If you were left feeling as though you just watched the season finale of Wentworth, let me calm your fears by saying that there are still 4 more episodes until the season finishes. That’s not to say that last night’s episode wasn’t a cliff-hanger, because it most certainly was. And if there was ever any doubt about the staying power of Australia’s internationally acclaimed prison drama, it was thrown out the window again last night, with every member of the ensemble delivering unapologetic performances of anguish, manipulation, soul and anger. Titled “Plan Bea”, the audience knew from the beginning, that Ferguson’s (Pamela Rabe) plan to take out Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) was imminent. Yet, the opening sequence seemed to communicate a different vibe; a brighter, playful, even joyful vibe. We’re used to the dark, grey tones of Wentworth but as the episode opened, we see Bea and Allie (Kate Jenkinson) in line for lunch. The smiles that are plastered across their faces tell the story; I can’t remember a time where we’ve seen Bea so genuinely taken and in the moment, so separated from the pain and torment we’ve seen her grapple with throughout the season. They graze hands, and are acting like flirtatious teenagers. Without words, Danielle and Kate beautifully illustrate the connection, while the direction and cinematography heighten it more so (note: the subtle, knowing grin from Maxine who witnesses the exchange).
Now while the rest of Team Bea – Boomer (Katrina Milosevic), Liz (Celia Ireland) and Maxine (Socratis Otto) – talk about Doreen (Shareena Clanton) looking bored as a part of Team Kaz, Bea takes the opportunity to sneak away to the equipment closet in the kitchen. Why you ask? Well, Allie is on cleaning duty, alone, in the kitchen and it seems as though they now have a standing date. Closing the door behind them, Allie flirtatiously welcomes Bea. This scene, with a purity and innocence to it, is tender; it’s obvious that both women are attracted to the other but Bea is still working through what this all means. Since arriving at Wentworth, and even before, we’ve never seen Bea the way she is around Allie. She’s nervous, awkward even, not knowing what to do. And Allie, well Allie is understanding, not pushing or pressuring Bea too far. They sit on the floor, close, and begin to talk but it is no secret they can’t keep their hands off one another. The restraint Allie has in this moment should be admired, she’s respectful of Bea and assures her that even if they just talk, that that is okay. Danielle Cormack takes on such a childlike persona during these scenes, she’s smitten and fumbling, an accurate illustration, universal to us all when we’re experiencing a deep connection such as this for the first time. This scene however, is somewhat overshadowed by the presence of Ferguson standing outside. Oh no.
Ferguson joins Kaz (Tammy Macintosh) in the yard, to give her an update. Kaz seems a little conflicted though, eyes darting backwards and forwards and her usual in control stature a little off kilter. The “Red Right Hand” have never actually killed anyone before, and the reality of such act is finally dawning on the leader. Yet, Ferguson has no trouble manipulating Kaz, using her group of loyal followers as incentive to help. Moving on from this, Ferguson enlists the services of the well-known drug runners in Wentworth, requesting a number of “roofies”. In other developments this week, Boomer meets with Vera (Kate Atkinson) and Bridget (Libby Tanner) to discuss the possibility of her being there with Maxine after she undergoes her surgery. Vera says she will definitely attempt to make it happen. Informing the others of how it went, Boomer seems more hopeful after a little encouragement from both Bea and Maxine, but we all know never to get our hopes up.
Soon after, it’s time again for Bea and Allie’s date – this time, it seems a little more hot and heavy. Bea seems to be slowly, and surely letting her guard down, with the physicality of their connection now increasing. This time though, it is cut short by a comment Allie makes about Bea selling them out to the cops. It is enough to completely kill the mood, not only that, it really upsets Bea to think that Allie of all people, doesn’t believe her. We can’t blame Bea; for so long she’s kept herself closed off from others, and just as she thinks she can trust Allie something like this comes up. It’s understandable that it freaks her out. Luckily though, she has an appointment with that lawyer from Ferguson’s case afterwards, and with one last request, the lawyer eventually gives in (we don’t find out what the request was until later in the episode). Meanwhile, Ferguson’s plan is picking up speed, so much so she’s trying it out on herself. Crushing the sedatives into water, drinking it, and timing how long it takes for the drugs to work. It’s odd, but do we expect anything less from The Freak? Pamela Rabe continues to be unflinching in her role as this psychologically unstable villain. The next day, she informs Kaz that Bea Smith will be dead by 3pm, a reality that doesn’t sit so well initially, but with the result of justice for herself and her crew at the end, Kaz is in.
It is time for Maxine to leave and it signals the start of an emotional shift in the episode. Vera arrives, and unfortunately breaks the news to Boomer that her application to accompany Maxine has been denied. Katrina Milosevic is incredibly endearing as Boomer, and when she farewells Maxine, her best friend, it’s a true gut-punch. And even as Maxine is about to embark on what will no doubt be a trying time in her life, she still manages to offer Boomer some advice – “stay tough, be brave”. Goodbyes are always tough, but when it comes to Bea and Maxine, the two remain surprisingly in control. There is emotion, don’t get me wrong, but there is a deep understanding and support that is unspoken between the two. Again, Maxine offers some parting advice to Bea – “go for it” – three words, at first knocking Bea a little off centre, but then making so much sense. They say their last goodbyes at the gate where Maxine is escorted out by Vera, Will (Robbie Magasiva) and Jake (Bernard Curry) (Doreen gets there just in time for one last hug); Socratis Otto is emotionally unrestricted in this scene, fearful yet hopeful. Unfortunately, Ferguson seems to have perfect/bad timing tonight as she confronts Boomer in her highly emotional state; she adds fuel to the fire, encouraging Boomer to make a stand that in turn just gets her slotted. And with that, the last piece of the puzzle is in place.
