Coming up on the final season of Wentworth, I made the push to finish the entire series of Prisoner: Cell Block H. Joan Ferguson in Wentworth has some familiar qualities and some major divergences from her Prisoner: Cell Block H counterpart. The following contains spoilers for both Prisoner: Cell Block H and Wentworth.
Prisoner: Cell Block H
Joan Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick) appears functionally as a character replacement for Vera Bennet, the hard screw that refers to the prisoners as animals. Fiona Spence who played Vera “Vinegar Tits” Bennet, had chosen to leave the show. Joan is introduced as a similar punishment focused officer, who uses the rules to intimidate both the prisoners and fellow staff.
Joan (Pamela Rabe) joins Wentworth as the replacement governor for Erica Davidson who only appears in Season One. The Joan that appears on Wentworth is calculating and determined to have complete control over the prison. This Joan Ferguson has personal motives that drives her behaviour, that does not come into play immediately.
Joan Ferguson from both shows struggles with her inability to maintain personal relationships. They both have complicated relationships with their father, use the prisoners in their personal vendettas and schemes. Both Joans are intimidatingly tall and are happy to take on high ranking officials without fear. Bea Smith factors into both of the stories of Joan Ferguson. In Prisoner, Joan is able to outwit Bea and have her sent off to Barnhurst; whereas in Wentworth Bea “wins” against Joan and is theoretically responsible for keeping her in prison. Shane is represented in both series’, although in different circumstances. Both versions of Joan want to take care of Shane like a mother, and have to do so at arms length.
There are few scene similarities between the two Joans as their storylines differ radically. The last episode of Prisoner revealed to me the one congruent scene I’ve experienced thus far. When Joan is brought into Wentworth the prison is shouting her name – in what feels like a warning. We do not see what happens to Joan in Prisoner, which I feel may have been part of the basis of thrill of Wentworth for Prisoner fans.
There is an unfair advantage for Prisoner’s version of Joan Ferguson. She had 389 episodes to give her character the opportunity to have human experiences. Wentworth Joan, in contrast, has only appeared in 70 (including credits for unreleased Season 9 episodes). Each Joan has a different cast of characters and situations to navigate. Prisoner Joan allows us a deeper look into her personal life – including her lesbian relationship with Terri, another officer from Wentworth. We experience her relationship with her father and heartbreaking moments such as the death of her dog Major, her inability to keep Shane and her descent into homelessness. Wentworth Joan is a classic villan that happens to be independently wealthy, which begs the question of how she ended up in corrections in the first place. Like any good villan she is ultimately indestructible.
One major plot difference between the Joans is their ability to be manipulated themselves. Joan becomes indebted to the mob, coworkers and even prisoners. She has to take a subservient role to these individuals, which is something that Joan does not do on Wentworth. It is arguable that Joan was ultimately taken down by Lou Kelly; at this point she does not believe that she is Joan Ferguson.
The choice to blend Joan with Kath Maxwell in Wentworth leaves some interesting prospects open. Kath Maxwell in Prisoner, we a very different character than the helpless amnesiac that becomes Joan’s new persona. Kath was able to manipulate her way through the ranks to become Top Dog. Will Joan reach back up to Top Dog now that Allie has been [literally] stabbed in the back?
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