Season 3 of “Orange is the New Black” continues to expand its prison universe by exploring the backstories of new inmates and, for the first time, guards. However, it’s a return to a fan favorite that creates the breakout storyline of the season.
Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) has been a character that fans love to hate in the first two seasons. The meth-head born-again Christian was a constant source of stress and agitation for Piper (Taylor Schilling) in Season 1 and comic relief during the warring drug cliques in Season 2.
In Season 3, the show visits a pre-meth addicted Pennsatucky, paralleling her journey as a sexually adventurous teenager with her new role as van driver at Litchfield. In the outside world, Pennsatucky traded sex for Mountain Dew until a kind new boy taught her she deserves to be valued. At Litchfield, a new patrol officer feels he has the right to dominate Pennsatucky because he brings her leftover donuts.
First, Manning delivers one of the most heart wrenching scenes when Boo (Lea DeLaria) throws candy on her bed, demanding sexual favors in exchange for the treats. It’s a ploy to get Penn to admit the guard is assaulting her, and it works. “I just want him to stop,” she finally admits in tears, after blaming herself for flirting too much.
The two attempt to “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” the guard, but even when Pennsatucky has her chance to get revenge she can’t do it. “There’s no rage,” she admits to Boo, “I’m just sad.” It’s one line but it puts Pennstucky’s entire storyline into painful perspective. She feels like she has no choice but to just accept this treatment.
It’s not all sour news. Instead of taking revenge, Boo helps her cook up a scheme to fake a seizure — making it unsafe for her to drive the vans anymore and freeing her from her predator.
However, Ramos takes over van duty and both Pennsatucky and Boo know the cycle of abuse is just starting a new rotation — but once again they are powerless to stop it.
As tragic as the story is, it allows Pennsatucky to go from hillbilly stereotype to one of the prison’s most sympathetic characters. It’s taken two seasons to get her there, but over the course of a couple of latter episodes Pennsatucky exemplifies the nuanced mentality of a sexual abuse victim.
Even better, Season 3 gives her the time to process her situation and have a chance at overcoming the trauma. The arc and transformation of the character makes Manning’s subtle and tragic turn as Pennsatucky the season’s breakout storyline and performance.