This latest episode of Wentworth continued to fuel my inner-turmoil surrounding Joan Ferguson’s character and explore the unstable nature of morality in our world, especially in a prison environment. After watching over Joan for most of the night, following her brutal rape, Kaz asks her protege/follower Allie Novak: ‘What kind of woman does that to another woman?’
A reasonable lamentation, and one that would undoubtedly spark empathy for Kaz’s character, had it not been followed seconds later by a determined: ‘No one should suffer like Joan is…Someone has to pay.’ This ‘two-wrongs-make-a-right’ system of retribution has seemingly ruled Wentworth from the very first episode of the series, but I feel as though it keeps the plot of the show - and the characters - in an endless loop, always landing them back where they started.
Is this the point of a television series? Who knows. That’s a conversation for another time.
Joan has a harrowing panic attack after her first breakfast with the rest of the prison inmates, but I immediately questioned - once she used this apparent anguish as a springboard to naming Will Jackson as her attacker - whether this ‘panic’ or devastation could be real.
And honestly, could the show have set up a more tormenting scenario for its viewers?
Because there is nothing I want less than to question or blame a victim of rape. But this is Joan Ferguson, someone who has pushed all emotion aside in order to inflict pain on others. And as a result, I feel backed into a corner, left with no choice but to doubt her motives. Thanks a lot, Wentworth. Now I feel like the asshole.
Joan’s bruises and scars are real. We see her blood being squeezed out of a soaked towel. But does that mean that she’s actually been emotionally hurt by this horrific ordeal - that her tears are real, even though she sheds them while she’s accusing an innocent man of raping her, knowing full well that he will suffer because of her accusation? She wants this man to suffer, and that is what gives me pause as I watch her fall apart in front of Kaz Proctor.
Still, we see in the first moments of this episode that her dreams are plagued by the terror and pain she experienced at the hands of Lucy Gambaro and her cronies. Her devastation is not confined to her performance of grief, and seeing her bruises as she finally agrees to a strip search - with Vera in the room, a disquieting new vessel for the pseudo-joy Joan once felt at watching her inmates undress in front of her - elicits a harrowing, visceral reaction, closer to nausea or cramping than to heartbreak.
And then, in a second, Joan is back to her previous, cruel, manipulative self, feeling nothing so that she can make others - people who had nothing to do with her own suffering - feel as much pain as possible. I have no idea how Kaz Proctor and her crew don’t manage to notice this instantaneous shift in Ferguson, but Bea’s insistence that ‘she’s no victim’ - followed by a crass but insightful: ‘You’re listening to the wrong person, dickhead’ - captures some of the nuance that this show occasionally manages to show us. Because Joan has been hurt - there is no denying that. And she has hurt others - another immutable truth.
Do the two cancel each other out?
It’s impossible to know for sure, and therein lies the dichotomy of being able to see two sides of the same story, knowing that both are true and yet that they still cannot exist simultaneously in the same world.
Bridget seems to be leaning way towards the ‘no one can be blamed for Ferguson’s pain but Ferguson’ conclusion. ‘Do you know what I see?’ she asks her previous boss, after being told that she’s pursuing a ridiculous path by trying to get Joan to admit to being assaulted, ‘I see you submitting yourself to this brutal ordeal to serve some twisted agenda. And I don’t know what you think you can achieve, other than death.’ In part, I think she’s right, and not just because she’s Bridget Westfall and spent her sparse amount of time on screen this episode strolling around in black leather pants. If Joan’s willing to destroy herself in order to bring the people around her to their knees, is it reasonable to hold anyone else accountable for her pain?
On the other hand, we have Kaz spouting her own version of the truth, explaining quite clearly to Vera: ‘She needed protection and you obviously couldn't - or wouldn’t - provide it.’ The fact remains that Joan was not planning on being gang raped - she just took that assault in stride and altered her strategy accordingly.
It was prison ineptitude that led to Joan being sexually assaulted (what the hell, Linda) and there is still something truly disturbing about brushing this aside because the former Governor has hurt people in the past and might not experience suffering in the same way most people do.
And then we’re given a scene like the one in which Joan’s twisted smile - directed at her assaulter - wipes Lucy Gambaro’s smirk right off her face. Is this smile - radiating malice - the result of incomprehensible fear and anguish? Or is it simply evidence that Joan really is made of cold metal, capable of enduring anything in order to carry out her evil bidding? We still don’t know, and honestly, I’m getting tired of going around these analytical circles. And I love complicated characters, so that’s really saying something.
Joan’s relationship with Doreen is only growing more and more convoluted, too. And when the (occasionally) adorably naive mother quoted Ferguson (word for word, I can only assume) in an attempt to get Vera to reverse her decision and allow her conjugal visits with the father of her child, I could only echo the Governor’s words in my head: “Oh, Doreen.”
Boomer also experienced some serious emotional strife in this episode. After finally believing she might actually have the chance to have a child of her own, her ex-boyfriend struggled to rise to the occasion (I’m really sorry, I couldn’t help myself) and then straight up fled the scene once he realised what Boomer’s intentions were. “I promise you, I’ll be a really good mum,” she pleaded with him, tears streaming down her face.
Who could resist those puppy dog eyes and that shattered expression?
Well, apparently Daz can.
In other news, the counter to Ferguson’s ‘evil’ grin is the tiny smile we see from Bea after Allie leaves her in the bathroom, assuring her that it’s a damn good thing that she isn’t a taken woman. Honestly, this smile killed me more than anything else in this episode, and it lasted for all of one and a half seconds. I’m a goner.
There’s also the irony of Maxine’s horrific situation, finally getting medical confirmation that the lump in her breast is malignant. Not only is her cancer a result of her transition - if she hadn’t taken steps to align her physical body with her mental self, she wouldn’t have breasts - it’s also going to reverse the progress she’s made in finding a body that she finally feels at home in.
Her cancer will most likely be augmented if she continues to take oestrogen supplements, and the look on Socratis Otto’s face when Maxine gets this news is enough to convey how much bitterness and devastation is bound up in this impossible situation.
Then there’s the fact that Maxine keeps this news from everyone, except Bea. Part selfless and part selfish - simply because these women care so much about her - Maxine’s decision beautifully mirror’s Bea’s reaction when she finds out that her friend is going to have to have a lump removed from her breast.
Bea needs a cause. She’s becoming more manic by the minute, vacillating between intense anxiety and completely apathy in the blink of an eye. Knowing this, it brings out a lot of conflicting, intense emotions to see her come to life after hearing that her friend is fighting a self-destructive disease.
This news might give Bea a purpose, draw her back from her own path towards total annihilation, but is it worth it if Maxine has to suffer through a debilitating illness and excruciating treatment?
Maybe this trade-off is just part of life, whether you’re locked up or not.
In order to have people chanting your name, you have to accept being carted off to the slot. That’s what I took away from the final moments of this insane episode, and I’m both excited and terrified to see where the pieces that Wentworth has thrown in the air finally land.
Kristen is an aspiring playwright and undeniable fangirl. In her spare time, you might catch her at an Ingrid Michaelson concert or finding her zen on a yoga mat. She’s currently living in Chicago and studying playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern University.