Monday, December 3, 2012

The Branning Show: A Tale of Two Walfords - Review 03.12.2012

Best episode I've seen in a long time, although it did have it's bad moments.

Christmas brings out the Dickens in me ...

The Peasants of Walford React to the Arrogant Brannings

It was the best of times: The Mitchells and All Who Sail with Them. Steve McFadden showed tonight why he is head ad shoulders above any actor in EastEnders. How surprised was I to see the majority of the episode devoted to the Mitchell enclave and their satellites - including Ian Beale and Sharon, played by three of the show's longest-serving actors.

It's the day of Ben's sentencing, and although I was taken aback at the initial silent scene, and the first of many unusual camera angles, showing Phil issuing forth from the back of his house onto the Square to come face-to-face with Ian leaving his house as well. Then there was the ensuing staring contest.

It was a good moment, if a little reminiscent of a Western movie, of which I wonder if Rob Gittins is a fan ...

The cinematography throughout tonight's episode hinted at a love of the Western genre. I half-expected to hear the twang and whistle from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly every time a Mitchell sequence appeared.

The Good. Phil and Ian, facing each other down in silence, each knowing how they'd both, respectively, let Ben down and how they failed to divert him from the course he took. Jay, the young gunslinger, sitting in the forefront of the scene, also silent, and joined by Patrick, the sage old man of the West. Seventy years ago and Patrick would have been played by Walter Brennan or John Huston. (Google them, Luddites). All silent, all contemplating their part in the Ballad of Ben Mitchell, with Jay (like Phil) having a more direct part to play.

Into the "town" rides the rowdies - Alfie and Fatboy, returning noisily from Germany, not even realising what this day means to Ian, whom Alfie accosts, or Phil, his landlord.

Enter the blonde - Grace Kelly or Marlene Dietrich ... in this case. Sharon, to lend quiet words of support to the anti-hero. It should be so obvious to viewers, from this episode (if no other), how good Letitia Dean is with Steve McFadden and/or Adam Woodyatt. All three go back years, and their characters have history. Sharon's so natural with Phil. There's no falseness, no cloying, sickly sweet flirting - fluttering eyelashes, upward come-hither glances, and that awful, awful voice she puts on when she's trying to convey sexiness with Jack.

Shack doesn't work. Shill does. Because with Shack, on Sharon's part, it's gratitude sex. 

Fanks, Jack ... yer let me an' mah boy stay an' fer vat, Ah'll gi'ya one."

Bluntly put, it's a gratitude fuck. With Phil, after everything they've been through, Sharon and Phil have a basis in a firm friendship. OK, let's forget Dennis for a moment. Sharon seems to have done so - along with Michelle and Vicky; besides, everyone who knows about Phil's "part" in the sainted one's death is either dead or far, far away. Sharon's quiet comforting of Phil was beautiful - the simple things like simply making him a cup of tea and placing a gentle hand on his shoulder afterward. Then the walk home from the Arches, reminiscing with Phil about how he tried to deal with Grant on his own and referencing her time with the Mitchells, up close and personal. Foreshadowing much? 

The Mitchell scenes, centering around Ben's sentencing and its affects on Phil, Ian and Jay, were brilliantly done, and - hallelujah! - showed great continuity: Ian recalling how he struggled with Ben to get him to retract his false statement, the one he gave to the police, lying about Phil's part in Stella's death, finally wrestling with his conscience for having told Ben to make up his own mind about what he had to do.

Arguably, the best scene of the night was the long two-hander between Phil and Jay in the Arches, the place where the cover-up about Heather was cooked up. Between them, they agreed that Ben was the weak link in all of the ordeal; as much as Jay had his conscience bothering him and agonising over his guilt, he kept his mouth shut.

*Aside ... I'm at a loss as to how Jay copped a community service sentence for perverting the course of justice in concealing a murder and Dean Wicks and Chelsea Fox got prison sentences for the same offence from giving false evidence in a mugging case and accusing the wrong person. This is either irregularity of the law or the fact that it's Jay.*

Anyhoo, the soul-searching between the two was great acting - Phil admitting his failure with Ben, from the very beginning - and also admitting that Ben was a walking time bomb, that if he hadn't killed Heather, he'd have done the same to someone else. I'm glad this was refereced, because we only know Ben from the time he arrived in Walford at the age of ten. We heard nothing about his life in South Africa. Ben was disturbed when he came to Walford, and it had nothing to do with Phil or, subsequently, Stella - although she undoubtedly contributed to his problems.

