This was a near-flawless episode. The acting was at the highest standard, yet for the last episode of the year, and the episode immediately preceeding the one where two major characters bow out, it was curiously muted and strange for what was supposed to be a cliffhanger.
Interesting concept to hinge an entire episode on the concept of guilt and penance, but it worked. It just left some questions hanging in the air - however, the foreshadowing went from overt to subtle at the episode's end, and we had a quiet re-introduction of one of the most fascinating characters in recent years, as well as the one of the most dismal ones.
Even more interestingly, it was an episode which dealt with the incipient crisis failing society today - white males facing the anticipated loss of their male privilege.
Mea Culpa: Lee. Lee's dilemma was the core emphasis of the episode, but at the end of the day, it was left like a dangling participle with nothing resolved.
As anticipate, he attempted suicide, before he was talked down by yet another named guest star, Sally Rogers, who gave him compassion, hope and a load of good, Northern common sense. A lot of the construction of this segment of the episode served as segues into other storylines (Phil's situation in hospital and Max's and Roxy's foray into the Market Traders' do), in the form of voice-overs which detailed the dilemma of other characters concerned.
Viewers anticipated that the Karen Beckwith character would prove instrumental in talking Lee out of attempting suicide and also would eventually get him to open up about what had driven him to this act. Also, as she spoke with him, it wasn't difficult to fathom, in her understanding, that she'd been at that same point at which he found himself at one time, and the final scene of her weeping alone in her office, with the picture of a young boy on her desk in the background, intimated that she'd lost a child, quite possibly to suicide or been driven to that point by that loss, herself.
Both she and Lee were poignantly eloquent in their discourse. It was important for her to stress to Lee that he wasn't alone at this moment, although he felt as such, that she was someone and she was there with him. She urged him to talk about what had driven him to this point. It's true, sometimes it's easier to elaborate your problems to a stranger who has no relation to you or your circumstances. Such people tend to listen objectively yet compassionately and to be less judgemental.
A lot of the voice-overs were juxtaposed with scenes of the people closest to Lee, illustrating the way he views them as opposed to the way he measures himself to their standards.
Interesting to note that he views Whitney as innocent and good, someone who always sees the best in people, when some viewers might take the opposite view. Yes, I know Whitney was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, but at the same time, like Kat was for years, she was one of the most entitled characters on the show, using her abused past as an excuse to behave badly with no repercussions. Bianca encouraged this, and for years we saw Whitney take up with some nice bloke (Todd, Peter Beale, Fatboy) only to bin them unceremoniously as soon as an edgy bad boy (Billie Jackson, Connor, Tyler Moon) came along - until one bad boy, Tyler, morphed into the ubiquitous dependable bloke and she fucked Joey Branning. (How she could even understand either of them is beyond my ken). We watched as she cadged money off Fatboy for an evening out with Lauren and Lucy, long after she was with Tyler.
She's stolen (the Millers' Lottery ticket), as a nursery nurse student, she presumed to lecture Jack Branning and Roxy Mitchell in public about their parenting skills, she was always second-guessing Bianca, especially taking it upon herself to tell Morgan about his birth father when Bianca had expressly asked her not to do so, and she got sucked into going on the game.
Lee idolises her, and waxed lyrical about how Whitney viewed him, and how now she was beginning to realise that he wasn't the man she idolised.
(Love, she's always known this. She's known it since you had your first bout of depression. When she wasn't berating you to buck up your ideas, she was running a mile to snog your dad). She built that image of a superman in her mind, partly to reinforce your self-esteem positively, but mostly to help her deal with the image of Lee she could love.
He knows he can't live up to her expectations.
And, as I thought, the crux of Lee's problems lay with his parents, specifically Mick. To Lee, Mick and Linda are the perfect couple, who set the standard to which he and his siblings should aspire. His father is everyone's friend and confidante, on whose every word his mother hangs. He doesn't see and he hasn't seen how his father manipulates his mother, how he disguises passive-aggressive bullying to get what he wants, or how he sidelines her from time to time to favour his mother. It's not a perfect relationship by any means, but Lee sees it as such and strives to emulate them, knowing that he can never be as easy-going and accessible as his father.
Although he won't admit it, his sister saw the cracks in the Carter clan and got out. His younger brother is making a stab at independence through higher education and a professional degree. And here we come to the crux of Lee's problems, when he wishes he could be gay like Johnny ... because like a lot of white men, young and old, Brexiteers, Le Pen supporters and Trumpsters, they feel left behind. Their cultural identity is threatened.
Lee works in a call centre for minimum wage, as he so heart-renderingly put it ...
How can I tell my wife I'm worth so little?
Lee is a white, heterosexual male. His gay younger brother is moving onto professional success, eventually, as a solicitor. He's bested regularly at his work and bullied by a colleague who happens to be Afro-Caribbean. His boss is Asian British. Until recently, Lee would have been top of the pyramid, even with his stereotypical status in the predominantly white, male British Army, where he meant something.
