Hello to the best and bravest fans in the world, and welcome to the fifth season of Wentworth. Let me begin by saying that I’m so glad you’ve managed to find these recaps here on The Dart. I hope you spread the word about them for anyone still searching, and most importantly, I hope you choose to become a subscriber, which will enable you to comment and enable me to keep writing.
Wentworth has always had something of a sadomasochistic relationship with its fans. Pain is part of the nature of drama, and Wentworth is a truly excellent drama that made its violent tendencies clear from the start. But even dramas we know will hurt us can take it too far and break the bonds of trust between show and viewer. The Walking Dead did that with Glenn, and its ratings suffered accordingly. Last Tango In Halifax did that with Kate, and it lost the support of its most loyal fans. Wentworth stretched those bonds to their limits, but it is trying very hard not to do that with Bea, which is why this entire season premiere is an extended acknowledgement of the grief of this show’s characters and fans.
We begin with an extended “previously on,” set to some gentle music, that celebrates the great love and loss of last season. Bea started off dead, Allie cajoled and teased and kissed her back to life, and the two of them fit more love into a few caged months than most people get in their entire free lives. And then, owing to some Shakespearean-level misunderstandings, Bea became convinced that Allie was dead, and rushed out to be killed by The Freak, earning her revenge and rushing off to heaven, where she believed her love to be waiting. But of course, the star-crossed lovers ended up being a West Side Story rather than a full Romeo and Juliet, leaving us with Allie still alive and forced to carry on.
I’ve poured thousands of words into the chasm of my grief for Bea. I could pour thousands more, but it would never fill it, nor change the fact that, contrary to many of your deepest hopes, Bea Smith’s heart really did stop beating on the pavement outside her prison. There’s no magic or medicine that can bring her back.
I AM SO SORRY, “BEA LIVES” PEOPLE. YOUR THEORIES WEREN’T BAD, THE WORLD IS BAD.
A lot of people have told me that Bea’s death means the end of their relationship with this show, and while I understand that impulse, I find it to be a bit premature, if only because of the huge wealth of talent still remaining. Nevertheless, the story of Wentworth’s central character has come to an end, which leaves the show with some pretty huge questions about its identity and its message. Are we watching a show about redemption now? About revenge? We’ve had a good long rest and it’s time to find out.
So first, obviously, we are treated to an extended montage of Everyone Crying. Will cries, Boomer sobs, Maxine bawls, Doreen weeps.
DOREEN IS CRYING ABOUT CONJUGALS THO.
Vera purses her lips, which for her is the emotional equivalent of breaking into a full-throated rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream.” And Allie. Allie drifts around her hospital room like a ghost, the whole world around her gone gray.
I made it without crying for longer than I expected to. Four minutes and twelve seconds, to be exact. And then we had to see Bea’s grave and I just fell right to pieces.
THE ENTIRE AUSTRALIAN SPACE PROGRAM.
The first scene after the credits is the most important one of the episode, so it’s really too bad that it’s also the worst. Vera, Franky, and Will are all hovering around Bea’s grave, in one of those awkward silences where one person fired another, both of them dragged the third into an isolation cell, and all three have incriminating evidence crammed into every nook and cranny of their lives like squirrels on Adderall.
Into this void, Vera tosses Will an offer: she’ll forgive his positive drug test and he can have his old job back. As always, my favorite running joke on this show is how desperate everyone is to be employed by the penal system, where being infected with diseases, having one’s spouse murdered, and strip-searching the elderly is considered to be the height of professional satisfaction.
Will mulls over the opportunity with Franky, and they ask the central question for this entire show, post-Bea: “what’s the point?”
FRANKLY I ALWAYS THOUGHT MY ARM MUSCLES WERE THE POINT, BUT THEY DON’T LET ME WEAR MY TANK TOPS ROUND THE OFFICE.
