The first thing any story asks you to do is believe. Believe that there’s a magical world hidden behind the bricks of that alleyway. Believe that spaceships can leap across the galaxy in less time than it takes to make popcorn. Believe that there is a hospital in Seattle that only hires doctors who are model-grade attractive.
It’s a pretty big ask, and yet for the most part, audiences eagerly loan out their credulity, because we want to believe. We are creatures of story; our brains conform to them with the same willingness with which they make images out of inkblots. Even though we know it’s make-believe, even when a story takes us backstage to show us the castles are all made of plywood, we still believe in them so much that they draw out our strongest emotions of joy and pain, and we worry over them like friends.
I think the biggest misunderstanding between critics and creators is the idea that critics are fighting this urge to believe, like hecklers at a magic show, ruining all the tricks. But for my part, at least, the opposite is true. I love nothing more than to get swept away by a story, as some of my more high-flown Wentworth recaps can attest. But when I’m unable to do that, I find the experience so distressing that I have to figure out why it’s not working. Just like some handy people can’t see a broken-down car without fixing it, I can’t see a broken-down show without at least suggesting some repairs.
Right now, Wentworth has a lot of broken parts. And, like a beloved car that’s wheezing along at 200,000 miles, I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth investing any more time into. Of course, the flaw in this metaphor is that, from a popularity perspective, Wentworth is still chugging along, and has already been renewed for a seventh season. But that fact, I would argue, is actually one of the broken parts, because success has made this show lazy and safe.
This episode is bookended by two scenes that I have a lot of trouble believing. It opens in a secret back room, where prisoners sneak off to engage in bare knuckle brawls, which they they bet on with wads of cash they acquired god knows where, and film for an audience on the dark web. The women call this spectacle “fight club,” but a better comparison might be to GLOW, Netflix’s series about the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, which manages to depict female conflict while still allowing for the existence of female friendship.
WELCOME TO PLOP: PUNCHING LADIES OF PRISON.
In a season where my belief was not already being strained, I could have gotten into this, but it just seems too implausible that there would be a fighting ring that escaped the notice of Vera and Kaz (whose policy this club directly violates), especially since it leaves women with some noticeable facial injuries.
PLOP is always on the lookout for fresh talent, which they find in Ruby, who is a trained boxer.
A lot of this episode is devoted to developing Ruby’s character, starting from the fact that as a child, she idolized her sister Rita, who was herself a champion pugilist. When Rita had to leave under mysterious circumstances, Ruby herself took up the gloves. But everything changed for Ruby when she got into that fateful car wreck, which ruined her relationship with Rita, and left Ruby with a brain injury that now gives her a violent temper and occasional seizures.
We learn most of this through flashbacks and through interactions with Allie, who is very interested in Ruby, the show wants us to know. They make sure we’re aware that there’s a romantic spark between the two with all the subtlety of my high school boyfriend jamming his tongue my throat. It starts from the second Ruby arrives, and immediately dubs Allie “sugartits,” which: we already a pair of flavored breasts in this prison, and they are “vinegar.”
Last week, Allie seemed mostly irritated by Ruby’s flirtation, but suddenly this week, they’re bantering and flirting and pinching each other’s noses.
YEP, CLEARLY TWO PEOPLE DESPERATE TO SEE EACH OTHER NAKED.
A couple people comment on this flirtation, and Kaz encourages Allie to pursue it, since Bea would have wanted her to be happy. Yes, all signs seem to point to an imminent relationship brewing, all but one: the utter lack of chemistry between these two actresses.
I GOT CHILLS, THEY’RE MULTI–WAIT NEVER MIND THAT’S JUST THE AIR CONDITIONING.
The list of queer ladyships I am unable to get excited about is very short, and I usually attribute it to a deficiency on my part that blinds me to the appeal of, say, Callie and Arizona. But in this case, I am not merely indifferent but actively opposed to this pairing. I interviewed Kate Jenkinson a while back and asked her if she thought Allie could find love again after Bea, and she answered that she hoped so, but it would likely take a different form and never quite match the intensity of her true love. That’s a good answer, at least on paper, and it seems like maybe what the show is shooting for here is a light, flirtatious rebound to get her out there again. The problem with that is that it’s difficult to care much about such a low-stakes relationship, particularly when we’ve seen what Allie looks like when she’s inflamed with passion, so we know the difference. Even that brief, aborted hookup with Franky last year was messy and scary and desperate, which made it riveting. I just don’t feel that what Ruby and Allie have adds up to more than friendship. Not that there’s anything wrong with friendship: when Allie finds Ruby having a seizure in the shower, she cares for her with a tenderness that doesn’t require attraction.
WENTWORTH: WHERE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU NEED A SHOWER AFTER EVERY SHOWER.
Ruby, unsurprisingly, gets roped into fighting for PLOP, where she easily dispatches her opponent. She promises she’ll never do it again, since she considers herself to be above streetfighting. But gee, what do you think the odds are that she’ll just have to make some quick money, and she’ll get in a fight that exacerbates her brain injury?? (The same odds you’ll take a trip through the Peppermint Forest in a game of Candyland.)
In other news, Sonia returns from the hospital this week, looking suspiciously refreshed.
MY INSURANCE THROWS IN FREE BOTOX WITH EVERY ER VISIT.
