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The Tragic Tale of Tiffany 'Pennsatucky' Doggett
Her storylines are a mix of the enraging, uncomfortable, and sad -- yet Stephanie Cangro loves her anyway.
Their uniforms colors may be orange and khaki, but the ladies of Litchfield really live in shades of gray; there is no "good" or "bad" when it comes to these women -- just hustle, and tragic circumstances, and, sadly in a lot of cases, ignorance by way of nativity. So it's fitting that Episode 10, which focuses on the shifting power in key relationships (like Piper and Alex and the panty business, and Morello's relationship with Vince) also centers on someone who never really had the chance to have any power at all.
Doggett's history as the righteous methhead would-be evangelical murderer was never the most relatable. As the "villain" of Season 1, where she was set up against Piper's then-audience surrogate, she was the token extra-trashy character, who was more of a background filler to make Litchfield seem legitimately horrible. But as we learn more of her backstory in this episode, it gives a basis to her messed-up worldview, and she goes from strung-out, opportunistic methhead who brings things on herself to a basically a child, desperately trying to get by in the world based on the horrifying rules her mom initially explained to her. It's simplistic, especially on this show, to explain away behavior based on parental influence, but it's also kind of hard to ignore what is right in front of you.
Raised by her mom -- who, as Boo puts it, "didn't even do the bare minimum" -- Doggett was taught how to work the system, but not to have any self-respect. From getting dragged to the welfare office and being forced to chug a liter of Mountain Drew in order to appear manic, to one of the worst birds and bees conversations of all time -- in the opening flashback, Momma Doggett literally equates her daughter's post-period value as a person to being the same as a case of pop, and basically tells her "a-tittin' and a-hairin'" daughter that she should keep quiet and let men have their way with her because it's an easy way out, a hurt no worse than a bee sting -- Doggett never had a chance to view herself as a valuable human being; she was always taught that her only value as a person was what she charged. (At least she had ice cream?) No wonder the poor girl clung to Jesus for salvation when given the chance.
From what we learn through flashbacks, her English teachers apparently also failed to teach her about hyperbole, because teenaged Doggett literally goes on to sell herself to guys in a barn for "Visa, MasterCard, or Mountain Dew." Off-brand soda is also accepted, but her being stung by a bee mid-act will leave the guy with blue balls (the bee part seems fair, regardless of scenario). It's only after this literally happens to her that she gets a meet-cute with new guy in town Nathan, who in turn provides Doggett with (her first?) exposure to seriously cheesy porn and enjoyable, reciprocal sex. Nathan respects her as a person, and that gives her a sense of self too, for a while.
In this season of character rebirths, Doggett's more laidback approach to prison life finds her compelling, not for what she actively does, but for how stripped-down her character ambitions are. Without an agenda for the first time following her rejection from the meth group, she seems to both content with going along to get along, and open to new possibilities. She's not searching for new friends, but she isn't trying to make any enemies either.
In her Mother's Day conversation with Boo about abortion (an amazing scene that needs much more attention), she shows the ability to be mature beyond the things she was told and taught, to accept things about herself, and a willingness to take on a new outlook, not because she was told something was right, but because it feels right to her. The circumstances are sad, but what we're watching is Doggett attempt to reconcile the black-and-white outlook she had adopted with the greyness of actual life. It feels like she's taking the chance to be a blank slate.
And then there's her potential relationship with the new guard, Coates. It's weird, but hopeful, until it's horrible. Coates is set up to be awkward but harmless, as a person so inept at his job that he needs the prisoners to teach him the rules. The mild flirtation that develops between him and Doggett as a result of their van trips comes easily, but the juxaposition of those scenes alongside flashbacks to her time with Nathan make the whole thing feel extra uneasy. Coates says the right things (it's almost impressive that he has the balls to call himself a feminist when apologizing for non-consensual BDSM behavior), but Nathan said he was coming back.
And then Coates rapes her.
It's not the first time in her life that Doggett's been raped, but the dead look behind her eyes as it happens is doubly haunting, since it was just seen on her face in a flashback, after Nathan leaves and the redneck with non-Mountain Dew forces himself on her as payback for his bee-caused blue balls. Worse than her face, though, is the understanding of what she believes to be the inevitability of it all, as payment for what she's taken. Donuts. Ice cream. Flirting. These are things for which she feels like she needs to pay, because no one ever taught her she didn't. It's uncomfortable and enraging to watch, yet I somehow still want to. And that's a very weird thing.
Doggett's story is complex. She's messy and messed up and not really someone I would want to talk to in real life -- but that's the point. I want to watch her. And I want to know her story. Everything about her makes for dramatic storytelling, but while a lesser show would turn her either into a complete villain or a pity case, Doggett retains her ambiguity and the risks taken with her character make a case for not just more complex female characters, but for more not-always-likable female characters in general. There's not much to cheer for when it comes to Doggett, but we still have to recognize her and her value as a person, and that alone makes me love her character. She may not think she's worth our attention, but we know different.