Here is my recap and critical assessment of this episode of Wentworth.
Great. Now go play outside.
WHAT, YOU WANT **MORE**?
Okay, fine. I could only come up with two possible explanations for what happened this week:
- Wentworth shot a better version of this episode, but all copies of it were destroyed in a fire, and they had to shoot a new version very quickly and with no budget. (This still doesn’t explain the script.)
- There is a black hole of meaninglessness at the center of our reality, most dramatically manifested by Donald Trump, but gradually growing to swallow all light, and this was the episode where Wentworth slipped over the event horizon and into the void.
That’s literally the closest I’ve come to understanding what went wrong this week, which brought us an episode which was not merely “bad” but sloppy. The shot selection was clumsy, the lighting garishly undermined both actors and sets, and the writing made the characters feel like strangers. I checked IMDB to see who wrote and directed this fiasco, and was honestly expecting to learn that it was part of an outreach program to let disadvantaged middle schoolers produce an episode of television. But no! Both the writer and director are veterans of the show who have done good work in the past, so the whole thing is even more confusing.
The very first scene lets you know that we’ve gone off the rails. A bunch of women are furiously cleaning the bathrooms to the tune of some abrasive yet nondescript rock tunez, when suddenly Joan swoops in and MENACES AT THEM to no point or purpose, and then walks away.
PARDON ME, HAVE YOU SEEN A FOLDER LABELED “MASTER PLAN” LYING AROUND ANYWHERE? I SEEM TO HAVE MISPLACED IT.
I said it a nice way a few episodes ago, when I was like “Pamela Rabe is brilliant, and yes, we could watch The Freak get her teeth cleaned, but let’s gently retire her.” Now I’m going to say it in a less nice way: ENOUGH. ENOUGH WITH THE FREAK POPPING UP EVERYWHERE LIKE A HATLESS BABADOOK.
In going back over this episode, I’m realizing that a lot actually did happen. So much so, in fact, that one wonders why some of the action wasn’t written in to last week’s episode, the highlight of which was “Joan almost hears a noise.” But I’m going to convey the action to you in the driest terms possible, because I don’t want to waste your time or mine unnecessarily.
First, Mr. Channing shows up like a pizza boy in a porno to waggle his manhood at everyone. He’s ostensibly there to investigate the drug-peddling charges against Officer Jake, and Will clings to this investigation with childish naïveté.
DON’T WORRY. CHANNING IS A WHITE GUY WHO DRIVES A CONVERTIBLE, SO CLEARLY HE IS ON THE SIDE OF TRUTH AND JUSTICE.
Vera steadfastly stands by her man throughout the investigation, until the night Jake’s drug supplier shows up at the house to demand his money.
DON’T YOU DARE STOP BELIEVING IN LOVE JUST BECAUSE OF THIS.
When Jake comes home, he desperately spins a tale about how the mean man isn’t a drug dealer but a microbrewery loan shark, and Vera believes him! In a way, I get it. Many of us would rather do logical backflips than accept that the person we love has betrayed us, and Vera is more desperate for love than most people. But at the same time, this is a woman who has built a career staring down criminals, and to see her slumped over and helpless like this is painful.
After that, Jake channels his inner Helena and bursts into the drug dude’s criminal lair, announcing that their business relationship is over.
HOW COULD YOU GO TO THE HOME OF THE PRISON WARDEN AND BLOW OUR ENTIRE OPERATION??
DOES THIS LOOK LIKE THE MUSTACHE OF A MAN WHO THINKS ANYTHING THROUGH TO THAT DEGREE?
It takes some actual chutzpah to defy a criminal like this, and Jake comes off looking sympathetic for the first time ever, though it does absolutely nothing to redeem his history of lying, cheating, killing, and talking about his fucking microbrewery.
Back at the prison, Channing interviews the other officers (at exhaustive length), but finally just calls the burner phone they traced back to the dealer. And of course, this wouldn’t be Wentworth if Jake had the sense to dispose of the BURNER PHONE in exactly the manner its name suggests. Instead, he has left it to ring merrily away in his locker. For a moment, Jake truly believes his world is crashing down around him, and asks Channing if he’s going to be arrested or merely fired. But Channing says he is fee to keep dealing drugs to prisoners, as long as Channing himself gets a 20% cut. And I get that Channing is a slimy, underhanded bastard, but this feels like pushing it a bit too far. If he was called in by the board to reign in the drug-induced chaos in the prison, how’s it going to look when the drugs keep coming? Surely his position as prison commissioner(?) is more important to him than whatever 20% of the profits are from a group of people whose primary forms of currency are ice cream and shampoo whiskey.
