Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Wheels on the Bus - Review: Tuesday 24.01.2017

And so the much-heralded disaster week gets its disaster, although it was rumoured for awhile that there was going to be an incident with a bus that was going to impact on the lives of the Square's residents and maybe - just maybe - there'd be a death.

First things first, for all the stunts implemented by EastEnders in recent years, they just haven't measured up. and have come across as damp squibs. Measured by the standards of the Carl White-Phil Mitchell crash or the New Year's Day 2015 crash, which saw the end of Emma Summerhayes, this stunt wasn't that bad. It certainly didn't achieve the high standards of the massive Emmerdale road crash in the autumn, but it was better than recent efforts. 

Still, by reality standards, too many people got off with superficial injuries. I gather this accident was based on the Glasgow dumper truck incident from Christmas 2015, when the driver of a city truck blacked out, lost control and mounted the pavement. Even then, with the truck going about 20 mph, 5 people died. EastEnders lost no one - oh, wait ... maybe they lost Whitney by virtue of the fact that her mobile phone seemed to survive intact, even though there seemed to be little left of her other than a greasy smudge, which could have come from the oil in her hair or the fact that she looks as though she never washes.

There were also little nuances in this episode that gave us a hint of things yet to come, but some of it - let's be frank - exhibited some pretty poor acting, either for the most part (Tilly Keeper, Bonnie Langford) or in certain other parts (Emma Barton). In fact, the bus incident really pissed me off. It never looked as though the bus was going to blow up, as the cowardly, misogynistic thug, Keegan, intimated, literally moving hell and high water to get himself out, so he could grin inanely, film the aftermath on his Iphone, thieve some stuff from the shop and insult Grandma Medusa in the shop.

This is a deeply unpleasant character, and he's more than a spoiled brat. What we're seeing here is the advent of the latest EastEnders' psychopath character. I went back and watched this episode for a second time tonight, and I was actually shocked at his general shittiness of character when he saved himself by jumping from the bus, openly telling Shakil not to bother about helping the girls or anyone else and how adversely both Mick and Jack reacted to his behaviour when he jumped. As well, he continued his insistence that the bus was going to "blow up", when in the end, there was no danger of that at all. If there were, then the entire community wouldn't have put their own lives at risk to lift the bus up and down several times before eventually lifting it high enough to extricate Martin.

If there were any danger of the bus blowing up, in this day and age, Martin would simply have been left to his fate, but good old East End community spirit dredged up symbolically, the rallying cry led by a returning iconic character for the rescue of the life of a character who was not only the scion of an original family but the first baby born on the show. This was a tip to the unifying community spirit engendered by the Second World War, even moreso by the scene in the tube, where Shirley, Tina and Sylvie were stuck on a stopped train, when Sylvie's cracked memory recalled seeking shelter in a tube station during the war, holding tight to her mother's hand and bursting into a rendition of "Run, Rabbit, Run",  and joined by Shirley and eventually Tina, to the consternation of one passenger and the amusement of two others.

The second standard soap trope was the Fox sisters' situation, and any viewer could have seen this coming a mile away, the situation where two characters have fallen out over some incident, and one says to the other ...

You're dead to me.

... only to have a massive accident occur, where one of the two is badly injured, and the pair reconcile. Denise wasn't even badly injured. She was knocked out for what appeared to be less than an hour, but she came around quick enough to get to her feet and open the door. Some unintended humour occurred when Kim started screeching for England when Denise was found in the passenger well at the front of the bus, and she and Vincent started the effort of freeing what they supposed at that time was Denise's body, only to have Vincent find the wheel of Donna's wheelchair and later, its crushed body, dropping all concern for Denise and rushing off to find his sister.

There's family loyalty and family loyalty and a smack in the gob, figuratively, of Kim's smug face. Kim was left weeping and wailing over the inert body of her sister, but she wasn't wailing for Denise - she was wailing because she felt bad about herself and having said what she said - like the thief who gets caught with his hand in the till, who's ever so sorry for getting caught, but not for the people whom he was robbing. It came as a shock to Kim and her massive ego when Denise recoiled at her touch and refused her tacit apology, remembering the last words which Kim spoke to her.

But the irony was in this:- Kim and Denise are blood sisters, who'd fallen out, and now their discord still hasn't been resolved; yet as soon as Vincent discovered his foster sister was missing, she was his first concern, not even thinking of returning to Kim and Denise until he was certain that Donna was OK and in good hands. And this was someone who was allegedly raised by "strangers."

