There’s really only one thing I truly want to talk about from this week’s episode of Wentworth, but I’ll spare you all the flood of emotion that I’m still semi-drowning in for the time being. The episode opens with Vera coming to collect her former boss and take her to a meeting with her lawyer, which we soon find out is just one more major disappointment to add to the list of reasons why Joan believes she’s completely justified in decimating everyone and everything around her.
But the smirk we see on Vera’s face as she leads Ferguson to the strip-search room is almost as maniacal as the smiles Joan herself has offered us in the past, and this truly worries me.
Vera, what’s going on?
What can we do to bring you back from the edge?
This isn’t who you are. You’re better than this, and you know it.
There is a small philosophical moment between the two women, though, as they navigate the tempestuous waters of a relationship that’s been riled by mistrust, manipulation, abuse of power, and the establishment and thwarting of respect. ‘Justice will prevail,’ are the final words Joan utters before she enters the room where she’ll have to bare herself before the woman she once used, and probably is still using, as a puppet.
And Vera’s response captures a visceral sense of the stubborn, myopic views that drive these women to harm each other and themselves, believing that however they see the world is the only way it could ever appear: ‘Yes, I’m sure it will.’
It’s revealed that Bea has been chosen to testify against Ferguson, and even though she’s been labelled a ‘surprise witness’ and promised that Joan will not find out about this act of defiance until Bea appears in court, it’s really no shock that the former Governor puts the pieces together herself within two seconds. These people really need to up their game if they want any prisoners still left alive at the end of the season. Seriously, it’s a travesty.
On a brighter note, Sigrid Thornton’s performance in this episode is impressively intricate, especially given the cartoonish nature of the character that’s been written for her. And Kate Atkinson rises to the occasion again splendidly, grounding another potentially outlandish character with heart and pathos, even as she has to earnestly insist to her new employee that planting a kiss on her was ‘tantamount to sexual assault’ and declare: ’There were no signals. I am the Governor of this prison.’
Wow. Okay. is right, Jake, especially with the brutal violations we’ve seen on this show.
And does Vera feel as though she has no room for any emotional connection while she holds this position in the prison?
I wouldn’t put it past her to develop a mindset like that. But my fear is that the further she pushes herself away from others, the more she’ll open herself up to the kind of invasive thoughts that drive Ferguson to commit such heinous acts against others and against herself.
And speaking of people hurting themselves, there’s Bea’s dilemma. Not her literal acts of self-harm, although those have played a piercing role in this season so far, but her decision to stay in power and embrace that power, even though it’s eating away at her from the inside. After Doreen embarks on her first true act of betrayal, pushing the panic button in their cell block in order to protest Bea’s leadership, Bea spits at her: ’Don’t you ever, ever disobey me again.’ And then she goes to her room, shuts the door, and breaks down sobbing.
’This place changes people, even you.’ Liz offers these words Doreen while Bea is collapsing mere metres away, and later on, Vera almost sneers at Bea: ‘I can see the cracks, Smith, and that means Ferguson can, too.’ The weight and darkness of this role is literally destroying Bea, and everyone can see it. But it still seems like it’s beyond Bea, and everyone around her, to extricate herself from the clutches of this perceived power.
When Bea finally manages to orchestrate a vote in an attempt to concede the control she apparently has over the other prisoners, Vera thwarts her plans by rigging the votes. And after watching this all play out, Kaz’s declaration of vengeance seems completely overshadowed with irony. ‘She has just made her life a living hell,’ Kaz fumes. But the words are more true than she knows, and Bea is hurting enough to completely implode without any attacks from anyone around her.
In other news, prison nurse/Maybelline model Lee Radcliffe is still refusing to disappear from the show. She’s actually driven me insane from her first moment on screen, doing everything she can to convince us that she is not a prison nurse and in fact simply an actor on a hit Australian television show. But her begrudging and indignant self-correction when she misgenders Maxine was the final straw in terms of my patience with her. I officially want her gone. That said, our favourite nurse is the one who informs Boomer about Maxine refusing surgery. And without that knowledge, Boomer might not have convinced Maxine to change her mind.