Speaking of that single malt Head and Shoulders, Sonia makes the perplexing choice this week to try and get Liz drunk and confess to killing Officer Chinstrap. Of course, we both know that Sonia did no such thing, so I guess it’s all just a ploy to fuck with Liz, out of either boredom or vengeance. I was pretty bummed out to see Liz succumb to the alcohol after all the work she’s done, so it came as an odd relief when she made herself throw it all back up again.
THE RARE INSTANCE OF “TRIUMPHANT VOMITING.”
Meanwhile, Allie and Franky are on step 302 of their 9000 part escape plan. This one involves smuggling tiny pieces of plywood away from the workshop, while sending out empty planter boxes. Boomer catches them at it, and threatens to fire both of them, but relents under the power of their combined faces.
BUT WE’RE JUST TWO LITTLE PUPPIES!
Later, Boomer visits Franky, in one of the only good scenes of the episode, and quietly requests that Franky not fuck up the one good thing she has going with her personal drama du jour. Like I’ve said in the past, Boomer is written for laughs more often than I’d like, and Franky is in the habit of using her as a blunt instrument, so it actually means something to see her register the wrongness of what she’s doing, and wonder how many people she’ll have to fuck over to get what she wants.
Of course, the biggest development this week is Franky’s discovery that she might not have to escape prison to prove her innocence after all, since her best lead into Mike Parcheesi’s death is locked in with her.
THE PRIMARY THEME OF SEASON FIVE IS: DON’T TRUST PEOPLE WHO PLAY GAMES BY THEMSELVES.
After finding Mike’s name on Iman’s Twitter account, Franky becomes obsessed with drawing a connection between the two of them, which she opts to do via her old therapist. But to get in touch with her, she needs Bridget. But to get in touch with Bridget, she needs a real blast from the past, Kim.
ISN’T IT AMAZING HOW MUCH QUICKER SCARS HEAL ON TELEVISION WHEN THE SHOW STILL NEEDS YOU TO BE PLAUSIBLY FUCKABLE?
Franky begs Kim for the use of her secret cell phone, to which Kim rightfully responds “HELL THE FUCK NO.” Franky has done a lot of brazen shit over the years, but asking Kim (who is only in prison because of Franky) for help getting back together with Bridget, ranks pretty goddamn high. But, as Franky occasionally does when she has exhausted every other option, she tells Kim the honest truth: she loves Bridget in a way she couldn’t have loved Kim, because her heart was just too damaged. To which Kim replies “Yeah, dummy, that’s the way I loved you.”
Again, I see what the show is doing, by forcing Franky to make amends with the people she’s hurt (Kim and Boomer) but it’s not very effective writing because:
- Franky already did that when she got out of jail LAST TIME.
- Look, I like Kim, and Ra Chapman does a good job with the little they give her to do, but we just don’t know enough about her inner life to be particularly affected by this heartfelt confession of love. It feels like a pretty cheap ploy for emotional impact, and they just haven’t laid the groundwork for it to pay off.
ANYWAY (rhythmic fart noises), Franky gets Bridget to come for a visit, where they both behave like champagne-tipsy contestants on The Bachelorette, not two people still reeling from a deeply painful breakup.
HEY REMEMBER HOW I ASSAULTED YOU AND LIED TO YOU AND JEOPARDIZED YOUR CAREER AND CHEATED ON YOU WITH ALLIE?
I LITERALLY DO NOT!
Franky is like “Ooh I could get used to seeing you every day.” And Bridget is like “NOT AFTER ALL THE HOT SEX WE USED TO HAVE.” And both of them seem to completely forget that Bridget is still officially Franky’s therapist and they are IN PUBLIC. It is, bar none, the worst writing I have ever seen on this show, (until a few scenes later, where Iman manages to somehow undercut it). Bridget agrees to get in touch with Iman’s old therapist, from whom she learns that Iman and Mike Paneesi belonged to the same therapy group for trauma survivors for years! Which means, among other things, that the show is using Mike’s trauma as a burn victim and Iman’s trauma as a refugee to paint them both as crazed villains! FART NOISES!
