Monday, March 6, 2017

Arrogance, Ignorance and Reckonings - Review:- Monday 06.03.2017

Actually, this was the best episode this show has put out in a long time. It was watchable, devoid of circular inertion, and you actually felt that progress was made in some storylines, albeit this must be the umpteenth time the show has used a poker game as a way of making some instant readies for a cash-strapped character, and that line is getting more than just a little bit old at the moment.

Otherwise, we're beginning to see where a lot of characters and their storylines are about to go, at long last.

Another reason this was a good episode - and I'm sorry, but I have to say this - we were spared The Denise Show for once. There was no more wrangling and jangling between her and Kim, a replay of some sort of scene that's been played out countless numbers of times before, no new angled storyline of which she is a part, no satellite presences of Kim in your face or Carmel's lates self-absorption.

Instead, we got Vincent on his own, the most palatable character, apart from Patrick, from the Fox-Hubbard dynamic.

This episode showed promise, even if if did give us some totally and remorselessly unlikable characters.

The Bank of Phil and a Poker Game. The Carters' cash-strapped saga continued and even touched briefly on Ian's health scare storyline. What's two-for-the-price-of-one, if not a bargain?

This storyline employed many of the show's most familiar memes revived again for plot purposes.

For example:-

1. The Sad, Fat Clown. EastEnders, since the Millennium, has always employed a character who's functioned as the sad, fat clown. Actually, I tell a lie. There was a sad, fat clown in the mid-to-late 1990s - Nigel Bates; but Nigel ended up a winner in the end, and he was eventually depicted as a positive and lovable character.

Subsequent sad, fat clowns were only likable in a pitiful way. Think Barry Evans and the gross-out eating contest at the Vic. Think Heather and cheese. Sad, fat clowns also have health issues - or at least, they think they have. Barry thought he had a heart complaint. Heather had asthma.

It's practically official now. Ian Beale, one of two original characters left in the programme, is the new sad, fat clown. When he's not making excuses for not seeing his GP over his test results, he's sitting at a card table, listening to the likes of Vincent Hubbard and Jack Branning preen and make fun of his weight and his age. He even allows them to do so, by referring to his seemingly advanced age, when he's only a few years older than either of them.

Tied in with this status, and played for laughs, is the fact that Ian's not only afraid of finding out what's wrong with him, he's also afraid of exacerbating another collapse. He collapsed from dehydration, and it's transpired that he's going to wee-wee excessively throughout the night, something that comes from excessive thirst, which probably is a sign of diabetes Type II. And also tied in with this status is something truly sad - the sight of Steven Beale reduced to playing straight man for Ian.

The first day of Jane's new private phsyiotherapy treatment comes with the first day that Ian's driving ban is lifted. Instead of driving Jane, he's booked a taxi, at his expense. The reaction of comical surprise is encouraged in the viewing audience by Steven's reaction:-

What have you done with my dad?

Later, when Ian is invited to partake of Mick's accidentally-on-purpose, carefully planned impromptu poker game, consisting of three of the Square's four successful businessmen, Steven arranges for him to go and volunteers to take care of the restaurant, himself, sacrificing Lauren's desire to go to the cinema instead. (Having noticed this, one wonders if Steven and Lauren are en route to becoming this generation's Ian and Cindy, with Steven so hell-bent on proving to Ian that he is, indeed, the good non-son.)

I actually like Steven Beale, and I like Aaron Sidwell, and I think the character deserves more of a role in the show, rather than being Ian's yes-man-straight-man and Lauren's childminder. The character left the show, originally, in 2008, quirky, gay and psychologically fucked up by his legal father (Ian) and his birth father (Simon Wicks). He had an ax to grind, a big one, when Ian tossed him out of his life and promised to kill him if he ever turned up again. He had no liking for Jane either, and the feeling is mutual. Think of Saint Jane in the wheelchair, at the mercy of seeing the man who was responsible for her inability to have children every day of her pathetic life.

Instead, along with numerous other men on the show, Steven Beale's been figuratively castrated. After his initial sparky look of lust, he doesn't even desire Johnny Carter anymore.

2. The Bank of Phil, Ben Branch. The Carters need the readies. Mick's need is twofold. He needs money to pay Konrad, who's a decent enough fellow to finish off the painting he's started; and he needs a hefty amount of money to pay off at least part of his fine by Friday - or else he goes to jail.

