Hello and welcome back to Wentworth. This was an episode of goodbyes to beloved characters and treasured possessions. But you know what they say: when god closes a door, he opens a vent in the ceiling, and if you climb on a coffee table, you can jump right in.
So last week, Joan Ferguson cut out Juice’s tongue and became Top Dog, with the support of Wentworth’s drug dealers and drug users. Some of the women couldn’t believe this turn of events, and were like “But The Freak killed Bea!” They were met with shrugs. Then they were like “But remember the time she set the prison on fire?” To which Joan’s supporters replied “You mean the best day ever?” “Okay but what about when she made Jodie Spiteri gouge out her eye with a pencil?” But frankly, no one remembered who the fuck Jodie Spiteri was. So here we are.
No one is more upset about Joan’s ascendancy than Vera and Will, who try and foment rebellion against her. Will encourages Kaz to become a peer worker and spread her gospel of nonviolence. Elsewhere, Vera asks Franky to Step Up 2 The Streets, but Franky doesn’t want to rule the prison anymore, she just wants out.
Meanwhile, Joan is confident that Wentworth is about one severed tongue away from firing Vera and making Jake governor (to what end, I doubt she even knows), so she encourages him to keep the drugs (and by extension, the chaos) flowing. But that plan hits a snag when Will catches wise to the trashcan pipeline and shuts it down. Now Jake, Joan, and Tina will have to figure out a new way to smuggle in dope. (Obviously that will be Sonia’s window box scheme, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)
In the meantime, the inmate most desperate for drugs is Allie, who does everything in her power to convince everyone that she is back to her old junkie ways. At Liz’s request, Franky stages an intervention, forcing Allie to finally reveal that she’s not using heroin, she’s stockpiling it, and her REAL PLAN is to inject The Freak with enough heroin to kill a string quartet. Hearing this, Franky says what we have all been thinking about this plan:
1. Allie will never get close enough to The Freak to stick a needle in her.
2. The greatest villain in the history of the show will never be killed by a plot device used one season ago.
YOU’D HAVE BETTER LUCK KILLING JON SNOW WITH A GLASS OF POISONED WINE AT HIS WEDDING.
But most importantly, Franky reminds Allie that Bea went down the same vengeance rabbit hole with Brayden Holt, and it didn’t bring her any peace. Vengeance, we have already established, doesn’t accomplish anything other than relieving you of your one tenuous reason to live.
Unfortunately, Allie is not particularly receptive to advice at the moment, much less from someone who recently tried to escape via van crash. A whole lot of minor business ensues with Allie lying and sneaking and degrading herself to get heroin—really becoming every bit as bad of a junkie as she ever was, except this time she’s high on revenge. But it comes down to one moment in the kitchen, where Joan offers her a choice: she can have the drugs, if she burns Bea’s sketchbook page by page. And friends, it is my sad duty to report that she does it.
NOOOOO! NOT DEBBIE!
NOOOOO! NOT MAXINE’S FUCKED UP TEETH!
It’s awful. Honestly it feels kind of needlessly awful, but at least Allie gets her drugs. So she cooks up a massive dose and hides in the showers, pretending to be high. Joan finds her there and delivers a brutal assessment of Allie’s character: a starfucker who will do anything to get close to “strong women.”
UGH HOW TEDIOUS. ALL THE ICE CREAM I CAN EAT AND GIRLS KISSING ME IN THE SHOWERS.
She comes within a hair’s breadth of kissing Allie, but then Allie plunges the needle in her neck.
THIS IS FOR BEA BUT ALSO SECONDARILY FOR HOW BAD YOUR BREATH JUST WAS.
Sadly, Allie fails to push the plunger in, so Joan walks away unscathed. Most pathetically, Allie begs Joan to kill her, so she can go be seahorses up in the sky with Bea. But Joan refuses, and for that at least, I am grateful. And I sincerely hope Allie has this whole revenge thing out of her system, because this storyline was a joyless mess from start to finish.
One really good thing does happen in this episode, even though it comes in the form of a bittersweet goodbye. Okay, remember how Doreen made her SUPER GOOD speech to The Board a couple of weeks ago, asking to be transferred to Perth? But The Board said no because of, we assumed, racism? WELL ACTUALLY, Doreen’s speech moved the callous bureaucrats so much that they elected not to transfer her to a different prison, but free her from the penal system altogether. Doreen is finally going home.
DON’T BE SAD. I’LL SEE YOU ALL AT THE LOGIES NEXT YEAR.
It’s pretty harrowing watching Dor prepare for her release, though. For one thing, she keeps trying to get ahold of Nash, but he won’t answer his phone.
NASH YOU PIECE OF SHIT, I KNEW YOU COULDN’T BE TRUSTED.
For another thing, Doreen became a new person on the inside, and is understandably worried about how that new self will fare beyond the walls. But Liz gives her an encouraging pep talk and reminds her how few people can actually claim to have been rehabilitated by prison, to which Franky cheerfully chimes in “yeah, and if you fuck this up and come back, we’ll kick your ass.” The person who is sorriest to see Doreen go, however, is Joan, who never stopped loving Doreen, because she never stopped confusing her with Jianna.
I’LL NEVER FORGET OUR BEAUTIFUL LOVE AFFAIR.
THAT WAS JIANNA.
