Warning: spoilers from Season 5 ahead! Before Season 5 of Orange is The New Black, fans knew very little about CO Piscatella’s past except for the revelation that a male inmate had died on his watch at the prison he worked before Litchfield. But now Season 5 has filled in a few blanks surrounding the incident. So what is Piscatella’s backstory on Orange is The New Black?
Even though we now know a little bit more about what made him become the villainous man he is today, it still doesn’t justify his actions toward the women at Litchfield. In Season 5 Episode 10, Piscatella’s backstory was finally revealed and we got a look at a relatively fresh-faced (but really just clean shaven and feather-haired) Piscatella at the men’s prison where he used to work. And believe it or not, he actually didn't seem like that bad of a guy at first. Though that didn't last for very long.
When Piscatella fell in love with inmate Wes Driscoll, fans definitely saw a softer side of the brutal CO, but that whole affair eventually became his undoing. When another inmate and his gang attacked Wes and, presumably, took turns raping him, Piscatella went full, well, Piscatella on him and started giving into his darker urges out of revenge.
To get back at Wes’ attacker, Piscatella tied him up in the prison shower, a punishment that seemed pretty common among the COs. But instead of eventually letting him out, Piscatella left him in there to burn to death as he writhed under the scalding hot water. Piscatella let things go too far, and in doing so, it sent him down a very dark path.
So now we know not only Piscatella’s backstory on OITNB, but also how he eventually ended up at Litchfield. Honestly, Piscatella could have a whole episode about his backstory and it wouldn’t be enough because the sadistic CO is so weirdly fascinating. Even Brad William Henke, the actor who plays Piscatella, found it hard to separate his real-life self from the persona he’d created as the character who he actually sympathized with. In 2016 at the Season 4 premiere of OITNB, Henke spoke to TVGuide.com about playing the worst guy on the show:
[Piscatella] was there to reform the prison. So it wasn't hard for me, because I felt like, as my character, I was doing the right thing… There were a couple times when I was there all day and no one spoke to me, which was cool, which I liked. Usually you can separate it, but sometimes it's obviously great to create the energy. They know each other so well, so especially in the intense cafeteria scenes and when there was a lot of them, I would just sit over on the side.
But the main takeaway from his past is that there was still no real way to make Piscatella seem like he deserves eventual redemption. Even if he has a softer side somewhere in him, he still burned a man to death and came to Litchfield with those same ideas of harsh punishment. You could argue that if the incident with Wes hadn’t happened, Piscatella might not have turned out to be so savage, but it’s clear that he had those actions in him all along.