Whitney is still stinking around, making sad doe-eyes in Mick's direction, and I, for one, was glad to see Shirley knock the dirty girl (seriously, she looks like she needs a bath) back in her place. She vows that she won't let MIck go to prison, and I imagine that she won't.

With so much at stake, Shirley's not afraid to do what she's done in the past - approach the Bank of Phil. Except the CEO isn't available at the moment. He's off, lolling on the Amalfi Coast with Shazza. Instead, she gets the manager of his main sub-branch, Ben. She shows up at the Arches and preys on Ben's sympathies, by reminding him what it's like in prison. She does have Mick pegged, however - she knows he pretends to be hard, but once inside around real hard cases, Mick will be too scared to go to the showers, for fear of dropping his soap. And worse.

Even when Ben says he doesn't have the sort of money Shirley needs, she begs him to borrow against the business. When he can't help her, she turns to the Bank of Kathy (which is really a subsidiary branch of the Bank of Ian). This is ironic, considering that it was Kathy who alerted the police to Babe, which resulted in them finding out that Mick's licence regulations were being broken. Kathy can't help either. Jack can't be approached, and she even resorts to asking Vincent, which is not only desperate, it's stupid.

Vincent is Mick's competition, even though he drinks in the Vic far more than he manages his own bar. Why should Vincent want to help Mick out of a bind? As he says, you make your own luck, which gives Shirley food for thought - especially when Ben manages to come up with 800 quid in cash as a result of being paid for some work done on a car.

(Just an aside about The Arches ... The Arches was first and foremost the sort of place, back in the early 90s, which worked on old bangers, and did cut-and-shuts on the side for awhile. Apart from Ricky Butcher, who actually went to technical college and studied mechanics, no one who's ever worked there has had any real qualifications in motor mechanics. Jamie Mitchell was an art student. Ben, up until he was released from prison this last time, was a klutz when it came to mechanics. Jay left school with no qualifications, and all of a sudden, he's working with Phil. Thing is, in this day and age, there are no more Arches. Most of your cars, even those from the mid-90s, are all designed to be worked on by mechanics with specialist qualifications. Most of the diagnostics are done via computer and most of the repairs are done with specialist tools. Phil Mitchell doesn't even have a computer for spreadsheet purposes, amongst other things, and even though the absent Kathy made contact with him via The Arches' e-mail account, we've never seen a computer in that cold, damp place.)

The Bank of Phil, Ben Branch, comes up trumps for Shirley in the end, but not in the way she wanted.

3. When in Need of Funds, Play Poker. When Ronnie needed money to pay off Peggy's loan on the Vic, she played poker. When Alfie needed money on two separate occasions (to go to Australia and to get some insurance money), he played poker. Having a poker night, usually in the Vic, is a sure fire way either to win big at poker, or to lose dreadfully.

You always knew the way this was going to turn out. Mick, a poker novice, was managing to win big, amidst jokes and laughter about Ian Beale's health and weight, until he went a game too far against - of all people - Jack. Jack won the pot, and Mick's last line of defence went out the window.

Interspersed through all of that, however, were some normal moments amongst those men - Ian, remarking how much a health scare makes you stop and think about your life, and Vincent remarking about how good it was to see Jack out and about again, after Ronnie's death. Those were normal and very real moments - people interacting and moving on in their lives. That was good.

What was also good was Shirley firmly putting Whitney in her place, when she wanted to tend to Mick's needs during the poker game. 

You had your turn last week with the bank manager. I got this.

Shirley, pulling rank on Whitney, is brilliant. Shirley's got the cut of her, and that's good. I also enjoyed Shirley's snarling at the ineffectual Johnny when he happened to return home for no reason between lectures, and Kathy reminding Shirley about how she really should want to celebrate Sylvie's birthday because Sylvie was her mum.

So Mick hasn't got the money he needs to avoid prison. Shirley's said she wouldn't see Mick go to prison; my guess is that she won't. Watch this space.

The Brat Pack. I don't like any of the latest crop of yoof on the show, but I thought tonight's segment about them was actually quite interesting. It shows just how much psychological sway school bullies have over the people they hope to influence. 

Shakil will speak to Rebecca, he was trying to show her that he empathised with her situation; but he could only do that when Keegan wasn't around. Earlier, when she was on her way to school and he called out to her, Keegan challenged him, and he shut up.