And Boomer calls her Nurse Ratched when she runs back into the cell block to confront Maxine. Bless you, Boomer.
Maxine’s words hint at the possibility that gender dysphoria is as lethal as cancer. I couldn’t help but see her decision as teetering on the brink of insanity, but maybe that’s the point: to anyone who hasn’t had the experience of being trapped in a body that didn’t feel like it was your body, the choice to forgo surgery in order to hold on to gendered body parts is completely unfathomable.
That said, I think society still conditions us well enough to instil a significant amount of devastation in anyone who is faced with the choice of losing their breasts - or ovaries, or uterus, or prostate - or facing death.
It might have been the cold reality of Boomer’s insistence that: ’If you don’t do something now, you will end up in the fucking ground.’ Or it might have been her achingly broken expression as she uttered despairingly: ‘You can’t die. You can’t die. You can’t die.’ But something urges Maxine to have a complete change of heart, and the pure joy on Boomer’s face when she hears this news almost - almost - alleviates the pain of hearing Maxine admit to someone who truly loves her, finally, for everything she is: ’I am selfish. I’ve had to be.’ With Socratis Otto’s tender delivery, it’s an exchange that could very well be a glass of cold water in the face of anyone who questions the decisions of trans people because of the effects those decisions have on their friends and family. And the fact that Maxine alters her mindset solely because of the feelings of someone she cares about speaks multitudes about the complexities of the exchanges and compromises we make because of our love for those around us.
After Allie’s second invasion of Bea’s privacy - and her pain - Bea willingly shows her scars to Allie, engaging in an act of complete trust that I don't think we’ve seen from her since the first season of the show. And Allie moves to do what she can to help those scars heal without hesitation, continuing even after the older woman insists that nothing is going to happen between them (sure, Bea) and proving that her love for Bea doesn’t hinge on her getting anything in return.
In equal measure, Bea isn’t ecstatic when she finds out about Kaz’s harsh sentence and how it will probably lead to Allie spending a significant amount of time in prison, too. ‘I wouldn’t wish this place on anyone,’ she explains, after Allie makes a joke in an attempt to conceal her hurt.
Bea is a woman who will most likely die in prison, but she doesn’t want any potential happiness she might be able to grasp to keep anyone in chains alongside her. Hers is not a fate she wants anyone to share, even if it means living an entire life without love.
But we are still given a glimpse of hope.
In the final few minutes of this episode, we see Bea run to stop Allie from putting herself in danger, vowing to protect her at any cost, and finally, we see her accept a kiss. Perhaps the first one she has ever experienced that is actually grounded in care and love. And it was from this woman who has silently stepped into the world of her private suffering, not demanding that it change, but insisting that she will be there until Bea is able, and ready, to step out of it.
Honestly, I cannot put the sheer beauty of this dynamic into words. But I am so, so grateful that we are (hopefully for the foreseeable future) going to have a relationship like this depicted with such delicacy, grit, and humanity.
Unfortunately, this kiss is interrupted by an ingeniously juxtaposed voice-over from Joan, who is listening in to the whole exchange. (This is it’s own despicable violation, but my list of Joan’s wrongs is getting too long. I give up.) Apparently she’s going to kill Bea (for Kaz, guys, it isn’t even something she wants to do, honestly) so we have that to look forward to.
And then the icing on the cake that was this episode was Kate Atkinson’s heart-wrenching emotional journey, in total silence, as she fought against everything inside herself to open up to Jake during an unbelievably long elevator ride. And then, because we hadn’t received enough blows in this episode, we see Jake smirking as he saunters away from the elevator, at the pain he just saw Vera go through, one can only assume.
Why we need another asshole to push a broken soul into the oblivion of nihilism and masochism on this show, I have no idea. But now we have that to look forward to as well.
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.