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RECAP: Wentworth S05E06 - Happy Birthday Vera

RecapNikole Gunn

Bernard Curry
Image - Foxtel

As an actor, it must be an absolute blast (and liberating) to play a character that is the epitome of “TV evil”. You can give free reign to whatever may lurk in the very deep recesses of your soul to make your character the quintessential ‘bad guy’.

In breathing life into Joan Fergusson, Pamela Rabe has avoided the temptation of making it ‘big’ and she plays Joan with just the right amount of restraint to make her truly menacing.

In “Happy Birthday, Vera” Rabe delivers the goods as The Freak’s plans to destroy Vera Bennett begin to take shape.

In fact, the first few minutes are all Joan as she delivers a long speech, outlining her plan to Jake (Bernard Curry).

“She’s completely ignorant of the fact that her perfect life has this tiny, hidden seed of decay.  It’s your time, Jake. Time to spread that rot, exploit our advantage…

…I’ll take care of things this side of the bars, while you replace Vera and become Governor”.


“…make her emotionally dependent on you and then we can crush her”.

At first, it would seem this is all part of some sort of delusion, after all Joan is sitting in a dentist’s chair.  Perhaps this is the affects of the gas?

What develops over the next 45 minutes shows that this is anything but a dream sequence. Joan is deadly serious as she manipulates the women of Wentworth to achieve her ultimate goal: power.

She’s like a spider spinning a complex web and catching as many flies as she desires. By siding with the drug runners and Juice and her crew, Joan is steadily undermining the authority of Top Dog, Kaz Proctor.

The women are unhappy with how Kaz is running the show and the whispers grow louder as they openly question that authority.  Even her allies are beginning to doubt her tactics.

Doreen is the first to voice her concerns as Joan stares down Kaz and Vera and sits down with Lucy “Juice” Gambaro (Sally-Anne Upton)

“Kaz can’t let that slide. She’s gonna have to do something”.

But even as she puts her foot down, its clear Kaz has lost her power base and fewer and fewer of the women are listening to her or even respecting her.

Her loss of control is starting to cause concern among the prison officers and Will brings those concerns to Vera.

“I think Kaz is losing the women”.

“How serious is it”?


“It always starts with a bit of grumbling”.

“Even Bee bashed one or two.  It’s what the women are used to”.

“I prefer Kaz’s method.  For all that bluster, she’s about protecting the women, particularly from each other”.

Eventually, Kaz tries to bring the women into line, challenging them to take her on.  But for the moment, the opposing group, with Joan pulling the strings, decides not to take her up on the offer.

Meantime, Jake has hit a roadblock with Vera.  His Joan-mandated ‘charm offensive’ hasn’t worked and she turns down his request to move in with her.

The Freak’s not perturbed, telling him to keep at it and while he’s at it, get Nurse Radcliffe in their corner.

And how does he do that?  The next scene shows them going at it in the hospital wing, which Joan uses against the Nurse.

“Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me”.

How menacing are those few words?  You just know Nurse Radcliffe will now be doing her bidding. There can be now doubt she’ll be used by Joan in her devious little plan.  You can count on it.

So, Jake has been busy ‘getting busy’ with the Nurse, while at the same time trying to get Vera to drop her guard and surrender emotionally to him.  It all revolves around her intense dislike of birthdays thanks to her Mum.

Over coffee, breakfast and a bunch of flowers, Vera reveals the emotional cruelty she suffered at her mother’s hand.  Thanks to Mum, she’s pretty much ‘damaged goods’.

Back at Wentworth, Joan continues to spin her web and with a new inmate introduced to the prison population, she encourages Juice to become Top Dog.

“How am I going to be f**king Top Dog.  Most of these snatches hate my guts”.

“Popularity is not what its cracked up to be.  Look at Kaz, democracy is not really working for her. There are two ways to rule the rabble. You can try to appeal to the people or you can terrify them”.

Those words of advice embolden Juice and her crew of ‘boys’ and they move in on the new girl. Joan simply closes the door and walks away.

But Doreen sees what’s about to happen and runs to Franky.  She and Boomer get there just in time and stop the attack.

Again, Kaz is urged to act.  Instead, she tells the women she’s fed up with them and can’t understand why they would want to hurt other women.  She’s had enough.

Will takes her to the Governor who pretty much tells her to use violence to exert control, warning that Juice is making her look weak to the other women.

But it’s Sonia (who I suspect has her own ideas of power) who talks Kaz down.  She was quite prepared to bash Juice for her attack on Sonia, but she advises another cause of action.

“I’d love you to do that. But speaking as someone who knows something about leadership, it’s a sign of weakness to betray your publically stated principals”.

That effectively leaves a power vacuum, which Joan willing steps in to fill, with a little help from Nurse Radcliffe.

After complaining of a bad tooth through the whole episode, Juice is brought to the dentist’s chair where she’s pumped full of gas.  She’s half out of it, as the ‘dentist’ walks in. Puts in a mouth guard and pulls out a scalpel.  Except it’s not the dentist, its Joan and she’s cutting off her tongue.

In the prison yard, the women and Vera are admiring the welding handiwork of Boomer, who’s created a vertical garden of Sonia’s design.  As they applaud her work, out stumbles poor old Juice. They all react in horror as she falls into Vera’s arms covering her in blood.

It’s a nice bit of payback.  Juice had overheard Joan plotting with Jake, but Vera refused to hear her out. Now she’s refusing to reveal what she heard.

The horror of events sends her into Jake’s arms and she invites him to come live with her.  Part one of Joan’s plot has come to fruition.

Part two takes place in the prison yard.  She walks in and the other women begin chanting “Top Dog. Top Dog. Top Dog”.

Kaz is out and Joan is in.  The Freak is now in control behind bars just as she had planned all along.

So, that’s episode six.  Four more to go. How will this play out?  And we were worrying Wentworth wouldn’t survive the demise of Bee Smith.  Weren’t we wrong?