Elsewhere, Bea has asked for a meeting with Bridget and it has to be said, Danielle and Libby deliver a scene so timely and so important for Australian television. In the current social climate, where marriage equality and equal rights are still being fought for by those in the LGBTQ community in Australia, the conversation these two characters have holds such weight and relevance. Bea questions Bridget about her sexuality – asking about past relationships with men, if she would call herself “bi” and whether she believes in something called “gate gay”. Bridget is understanding and careful not to push Bea too far, but makes the observation that Bea’s perspectives of love and relationships have never really been discussed. As Bridget talks, Bea goes somewhere, distracted. Bridget notices and questions her. Bea suddenly goes to leave, she’s done with this. But Bridget, being as intuitive as ever continues on with the following statement, one that I won’t paraphrase because the brilliance of writer, Michael Lucas and the nuance of Libby Tanner is enough…
“I’ve known a lot of women who identified as straight and who fell in love with a woman and panicked. And to those women, I always said forget the terminology. Just be in the moment and see how you feel. Because if you’ve fallen for someone then… fuck the labels.” – Bridget Westfall
And with that, an understanding sweeps across Bea’s face, the smallest of smiles. We cut back to the dining hall, and with one look Ferguson begins her grand scheme. She crushes the pills and stirs them into a glass of orange juice; she exchanges a look with Kaz who then confronts Bea. The argument and tension increases, and when Bea consequently snaps and lunges at Kaz, Ferguson swaps out the drinks. Smooth Freak, smooth. Now all they do is wait. And for a moment the audience breathes a sigh of relief when Bea gets up and leaves the glass of juice behind, but that just isn’t the case. She grabs the glass and drinks, and our hearts stop. It can’t be happening, right? As the time passes, and Bea and Allie’s scheduled date approaches, Bea is slowly feeling the effects of the drug, while Allie is taken away by Kaz to stage a protest for Maxine. Catch being, Ferguson stays behind to trap Bea. And trap her she does. With the drugs taking full effect, Bea hears the door lock and instantly knows something isn’t right. Ferguson continues around the kitchen turning on the stove, the taps, anything she can to silence the screams of Bea. Pamela Rabe has been unrecognisable with The Freak being somewhat submissive these last few weeks, but in this sequence she is as haunting as ever. Spine-tingling in every word said, and every act performed.
These last moments are some of the most gripping this season has delivered and with the entire ensemble joining the stand-in with Kaz, Bea is all alone, powerless. Cut with continual images of Allie, the image of Bea gradually declining is enough to make any long-standing Wentworth fan crumble and Danielle Cormack’s visceral performance is some of her best work. Kate Jenkinson illustrates Allie’s concern so subtly, she knows something isn’t right. She can feel it. In the meantime, Ferguson has entered the equipment closet to a barely standing Bea who attempts, with any piece of strength she can muster, to fight. It doesn’t work, and as Ferguson cradles her, whispering smug comments, taunting the fiery red-head, Bea continues to fade. It’s heart-wrenching, plain and simple. Shocking. Confronting. And gripping. But when we see the lawyer arrive – the one prosecuting Joan – with evidence of the last call she made, the audience sees a little bit of hope. At first refusing to let Will listen, the lawyer eventually plays the call. It’s Ferguson. She’s the one that sold out Kaz to the cops, and Will knows exactly what this means. He races to the stage of the sit-in and asks Kaz, straight out, if she wants to hear the call from the person who turned her in?
Returning to the deeply disturbing scene with The Freak and Bea, who now lays face down on the kitchen bench, it seem as though the end is near. The audience, on the edge of their seats, screaming at their television sets, willing Kaz and her team get there in time to save Bea. But when The Freak submerges Bea’s head underwater, not needing to apply any power as the sedative is now in full force, we continue to watch Bea fight between remaining and disappearing. The shot is unsettling; Bea’s eyes wide open, the Freak standing above. And then it happens. They are interrupted. An angry, possessed Kaz bursts in, taking no time in attacking Ferguson. Seems she has finally discovered how twisted Ferguson is. This closing sequence is painstaking; Tammy Macintosh as scary as ever, and Kate Jenkinson, broken and distressed in the most crushing of ways. The contrast of the last shot is something of beauty – Kaz, out of control with hate and anger while Allie, having just witnessed someone she cares deeply for show no hint of life, inconsolable and broken from grief. And the episode ends. If you’re looking for the definition of cliff-hanger, this episode was that.
Danielle Cormack said in an interview before this season aired that there would be moments that could go down in Australian television history. She was right. Between the beautifully, heartbreaking story of Maxine bought to life by Socratis Otto, and the exploration of self-harm, psychological trauma and sexuality and sensuality delivered through Danielle’s “Bea”, Wentworth is obliterating the glass ceiling. In addition, the entire ensemble is a testament and poignant example of the power female-driven stories continue to have.
Other key notes:
• Liz and Sonia continue to bond – this time about her husband’s cancer and subsequent disappearance.
• Jake continues to pursue Vera – but why?