m not going to go into depth explaining who all of the characters are. Instead, as we eagerly await season four, the next few blogs will focus on some of the best examples of character development and female-oriented storytelling across the first three seasons.
Okay, so Trigger Warning here… we’re going to start with Tiffany Doggett, AKA Pennsatucky.
Doggett goes through some of the biggest transformations in the entire run so far. She first appears in the fifth episode of season one and quickly becomes a major antagonist. She’s an evangelical Christian and uses her religion as an excuse to treat other people with contempt. She’s transphobic toward Sophia, homophobic toward multiple other women and generally pretty damn ignorant. She starts a feud with Piper, the embodiment of the perpetual victim complex, and by the end of the first season becomes fucking terrifying as she and her cronies resort to attempted murder.
Season two, however, sees Doggett abandoned by her friends. They used to follow her around and do her bidding, like Crabbe and Goyle to her Malfoy, but when she went to SHU for a while they realised that life was a lot easier without her telling them what to do and getting them into trouble all the time. This is the catalyst for Doggett’s shift from murderous to ‘just trying her best’, and when we began to realise that not everything is as simple as protagonist versus antagonist.
Doggett has some serious anger issues which get worked out in season two. She was sent to prison in the first place for shooting up an abortion clinic, but it’s revealed that she did it because the nurse working the front counter disrespected her. A local evangelical church got in her corner and paid for her legal proceedings because of her actions, not because of her beliefs, so it’s fair to say that her extreme beliefs are shaky at best. Her friends abandoning her also leads her to start questioning her faith.
She seeks solace with councillor Healey (don’t get me started on that arsehole’s issues). She also gets to know Big Boo, particularly in episode 12 It Was the Change. Healey warns her to stay away from Boo because he thinks there is a “Lesbian Agenda” to make men obsolete, because heaven forbid that some women just aren’t into guys – there must be some kind of conspiracy behind it. Doggett points out that men being in charge hasn’t really done her any good, then goes on to have this fantastic conversation with Boo.
Doggett: Hey… how does this whole ‘agenda’ thing work?
Boo: I got a lotta those. Specify.
Doggett: The gay agenda, to take over the world.
Boo looks at her for a moment, deciding how to react.
Boo: (whispering) Okay, first of all, keep your voice down because this shit is top secret.
Doggett: (whispering) are you gonna let all the men die out?
Boo: Oh, fuck no. We need slaves, you know, for bookkeeping, janitorial, fetch and carry, that kinda shit.
Doggett: Yeah, what about for sex? ‘Cause I know I like how they smell kind of funky, and they’re big, and they have dicks and all that.
Boo: Well, maybe… but when you’re done you gotta toss ’em away like trash. I mean the whole point of this is chicks digging each other and being in charge.
Doggett: Let’s say I wanna join, right…
Boo: Okay, let’s say that.
Doggett: Would I have to do anything disgusting against the word of God?
Boo looks perplexed.
Doggett: You know? … I’m talking about eating pussy if you catch my drift.
Boo: Yeah, I hear you. And that is a big part of it, I’m not gonna lie. But since you have these religious convictions, eh, we can probably give you an exemption. I mean, we’re not unreasonable.
Doggett: Really? That’d be great.
Boo: Mmm. Of course, you’re still gonna have to go through the initiation.
Doggett: Yeah, I figured.
Boo then looks up at Doggett, struggling to keep a straight face.
By the first episode of season three Boo has, like us, softened toward Doggett, even going as far as to making her feel better about getting several abortions when she was younger.
This is the moment that cements their friendship, so that later when serious shit goes down they have each other’s back. Doggett gets given van duty with a new guard, Officer Coates, and I’m sure you remember how that turned out. Doggett doesn’t realise right away that she was raped, which would have seemed surprising if we hadn’t already been given a piece of her back story as context in the same episode. We learn that she was taught to just ‘give men what they want’ from an early age, and that if a guy does something nice for her she’s obliged to repay him with sex, so when she’s assaulted by this guard whom she considered a friend she figured she did something to provoke it. We also learn that she’s been raped before, even if she won’t acknowledge it. It’s not until Boo goes to pains to explain that what happened was actually rape that Doggett realises just how messed up the situation, and her life, really is.
While Doggett comes to terms with her situation, justice isn’t served on the perpetrator. She and Boo come close to exacting revenge – they had planned to drug Coates’ coffee and then rape him with a broom handle in his backside. When it comes down to it, though, the two of them can’t bring themselves to violate someone like that. When Boo tells Doggett that it will help her work out her rage and anger, Dogget replies “I don’t have rage. I’m just sad.” They never tell the authorities because Doggett might get in trouble, so instead she fakes an epileptic seizure while driving the van so they’ll change her work duty and she won’t have to be around him anymore. She’s replaced by the cute little Ramos as the van’s driver, and it’s assumed that Coates will probably repeat the process over again.
This story line drew some criticism for the way it was resolved, mainly because justice wasn’t served and that Doggett simply quit her job to get away from him. These criticisms make me wonder if the reviewers have been watching the show at all – the whole point of this series is that justice is rarely served and that life isn’t fair. Her changing her own routine is not seen as a positive step, overall. The fact of the matter is that a huge number of rapes go unreported, and the ones that do rarely make it to trial. Many victims would rather re-arrange their whole lives so as to not see their rapist again, rather than go through the ordeal of prosecution.
Rape is an important subject and I absolutely think that we need to talk about it. But as I have said before, it’s a subject that needs to be handled very, very carefully. In this story, rape hasn’t been used to re-affirm how evil the perpetrator is, or to make the show seem darker and edgier, or to make a male protagonist want to get revenge. It’s not flippant. Instead, the plot follows the victim all the way through, and it focuses on her rather than pushing her to the background or killing her off so we don’t have to deal with her. During the incidences, the camera focuses on her face. The two rape scenes advance the characters involved, not the plot. The emotional consequences are explored in detail – the writing is far from lazy.
Kudos should also be given to Taryn Manning for being able to successfully bring this character to life and to make us really believe in her story. Serious Kudos. Emmy Award Kudos.