What a week. God help us all.
In this sucker punch of an episode, Joan manages to convince Shane that she’s as innocent as a baby lamb and knows exactly how he can make things right. Jake manages to convince Vera to lend him $10,000 for a ‘microbrewery’ (don’t worry, my eyes got stuck in the back of my head after hearing that, too). And Kaz comes to believe that it is her God-given right and duty to take down Bea Smith, even if that means abandoning her philosophy of equity and rebellion, seemingly all because her former protege-companion-ward is giving another woman the time of day - her former adversary, who she now knows never meant her any harm.
But while we question what in God’s name has come over these characters, let me go back to the beginning.
In the opening shots of the episode, Joan explains to Shane what she wants him to do - how he can discover the ‘undeniable truth’ of his godmother’s innocence.
She tells Shane to look for a box that she’s kept in her house over the years: ‘Inside that box there are answers - to who I am.’ And what a miracle it would be if that were true. Who is this woman who believes her life was destroyed by the people around her - who seems compelled to cause others harm, all the while insisting, like some desperate politician, that only ‘gratitude’ is showered upon her for her actions.
I am good. I promise you. I care. I deserve so much better from the world. I swear.
Perhaps she does. But while some people on this show handle unspeakable abuse with the grace of a prima ballerina - like Franky, God bless her - Joan has used it, seemingly all her life, as an excuse to make everyone around her feel the same pain that she has suffered through.
Get a grip, woman. You aren’t the only one who’s been dealt terrible blows by the world and the people in it.
Vera, for one, is cheated out of what might just be her entire life savings by a man who is peddling drugs to the prisoners of Wentworth while calling them ‘nasty bitches’ behind their back at your run-of-the-mill local family strip-club.
Jake is honestly one of the worst liars I’ve seen on television, so I have no idea why Vera believes him, unless there’s some part of her subconscious that feels as though she needs to. This is a woman, after all, who has been made to feel unwanted and unlovable for most of her life. Can we really blame her for choosing to do what she can - what she thinks she needs to do, even if she isn’t aware of it - to hold on to someone who she believes sees her as worth loving?
My biggest fear is that Jake feels nothing for Vera, though, despite the fact that we really have little to no proof either way. But Vera’s elated smile- a smile she cannot control - before she realises that Jake actually wants something from her and didn’t just want to be with her, and then the way her face completely falls after she discovers this is nothing short of devastating.
Completely cringe-worthy attempts to act dominant aside, I really do hope that Jake’s insistence that it’s Vera’s move now - delivered with his now trademark smirk - means we can look forward to Vera finally waking up to how she’s being used - by both Jake and Ferguson - and the fact that she deserves so, so much better.
On a brighter note, we get to witness just how unbelievably sweet Bea and Allie’s new relationship is when we see their fingers brush against each other as they walk to the showers. But as adorable as that particular shot is, I’m worried that those two have started to lose their minds as well.
Do Allie and Bea not realise that Joan has seen them when Linda (effing Linda) pokes her head into the bathroom to tell them to braid each other’s hair elsewhere?
Do they not know by now that having Joan believe that they care about each other can in no way bode well for either of them?
This complete obliviousness is absolutely infuriating, but I guess we can’t hold it against them. They’re in love.
We’ve received another blessing, too, in the now almost regular banter sessions between Bea and Franky in Wentworth’s Visitors’ Centre.
Franky looking out for Bea and bringing her mind back to what’s keeping her going is one of the most heartwarming moments of this entire season - possibly the entire show. And Bea’s smile, and how it makes Franky smile in return, seems to infuse the scene with such hope and lightness that it’s hard to remember there’s at least one - possibly several - psychopaths wandering around Wentworth right now.
One of them has an OCD meltdown in the private meeting room, further proof that Joan struggles with so many different ailments that you wouldn’t blame someone for not knowing where to start in helping her.
And this might be one of the reasons why she finds it so difficult to help others, too. Shane confronts her after going through her box of broken hearts and shattered dreams, screaming while tears stream down his cheeks: ‘You knew what my life was like and you did fuck all.’ Joan insists that she cares for Jake, and always has, but Hunter Page-Lochard’s moving performance highlights the stark difference between caring for someone and acting on that care.
Boomer, unlike Ferguson, backs her declarations of love up with undeniable, concrete support. Her concern for Maxine is evidenced in the extensive research she’s done, explaining with the most solemn expression I’ve ever seen her wear: ‘They say that the second round of chemo’s even worse than the first.’ On top of this, she doesn’t leave Maxine’s side while she’s puking up her guts in her cell, and she makes sure her friend and the potential parent of her future child stays hydrated and safe. That is care.
Bea, too, has to deal with the conflict that her love for Allie instils in her. She knows that the shorter Allie’s sentence is, the less of their lives they’ll be able to spend together. But the redhead also wouldn’t wish prison on someone she cares so deeply for, and the internal struggle this forces Bea to confront is played out with astounding delicacy and heart by Danielle Cormack.
Honestly, every episode this season I’ve gone in believing that there’s no way Cormack can give a more impressive, intricate performance than she did the week before. And every week, I’m proved wrong.
Kate Jenkinson gives a stunning performance this week as well, capturing the willingness with which Allie grants Bea the unconditional love - ‘I couldn’t give a shit if it was twenty,’ she insists, after Bea says how sorry she is that the younger woman has to spend the next ten years in prison - that she’s never experienced before in her life.
