Here’s my review of the 3rd season of Wentworth, the tense Australian women’s prison drama. Season 3 raises the stakes. Everyone’s situation is fraught and the lunatics are in charge of the asylum. Characters turn harder and tougher and use what they know to manipulate and control. Beware the spoilers.
The season begins with Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) returning to the prison with a life sentence for killing the man who gave her daughter an overdose. Bea instigates a riot to seize control of the prison, telling Governor Ferguson (Pamela Rabe) that the prison belongs to her, not the Governor. Franky Doyle (Nicole da Silva), who was formerly top dog, quickly concedes her title to Bea and declares her Queen Bea. Franky leads a slow clap for Bea and seems relieved to be just another prisoner and not top dog.
New faces in season 3 include Kaz Procter (Tammy Macintosh) who is on the outside running a guerrilla campaign against men who abuse women. Bea Smith is her personal goddess. People we put on pedestals have a tendency to fall, which can lead to a lot of anger.
A new counselor Bridget Westfall (Libby Tanner) begins working with the inmates. She’s an excellent counselor – clear headed and aware of what a nutjob Ferguson is. She’s also a lesbian.
If you’ve watched the first two seasons of Wentworth you know how susceptible lesbians are to Franky’s charms, and Bridget is no different. Bridget resists, but Franky invades her personal space, touches her, flirts outrageously, and does her best to seduce her. Unfortunately Deputy Governor Vera Bennett (Kate Atkinson) sees it and reports it. Bridget, who supports Franky in her efforts to get paroled, is forced to leave the prison.
Doreen (Shareena Clanton) has a baby in season 3. This plot line began in season 2. Jess (Georgia Chara) moves into a larger role over the baby. Jess has a problem. She’s criminally insane where babies are involved. This was obvious from the first conversation Doreen and Jess have, but somehow nobody picked up on it until the climactic final episode when it was almost too late.
The guard Will Jackson (Robbie Magasiva) struggles to stay out of jail himself, as Ferguson does everything she can to destroy him. Will is an admirable man in so many ways. I love his character.
Will and the nurse Rose (Maggie Naouri) are an item. Rose has a bigger part this year because of her relationship with Will but also because so many of the prisoners end up in a hospital bed this season.
Finally, I must mention Boomer (Katrina Milosevic) and Max (Socratis Otto) who are very present at all times. Max is muscle for Queen Bea, but Boomer and Max have a funny side plot of their own involving frozen sperm Max put by.
What’s at Stake
Bea and Franky are still the starring characters among the prisoners. Bea turns hard in her effort to retain control as top dog. She does some vicious and scary things in her new role. She also does some brave and heroic things.
Franky is up for parole. Everyone from Ferguson (The Freak) to her fellow prisoners use that against her. She’s forced to do a number of unsavory things in order to protect her chances to get parole. Franky has to sidestep drug smugglers, Ferguson and just about everyone else. One particularly despicable prisoner forces her to do disgusting things and later the same prisoner messes up the deputy governor’s life in a big way.
Doreen is happily hormonal, singing to her pregnant belly and visiting with the father Nash (Luke McKenzie) until the two of them are framed in a drug scam. She is unaware of the danger her baby faces until the last possible moment.
Liz (Celia Ireland) is meant to be the alternate carer for Doreen’s baby. Two things interfere with that. Her daughter shows up in prison as an inmate. And weird Jess does all sorts of things to take over the role of alternate carer for Doreen’s baby, including provide booze for the alcoholic Liz.
Doreen’s baby sends Ferguson into a tail-spin over Jianna, the girl she was in love with in a former prison. Ferguson confuses Jianna with Doreen and things get dangerous because of it.
Ferguson manipulates everyone for her own purposes. This causes mayhem among the prisoners, who don’t see the manipulations – only the results. Prisoners turn against each other.
As the season progresses, we glimpse more and more evidence of how crazy Ferguson really is. Her insanity impacts the inmates and the employees in numerous bad ways.
Vera Bennett, the deputy governor, steps out on her own. Vera slowly begins to realize that the Governor she idolized is flawed and is doing illegal things to the inmates. Vera isn’t a manipulator. She’s more prone to confront people directly. She gathers her information and eventually takes it over Ferguson’s head.
Vera remains friends with the guard Fletch (Aaron Jeffery) who was run down at Ferguson’s orders at the end of season 2. Fletch can’t remember what happened, but as the season goes by he remembers more and more. Vera helps with this, as does the counselor Bridget. His returning memories make him an ally for Queen Bea in her struggle to take down Ferguson The Freak. One of the funniest lines in the whole season is when Fletch throws in with Bea to topple Ferguson. He tells her, “I hope you have a bigger army than I do.”
By the way, kudos to Aaron Jeffery for doing a fine job as the damaged, confused, stumbling Fletch this season.
Some Reflections on Wentworth
Having spent all my life in classrooms as either a student or a teacher, I can tell you that a principal sets the tone for the entire school. The same thing is true of a prison: the Governor sets the tone for the entire prison. Season 3 is more dangerous for the women because of the Governor.
Under Ferguson’s leadership in season 3 people were hurt, tortured, sexually assaulted, terrorized, blackmailed, steam ironed, infected with tainted blood, and murdered.
I can’t imagine Ferguson will be back as Governor in season 4. She killed someone and ignited the whole prison in flames at the end of season 3. Maybe she can continue to hoodwink everyone, you never know with her. I commend Pamela Rabe for making Joan Ferguson scary as hell.
Franky gets her parole and is outside as season 4 begins. What little I’ve been able to find as spoilers for season 4 indicate that Franky remains in the cast even while outside. She may be with the counselor Bridget – Bridget was waiting for Franky outside the prison gates when she was released on parole.
The prison will be in a new location in season 4. I’ve read that the cast is pretty happy about that.
Have a Laugh
The acting in the series is uniformly outstanding. The prisoners, the guards, everyone from the lead characters to the lesser players makes it real and believable throughout. In particular, I’d like to praise the work of Danielle Cormack and Nicole da Silva from among the prison population and Pamela Rabe and Kate Atkinson from among the jailers.
Wentworth earned 21 well-deserved award nominations for the cast and creators of this prison drama. You can see all the nominees on IMDB. These are the winners:
- An Astra award for Most Outstanding Performance by an Actor went to Danielle Cormack in 2015
- An Astra award for Most Outstanding Performance by an Actor went to Nicole da Silva in 2014.
- An AACTA award for Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama went to Pamela Rabe in 2016.
- The Australian Writers Guild award went to Stuart Page for Episode 3.1 “The Governor’s Pleasure”
- The Silver Logie for Most Outstanding Actress went to Danielle Cormack in 2015.
Images via the Wentworth Facebook page