Hello and welcome to the recap of the finale of the rebuilding season of the best women’s prison drama in the Southern hemisphere.
Previously on Wentworth, Franky and Allie plotted their escape via the giant, person-size coffins the prisoners were inexplicably making for their window boxes. Franky wanted out to prove her innocence in Mike Paneesi’s murder, since her legal team could not be bothered to lift a literal finger on her behalf. Allie just wanted to escape Joan’s orbit and start figuring out what your rebound looks like when your ex was an Amazon warrior queen. Vera had a particularly rough week, even by the standards of someone who’s nickname is “vinegar tits,” and learned that Officer Jake had been reporting to Ferguson the whole time they were together (which is creepy on a number of levels, not least Ferguson’s never-resolved crush on Vera). Vera also found herself replaced by Channing as acting governor, and he seemed to be about two lines of coke away from declaring that the new work program would be a pornography studio. Sonia’s personality was 90% delightful, but the remaining 10% was demonically vengeful, and it was all directed at Liz for testifying against her. (Unfortunately for Sonia, she did not have the benefit of having watched Liz for five seasons, and so could not know how badly she was underestimating her.) Will and Kaz were the new leaders of the Best Friend Gang, and were determined to take down Joan, just as soon as they’d perfected their new secret handshake. And Joan herself was mere moments away from completing her Master Plan (or finally confronting the fact that she doesn’t have one) when Kaz and Franky called a kangaroo court into session and put Joan on trial. (The entirety of this trial consisted of Franky enumerating all the people Joan had killed or penciled over the years, and all the women going “oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that.”) The women then strung Joan up on the basketball hoop, where she nearly died, but was saved at the last minute by Vera, who gave her some mouth-to-mouth that was harder to watch than all but the worst lesbian sex scenes.
We resume this week with Joan in the hospital wing, grappling with the notion that while she was busy weaving her web of manipulation, other people were exercising their free will to ensure her destruction. She asks Channing to be put into protection, but he turns her down (which is illegal, by the way, and which we are expected to believe only because Channing is on a ton of blow). Next, Joan turns to Vera, in one of the strangest scenes in this show’s history.
Joan is like “Thank you for saving my life, but also WHY WOULD YOU RUIN OUR BEAUTIFUL CHESS GAME BY SAVING MY LIFE?” And Vera is like “For the love of Peaches, I AM NOT YOUR ADVERSARY OR YOUR PAWN OR YOUR LOVER, JOAN. I’m a prison guard and you’re a prisoner and that will be the extent of our relationship until you die, and then I will become another person who never visits your grave.” To which Joan is like “Speaking of my death, could you possibly move me into protection so we can postpone that blessed day?” And Vera is like “Sure I could. If I was governor.”
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, I WAS JUST USING JAKE TO GET CLOSER TO YOU. LIKE IN THAT MOVIE, ROXANNE.
PLEASE DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO STEVE MARTIN; YOU HAVE RUINED ENOUGH MEN FOR ME ALREADY.
So today is the day of Franky and Allie’s great escape (“great” being a relative term ever since Donald Trump got hold of it) and NOTHING COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG.
WE ARE MAKING OUR LEAST SUSPICIOUS FACES.
The tiny wooden boxes are hidden away (I thought the boxes were supposed to be made of metal, thus the welding, but have given up trying to impose logic on this storyline), the empty crates have been marked with totally subtle red Xs, and the sewer radio is in good working order. Enter: the problem.
I HONESTLY CANNOT TELL IF MY LIFE IS IN DANGER OR I AM JUST MENOPAUSAL, BUT EITHER WAY IT IS VERY HOT AND I WANT CHOCOLATE.
Ever since last week’s unmentionable breakdown, Liz has been terrified that Sonia could have her killed at any moment, and it’s made her very fragile. At her wits’ end, she goes to Franky and begs for her help, to which Franky (reasonably) suggests that Liz might want to put herself in protection for the rest of her sentence. Now, I understand Liz’s reluctance to do that; protection basically just means solitary (which, for the record, is torture). But also, this is the risk Liz knew she was taking when she perjured herself against a fellow prisoner, and her reluctance to deal with the consequences sounds, as my father would put it, “like a personal problem.” But Franky’s conscience is uneasy at the thought of leaving Liz to be murdered, so she calls off the escape.
Allie is NOT COOL with Franky backing out, so she tells Liz that whatever problem she has, she needs to fix it herself and let Franky off the hook. Liz quickly susses out that Franky and Allie are planning an escape, and it would be wrong of her to stand in the way of that. But here’s the thing: I have never been worried about Liz’s ability to deal with Sonia. This is the woman who once stalked the streets of the city, wielding a steak knife, to protect her daughter. She’s got this. So when she oh-so-helpfully offers to get Sonia a cup of tea, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that it comes with cream, two sugars, and a heaping dollop of VENGEANCE.
