Ever since I realized I was gay, I have considered it my life’s work to watch every single piece of lesbian film and television I could get my hands on. Everyone has to have a hobby that bleeds slightly into the realm of obsession, and this is mine. I watch it all: good, bad, and Elena Undone with equal enthusiasm because I can almost always find something to love. But when I find a show that is not only gay, but excellent in every quantifiable way, I feel compelled to share it with the rest of you.
And that is why I am here to tell you: you need to start watching Wentworth, like yesterday.
Wentworth is an Australian women’s prison drama, and I was first alerted to its existence by some enterprising AfterEllen commenters (to whom I am eternally grateful). It’s actually a reboot of a show called Prisoner, a long-running Aussie drama of the eighties, but creator Lara Radulovich has made it very much her own. In terms of bleak brilliance, it’s comparable to Breaking Bad, but in its female characters, each one of which is a labyrinth of complexity, I honestly think it’s in a class by itself.
We first see Wentworth (the name of the prison as well as the show) through the eyes of Bea Smith (Danielle Comack), a woman jailed for the attempted murder of her abusive, rapist husband. The first season follows Bea as she learns to navigate the treacherous, shiv-ridden waters of prison politics. Without giving anything away, her story is remarkable for the way she is pulled into violence like a swimmer in a riptide. And the most disturbing part about it is watching ourselves, the audience, urge her on.
Bea is the closest thing to a heroine the show provides, because there’s no place for heroes in prison. Even the most sympathetic character is usually just forced to choose the lesser of two evils, and even the sanest characters wound up in prison (either working or living) because there’s something in them that’s broken. The shades of morality play across this show like flashes of sunlight on a cloudy day.
Nowhere is this interplay more pronounced than in the relationship between Franky Doyle (Nicole da Silva), the lesbian “top dog” and Erica Davidson (Leeanna Walsman), the prison’s governor. And, well.
The chemistry between them is so hot it burns, and so much more than physical. In early episodes, Erica can never meet Franky’s eye, because every look is a confrontation; every sly lick of her lips says “you want the dark in me as much as I want the light in you.” It’s a couple so potentially wrong for each other you almost don’t want it to happen, but then of course you do because you have a pulse. On Twitter, Radulovich referred to it as “the heartbeat of the series.”
As you may know, I first started writing for AfterEllen about Bomb Girls, another show I loved like crazy. Wentworth is sort of the anti-Bomb Girls, in that the women who chose to go to Victory Munitions did it out of the best human impulses and virtues. This show explores what it’s like at the other end of the spectrum. What I’m saying is: it’s not for everyone. But if you’re interested in the dark side, and you don’t mind shows that make you cry, think, and scream, then check it out. I would, however, recommend bringing a teddy bear.
As I said before, the first season just ended (and OMG was the finale a doozy) but look for Wentworth to come on DVD in the next few months. AE will, of course, keep you updated on other (legal) ways to watch the show if/when they become available. I’d hate for you to get caught watching it illegally; I hear women’s prison is fucking scary.