I thought the initial lead-in to the episode was clever - showing a repeat of the crash and then fading quickly to black, only to re-emerge slowly and in soft focus, as if someone - a victim - is just waking up from a trauma, seeing things blurred and unfocused and hearing muted activity around them. It's clear that person is Carmel, and we watch her slowly getting her bearings, gazing about at the ruin and suddenly realising that it was the bus collision which caused the havoc.

Bonnie Langford's good performance stopped there. Sorry, but Langford cannot do intense drama, and she quickly went into screeching mode, looking desperately for Kush. (The fact that he couldn't be found automatically and immediately after the crash, led to the first feint of the episode - psssst! we're supposed to be wondering if Kush copped it.)

The worst bit came when she realised Shakil was still aboard the bus ...

Mah bayyyy-beeee! Mah bayyy-beee! Save mah bayyy-beee!

Screeched at full-lung umpteen times, enough to begin to grate on one's eardrums. Contrast that to the nameless woman who'd lost her small son, Lewis, and her plaintive cry, at intervals, of his name.

But Langford wasn't the most embarrassing. That belonged to the teens - to Rebecca and to the dippy Louise. When the bus collided, the pair weren't even hurt, yet Louise set forth a continuous catterwaul that was virtually non-stop. The odd thing was that everyone on the upper level of the bus was walking around, almost unscathed. There were no bad injuries, to use a favourite Trumpian word, no carnage. OK, first thing after an unexpected accident, you're in shock, but you test your limbs to see that no damage has been done and then you go about trying to extricate yourself from that situation. Louise didn't even do that. She just clutched the bar across the front of her seat and wailed.

When Shakil told her she had to move her legs because Rebecca couldn't get out, I thought for a moment that she'd be rendered disabled. Nope, she ate, whilst Rebecca scarpered, and then did her dramatic diva queen turn, deeply inhaling before delivering a dramatic line, before jumping off the bus. Well, sliding down the side of the bus, actually.

Thanks, mostly, to Shakil and to the male rescuers - Jack, Max, Mick - she managed effectively to slide down the side of the bus, but not without passing on a singular dramatic moment, inhaling deeply and closing her eyes. And it really wasn't that far down. Bloody hell, Louise was practically touching the ground before anyone was able to grab her.

And whilst Emma Barton was generally good in a supportive, background way, TPTB saw fit, in the pub, to give her a dramatic moment, for no reason whatsoever, really. Fine one moment, and then in the next, she starts to blub ...

It just came out of nowhere right at the shop. (Er, no, love, it didn't).

And then breathlessly whispering ... I can't live around here anymore, it's not safe for mah kids.

Contrast that bit of amateur dramatics with the likes of Lacey Turner, who was absolutely pitch perfect - and here's another soap trope used: the couple who've had an argument, one of them suddenly lying under a bus, literally, and the wife running to be at his side, even going to the extreme of having Martin tell Stacey he loved her, a standard deathbed confession. I hadn't realised that Martin was caught up under the thing, but then it made sense as he was talking right at the moment the bus came looming right up over them, and it seemed to aim directly at him. Good camera work, shooting from the bottom up to enhance the height of the bus.

And the rescue effort was led by Max, with Mick playing second-in-command, and Johnny Carter exhausting all efforts to get the emergency services, any emergency service to come, until Max decided, against the grain, to get a combined tally of people from the Market and the Vic to spew into the Square and heave together to lift the bus off Martin, because it seemed that the First Responder services in and around the area weren't effectively available.

In and of itself, that was a pretty dangerous thing to do, and if could have done Martin more harm than good. And the local hoi-polloi removing him from under the bus, but I suppose the one and only paramedic who moseyed on along was giving them proper instructions on how to move Martin out.

The inference throughout it all was that someone was going to die - with the prime suspects being Denise and Martin - two longstanding characters on the programme.

In the end, it was no one who died, not even Whitney's telephone, unless, of course, her body hasn't been found; but even I'm dubious now about having a glove found that doesn't have an owner. It won't do to kill her off screen. This just adds to the possibility of an unconvincing return. Habeas corpus ... Let us see the owner. It will give the us proof that whoever is dead is really dead. No more off-screen deaths.

The buzzing mobile phone is Whitney's, something which alerts us to the fact that something major had just happened or was about to happen.

The question is ... Is she dead?

The stars of the episode, however, were the Golden Girls - Sylvie, Shirley and Tina - accosting strangers to take pictures of them on their mobiles, talking about life, in general and growing old. Interesting to note how likable these characters have become, with Shirley stripped back to the bare essentials of what makes her great. The cack-handed remarks and zingers, the ability to tell a story as much as to write for themselves.

The scenes on the bus were precious, and so was the picture.

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