Can Wentworth survive without Queen Bea?


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As Danielle Cormack gracefully exited Wentworth Women's Prison in last year's season finale viewers were left wondering whether the show could survive without Bea Smith. Now, we have the answer.

Last year the nation, or at least those elements of the nation who subscribe to Foxtel, drew a collective gasp of shock when the producers of Wentworth made a bold decision.

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Last season ended with Danielle Cormack's Bea Smith throwing herself onto a screwdriver being wielded by Pamela Rabe's extraordinary Joan 'The Freak' Ferguson.

The gasp of shock was multi-layered. Everyone believed Bea was going to shank The Freak, ending a rivalry that had been boiling for years. When the tables turned and Bea kinda shanked herself it was rather surprising.

As she drew her final breaths, and left this mortal coil dreaming of her dead daughter Debbie, and it became clear she wouldn't be back for the next series, it was apparent that the producers had killed off the show's most popular, and important character.

Since Wentworth, a loose remake of iconic Aussie drama Prisoner, first leapt onto our television screens Bea was the central figure, her storyline was woven around everything that occurred both inside and outside the prison walls.

Cormack's portrayal was exceptional and earned her a number of well-deserved awards and fans in all the multiple territories the show was sold into.

So once everyone had recovered from the shock, no doubt with a few sips of moonshine cooked up in the prison kitchen, we were left with one very nagging question.

Could Wentworth survive without Bea Smith?

So it was with great trepidation I watched the season premiere of season five hoping, nay, praying, they hadn't thrown the baby out with the Bea water last season.

How could the possibly go on without the central character, could the show remain as strong without such a strong character or would it float into the abyss of dreadfulness as so many Australian series do when they get through a few seasons.

I was thrilled, dear reader, to find I had nothing to worry about at all.

The writers, directors, producers and cast are so skilled that while the loss of Bea is most certainly felt, it takes nothing away from the show, in fact, it enhances it.

The "creative decision" to get rid of her, actually works as a catapult to propel the season forward into exciting new places.

The episode opens with the remaining prisoners discovering Bea has been murdered by the hand of The Freak and their reaction pretty much sums up the reaction of fans of the show.

A moving montage of Bea's funeral (the public one outside the prison and the private one inside Wentworth where the prisoners create a monument to Bea in the exercise yard) pretty much wraps up her existence but promises her shadow will continue to extend over the series.

But with the end of the song it's clear nothing is going to be the same inside those prison walls - The Freak is facing more time inside for murdering Bea and that has her even more unhinged, Franky (the extraordinary Nicola da Silva) has a weird stalker, Kaz (Tammy MacIntosh) is putting her stamp down as the new top dog and she has a very different approach to Bea and Vera (Kate Atkinson) is prepared to go to any length to cover up her involvement in the death of Bea.

Bea's cell mates in Block H share a mixture of resignation to their new life inside without her or burning rage (captured most eloquently through Katrina Milosevic's sensational performance as Boomer).

Then there is Bea's former lover, Ali, giving Kate Jenkinson the moment to deliver the show's most harrowing scenes as she deals with her loss.

The scene where she tries to exact revenge on The Freak for slaying her lover is incredibly powerful and the inevitable breakdown that elicits is extremely difficult to watch.

Twenty minutes into the first episode and you are already gripping to your seat wondering what the hell the writers have in store for you next and you have nearly forgotten Bea was ever on the show (but for the regular pans across her prison memorial).

And that is why Wentworth has endured into its fifth season without skipping a beat, it is why the series has been able to build on itself each episode never wavering from its dark, dank commitment to being dark and dank.

There are very few shows that can boast killing off a key character and not only remaining as strong but somehow getting better.

Sure, it would be easy to throw all your energy into the first episode to make sure people tune in again then take your foot off the pedal, but Wentworth just pushed the pedal down even harder for episode two where the show settles into its beat again but still has you grinding your teeth with anxiety.

Wentworth is, hands down, the best drama Australia has produced in years and the creatives behind it need to be roundly commended for nursing the show across what could have been its moment to jump the shark.

The story Can Wentworth survive without Queen Bea? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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