Wentworth (S4E03): “Prisoner”

It’s days later and I’m still not over this week’s episode. Sitting down to write this, I find myself struggling for the right words to describe just shocking it was. Artistically it was haunting, story wise it gave us psychological insight and character wise we were left feeling possibly sympathy for a character we may have previously disliked. Titled… The episode opens with Ferguson (Pamela Rabe), flanked my Vera (Kate Atkinson) and other guards making her first walk through general population to her cell. And as expected, the prisoners aren’t one bit happy that she is there. Spitting in her face and then forming a guard, a heated stand m-off ensues. Vera instructing the inmates to move gets some help from Bea (Danielle Cormack) when her attempts fail. Safely (for now) to her cell Vera begins to the induction speech but Ferguson already knows it. Of course she does. That and she has every confidence that Vera will keep her safe. 

Vera is in hot demand already this week, with Bea the next point of call on her list. Checking in with the hot-headed, more and more on edge top dog, Vera reiterates that Ferguson is off limits. Bea lets her know that she’s done all she can to ward off any prisoners who may have a go at taking her out, passionately having stated that no one touches Ferguson until Bea says so. Danielle Cormack continues to inhabit the gradual inner torment of Bea so fluidly, and so subtlety that most of the time she’s still fiercely intimidating. Elsewhere, Maxine (Socratis Otto) is finally getting that lump she found checked. Can we all just sit and take in this scene; a scene we’ve yet to see on Australian television, but one so relevant, so poignant and so important. The doctor ends up recommending a mammogram and Maxine is understandably a little concerned, but the doctor says it shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Meanwhile, Ferguson has been placed in H3 – Kaz’s block – with a guard stationed outside at all times. As Kaz (Tammy Macintosh) and her team arrive to find Ferguson their new cellmate, Ferguson takes the opportunity to introduce herself. It’s cordial and surprisingly tame, that’s a bad thing right? Doesn’t that mean Ferguson is planning something?

(This week we were given flashbacks to the time Ferguson spent in the psych ward and the first, so haunting and weirdly beautiful that I found myself quite taken. Opera music playing, and a shot of burnt Joan interpretive dancing in the padded psychiatric cell is enough for us to remember just the extent of her delusions.)

The inmates do receive some good news this week thought, conjugal visit allocations have been released. Boomer has been approved, however, Doreen (Shareena Clanton) has not. And she’s unhappy. At the mention of sex, something Boomer can’t seem to stop talking about, Ali and Bea share another knowing glance. The sexual tension, although understated, is building. Bea knows it too, making a flirtatious comment to Ali about her new hairstyle just enough to make Ali think she has a chance. Unfortunately, it is just a segway for Bea to get information regarding the Freak. Speaking of the Freak, she and Kaz are in another conversation in which she tries to make a deal that will guarantee her protection; Kaz isn’t on board though, Ferguson is an ex-Governor. Once a screw, always a screw. It seems as though everyone is attempting to work out Joan’s game plan, none more so than Vera and Bridget (Libby Tanner). They are trying their hardest to figure out just what she’s got planned. What’s her agenda? Revenge? More importantly, how the hell did her doctor sign her off? Oh Bridget, just you wait.

Ferguson, in the meantime, has requested a meeting with the peer worker; none other than Doreen. Upon this request, Doreen is understandably nervous about this following the events of last season but with a little push (pressure) from Bea, meets with Ferguson. Her requests simply include a shower and an airing. She wants to feel the sun on her face. During this encounter, Ferguson fills Doreen in on the true events of the fire and Doreen seems to buy the story. Be careful Doreen, don’t fall for it; Bea is right, you can’t know what she is planning. Forwarding the information on to both Bea and Vera, Ferguson is granted the request of a shower but is met with resistance with it comes to the airing. Vera is reluctant as she knows Ferguson could well be attacked by the other prisoners. Granting a 5 minute airing, we are given another magical shot of Ferguson as she stands, face turned to the sky basking in the sunlight. The peace is short-lived, when prisoners, led by Juice, approach Ferguson. The guards have no chance especially when one is rendered unconscious by a snooker ball. Luckily, the newly empathetic Doreen steps in to stop the commotion, coming to the aide of Ferguson.
Following this confrontation, everyone is on Bea again about what she is going to do; there is an expectation surrounding her, why you ask? Because she is a lifer, anything she does can’t really affect her that much more. Talk about raw end of the stick. Talk about pressure. No wonder Bea seems like she is barely hanging on. These scenes are cut with more flashbacks of Ferguson and her psychiatrist, this time talking about relationships, intimacy and emotional bonds. She states she has never had any significant emotional bonds apart from that with her father. It’s heartbreaking, Pamela Rabe fluid in her ability to portray such contrasting emotions for her complex character. Meanwhile, as punishment for the riot, Vera cancels the conjugal visits, much to Boomer’s disappointment. Fortunately, Ali is on hand to walk Boomer through some new techniques to pleasure herself; a topic that makes Bea both uncomfortable and a little turned on perhaps. Daniella Cormack uses this moment to play Bea’s pent up sexual tension so understated that if you aren’t paying attention you’ll miss it. She’s intrigued but also uncomfortable, disgusted but also completely taken with it. Ali somewhat notices this reaction and approaches Bea later on to apologise if she freaked her out. In this rare moment, Bea seems innocent and vulnerable at the hands of someone else. It’s intriguing to watch such a battle of emotions from an individual; a skill Danielle Cormack utilises with such nuance.