AND IN THE WORDS OF MARIAH CAREY, I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU.
THAT WAS WHITNEY HOUSTON, YOU RACIST SOCIOPATH.
At last the moment arrives, and she walks out the door. There’s a terrifying second where she’s just facing down the whole wide world by herself, but then a familiar face shows up in an improbably nice car.
NASH YOU PRECIOUS ANGEL, I NEVER DOUBTED YOU FOR A SECOND.
I’m going to miss Doreen, but really I’ve been missing Doreen for a couple of seasons now. I don’t know why her role shifted so abruptly from “sweetest heart in the prison whose happiness must be protected at all costs” to “plot-adjacent crybaby,” but I will treasure the memory of Shareena Clanton’s smile, the brightest light in Wentworth during some very dark times.
As Doreen is taking her long walk to freedom, there’s one face missing in the crowd of well-wishers: Franky.
Franky takes this opportunity to mount another one of her escape attempts. And if you thought Franky’s escape plans were bad, wait until you see her winging it. Franky sneaks into Bridget’s office and climbs into the vents, which is a conceit we’ve all seen in countless films and shows, but it has never been clear to me if it would actually work in real life. Are vents really that big? Are they really made to hold fully grown adults and Tom Cruises? Have any of you ever tried it? Please let me know in the comments.
Plausibility aside, Franky manages to make it out onto the roof, where she breathes the free air and hums a few bars of “Let It Go.” But she is unable to actually escape, because the door she was hoping to use is locked (which, not to belabor the point, but is one of those things you should really expect to run into when you are escaping prison). She sneaks back into the vents and back into Bridget’s office. Bridget walks in, and honestly, Franky comes so close to playing this off as an attempt to snag some make out time. But, like so many Wentworthians before her, she forgot to dispose of the evidence: in this case, a dirty shoe print directly under the ceiling vent. Confronted with this latest hare-brained escape attempt, Bridget finally declares she has had enough. Franky’s lies (even if they are in service to their relationship) have damaged the trust between them too severely. (Can you blame her?)
MAKE UP SEX?
BREAK UP SEX?
After blowing it with Bridget, Franky happens to run into Allie, sodden and miserable from her run-in with Joan.
Allie tells her all about the failed hot-shot attempt, and utterly breaking down, confesses that she wants to die. But Franky won’t have that. Here is what Franky says: “I am gonna get out, and I am going to find out who killed Mike Paneesi. And you’re gonna come with me. Fuck this dying shit. You need to get out and you need to live a happy life. That’s the revenge you get on Ferguson.” Now, Allie and I have both spent a lot of time shitting on Franky’s dumb escape plan, but it feels different now. It is different, now that it’s not just about her. At the very least, it’s something to live for, so Allie and Franky shake on it, and it is the strongest I have felt all season.
Maggie Nelson’s masterpiece of queerness, art, and family The Argonauts (which, let me just throw myself on the dog pile of people demanding you read it), takes its title from a famous philosophical riddle that goes something like this: Jason and his sailors set out aboard their ship, the Argo. But over the course of the journey, various parts of the ship have to be replaced. Bit by bit, plank by mast by sail, every piece of the original ship is discarded and exchanged for something new, which begs the question: is it still the Argo? And if not, at what point did it stop being the Argo and become something else?
This riddle is usually employed to teach undergrad philosophy students about the slippery nature of identity, but it works just as well when we talk about television. Television shows, like ships, are made of various parts that give them their structure and identity. With procedural cop dramas, it’s the case of the week, with American Horror Story, it’s heaps of gore and a vaguely liberal message. But in most shows, particularly the ones I find most compelling, the crucial interlocking pieces are the characters (and to a lesser degree the setting). When I think of the shows that have meant the most to be, the images that jump to mind aren’t beautiful cinematography, but faces.
This becomes an issue in dramas of a certain age in which characters start to be written off and replaced. The trick writers and showrunners desperately try to pull off when writing out old characters, is getting us to maintain faith in the seamlessness of the show’s identity, because it is that conviction alone that keeps the Argo the Argo. Different shows have attempted this sleight of hand with varying degrees of success. The all-time champion of Argonautics has to be Grey’s Anatomy, which has managed to hold on to its audience despite keeping only a tiny fraction of its original ensemble (and one gets the sense they would jettison Meredith Grey if that wouldn’t ruin the show’s title). The most resounding failure I can think of is Castle, which toyed with the idea of going on without Stana Katic, but decided against it when fans found the notion abhorrent.
Wentworth’s big question this season was: would we maintain faith that we were watching the same show, having lost its main character? The answer—and I believe everyone who has stuck around for season five agrees with me—is a definite yes. That’s partly because Wentworth has not attempted to replace Bea Smith as its central character, but relied on the ensemble as a whole to step up. To extend the nautical metaphor just a little farther, we lost our mast, but everyone sat down and rowed. And that has made for a season that lacks some of the dazzle of the past, but has nevertheless made for a worthwhile journey. But I still have the same question I did at the beginning of the season: where are we going? What, fundamentally, is the point of Wentworth now? Because, if there is no point, then it is merely a chronicle of human misery. I believe that this show is more than that, and this is its chance to prove it.
Allie and Franky clasping hands and promising to escape is the first driving narrative we’ve had since Bea’s death, and I am counting on it to give us back a sense of purpose.