Will rather lamely offers that “justice” is the point.“Fixing the system” and all that. And I gotta say, if that’s the answer the show is going with for its new driving narrative, then we really are fucked. Because, sorry, you’re not going to convince me, after four years of shower rapes and steam-press attacks, that the system depicted by Wentworth can be saved. That would be like Cersei Lannister saying she wants to make the world safe for democracy, or Hannah Horvath deciding that her greatest gift to feminism might be silence.
But Will isn’t the only one promising a new day in the prison. Kaz Proctor—who has always been beautifully acted but inconsistently written—is here to assume the position of Top Dog, and her core policy is “thou shalt not hurt another woman (male guards are fair game).” It’s her “build the wall.”
THERE WILL BE NO FEMALE ON FEMALE VIOLENCE! OR ELSE!
OR ELSE WHAT? YOU’LL VIOLENCE US?
I MAY NOT HAVE FULLY THOUGHT THIS THROUGH.
This philosophy is about to be sorely tested by the re-emergence of, you guessed it, Joan “The Freak” Ferguson.
I HAVE REALLY UPPED MY SEVERUS SNAPE COSPLAY GAME SINCE LAST YEAR, PEOPLE.
Joan Ferguson has had an unusually long career as a villain, even compared to other iconic tv bad guys. Think of The Walking Dead’s Governor or Game of Thrones’ Ramsay Bolton, both of whom eventually exhausted their horrific possibilities and had to be discarded. But Joan persists, in part because she has shifted roles so many times, from all-powerful warden to shadow-dwelling prisoner. She is the only person who genuinely enjoys prison life, regardless of her position in it, because its pitched battles and endless machinations are the only ways she really knows how to interact with other people, and being locked in a cage together is the only reason anyone ever has to interact with her. So it makes sense that Joan’s first act of season five is to demand she be taken out of protective custody and placed back in gen pop.
Joan is being charged with Bea’s murder, but she’s framing it as self-defense, and is also very curious to know why Bea was out in the parking lot with a screwdriver in the first place. She (correctly) suspects Vera is at the bottom of the whole plot, but Officer Jake gathers what few scruples he has, and denies that Vera had anything to do with it. But he still owes Joan for her microbrewery loan, and can’t possibly keep serving both Vera and The Freak for much longer.
Jake also frames another guard for facilitating Joan’s attack on Allie, but Vera still refuses to accept that her prince charming is a pill-popping, gangster-owing, piece of shit. (And for five strange minutes last season, a motorcycle-driving, van-exploding, criminal genius, though presumably those powers have worn off.)
AND I BET YOUR CRAFT BEER HAS APRICOTS OR SOMETHING EQUALLY TERRIBLE IN IT.
Vera, meanwhile, is in very serious trouble for the murky circumstances surrounding Bea’s death, so she hides Bea’s cell phone, a crucial piece of evidence, in the last place anyone would ever think to look. Just kidding, she puts it in a drawer in her office, because no one in this prison can cover up a crime for shit.
BUT I LOCKED IT, THOUGH. WITH THIS LITTLE KEY.
As I’ve said before, I fundamentally disagree with the choice to kill of Bea Smith, but I do applaud the writers for the way they did it. Specifically, I appreciate the way Franky existed last season, on the back burner, appearing just enough to reassure us she was making real growth and taking a well-deserved break from chaos. We pick back up with her in the same spot, still working for Legal Aid, still shacked up with Bridget, even though it is a violation of both Franky’s parole and Bridget’s medical ethics.
SO NAUGHTY. MUCH ILLEGAL.
But now that there’s a charisma vacuum left by Danielle Cormack’s departure, it’s time to get Franky back into more serious trouble.
As you’ll recall, last season’s storyline featured Franky dodging a stalker, who we all assumed was the man she had burned with hot oil, but who turned out to be her estranged father. It was a good choice at the time; there was enough going on. But now that Francesca has had some time to get her career on track and properly mourn her rat tail, she’s overdue for a blast from the past.
YOU KNOW, PRISON WASN’T SO BAD. AT LEAST THERE WERE NO STARBUCKS.
