world where none of the rules apply. Justice is delivered via steam press,
morality determined by motive, babies and inmates cohabit. That is the world of
“Wentworth,” the Australian prison-drama — available on Netflix — stepping up
to fill the Litchfield-sized void left after binge-watching “Orange is the New
surface, the similarities between “Orange” and “Wentworth” run deep. Both shows
are set in a women’s prison, feature a tough brunette lesbian, a pregnant
inmate, smuggling schemes, mother and daughter inmates, a character nicknamed
Red, a transgender inmate, and a diverse cast, among other things.
in its portrayal of female inmates and femininity, amplifying the many kinds of
female badassery. Where “Orange” shows us that hope can linger despite
incarceration, “Wentworth” is a far darker depiction of cynicism masked as
realism. Both shows grapple with the ideas of motherhood, circumstances, and
the search for purpose. However, the optimism of “Orange” is lost on
“Wentworth’s” delineation of what happens when the search for meaning weighs
down on a psyche.
For a show
populated by women, “Wentworth” is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It’s
gripping, graphic and savage. Women on television are seldom portrayed as
violent; mostly billed as tame and maternal, or bitter and bitchy. The women in
“Wentworth” are manipulative and vindictive , sometimes to the point of
sociopathy. A surge of power is usually accompanied by a breakdown. There is a
constant struggle between brutal emotionlessness and compassionate humanity
within their prison-addled consciences and warped ethics.
to vivid storytelling is amplified through the fights, murders, plays for “top
dog”, overdoses, blood, vomit, flesh-burning, and other cruel forms of
punishment. It’s all shown in pornographic detail. “Wentworth” may have dance
parties and close friendships, but there are also hands being smashed by
machine weights and stabbings in the shower.
challenge every notion of the way women “should” look and act.
“Wentworth” delivers a powerful feminist message. This is not a pedantic
characterization of women as tameable victims. No one is apologizing for their
actions and it is acknowledged that actions cannot be undone. The on-going
power struggle is a highly intelligent game, wherein every move is an active,
thought-out decision and every takedown is calculated.
mainly the story of Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack), a domestically-abused wife
who tries to kill her husband by choking his lungs with carbon monoxide, but
changes her mind at the last minute. The series follows the meek and
broken-down Bea as she tries to survive — inevitably forced to step into an
entirely new persona. The only choice in prison is to survive, at any cost. It
would be easy to position Bea’s transformation as a corruption, but the
irreverent Bea is much more respectable than the once-shaky housewife.
Sometimes the lamb has to become the lion in wolf’s clothing.
of the prison are repeatedly referenced but there is still an ability to
be joyful. Children can live inside the prison, women can go to college remotely,
people can get their heads bashed in. The place is a shithole, but one where
moments of clarity are still found.
Doyle (Nicole da Silva), and Jacs Holt (Kris McQuade) are unfiltered versions
of typical female characters; maternal but violent, simultaneously sociopathic
and empathetic, heinous for the right cause, fiercely loyal but sometimes
cowardly. They are walking contradictions. The top dog is ruthless and fearful,
but also aims to protect the women of the prison.
contrary to some feminist theory, perhaps this is the true meaning of feminism.
Not just aligning personalities in neatly-wrapped bows with varying portrayals
of the fallen Madonna; but rather, as human, mistake-making, kind, putrid,
maternal, vulgar, hilarious and violent individuals. Their actions, however
deplorable, provide them with a moment of satisfaction, even when coated in
affords us the privilege of getting to know the psyche of each woman,
regardless of how she got there. Some backstories are shown, but some aren’t.
These are not victims of circumstances and social institutions, these are
autonomous women who acknowledge that sometimes it’s not the ends that justify
the means, but rather, the motive.
interaction at Wentworth is a convergence of all the inmates and guards – or
rather, “screws” – that enter Wentworth Correctional. These relationships are
central to “Wentworth;” women are seen, by most, as full of potential even
after repeatedly failing to reach it. Sometimes the problem stems from doubting
whether you can actually fill the shoes of your potential; sometimes,
disappointing people is inevitable. The “screws” still care about the fate of
the inmates, and would go to great lengths to help them. These women are worthy
of compassion, even when personalities don’t soften.
interested in giving context to the flaws of America’s female inmates but
“Wentworth” offers no explanation, instead placing emphasis on the power of
human agency; to both commit crimes and avoid self-fulfilling prophecies.
Although often self-destructive, these women prove that self-growth is not
inherently tied to morality. The resiliency of friendships and close ties that
last even after prison fights continuously proves that the line between loyalty
and business is thin. The process of rehabilitation and potential is explored
throughout the series; potential that is sometimes too great to really
understand the importance of it.
are not cleaned up, exaggerated, or toned down; they’re presented as
manifestations of the scope of human possibility. It’s an unparalleled
representation of feminine power. “Wentworth” fills a missing piece that
“Orange” fails to note: that prison changes you. This simple concession makes
room for beautiful moments of female empowerment. It’s the underlying message
in “Wentworth’s” feminist manifesto.
There are no
absolutes in “Wentworth” about the merits of redemption, the transformative
nature of womanhood, or anything else for that matter. But, one certainty
remains: redemption is power. And there is power in redemption.