Sonia knows, of course, that Liz poisoned her tea, but initially pretends to believe it was Boomer, just to make Booms swear her loyalty and vow bloody vengeance on Liz. But Sonia initially tries to take care of the situation herself, by following Liz into the shower with a meat prong (I forget what those things are actually called, so “meat prong” will have to do). She stabs the poor, hapless victim with the calm confidence of someone who knows that no one is ever held accountable for things that happen in the bathroom.
IT’S BEEN SIX SEASONS AND STILL NO ONE HAS COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR A BUDDY SYSTEM.
It’s violent, but it’s not really scary, because we all know that the woman playing the Hitchcockian damsel to Sonia’s Norman Bates isn’t Liz. As I’m sure you’ll recall, last week we were introduced to Spike’s girlfriend, and we all collectively thought “hey, that woman has the same hair as Liz!”
QUEER EYE TIP: IT’S NEVER A GOOD IDEA TO BASE YOUR STYLE ON SOMEONE MARKED FOR DEATH.
Unsurprisingly, when Liz shows up alive, Sonia is perturbed, although she is decidedly not remorseful about stabbing someone to death whose only crime was a derivative haircut. This marks a new phase in Sonia’s evolution, since in the past her murders were merely opportunistic, but as Will points out, now she might be a fully-fledged psychopath. (JUST IN CASE YOU MISSED THE Psycho REFERENCE WITH THE WHOLE SHOWER STABBING THING.)
Sonia goes to confront Liz, who attempts to defend herself with a toothbrush, which she wields with a decided lack of conviction. Indeed, in no time she breaks down sobbing about how the crooked cop betrayed her by encouraging her false testimony, and then she hands her weapon to Sonia, and then they hug!! It’s another one of the moments in this episode that are rendered simply unbelievable through sloppy staging, because no one in her right mind would hand their would-be murderer their only weapon.
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, AREN’T WE JUST TWO WOMEN TRYING TO COPE WITH SOCIETY’S UNREALISTIC BEAUTY STANDARDS?
OH HONEY, NO. NO WE ARE NOT.
In the end, Sonia decides to use Liz to expose the crooked cop’s corruption, and in doing so, earn her own freedom. That’s not the direction I would have preferred this story to go, since that confrontation would have been a good time for Liz to reassert her old strength, but it is forward progress on a story that’s been going on for a long time now. I do hope Liz finds some backbone going forward to make this a proper rivalry, because right now it’s like watching a peregrine falcon fight a bowl of green jello.
Of course, the person with the worst problems this week isn’t Liz or even her murdered doppelganger, but Vera, because Vera is pregnant with Officer Jake’s baby, and she’s wrestling with the difficult choice of remaining childless or risking bringing another douchebag into the world.
WHAT IF HE WEARS SUNGLASSES INSIDE? WHAT IF HIS FAVORITE BAND IS U2? WHAT IF HE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THAT FIGHT CLUB IS A SATIRE??
Jake, seeing her distress, gallantly offers to do the bare minimum by giving her the blackmail thumb drive and offering to let her fire him.
ALRIGHT VERA, I KNOW THIS WILL BE HARD FOR YOU, BUT I THINK IT’S TIME YOU LET ME GO.
Vera goes to Bridget for some advice, and Bridget sagely tells her to think it over carefully, and make sure she’s not leaving herself open to a lawsuit from Jake.
YOU ALWAYS GIVE SUCH GOOD PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, BRIDGET.
AND YET YOUR LIFE IS SUCH A MESS.
Bridget is living in a constant state of anxiety ever since Franky escaped. Or really, I guess, since the day she and Franky met. Poor Francesca is still sleeping in a train yard, fending off hobos and guarding her sad little backpack of evidence.
SOMEHOW “THE BOXCAR CHILDREN” IS SO MUCH MORE FANCIFUL THAN “THE BOXCAR ADULTS.”
Eventually she stumbles upon evidence of Iman’s therapist and breaks into her office for the files. But that on its own isn’t enough, so she schedules an appointment under a false name, hoping to convince the therapist to testify that Iman was dangerously unstable. (I initially thought that the therapist was Bridget, but I guess the short hair/bulky sweater combo is just the mental health uniform in Australia.
I actually love this scene, because it’s so classically Franky to think she can clear this whole mess up by batting her eyes at a therapist.
IF YOU COULD JUST FALL IN LOVE WITH ME SUPER QUICK, THIS WILL ALL GO MUCH MORE SMOOTHLY.
But sadly, this gambit fails. It’s not at all surprising that the therapist is reluctant to admit that her professional failure led to two deaths and a wrongful imprisonment, but it is surprising that she has a secret panic button under her desk which she uses to call the cops. She does Franky the courtesy of telling her to run, but the police have her surrounded. Her only chance is to climb a chain link fence and jump onto a speeding train, but she takes a bullet midway through.
SHOOTING AN UNARMED, FLEEING SUSPECT? WHAT IS THIS, AMERICA?
Then comes the truly unbelievable part: even though the camera shows us that the train is racing by at high speed, and that it’s far from a straight shot or even a flying leap from the fence to the train, we are asked to believe that Franky somehow makes it and disappears.
LESBIANS ARE MAGIC BUT WE CANNOT, IN FACT, FLY.
You know, I can believe in a lot. I can believe in miracles and impossible coincidences and honest-to-god magic if I’m being led there by a storyteller who wants to believe in those things as much as I do. But this episode has so many moments that don’t make me feel taken by the hand so much as yanked around on a leash, and that’s no way to treat an audience who has believed in this show for so long.