Ben beat Freddie Mitchell, who was a baby. He tortured Louise. He overreacted and badly injured Jordan. Phil isn't entirely exonerated from how Ben turned out, but I found the description of Ben smiling, almost benevolently, at Phil as he was led away to the cells, creepy and sinister. Jay's guilt at failing to stop Ben, at not being able to stop him from seeking out Heather and how it was too late to stop him when he was in full flow of attack.

Ben got four years. Depending on how the show is going, he could be back on our screens, with a new head, in two years; my guess is a return in three, at the time of the 30th Anniversary episode, if the show makes it that far.

The high point of the scene between Phil and Jay was Phil's admission that he should have sought help sooner for Ben, professional help, counselling; but Phil finally admitted what EastEnders has shown consistently for years - that not only the Mitchells, but everyone else, look to help their own, without any interference from the outside. What an admission! Will we see more counselling scenes or references to people going for counselling in the show? Who knows? It was mentioned briefly that Ian went to counselling after his breakdown and after encouragement by the Masoods. Whitney certainly was referred for counselling after her encounter with Tony. She refused.

The other turning point in the scene came with Phil's apology to Jay and the promise that Jay would stay within the Mitchell fold. Phil Mitchell apologising and the repeated referring to Jay, affectionately as "son," made it obvious what everyone had known for the longest time - that Jay was the son Phil really wanted. Where that leaves Ben, I'm not sure. I don't miss him, and I didn't particularly care for either of the actors who played Ben; but I'm sure at some point in the future, we will probably see Ben III again.

The Bad. Lucy and Abi.

Please, can someone get Hetti Bywater some diction lessons as well. During her scene with Ian after he'd decided he couldn't go to the court, she said something like "Arrgha-arra-arva-drive?"

Then something about parking being bad. I don't get it. Was she offering to drive Ian? To come with him? Call a taxi? Hail a bus?

And whilst TPTB are arranging diction lessons, please can someone tell her to stop hanging her damned mouth open all the time. Bloody mouthbreathers.

As for Abi, I wouldn't call her in lurrrve with Jay as much as obsessed. Abi's supposed to be in Sixth Form college, so I'm waiting for next year to find out that she's flunked out. She spent the entire day sitting in the B and B. I don't get that. Were there no guests? Has it's sanitation problem been rectified? Didn't Denise or certainly Kim say something about her continued presence, like Banquo's Ghost, sitting in the front room?

Jabi was formerly cute, but now they're becoming tedious. Abi is still very, very young for her age - as evidenced by the salon scene last week. She must have lifted the distracted Tanya's keys, brought duvets and hosts of candles around there to set up what she hoped to be a seduction scene. Is she thick? The place was awash with candles, even on every step up to the first floor of the place. Does she not realise that some of the hair and beauty products used in salons are highly flammable chemicals. She could have had a disaster on her hand, not to mention the fact that fucking around in a place like that - literally - is against Health and Safety regulations. Who doesn't forget Chelsea and Sean fucking on the tanning beds?

Adding to her aura of the youthfulness of a twelve year-old in the body of a sixteen year-old is the fact that, compared to Jay, she seems to be very short. He has to double over practically in order to hug her, which adds to the image of an older brother with a baby sister.

Jabi is Damon Albarn with Baby Huey.

The Ugly. Shirley, appearing in Phil's house, looking like a sewer rat swathed in cigarette smoke. Phil must be wondering how he ever managed to bed down with that, when he could, conceivably (pun intended) be reclining in the fragrant arms of Sharon, instead of listening to that smoke-induced lung rattle every morning. Yeccccchhhh. Although, I'm certain Moaning Lisa's knicker-creaming shriek was heard all over the North of Ireland and into the South as well. I'm glad someone's pleased.

It Was the Worst of Times: The Butcher-Jacksons Are Still Poor. So poor, they cannot afford a Christmas tree, even though Morgan looks like he's been packing away the sausages and ice cream, in addition to the chicken nuggets. That kid is close to being obese, and a walking advertisement for keeping processed foods away from kids. 