There’s sleepytime tea, and then there’s SLEEPYTIME TEA.
Sonia is rushed off to the hospital, but I have to believe she’ll be back next season, since the cast is already looking a bit threadbare. Boomer, of course, is the most distraught about Sonia’s illness, and I’m sure it won’t take her long to figure out that Liz is behind it. Much as it would pain me to see Liz and Boomer at war, one of my big hopes for next season is that Boomer is allowed to have some of her own agency, instead of just working as muscle for the other women.
My other big hope for next season is that Kaz is permitted to return as the live wire she was at the beginning, instead of the limp noodle who was defeated by such paltry trivialities as a broken arm and democracy. We are given cause to hope this week, when Kaz and Will decide that it may be time to make an exception to their nonviolence policy and kill Joan once and for all.
I totally agree with the logic of Kaz and Will killing Joan, because in their case it’s not revenge; it’s prevention. Joan will never stop hurting people for as long as she draws breath, because, as she revealed during her “trial,” she has no goal beyond controlling everyone around her.
RED LEFT HAND.
Jake also wants to help bring Joan down, in the hopes that it might restore him to Vera’s good graces. I think it will take a lot more than that, though, because Vera informs him in no uncertain terms that he makes her physically ill. I was so worried this was going to permanently wreck Vera, but her self-respect, at least, seems to survive. (And Kate Atkinson kills the delivery here.)
WHY DON’T YOU GO BACK TO THE MICROBREWERY, TO MATCH YOUR MICRODICK.
To Vera, I will offer the same advice I give all my friends when a man breaks their heart: TRY LESBIANISM. IT IS SO MUCH BETTER. Failing that, try dating someone who is no way associated with the penal system.
Back to the escape plot, Sonia’s poisoned tea means the girls have to run back to their cells in time for an emergency count. Franky gets there scot-free, but Allie is caught by Officer Jake.
Afterwards, Allie says that nothing happened, but you and I know better because we have watched an episode of television before in our lives. When things quiet down, Franky makes a run for the garden shop, with Allie promising that she’s “right behind her.”
IT’S BETTER THIS WAY. IT NEVER WOULD HAVE WORKED BETWEEN US.
But we’re not in the clear yet: before she can get to the workshop, Franky is stopped by Boomer, who has figured the whole escape plot out. Boomer makes the case that the workshop is the only place in her whole life where she feels respected, and it would be selfish for Franky to take that away from her by escaping. To which Franky replies, in that winning Franky way “Yeah, it is selfish. I’m taking your job. But if you stop me from running, you’re taking my life.”
Boomer still isn’t sold, so when there’s a surprise guard outside the workshop, Franky fully expects her to turn her in. But instead, Boomer behaves like a true friend and lewdly distracts the guard with offers of a blowjob.
FREE GOBBIES! IN BEA SMITH’S NAME!
It’s a really beautiful moment! But also! Boomer could have done a zillion things to distract that guard besides make herself the butt of a sad sexual joke!
Anyway, Franky manages to lock herself inside her box, and she thinks she hears Allie do the same. After that, it’s a waiting game until the truck is loaded up (with an inexcusable lack of dramatic tension, given the stakes) and she is finally ferried outside the walls.
When the truck stops, Franky busts out and sees that the crate intended for Allie is gone. But in its place is a note. Not just any note: the worst note ever written.
DEAR FRANKY, A WISE MAN ONCE SAID “SHOW, DON’T TELL.” I KILLED THAT MAN.
I can forgive a lot of things about Wentworth. I forgave Bea’s death, and I plan to forgive the numerous mistakes that were made in the latter half of this season. But I will never forgive this note, because it should have taken exactly one person to speak up and say “Hey this feels really stiff and formal, and is clearly not written in Allie’s voice, and even Kate Jenkinson can’t make it sound believable.” In a functioning writer’s room, people are unafraid to say things like that, and showrunners are unafraid to listen to them.
The way it ends is the worst: “I loved Bea, and Joan Ferguson took her away from me. So I want revenge, in Bea Smith’s name.” That’s bad writing on several levels, but most especially the way it pretends to be on the side of Bea’s fans and Bea herself, when it was written by the same person who wrote her off. And it feels all the more disingenuous in light of what follows.
Before we get to that, we are treated to a scene of Franky, back in street clothes, sprinting to Bridget’s office to assure her that she loves her and will be back as soon as she clears her name.
I LOVE YOU! DON’T THROW AWAY OUR STRAP-ONS!
Then we discover that Allie didn’t just give up her spot in the escape coffin, she gave it to Joan. Jake convinced Joan he was helping her escape and snuck her in a crate.
THIS MAY BE THE CLOSEST JOAN EVER COMES TO MAKING IT WITH A WOMAN.