Now he's low rung on the ladder, and this is the lament we heard from white working-class men from the North of England to the Rust Belt of America, these are the people who are exploited by the likes of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, but tonight, Lee was in despair. He's doing everything right, or he's trying to do so, but he cannot be the sort of success, he said, in providing for his family, like his father or his grandfather. (I had to wonder about that, because whom did he mean as his grandfather? Stan or Buster? Stan was an alcoholic who lived in a council flat, and Buster spent most of his adult life in prison. Some successes).
I was concerned that Lee didn't mention the Army in all of this, because that's where he felt the most comfortable with his role clearly defined. If you recall, he was due to be deployed to Jordan, but Whitney kicked up such a stink at this prospect that he, instead, took a hitch in recruitment, where a lot of his self-esteem issues surfaced. Away from the Army, in close quarters with his confident father, his parents who believe their children can do no wrong, and a wife who worships at the altar of an idol, and he sees the real world moving foward and away from people whose ideas are rooted in the way life used to be fifty years ago.
And whilst he kept reiterating how he'd hurt his family and how he'd let his wife down, he didn't open up to Karen about what he'd actually done - helping organise a robbery of his father's business, dealing with financial pressures around him by amassing large debts, stealing, himself, from his parents' charity fund, and even stealing a neighbour's expensive Christmas gift and pawning it for money.
The woman left him with a telephone number of some sort of Samaritans'-like organisation if he felt he needed to talk, but Lee simply returned home to a penitent Whitney, who wasn't really pregnant at all, and who got increasingly worried throughout the evening when he was late and didn't return her calls.
Their segment ended with her telling him she loved him, whilst they embraced on their bed, and he crumpled the number in his hand - because no one in Walford ever needs counselling, do they? And he's no nearer making a full confessional to anyone about what he's done. Meanwhile, in the background, we hear a police siren.
Portents of things to come for Lee?
Simple Trust. All it takes for Stacey to revert to type is Max being around. She promises Martin that she'll say nothing to Max about Phil nobbling a juror, and then promptly tells him.
I object to Martin's avowal about Ian and Jane "going through so much" ... They haven't been through the half of it. I don't know what Martin knows about the background of all of this, or, indeed, what Walford know about it.
Max left Walford in the back of a police car, shouting the odds to all and sundry about Bobby being Lucy's killer. At the time, no one believed him, but ... hey ... very publically, the Square learned that, indeed, Bobby was Lucy's killer. More than that, I thought it was implied that the Square knew that Ian and Jane had known all along, or do most of the Square think that Ian and Jane only found out when Bobby attempted to brain Jane?
Did Ian and Jane even know that Phil had nobbled the juror to find Max guilty? Sharon didn't even know until the bent foreman showed up on the Mitchell doorstep cadging more money? That set in action an unforgettable chain of events, remember? Sharon kicked Phil out, Phil sought refuge in the portacabin and caught Ben and Paul rutting, then de-camped to the Arches where Gavin and his goons kidnapped him and turned him onto the bottle again.
Boy, time flies when you're having fun.
So, I don't see why Martin's worried that Max will gun (bad pun) for Ian and Jane by knowing that Phil nobbled the jury, unless he thinks Max will think Ian was behind this.
Be that as it may, Stacey spends most of the evening at the do eyeing Max and Roxy as they talk amongst themselves - and what a bloody waste! Jake Wood and Rita Simons work. They exude natural sexual chemistry, but again, this is Rita's penultimate episode, so we got a soupcon of what could have been but won't ever be.
And once again, we have Stacey taking it upon herself to interpose in something that isn't her business by breaking her promise to Martin and telling Max that Phil Mitchell nobbled the jury to find him guilty.
What, exactly, does she hope to achieve by that? It isn't enough to say "it wasn't right." No, it wasn't right for Phil to do what he did, but she doesn't know who Max will react to that news. As it is, knowing this, two of the three objects of his revenge are a paraplegic and a weak, ageing man recovering from a major organ transplant. Max needs to exact his revenge, but he doesn't need to go around smacking cripples and smothering transplant patients.
This is yet another example of Stacey opening her gob and expecting people to live by her standards, whilst she does what she bloody well pleases. It did look lairy to her husband that she couldn't keep her eyes off Max, huddled with Roxy at one end of the room. And where the hell does she get off telling Max he shouldn't be associating with Roxy. Why? Roxy's done nothing. As Max says, she's harmless. She didn't know a thing about what Phil had done, she rarely had anything to do with Phil. Is Stacey implying that all the Mitchells are tainted by what Phil does and has done? For the record, just to remind ourselves, Stacey's done worse - Archie Mitchell, anyone? Yep, that's right, Stacey, like her husband, has killed a Mitchell.
How many times has Stacey betrayed Martin now? The first time was the Big Lie about Arthur's paternity. Now he asks her not to disclose the fact that Phil nobbled the jury against Max, and she rushes to tell Max, because ... what could possibly go wrong?
