It’s hard to imagine that the Bea Smith who meekly entered Wentworth Correctional Facility all the way back at the start of Season One is the same Bea that was, over the last couple of weeks, overthrowing Franky Doyle in a tense blade battle and popping a bullet into the head of Brayden Holt.
And yet, at the same time, it’s not that hard to believe either. The writing and the performances of Danielle Cormack as the new top dog have made Bea’s dramatic and traumatic journey thoroughly believable and enthralling. Bea has faced her toughest challenges from behind bars, not least of all the death of her daughter Debbie and her development into the hardened yet still highly moral character that she has become has been a thrill to watch.
Similarly, the gradual development of slightly sadistic Governor Joan Ferguson into the most supreme television psycho of all time has been just as jaw droppingly exciting to behold. Pamela Rabe delivers such chilling and subtle performances; the kind where a look or a smirk delivers more meaning than a whole page of dialogue ever could. Discovering more about Ferguson’s intentions and true twisted nature has been the making of the second season which somehow managed to eclipse the high standards of the first.
And last night’s finale topped it all off spectacularly, leaving an audience exhausted from the tension but pining for more of the same. Fear not folks, there is a third season on it’s way next year, with writer Pete McTighe already having promised me in our exclusive interview that it is epic.
The moment Wentworth Prison fans have been excitedly anticipating and dreading in equal measure arrives this week; as the tense second series of the hit prison drama reaches a nailbiting climax that will leave viewers stunned. It’s been a rollercoaster of a series; matching the quality if not exceeding the fantastic debut series. Viewers old and new have embraced Wentworth Prison and it is the ensemble efforts of the writers, crew, cast and production team that have created such a successful show.
I was lucky enough to catch up with writer, Pete McTighe, to chat about his work on Wentworth. Pete has been at the forefront of the Wentworth team since day one, penning the very first episode and five of the other episodes of the first series. After the runaway success of Series One, a further two series were commissioned and Pete has written his fair share of these episodes too, including the explosive finale about to hit our screens.
For a PauseLiveAction exclusive, I present the fruits of my conversation with Pete below as he shares the secrets, triumphs and challenges of working on one of the strongest dramas currently on television.
How long does it take to write an episode of Wentworth and what is the biggest challenge of doing so?
Generally I’m pretty focussed and quick – it’ll take a week or two depending on the content of the episode. When I wrote Episode 1, I finished the first draft in 7 days as we had a very tight deadline for delivery to the broadcaster. I force myself to be quite regimented when I write, I’m in a routine now where I try to write for about 8 or 9 hours a day (with short breaks), or give myself a daily page target and don’t stop until I meet it.
The biggest challenge comes from the closed environment of the prison – it’s a great device to slam characters together and create/build tension between them, but can also be problematic – for instance figuring out exactly how someone could escape from prison in a grounded and believable (but also exciting) way.
Do you have a favourite character to write for?
For Series 1, it was Jacs and Franky. For Series 2 and 3, I’d have to say Ferguson and Boomer. It was a real thrill writing Ferguson’s introduction, that was something I’d been eager to do ever since we started the series. I loved Maggie Kirkpatrick’s interpretation of the character back in the day and as a writing team we were all interested in finding a new take on her. Pamela Rabe just nailed that character. We were so lucky, our producers & casting people put together an amazing ensemble.
It was quite a quiet day at Wentworth Correctional Facility all in all. Aside from shower room sex, knife fights, gun deliveries, hospital escapes, warden breakdowns and Doreen’s pregnancy farts, nothing much was really going on.
It was a tension filled episode; arguably more so than Wentworth has ever been, and that’s saying something. As Vera/Mini-Freak/Vinegar Tits (delete as appropriate) pointed out early on; something big was bubbling; and no, I’m not just talking about Doreen’s flatulent digestive system. An uprising was afoot; but Bea has even bigger fish to fry than top dog Franky; after a fight and a half, she took the steps to hack wounds into herself so she could end up in hospital to make a break for it. Yep, for the new Wentworth Top Dog, covering herself in magazine armour and taking down the current leader was just one step in a bigger master plan; one that even puppet master Joan Ferguson didn’t see coming until it was too late.
It was only a matter of time before Franky and Bea would clash spectacularly, and the entire episode, if not the entire series built up to the critical face off in the laundry room. Franky’s cockiness began to get shaky; particularly when she discovered that Maxine was double crossing her. Her violent threats did nothing to shake the indomitable Maxine, who saw, like the rest of us, that Franky’s control was slipping.
Every time I watch an episode of Wentworth Prison I think that it has reached the highest quality possible and I sit back and think ‘they’ll never top that!’ I am almost always invariably wrong. What an hour of drama last night’s visit to the hellish Correctional Facility was!
Focusing predominantly on television’s most fascinating character of all time, namely Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson, we got an insight into her past which gave us an idea as to what has twisted her into the warped control freak that is today. Pamela Rabe plays her beautifully; I never thought there could be another Joan Ferguson but I will happily eat my words on this one: Pamela is sensational. Last night she played malice, sorrow, evil, pain and even a little dark humour into a collective performance that had me loving and loathing the character in equal measures. And that is when you know a television villain is a success; when a viewer can despise everything they do and yet still absolutely adore the character and even root for her to get away with it.
