Wentworth (S4E6): “Divide and Conquer”

Review: 

Cinematography. Direction. Artistry. Nuance. Just some of the words I would use to describe the opening sequence of this week’s Wentworth episode. It is because of sequences like these that Season 4 continues to be unstoppable, powerfully encapsulating and effortless in its storytelling. Wentworth demonstrates that dialogue is no longer essential when wanting to communicate a particular moment, emotion or confrontation. That the right combination of music, camera movement and physicality from this stellar ensemble can elicit any feeling from joy to fear. Titled “Divide and Conquer” and directed by the deeply talented Jet Wilkinson (her second episode this season), this opening sequence involves Nash and Doreen (Shareena Clanton) finally consummating (again) their relationship, a moment so tender, that there is no question these two are solid together. Elsewhere, both Bea (Danielle Cormack) and Ali (Kate Jenkinson) are finally released from the slot. They share a look so telling, so innocently familiar to all of us who have ever experienced those initial moments of a crush. Not to mention the side eye from Bea is unbelievably intrigued and full of lust, their connection now unquestionable (even with Juice joining them). And lastly, this scene sees Maxine; she’s arrived at a hospital and is seen going into a cubicle pulling the curtain to close it.

As the credits finish, Bea is met with some attitude from Mr. Jackson (Robbie Magasiva) who abruptly states he knows exactly why she did what she did. The attitude doesn’t really stop there, from either Bea or her team; Liz (Celia Ireland) seems happy to see her, however it’s short lived when all Bea wants to do is talk punishment and top dog business. In stark contrast, the next scene falls on a doctor’s office. Maxine (Socratis Otto) is being given news that the cancer has spread to both breasts, and that it is now too late for her to be involved in the drug trial. The slow burn of this reality overpowers Maxine, so subtly in this scene, as her facial expressions shake, she holds herself tighter and the tears fall. Socratis Otto gives Maxine such a broken, vulnerable physicality in this moment that we can feel the deep stab of pain. To make matters worse, the doctor continues on to say that her only chance of survival (um, what?) is to get a double mastectomy and strong course of chemotherapy. Socratis, I say it again, is simplistic in delivering Maxine’s reaction; it’s visceral, in all parts pain and anger and sadness.

Back at Wentworth, Ali has reunited with her H block crew, with Kaz (Tammy Macintosh) not wasting any time in questioning Ali about the drugs. Ali is forthright in her story that she is clean, she has been since she arrived at Wentworth and really it was Ferguson (Pamela Rabe) who planted the drugs in her cell. You’d think Kaz would be more suspicious right? Well she wasn’t. Speaking of Ferguson, she’s taking Bea’s return and Maxine’s success as top dog as an opportunity to divide and conquer. She wants Kaz in charge, she wants Bea beaten. And she wastes no time in getting it done, first approaching Boomer (Katrina Milosevic) in the yard encouraging the beautifully naïve Bea loyalist that she’d make a spectacular 2IC to Maxine. Oh Boomer, don’t listen to her. Really, don’t listen to her. Meanwhile, Bea has received some unsettling news – Juice informs her that Maxine did not in fact punish Tasha like Liz originally stated. She’s pissed, but really I think she’s disappointed. The standing of “Top Dog” has worn down our fiery red-head, and the pressure has been building, no wonder she reacts the way she does.

Interrupting another attempt on Tasha, the audience for a moment believes Bea is there to save the young inmate, but when she reveals a self-made knife, we know what’s coming. Elsewhere, Doreen and Nash are in their post-coital haze when he informs her that he will be moving in with a friend (girl) just while he searches for a job. She seems apprehensive but says okay anyway. This decision does come back to bite her on the ass though, when the others make her worry. For the rest of the episode Doreen goes to extreme lengths to find out just what the living situation is. Going as far to employ the help of Kaz. Oh goodness, that can’t be good right? Adding insult to injury, Doreen and the others discover a bloodied, scared Tasha in the yard, who reveals a horrible hair cut that we discover, came from the hands of Bea. Note the way Danielle Cormack plays Bea in this scene; standing stoic yet inside her soul is experiencing another crack. A woman close to the brink. A theme mirrored in her closest companion, Maxine. Still keeping the extent of her illness secret, Maxine has a visitor – not sure we’ve seen her have a visitor since arriving at Wentworth. This visitor, is the infamous Gary. He knows about the cancer and immediately offers to pay for the treatment, but Maxine doesn’t want any of his money instead she wants him and his sister to go through with “their plan”.

