TV WEEK Logie Award-winning Aussie drama Wentworth is back. And according to several cast members, season seven is set to be the most explosive – and best – yet.
"This season is full-on," Kate Atkinson, 37, who plays pregnant governor Vera Bennett, says.
We last saw Vera at the end of season six, fighting for survival as a blackmailer zeroed in on the role she and co-conspirators Jake (Bernard Curry) and Will (Robbie Magasiva) played in Joan Ferguson's (Pamela Rabe) death.
She's now six months pregnant. And while there seems to have been a neat full stop to the "Where's Joan?" storyline (with her blackmailer killed off in last season's cliffhanger), this is Wentworth and you never quite know...
This season, two new characters who were introduced last year – Rita (Leah Purcell) and Marie (Susie Porter) – are at the forefront of the drama, as both prisoners stare down hefty 15-year sentences.
"When we first see her in series seven, Marie is coming back from her court hearing," Susie, 48, tells TV WEEK.
"She's been put away for 15 years [for the manslaughter of the doctor who treated her son while he was in a coma]. Obviously, her son is dead and things start to fall apart, so she's fighting to get out and clear her name."
She's also battling Kaz Proctor (Tammy McIntosh) for the mantle of Top Dog. Marie is trying to keep her criminal undertakings afloat in the outside world.
"It could be the best season yet," Tammy, 49, says. "I say this as an audience member, and not as someone on the show, because, really – there isn't a weak link.
"Just when you think storylines for certain characters are done, there's a twist and they move forward."
At the same time, Marie is processing the fact that her one-time ally, Rita, is responsible for the death of her crony Drago (Natalia Novikova).
Rita killed Drago in a brutal boxing match after the undercover cop stepped in to fight in place of her sister Ruby (Rarriwuy Hick).
In the season finale, Rita found herself cast adrift in the corrections system after her team of detectives effectively turned their backs on her. She's now blacklisted, and her operation to take down Marie Winters is wiped from the system.
On the outside, she still has boyfriend Ray (Shane Connor) to think about. What will this mean for their relationship? Does anyone have her back in the outside world or will she be left behind bars?
Meanwhile, as all this plays out, Vera, now "tidily pregnant" with Jake's child, is re-establishing a connection with the women of the prison.
But how long will she be able to maintain her demanding role as Governor before the rigours of the job – and the stress she's still carrying from the events of last season – start to take a toll on her health?
"At the beginning of the season, I think it's fair to say Vera is in a state of denial, in that she thinks she can carry this baby and continue life as normal," Kate explains.
"It becomes clear, however, that isn't going to be the case."
So will Vera's role directly put her unborn child at risk?
"Over the course of the season, she has to navigate this," Kate explains. "It's one thing to be pregnant, but it's another to go, 'Oh, my God – how is this going to impact my life?' And for Vera, who is so self-critical, she's already thinking, 'My God – what damage can I do to this child?'"
And there's still the small issue of Jake as her baby's father. How will Vera cope with his knowledge of her situation?
"Jake is able to be heartfelt and charming at one moment, then can really cross the line from what is right and good, forsake all others and do whatever he needs to do to survive," Bernard, 48, says of his character.
Complicating matters is a new character who arrives at Wentworth.
"It's an interesting journey," Kate says. "I can't say much, but there's another character who enters the prison – a psychologist – and a couple of other new ones who will impact Jake and Vera."
As for the three-way storyline between Vera, Jake and Will, it's not all wrapped up just yet.
"I really love that triangle between Vera, Jake and Will," Kate says. "That was really fun to play. Will and Vera are always going to have an interesting allegiance."
In this first episode, all these storylines will come together with devastating consequences, leaving one character dead.
So, any clues as to who?
"You never know with Wentworth," Kate says. "Even as actors, we're like, 'Oh, my God – we did not see that coming.'"
Wentworth premieres Tuesday, May 28, 8:40pm on Foxtel's Showcase.
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