The first five minutes of the episode saw her don her infamous black, leather gloves to give Doreen a good smacking upon discovering that she is with child. After a tense showdown, poor Dor was dragged screaming away to be tested, where the Governor’s suspicions were confirmed. The episode’s high octane levels were only just beginning with these shocking scenes.
It turns out that the reason Ferguson has had a bit of a soft spot for Doreen up until now is because she reminds her of a prisoner under her care from a previous job some years ago. History appears to be repeating itself and it is leaving Ferguson distinctly uncomfortable. Some flashbacks which, as well as giving a dark insight into Ferguson’s black soul, also introduced us to her in an ever so kinky uniform and sporting a fantastic retro hairstyle, showed us that Ferguson had a very close relationship with this prisoner. When this prisoner fell pregnant, social workers took her baby from her which led her to commit suicide. We know Joan Ferguson as calm, collected and always in control; to see her wailing in horror upon discovering the body shook the very foundations of our perception of ‘The Freak’ and made us do the unthinkable: feel sorry for Ferguson. It was a grim and haunting scene and moving to the extreme.
What is the main lesson that we have learned since episode one of Wentworth? Is it that you should never let Bea Smith loose in a stationery shop when they’re running a promotion on biros? Could it be that anyone who wears leather gloves to work is, by default, a psychopath? Maybe it’s that taking a shower is likely to get you attacked in some brutal way, every single time?
No, the lesson is simple. Never mess with Franky Doyle. People such as Jacs Holt and Simmo learned that the hard way but, now that there’s a ‘dobber’ in the mix (that’s a snitch to those unfamiliar with Aussie lingo), Franky’s rage knows no bounds, and she spent the entirety of the episode trying to flush out the person who has been feeding Joan Ferguson titbits of drug related information.
We of course know that well meaning Liz was manipulated into parting with the information by the cruel Fergy; who in turn used it to carry out Simmo’s dispatch. While Liz’s heart is always in the right place and she was just looking out for the women she has spent so much time with; she made a fatal error in trusting Joan, who wasted little time in taunting Franky that she had an informant in her midst.
Series Two, Episode Seven
We’ve all had a stressful day at the office; just the other day I misplaced my stapler and spilt a bit of my yoghurt onto my blazer. But even that doesn’t compare to the nightmare of a week poor Vera suffered at Wentworth in the latest episode.
Left out in the cold by her cruel talking mother, a group of laughing prisoners chanting ‘vinegar tits’ at her condiment soaked blouse, her colleagues whom she had investigated for drug trafficking and even the boss who once kept her as her personal poodle, it’s fair to say that things had hit rock bottom for Vera. The heartache started as Joan set Vera the task of pinning the drugs intake on Franky. Naive Vera was quick to believe Franky’s insinuations that Fletch the Letch was bringing the gear in, although to be fair, Franky was at the stage of believing this herself. It was all part of cunning Joan’s carefully weaved plot as she continued in her role as puppet master in the prison with sinister effectiveness.
Eager to prove she could solve the case, Vera called in the drugs squad who found dubious packets of powder in Fletch’s locker; so he got the afternoon off whilst this was investigated. Turns out, they were nothing more than amino acids and Fletch, for once, was as innocent as a newborn cherub. This left Vera in an embarrassing situation. The stress at home with her mother wasn’t helping of course, and as Joan sent Vera home and told her, very deliberately, to ‘deal with her mother’, matters took a dark turn as Vera seemed set to put her mum into a permanent sleep.
As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, Vera became the unwitting victim of one of Franky and Boomer’s pranks, slipping on a pool of vinegar that was meant for Fletch. This left her blouse soaked and earned the poor lass a nickname which harks back to the Cell Block H days; and which will no doubt stick with her for as long as she remains at Wentworth.
I am a huge fan of Wentworth Prison; I don’t know if my previous posts have alluded to that. In fact if you cut me with a knife fashioned from a toothbrush and a razor blade, I would most probably bleed teal. Series Two is currently underway on UK screens on Channel 5 and we have been introduced to a selection of new characters, which include the deliciously psychotic Joan Ferguson, played to perfection by Pamela Rabe, the token bundle of madness that is drug-fuelled Sky, and, my current favourite, strong minded transexual character, Maxine.
We have already seen some prejudice against Maxine, from prisoners, guards and lawyers alike, some real strength in her resolve in not falling into the trap of becoming a henchwoman for Franky and an endearing loyalty and intelligence that has made the character instantly likeable. Acclaimed star Socratis Otto, who has taken on the multi layered role, recently gave up some of his time to speak to me and discussed the atmosphere on set, the tribulations to come for Maxine and his plans for the future. And, because I’m a generous kind of guy, I share the fruits of our discussion exclusively with you here.
If you are not yet a fan of Wentworth it’s never too late to catch up. This is undoubtedly television’s most brilliant import for some time. Continue reading