Franky then goes to Iman’s cell to confront her, and Iman delivers the most nonsensical confession I have ever heard, and I have heard A LOT.
Iman, it turns out, was Mike’s SECRET GIRLFRIEND, but she grew UNSPEAKABLY JEALOUS of Mike’s obsession with Franky, so she killed him. (Why then did Mike make shitty, xenophobic comments on her Twitter feed? WHY ANYTHING?)
I LOVED HIM, BUT ALL HE LOVED WAS YOUR SLUTTY LITTLE MANNEQUIN!
THEN, she got herself thrown into jail for the express purpose of killing Franky, to punish her for Mike’s mental illness. Having informed Franky of this, she then tries to stab her to death, but at the last minute, is pulled off by…Joan?
IN CHESS, THIS IS WHAT IS KNOWN AS “FLIPPING OVER THE BOARD.”
Franky is too overwhelmed by all of this to be suspicious of Joan’s sudden interest in her well-being. But Joan, in the one genuinely good twist of the episode, then breaks Iman’s neck, thus destroying the only evidence that Franky is innocent.
Franky is charged with Iman’s murder, on top of everything else. She desperately points to the evidence linking Iman to Mike, but it apparently does not exist. (But what about Mike’s shrine to Franky? It’s gone. But what about the fact that Iman and Mike were a couple? THEY WERE A SECRET COUPLE; NO ONE KNEW.) So Franky winds up in the slot, screaming her innocence to an audience of Officer Jake.
With Franky in the slot, it’s left to Allie to defend her reputation, and observe, apropos of nothing, that “everything is spinning out of control.”
After this latest prisoner death, Channing informs Vera that she is being side-lined, and Channing himself is taking over as acting governor. That, at least, is a decision I can get behind, because Channing is one of the show’s most effective and underused villains.
And as for Joan herself, she just keeps on grinning at her one-person game of chess, and repeats for the billionth time that “everything is going according to plan.”
FULL DISCLOSURE: I DO NOT ACTUALLY KNOW HOW TO PLAY CHESS.
Someone asked me on Twitter yesterday what I thought Joan’s ultimate plan was, and I said that her plan is now elaborate to the point of incoherence. What was once a plausible assertion—that Joan is smart and cold-blooded enough to effectively manipulate the people around her—has devolved into the ridiculous premise that Joan is somehow controlling people with whom she doesn’t even interact. Joan believes she is controlling Channing and Vera and Liz and Iman and the rats in the goddamn sewers, and NO ONE has that kind of power. It is such a huge mistake when shows make villains who think they can control people with this kind of precision, because every adult knows that it’s not possible. People are not chess pieces, but free-willed creatures constantly buffeted around by innumerable forces. And in denying this basic fact to make Joan a SUPERVILLAIN, the show is robbing her of what little humanity she had to begin with. So I don’t really “believe” in Joan’s plan, because the writers have shown that they’d be willing to make that plan whatever they want it to be. And worse than not believing: I don’t care.
This episode is so bad, I’m tempted to just write it off as a fluke, an anomaly, the kind of bad outing any athlete or artist can have. But it comes on the heels of a couple mediocre episodes, which makes it look less like an outlier, and more like the nadir of a long trip down to the bottom. I still believe Wentworth can and will return to form, and I actually have high hopes for season six. But this episode, in its sloppiness and its hubristic assumption that Wentworth can get away with anything because it is a huge, international megahit, is deeply damaging.
Here is something I know. Loving a TV show is like loving a person, in the sense that love is a delicate scaffolding you build around it, a choice to see its best attributes and excuse its foibles. At its best, that’s a beautiful thing (like Bridget and Franky), and at its worst it can make you willfully blind to the truth (like Vera and Jake). But when a person or a show fucks up flagrantly enough, that scaffolding can just fall right off, and leave you staring nakedly at a thing you no longer quite recognize, nor know how to defend. That’s how this episode made me feel. And god knows I don’t want to feel that way. I want to believe and I want to rebuild. But that scaffolding is never as strong the second time around.
I’ll see you next week.