With nothing having happened to the Freak so far, I am sure the audience was waiting to see if the last few minutes of the episode would deliver any drama. And did it ever. In all honesty, the last moments of the episode were possibly the most shocking I’ve watched; to a point I may or may not have slept very well Tuesday night. But regardless, it must be said that these actors and the entire team at Wentworth changed the game. The gritty nature of Wentworth has been celebrated since its beginning, but Season 4 has well and truly delved deeper into the psychological trauma the prisoners, guards and loved ones experience. With Officer Miles somewhat on her side, Bea is summoned to H3 for a midnight meeting with Ferguson. In the background, the angry chants of the prisoners can be heard while Ferguson encourages Bea to just get it over with. Ferguson gives her a time and a place of when she’ll be alone; meet me there. She wants Bea to bash her, stamp her authority again as the top dog, be the hero the ladies of Wentworth want right now. Bea doesn’t give Ferguson the time of day, she’s uncannily taken aback by this offer, tired of the games. A fact that Ferguson seems quite privy too.

Back at her cell, Bea is confiding in Maxine once again – anyone feel as though when Maxine’s health scare comes to light Bea is going to feel super guilty? – as she struggles with what she wants to do and what everyone else expects. The push-pull that has become Bea’s life as top dog is waring on the faded flame, and the torment we’ve seen subtly is voiced for the first time – “I sleep with the Holts”. And Bea doesn’t want to see the Freak. We can understand that but Maxine makes a good point, if Bea doesn’t put a stop to it the Freak with continue to rain down on the ladies at Wentworth. The next morning, we re-join Bea and Maxine as they are on their way to breakfast, Bea still unsure of what she’s going to do. Yet, in an instant it seems as though it all becomes clearer as she breaks away from the pack and heads to the bathroom.

Cut to the bathroom and the Freak is taking a shower, the opera music we’ve become accustomed to over the last 40 or so minutes playing in the background. This shot is cut with a reveal that shows Ferguson having sex (against her will?) with her psychiatrist. Many times. She looks separated however from the actual experience. Fade back into present day, and in what was a scene so numbing that my world felt like it literally stopped, Ferguson turns in the shower to be confronted with Juice and her cronies. This can’t be good, especially when Bea is on her way. What ensues, still cut with images of her sex with psychiatrist, is the brutal gang rape of Ferguson. Made worse by the fact a broom was used, the entire sequence is gut-churning. Pamela Rabe is powerfully vulnerable, and as the audience watches in horror at what is happening a feeling of sympathy and pain washes over us for Joan.

The assault has ended, and when Bea unfortunately too late, walks in she discovers a naked, bloodied Ferguson lying on the floor in a foetal position. Daniella Cormack is nothing but perfection in her illustration of shock and terror in Bea; unquestionably pained by the discovery she is given a moment, only brief, to decide whether to kill Ferguson or help her. Humanity wins out, the heart of Bea we know is lying hidden overpowers everything else as she calls for Miss Miles to assist. Ferguson refuses to be taken to medical, as Miles and Bea carefully take her back to her cell. Reviewing that scene, the acting, the weight of it, escapes me; creatively I am floored by the performances of both Pamela and Danielle, and personally, so shocked and speechless. Wentworth is a force of nature when it comes to Australian television, and as a writer and fan of the show it is such a thrill to see a show pushing the envelope and being so honest and visceral in their storytelling. Not shying away from telling the cut-throat, shaking stories.

The end of the episode is just as shocking as what precedes it; Kaz finds Joan in her cell, grimacing in pain and discovers what has happened. The feminist in Kaz, the fighter for women’s right is instantly appalled. Tammy Macintosh is absolutely killing it in this role, and her genuine heartbreak over this experience is written all over her face. Stroking Joan’s hair, and ensuring her that she’ll be protected, Kaz is well and truly “Team Ferguson” now. But don’t let the sympathy and weight of this situation trick you, this scene is cut with Joan and her psychiatrist. We discover just how Ferguson was cleared to be released into general prison; her psychiatrist is a predator, a history Joan used to fer adventure. The sex between them, she knew would be evidence against him. So she gives him an ultimatum – sign me out or I will report you. What the actual? She played him. She played him good. Reminding him that she is always (!!) in control and that he “f*#ked the wrong lunatic” (one of my favourite lines this season). Flashing quickly back to Wentworth, the camera is now set on Joan’s face and as Kaz whispers sweet assurances in her ear, the most subtle of smirks spreads across her face. Did you miss it? It was there, and does that mean Joan orchestrated her own gang rape? Has she really been in control this whole time? Wentworth just went full psychological thriller on us, and I am not even made about it.


Other key plot points:

  • Kaz is sure that Bea and Jackson are involved – the fact she catches them walking out of the conjugal room doesn’t quieten her suspicions.
  • Doreen seems to be sympathising/empathising with the Freak