But that crate’s destination turns out to be an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere, dug by…Vera? Jake?
OH GOOD, IT’S THE WORLD’S WORST EVIDENCE-HIDER.
The episode ends with Joan trapped in a coffin (Kill Bill-style), screaming “NOOOO” (Wrath of Khan-style), and with no one to keep her company but Bea herself.
IT COULD BE WORSE, JOAN. IT COULD BE THE PICTURE OF MAXINE’S TEETH.
I was so ready to write a eulogy for Joan this week. It would have been a good one, honoring her queerness, her kaleidoscope of mental illnesses, and above all, Pamela Rabe’s performance, which has never been anything less than virtuosic. But it seems clear to me that Joan will survive this, and the producers have coyly hinted as much in interviews. They just couldn’t bring themselves to part with their favorite villain, even though she has stopped contributing to the narrative.
It is my profound hope that at the very least, Joan will sit out next season and reappear “when we least expect it.” What are the alternatives? She goes back to prison (again)? She seeks revenge on Will (again)? The first question both writers and actors have to ask themselves about characters is “what do they want?” and for Joan the answer is “to be the prisoner with the most ice cream.” Well, she’s already had that, and it was the high water mark for this season, because after that there was no place left to go but vague plans that never led anywhere.
What’s most frustrating to me is that this should have been a great season for Joan! It should have been a fireworks display of crazy, building up to a dramatic (and conclusive) finale. Instead it was a solo chess game that ended in a stalemate. “In Bea Smith’s name.”
And with that, we’ve made it to the end of another year of Wentworth. It comes as a huge relief, because I am really tired of complaining about this season. I was hoping for this finale to pull out all the stops and impress me like the season two finale did when Bea murdered Brayden. (For the record, season two is still my least favorite of the bunch.) But instead, Wentworth just stumbled to the finish line, as eager as I am to move the fuck on. (Except, given the opportunity to mark a DECISIVE END to the season’s worst storyline, they opted for a cliffhanger to test our already exhausted credulity.)
Contrary to the popular conception of critics, I don’t actually get much joy out of criticizing. I would rather praise than complain any day of the week. I know that Wentworth writers read these recaps, and I treasure that valuable line into their consciousness, and worry a lot about wearing it out with constant carping. I am especially sensitive to that idea as a writer of fiction myself, as someone who has read Teddy Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” speech, and as someone who knows that while mocking something is very easy, making something is very hard.
So instead of merely finding fault with the direction taken by the latter half of this season, I’d like to sketch out where I would have liked it to go, on a character-by-character basis.
Allie: While this season was always going to be about Allie grieving Bea, there was no reason for her to become so utterly passive, not when she needed to do the intensely active work of figuring out what she still had left to live for. The answer to that was embedded in her romance with Bea, which revealed that Allie uses the love of strong women to make up for the love she can’t muster for herself. Allie needed to discover herself and her numerous gifts this season. And Allie and Kaz should have been working more closely together to come up with a solution to the Freak that honored their conceptions of revenge and justice. As far as Allie and Franky goes? That part can stay, actually.
Franky: As many of you have pointed out, it would have been thrilling to see Franky come back to prison as a legal advisor, not an inmate. I would have loved to watch her negotiate this world from the other side of the bars, and go through the trials of couplehood with Bridget. But assuming she did get thrown back in for a crime she didn’t commit, there was no reason for her to blow things so utterly with Bridget, or for the mystery of Mike Paneesi’s murder to be so unsatisfying. Hell, I don’t even mind the escape plot, but it could have been handled with some care! Sneaking through the ducts? Two-foot flower boxes that, for some reason, have to be shipped in person-sized coffins? WE ARE ALL SMARTER THAN THAT.
Kaz: This one is particularly frustrating to me, because Kaz’s tenure as Top Dog was a belly-flop, when it could have been a fascinating study in group dynamics, as Kaz struggled to adapt her principles to her position. Instead, she broke her arm and her backbone in that bus crash, and one of the few characters with the potential to be both hero and villain ended up as neither.
Liz: Liz could have done the same thing, but just less of it.
Vera and Jake: Again, the basic structure is okay, since Vera had to eventually find out the truth about her boytoy, but it shouldn’t have taken a mustachioed home invader to get her there.
Iman: Should have lived!
Other characters: Should have been given anything at all to do. For all the shit I can talk about Orange is the New Black, they have a huuuuuge cast of characters, which enables them to shift focus whenever you need a fresh perspective. But with the loss of Bea, Doreen, and Maxine, Wentworth is in serious need of some new blood. Or even just more of Tina Macado’s bangs. I bet they have a story to tell.
I will see you all next season, when it is my dear hope that this show will blossom and grow (and in some cases, stay buried).
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