This plan has something to do with pregnancy, surrogacy and is obviously extremely important to Maxine. Gary however, in all his selfishness, refuses to even think about that idea. What he says to Maxine would be enough to make any woman, actually no, person, dissolve into a puddle of tears. Socratis Otto is again other-worldly in his emotional depth as Maxine. After having seen this occur, Kaz attempts to capitalize on Maxine’s pain. Bad move girlfriend! Checking back in with Doreen, Kaz has come through with evidence that Nash is in fact living with his ex-girlfriend (the one he has a child with). This is enough to send Doreen well and truly off the deep end leaving Tasha, post punishment, all alone. Having Kaz not be successful in her plight to divide and conquer, Ferguson makes a move, towards the vulnerable Tasha. Offering her a head scarf to cover up, Ferguson continues on to give some advice but doesn’t sound all too concerned. But the audience soon becomes concerned, especially when we next see Tasha sitting in her cell ripping apart her sheets. We all know what that means. She plaits them, and makes her way to the bathroom where we see her unpack the woman-made rope. And then, we next see Ferguson kneeling over a motionless Tasha giving CPR. She saves her life. But let’s just stop and applaud the tricky and ever-so-smart direction and shooting of this sequence. We never see her attempt to commit suicide, we only see Ferguson save her (and then smile, freakily). Could this all be orchestrated? We can’t put it past Ferguson to cook up such a scheme. Not to mention, what follows, sure succeeds in dividing and conquering.

As news of the suicide attempt trickles through the prison, Bea’s loyalist have become less and less forgiving of her ways as Top Dog. Doreen and Boomer are well and truly ready to support Maxine as the new Top Dog, but when this idea is suggested, Maxine refuses. And in a quick moment reveals her cancer diagnosis to them all. Boomer is taken aback and worried, Doreen shocked and Liz supportive and heartbroken. In a moment, their petty prison lives don’t seem so important. It’s beautifully heartbreaking as they sit, joining hands. In a stark contrast, Kaz takes the moment to congratulate and toast Joan for her heroics. Ugh, I’m sure the audience is just screaming for the entire prison to just wake up and realise she’s playing them all.

Throughout the episode, the connection between Ali and Bea was quietly shown. Not overtly, but in a way that makes the audience really appreciate their newly discovered relationship. The genuineness that Ali has shown up to this point makes her somewhat reliable, and with the ongoing pressure cooker that is Wentworth, she’s become a place of solace for Bea. A silent support, off to the side, always seeing and there. The looks each time exchanged are tinged with a knowing; knowing what the other is thinking without having to say it. This was no truer than when Ali asked Bea’s crew as to her whereabouts after Tasha’s suicide attempt. The fact she knew Bea would be struggling is enough to show their relationship is now more than just a passing thing. The scene cuts to Bea, sitting on the floor, cutting. We see evidence of previous cuts and scars, and when Ali enters, the embarrassment and shock Bea feels in that moment is overwhelming. Danielle Cormack has this uncanny ability to illustrate soul-shaking emotion in one breath. And when Ali sits beside her, handing a washer to her for the wound and holding it with Bea’s hand and her own, it’s permission for Bea to break. To give in. To unwind. And she does. Danielle Cormack is heart-wrenching in this entire episode, and Kate Jenkinson powerfully emotive with nothing but her eyes. The chemistry between the two is poignant, and will certainly mean something as Bea’s world continues to shake.  

With everything that has happened in the episode, the confrontation between Bea and Maxine is one of the hardest to watch. Bea questions Maxine’s loyalty, a question that immediately has Maxine offside. To even ask her that is disrespectful and it’s enough to push Maxine over that edge. She agonisingly states that she is so loyal to Bea, which she put off treatment that could have saved her life. But now, it’s too late. She put the well-being of Bea as Top Dog above her own health and wellness, and the voicing of this truth is the final nail in this coffin. In addition, when she admits that cutting her breasts off is the only way she’ll beat this, the reality has our hearts in our throats. Bea is speechless. Apologetic. For someone who has fought so hard to bring to life her true self, to then be faced with such a life-threatening, soul-crushing obstacle, is unimaginable. Socratis Otto, however, does a phenomenal job of bringing just that to life. He and Danielle Cormack continue to build on their already layered dynamic, with this, a painstaking turn for the partners in crime.

As the episode ends, Doreen speaks up at dinner stating that Bea is just not there for them. That what she did to Maxine was the worse than anything to come before. Bea is continually pulled between what is right, and what is “expected” and finally cracks. She passionately states, and genuinely believes that everything she does, is for them. But obviously not. Boomer hands Maxine her dinner, and Doreen gets up from the table and sits with Ferguson and Kaz. It seems, in this closing moment, that Bea may, for the first time since Season 1, be alone. That is, for everyone but Ali, who again sits silently with a look rife with concern for the woman she’s come to revere. Bravo Jet Wilkinson, of a beautifully dynamic episode; the direction was absolutely outstanding and left me speechless. And to the Wentworth ensemble, your work continues to break the glass ceiling hovering above Australian Television.

Other key plots points:

  • Officer Jake Stewart kisses Vera after a tough day at work
  • Liz is employed to watch over Sonya – Welcome Sigrid Thornton – who’s on remand for murdering her best friend. Liz finds information, and she’ll be paroled early.