Joan, on the other hand, is determined to go it alone, as she always has been. After her altercation with Shane, we see her muttering to herself back in medical: ‘Come on, come on…turn it around, turn it around.’ This is a person who needs psychiatric care desperately and who isn’t getting it because of her own stubbornness and delusion. It’s like seeing someone throw tomatoes in the face of the healthcare system and all its limitations, and I’m both furious at Joan and, to my total chagrin and against my better judgement, concerned about her wellbeing.
Before Joan successfully moulds Shane’s perception to her advantage, we get to see Franky barging in to Joan’s house like an actual angel of vengeance, showing so much compassion and badassery at the same time that my mind struggled to compute such awesomeness. Khaleesi, indeed, young, stoned gamer.
But, alas, Shane ends up catching Will doing coke when he follows him one evening after he leaves the prison, putting the final screws of Joan’s plan into place.
And with the accusations Shane throws at the guard, it’s easy to forget that Will taking him away from his mother had nothing to do with her death. Jianna was killed by the other inmates at Blackmoor because of her relationship with Joan. And yet she’s able to shatter yet another life by convincing Shane that he would have had a magical childhood - one filled with joy - if it weren’t for Will Jackson. I don’t know when the devastation she causes will end, but I hope, with all my heart, that it’s soon.
Because watching Franky’s face when Shane literally shoves her out of Joan's front door is harrowing and terrifying enough to stop your heart, if just for a second, as you suddenly see the man this boy might grow into: still angry, still violent, but able (and willing) to inflict far more damage on himself and others than he is at the moment.
Transformations like that hurt everyone, including the man who turns into the monster, and to see the seeds of such a tragedy begin to sprout, I can only mourn for the people - characters and those in the real world - who cannot escape it.
We then have the twisted love triangle that’s simmering between Bea, Allie, and Kaz. I’m still struggling to discern just why Kaz is so livid about Allie’s ‘betrayal’ - the nerve she had to fall in love with another woman - but perhaps that’s the answer. Is Kaz in love with Allie? Even if that is the case, it in no way justifies the words Kaz spits at the woman she once, allegedly, cared for: ‘What are you doing? Are you trying to humiliate me?’ I want to know when care and passion became sources of embarrassment, especially for people who aren’t the bestower or the recipient of that care or passion.
But after Bea threatens to break Kaz’s arm if she even touches Allie again, the lost look on Kaz’s face is confusing and filled with enough layers that she could be feeling almost anything for both Allie and Bea.
What is going through her head? What does she want, honestly? And what is she so afraid of?
Who knows, but the way she throws Allie to the wolves after the prisoners find out that someone's lagged is cold enough to make me believe she truly wants to hurt the woman she once saved, and her meltdown when Tina’s crew refuses to move on Bea is crazed enough to be a sign of utter instability.
Is this what love brings out in these characters? It might just be, as painful as that is to consider.
We then have to go through watching Allie accept drugs from Tina, arguably one of the most despicable characters on the show now.
I was so worried about Allie, seeing her bring the ice back to her cell and attempt to hide it. But she pushes through this test. She shows so much courage, and then she’s destroyed by the people around her anyway, after going through the unbelievable pain of learning how to not destroy herself - and how to not want to.
When Bea goes to confront Tina about this shameless enabling, profiting off of the suffering of others, the younger woman announces her alliance with Kaz, labelling Bea as already done for: 'We’re strong, and you’re fucking weak.’
I can only imagine how deeply these words affect Bea, someone who sees herself as anything but powerful, possibly even pathetic.
But as I watched Bea break her personal code by lagging to Vera in order to keep Allie safe, admit to Allie just how terrified she is, every day, and then confess to lagging and concede her power, even though she knows this will only be seen as an act of weakness by the other prisoners, all I saw was strength.
She stands up for the woman she loves, no matter the cost; she pushes forward for no other reason than to see what lies ahead, even when she feels almost paralysed with despair and self-doubt; and she's willing to believe that a lifetime of loss and being seen as less than nothing - by society, her husband, and possibly many more people with power - doesn't have to dictate what her future holds.
She's brave enough to make a choice that many will see as giving up, knowing that what she's really doing is putting up a fight - for her happiness, for her life.
She can recognise the truth that she doesn't need the superficial security of power in the prison. Allie knows that she does’t need drugs. And Bea can now finally, finally be open with someone about everything she’s been through - everything she thinks and feels - and still feel safe.
And the smiles on both their faces when they make love for the first time make the scene so piercingly beautiful that it's hard to watch - like looking directly at the sun.
But the serenity of that scene only makes what follows so much more harrowing.
The scars we see on Bea's inner thigh as she allows herself to be more intimate and vulnerable with Allie than she's ever been with another person are evidence of how much she's had to go through to prove to herself that she has something to live for.
And having just seen Allie go through hell and back last week in order to feel in her bones that she's worthy of Bea, and witnessing her leave Bea's cell at the end of this episode with a tiny smile on her face, watching the woman who's given her a sense of purpose and belonging as she sleeps peacefully, the pain and fear that the young woman - so young - must feel during Ferguson’s attack just isn't fair.
It just isn't fair.
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.