(This recap was originally published on June 9, 2016.)
Too often, television dramas labor under the delusion that to keep our interest, they must constantly be going darker: destroying relationships, turning characters evil, and upping the ante on graphic violence. Of course, all these can be effective strategies when used sparingly, but over time, we simply harden our defenses and brace for the worst. (Ramsay Bolton, with his increasingly rote sadism, is the perfect avatar for this phenomenon.)
But this was the most shocking episode of Wentworth I have ever seen, precisely because it was, of all things, heartwarming. Characters connected, took great risks in the service of goodness, and exposed deep vulnerabilities. And on the very top of the cake was a separate, other cakecalled Ballie. But we’ll get to that.
As you’ll recall, last week’s episode involved Bea trying her goddamn hardest to be a good guy and protect Will from Joan’s false rape accusations. She successfully saved him from the Red Right Hand (thanks to a tip-off from Allie), but was then forced to attack will herself, lest she earn the reputation as a screw-lover and nerd. That got her thrown into the slot, thus leaving the prison without a Top Dog to keep everyone in line.
In Bea’s absence, it’s like cats and dogs (or cats and slightly more feral cats) inside Wentworth. Fights break out over everything, including who gets the last slice of bacon, which Boomer mediates by eating it herself.
Eager to capitalize on all the pent-up energy is Joan, who eagerly suggests to Allie that Bea’s absence is good for the women. But Allie isn’t having it and refuses to sway in her loyalty to either Bea or Kaz. (Obviously, that can’t last, but at least we learn more about her motivations for it.)
Meanwhile, Maxine is exploring her options for cancer treatment. They boil down to
- Stop her estrogen therapy to starve the cancerous cells.
- Sign up for an experimental treatment that will let her keep taking estrogen, but the deadline for which is TODAY.
Maxine takes for option B and prepares to leave for the hospital. But of course, Wentworth won’t let her out of its clutches that easily.
A couple of you pointed out that “transperson robbed of their hormones” has already been covered on several other shows (including OITNB! I know it irritates some of you when I compare them, but it irritates me more when one show pretends like the other one doesn’t exist!). And aside from being a little unoriginal, I’m just confused about what that storyline hopes to accomplish. I mean, I’m all for de-essentializing gender, but Maxine is dealing with enough challenges to her womanhood from the Red Right Hand.
Speaking of Kaz, this is really her episode, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to expand my understanding of her. Not that it changes my diagnosis of narcissism/borderline personality disorder, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have room for other personality traits. This week, she gets a visit from her mother, who comes bearing the news that her father has lost the fight with Joe Camel. Kaz’s reaction is to wonder if her dad finally admitted to molesting her as a child. Her mother (like so many mothers) would rather believe that her child is a liar than that her husband was capable of such a monstrous act, so their visit ends in a standoff.
But for the rest of the episode, Kaz’s memory keeps going back to her father. And as opposed to Franky’s grey-stained flashbacks or Joan’s imaginary fencing lessons, Kaz’s memories of her father are golden-hued. He was a handsome, loving man who bought her a pony. And in remembering him, Kaz is experiencing something we’ve never seen from this extremist: nuance. (It bears re-mentioning that Tammy MacIntosh’s performance is as mesmerizing and terrifying as a wildfire, and she never lets up for a single second.)
Meanwhile, this episode introduces two new characters into the mix. The first is officer Jake, here to fill the “significant male character” hole left by Fletch.
Astute viewers will remember this actor, Bernard Curry, from his stint on Faking It, where he played a humorless principal and father to Felix. But he’s all charm now that he’s looking after prisoners rather than high school students. Jake clearly has some sort of agenda (not to mention a preoccupation with The Freak), but everyone is too distracted by his good looks to suss out exactly what his game might be. Vera for one is utterly smitten, although as always she keeps her heart locked up tighter than the prison itself. Ms. Myles is convinced that Officer Jake is just dying to unlock her cell, and Will assumes that Jake’s offer to be “workout buddies” is a come-on.
So we’ll see where that goes. Personally, I always want Vera to find a little piece of happiness, but I wish that it would occur to her to look for it outside of a prison.