And it all ends with Martin, ultimately, forgiving Stacey, because there's a rule somplace in the production office that Stacey Slater must always be exonerated from everything adverse, stupid and wrong that she does.
The Awful Truth. For me, the best scene of the night was Max's and Roxy's conversation at the Market Traders' do. Yet more evidence that Jake Wood's talent brings the best out of some of the less glittering talents on the show. Rita Simons, as much as I like her, is pretty mundane as an actress, but boy she matched Wood in that scene.
I also thought the two, as a potential couple, were well-paired and did have a sexual chemistry. Roxy is the type of girl to whom Max, on a good day, would be eminently attracted. He was attracted when she lured him once before, for mischief, but he chose to remain loyal to Tanya instead. But this is all useless speculation because by Monday, Roxy might be dead, and this is ostensibly the greatest couple that never happened.
Roxy can't believe Max has sworn off drink and the fags, and Max tells her that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. In another confessional, Roxy tells Max that Ronnie's adopting Amy, and they had a delightful bitching session about the suddenly morally righteous Jack and Ronnie, whose own pasts are anything but clean, when Max reminds Roxy that he and she are the misfits, the ones to whom mud sticks.
Later, Roxy's confidence is shattered when Lauren inadvertantly implies that Max didn't need to get involved with - and Roxy finishes the sentence for Lauren, referring to herself as a mess.
As much as Lee's story has been about his self-esteem, Roxy's dying storyline has been about her family and society marginalising her and actually demonising her. When Donna queries her presence at the affair, Roxy, rightly reminds her that she's worked hard on the stall for most of the year, only getting sacked by Donna a couple of weeks previously. On the one hand, we have Lee feeling the loss of his white male privilege, and on the other, we've seen Roxy slut-shamed by two men who, themselves, had cheated on wives in their relationships, we've had her demonised as a bad parent by the worst of parents, Jack, who went years not even wanting to know his son. And now, she's deemed a mess, not even worthy of a seedy serial adulterer with a penchant for young girls.
She's on a downward spiral of drinks and cocaine, and we see her being picked up and "rescued" by the original Yummy Mummy, Glenda, and the doltish Danny, the precursor of Mark Fowler II.
Let's hope that those two twats don't ever have to share air time on this show.
Roxy's ending was a bit disconcerting. She's been marginalised by the mainstream Mitchells, and so her only recourse and haven in a storm is to call for help from the exiled Mitchells, the sidelined and shamed Mitchells, her mother and her half-brother.
Mea Culpa: Phil's Survivor's Guilt and Max the Martyr. This show was rife with soliloquies tonight, but they were given by good actors and they didn't sound like Public Service Announcements.
Sharon, who's still baby-talking Phil. and Ian visit the hospital, expressly to inform Phil that Max is back in Walford. During their visit, Phil gets a text from his unseen mate Tony's wife, telling him that Tony died that morning, which turns Phil reflective.
Immediately, he starts suffering from what appears to be a massive bout of survivor's guilt, questioning why he, who had twenty years on this man, got to live and Tony died. Sharon tried to tell him that Phil was the fitter of the two and inanely promising to send the widow flowers to let her know the mighty Mitchells were thinking of her. Phil got the line of the night from that.
He don't need flowers, he needed a liver.
Sharon asserts that Phil shouldn't feel guilty, because he's done nothing wrong. Cue Phil's turn to reflect on his life, admitting that he'd done plenty things wrong in his life, things of which he wasn't proud. Gee, I wonder what they were?
The car lot fire, emotionally manipulating Lisa, bullying Heather, getting Kevin Wicks to sell cut-and-shunts ... oh, and nobbling a jury to find Max Branning guilty. In one of the most contrived scenes, as Sharon and Ian left Phil, without telling him about Max, who should appear, ominously, at Phil's room window, but the man in question, himself, which sparked a huge scene between the show's two lions.
Max asks Phil what he'd ever done to Phil to engage his ire - and he also showed that he hadn't lost his wit, remarking that he was better looking, smarter and better dressed than Phil. Well, he did scam the Arches off Phil via Ben, and he did scam Peggy in insurance for his own graft; but he had a point. What had he ever done to Phil? Phil's Branning beef was more with Jack.
Phil, on the other hand, seems fully prepared to accept his fate - Max doesn't realise Phil's had an epiphany moment - and even invites Max to smother him with a pillow. In a great turnabout, Max gently strokes Phil's cheek and replaces the pillow ... forgiving him.
Revenge is easy, forgiveness is hard to do. Phil's left to reflect, whilst Max steps outside, as a passerby drops a half-finished cigarette to the ground. In a shocking turn of fate, Max picks it up. Expecting him to start smoking again, we see him raise his cuff, to reveal countless scars from what appears to be cigarette burns. He burns himself. So Max, self-immolates, and becomes a martyr.
Is his revenge going to be forgiving his enemies to the point that they're driven mad?
Fascinating episode, and both McFadden and Wood delivered the goods.