Franky runs into Mikey, the man she went to prison for disfiguring, at a coffee shop, and even though talking to him at all is a parole violation, she bravely apologizes for hurting him, he says he forgives her, and she walks away thinking she might just have gained some measure of closure. But no such luck.
Mikey begins stalking her, mailing her incriminating photographs of her and Bridget, shaking the foundations of the new life she’s built. And I mean, all of that is more or less understandable. She did burn his face off. But then we visit Mikey at home, where it becomes clear that he is full-on Norman Bates UNHINGED. Mikey has papered his walls with pictures of Franky, and has been sharing romantic dinners with her effigy for what seems like a very long time.
ISN’T IT FUNNY THAT WE’D END UP TOGETHER? YOU, A FORMER LESBIAN, AND ME, THE WORLD’S ONLY NICE GUY.
So there’s a lot going on here and it’s difficult to suss out what it is that Mikey wants. To marry Franky? To put her back in jail? You’d think this storyline would be a slow burn, but it quickly boils over into violence when Franky goes to Mikey’s house. There, he attacks her with the brulee blowtorch, which: credit for sticking with the cooking theme.
THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN BAKE-OFF HAS A DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT TONE FROM THE BRITISH VERSION..
Franky successfully kicks Mikey out of the car and drives away, but this plot isn’t done yet. When she returns to work, Franky is approached by two detectives and ARRESTED FOR MIKEY’S MURDER.
SERIOUSLY? YOU’RE GOING TO DO THIS TO THE LESBIANS? MY STORYLINE DESERVES TO BE A FUCKING ICE CREAM PARTY AFTER WHAT HAPPENED TO BEA.
I have very mixed feelings about this because I want Franky back in the main action, I do, but if this was the last time we ever get to see her happy with Bridget, I may lose my ability to enjoy this show. We sat with Franky through three long seasons of intensive character growth, and if we lose all that progress just so she can go back to wearing teal, this show has worse “what’s the point” problems than I thought.
Okay, so up until now this recap has mostly taken place outside the prison, but it’s time to jump back in.
Some basic housekeeping updates:
-Liz is still trying to turn snitch against the posh murderer with all the subtlety of a rampaging elephant.
-Maxine is being transferred to another facility for cancer treatment. I’m not sure if it’s permanent, but I would be okay if it were, since it’s hard to imagine who Maxi really is without Bea, and also it’s exhausting to constantly register both my appreciation of Socratis Otto’s performance and frustration with the show’s failure to cast a trans woman as a trans woman.
-Doreen is still here but she better have acquired a goddamn better attitude since last season, because if I hear one more thing about Joshy I will just start muting all her dialogue.
And at last, Allie returns to cell block H, where she immediately goes to Bea’s cell in one of the more gut-wrenching scenes of this series.
Actors often do the whole “searching for the last trace of the departed person’s scent in their sweater” thing, but Kate Jenkinson just takes you there in a way that makes it fresh. She’s still playing Allie, not as a solo artist, but as one half of a relationship. And she makes you feel the brokenness of a world in which she’s the only one left. (And, wow, I seem to be crying again. Thanks for that, show. Definitely wasn’t crying enough already this year.)
The next day, when Joan emerges from solitary to strut through the yard, it isn’t exactly a mystery what Allie will do.
Allie’s attack is, like Allie, all heart, and she wants to die as much as she wants to win. Joan easily throws her off. A few more inmates rush in to back her up, but Joan, it turns out, is a secret MMA fighter who CANNOT BE STOPPED. Pamela Rabe, bless her, taps in to a PRIMAL SCREAM and unlocks yet another version of The Freak for us to contend with.
REALLY UPPING MY SENTIENT TORNADO COSPLAY THIS YEAR.
All this fighting goes against Kaz’s “no violence” policy, and everyone is curious to see how she’ll punish the rule-breakers. Her verdict is that violence is its own punishment, which is not a very strong precedent. She also decrees that henceforth, no one is to speak to or in any way acknowledge Joan Ferguson. She is to be treated like a ghost.
There are a lot of ghosts in Wentworth these days. They’re beginning to outnumber the living.
See you next week.