I also imagine they only have money enough to get one boy in the family a haircut, judging by Liam and Morgan's barnets. And why, pray tell, was Liam, who should really be in school - He is sixteen going on seventeen - but he plays a kid who'll turn fourteen on Christmas day ... why was he sitting in the Jackson-Butcher front room booted and suited in what wasn't even a school uniform?

I was baffled. I wondered if he were, for some reason, going to Ben's sentencing hearing. Or, since it was very brief scene, maybe James Forde was dressed up and filmed this, passing through on his way to another interview or audition. Why would Liam be suited up just to loll about on the sofa for the better part of the day?

Bianca's a working woman now. She's got a job working for tips for Tanya. Joy of joys. Personally, the Brannings have never done Bianca any favours, and if Sweet Lorraine ...

... is serious about moving Bianca in a new direction, why not distance her from the funghi that are her Branning relatives and remind her of her Beale roots. I'd much rather see her dealing with her Uncle Ian and putting Bag o'Bones Beale in her place than working for tips for Tanya.

It Was the Worst of Times: Granny Goodwitch, GurnGirl and Booze: A miracle of the Christmas season! Cora the Bora gives Lauren some good advice: lay off the booze. She's at a position in life now where she can make a choice about what to do with her life. Don't leave it until she has no choice.

So what does Lauren do? Get drunk on a bottle of vodka. Lauren's well on her way to alkieland, the way she was necking that bottle. (Message to Jacqueline Jossa: Your drunk act sucks. Seriously. Check the archives and study, study footage of Steve McFadden, who does a masterclass in drunkenness). She's still mooning over the Turdhopper, who was at the height of his inarticulace tonight. Confronting her, drunk, the the R and R, his first lines were:

Carragh-orga-canagh-rrrrr, Laur-agh.

Then long shot with his mouth hung open. Again. Lord, deliver us from mouth-breathers, inbreds and people who cannot make themselves understood. And underwear models hired for acting parts because TPTB fancied the way you looked in the briefest of briefs.

Go. Away.

Do we care about Lauren? No. In fact, I have a suggestion for a storyline for her next year. She gets sent away to rehab for a long, long time. Joey can get lost in the orifice known as his continuously open mouth.

It Was the Worst of Times: The Moons. They're still throwing out hints. Kat left early that morning, asking Jean to mind Tommy (so who's upstairs with Tommy when Jean and Roxy are downstairs in the pub?). Coincidentally, Derek remarks that Max left early that morning too.

Red Herring Alert ... It's Derek.

Alfie's suspicions are aroused. He knows Kat's lying, and the picture she had made of him, Tommy and her at the time of Tommy's christening is some sort of vain attempt by Kat to remind him of the fact that they are a family, even though she needs reminding of that, herself. The gift he brought back made her feel like, you guessed it, a dirty girl.

The German stuff was boring. The Shaggerman storyline is boring. The continued presence f the Brannings are boring. Jack's line tonight about friends in need being a pain in the backside summed up nicely the overall aggressive selfishness of the Branning clan.

And Derek's about to become Walford's Sidney Carton, I hear ...

I did say I liked a bit of Dickens, and Lorraine Newman seems to be trying to cook up a Dickens of a Christmas - with Derek as Sidney Carton, Kat as Nancy, Bianca's brood as Fagin's urchins and Alfie channeling Mr Micawber, hoping that something will turn up ... like Shaggerman.

Not a bad episode, Western cinematography included.

1 comment:

  1. It is not a coincendence that this better quality episode heavily featured heritage long standing characters with discernable chmistry played by actors who can act,Dean,McFadden,Henry and Woodyatt.The yawn shagger storyline and the Brannings-especially the unlikeable Lauren were the weak links.
    Jacqueline Jossa seems distracted and half arsed about her "work".She is now promoting her friends new Health store on Twitter-a newly started up herbal business-urging her followers to follow the store on Twitter and order online.I thought the BBC banned their stard promoting anything commercial especially on Twitter.Its a blatant breach of the rules unless the BBC has become ultra relaxed or lax shall i say?Jossa has many young followers on Twitter she shouldnt be urging them to part with their pennies to boost a friends business.BBC get a grip and Jossa-focus on your day job in which you are currently woeful rather than money making scams on Twitter for your pals.