This boy has serious issues with women, and he looks as though he's someone whose misogyny is so ingrained that it's there to stay. He's the sort of person who really would taunt, torture and eventually brutally rape a woman as a front to the awful coward that he is.

The girls are something else. Louise is a disgrace to the overtly pro-active Mitchell name. Neither her Auntie Sam, nor her late cousins, and certainly not her grandmother, would have stood for a friend of theirs being baited and bullied by the likes of Sniggle and Snaggle. All Louise can do is weakly protest that Rebecca wasn't actually depicted in that porn link, and speak politely to Martin with a wan smile. She can give lip back to the odious Prestonovich in Rebecca's defence, but she can't bitch slap either of thise nasty girls and show her inner Mitchell. She owes them nothing. They treated her like shit when she joined the Drama Club, now it's as though she's their useful idiot.

But the worst bit was that Rebecca had the god-given opportunity to daub Keegan up. Even though she was threatened by Snaggle, she wouldn't even have had to bring her name into it. Actually, the creation of that link had nothing to do with either of those girls. She could have nailed Keegan. Of course, he thought he was clever, creating the link on a pc at an internet cafe, but that would only take some extra work by the police to find out who actually created the link, by a process of elimination. But Rebecca could have shortened their work by naming him as the suspect - of course corroboration would have meant Shakil finding some balls.

I'm glad the head mentioned going to the police. This is child pornography. I hope the little scrotebag gets caught.

The Chicken Run Rapist and the Adolescent Russian Spy. Way to go, Dennis, grandson of Den Watts!

Michelle's sordid little secret is beginning to unravel. Since SOC has so callously shredded the most nuanced and the most seminal character ever in the show's history and turned her up as a statutory rapist, it's only natural that her charges dislike her as well. I would think this is the longest Dennis has ever spent around her without his doting mother bigging her up.

The arrogance and total naive ignorance of this woman astounds me. The ignorance shouldn't - after all, she's spent the past twenty years in one of the most intellectually ignorant places in the entire United States of America, so maybe she's gone native and a bit of that has rubbed off.

Mama Prestonovich is starting to call. It only took Ma and Pa - what? - almost a month before they discovered that Prestonovich's passport was gone and they sussed where he might be. That wouldn't be difficult to discover. Now she's making phonecalls ...

Michelle: How did she get this number?

Really? You asked that, you stupid bitch? Prestonovich knew. It's not rocket science, and NASA's just down the road. She called your husband, woman! What is unbelievable is that Preston's mother wouldn't be on the next flight over, even though he's adamant that she won't come to England. (Hands up, who wouldn't like to see Ruby Wax as Mrs Prestonovich, bitch-slapping Michelle about the Square?) 

This is bad fiction. Ma and Pa would want to do more than come to England and scream at Michelle. Pa would come, armed with the local sheriff, and Ma would want to do more - like what the girls in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe did when the husband-rapist of one of them came to call. Ma Prestonovich would put Michelle's bingo wings to good use, in a barbecue pit out back of Beales' restaurant, and serve them up to Ian, with a smile and a wink when Ian would ask her for the recipe ...

The secret's in the sauce.

Again, this storyline, as disgusting as it might be on one level (considering that the aim of the writing room is that we empathise with Michelle), is interesting in that we've seen how Michelle, the adult in this situation, probably allowed herself to be manipulated into a sexual relationship with a much younger man - a manchild, at worst - in a situation where she, a grown woman thirty years his senior and his teacher, should have walked away from this and not entered into a relationship she knew full well was illegal and which, if discovered could have (should have) ended with her arrest and imprisonment; but she didn't.

Now she sees precisely what a nasty little piece of work this guy is. He's the sort of kid who 's never had the word "no" said to him. When she finally dissuaded him - and that only came when she realised that her professional reputation could be summoned up for any prospective employer by simply pressing a button on a keyboard and that her professional career had been terminated by her precipitous, unprofessional and illegal behaviour.

It was the loss of her livelihood which made Michelle think twice about Preston, not the loss of her husband's and her son's respect. And when she denied him any further physical intercourse, he used her young niece as bait for her jealousy and used that situation to ingratiate himself into the good books of her brother. Michelle can't say anything, because Preston is in control. All he has to do is say one word to Martin about his relationship with her, and she's done for. He knows she fears losing her last two relatives in the world,and already he's toying with that, regaling Martin with stories about a "girl" back in Florida, who broke up with him.

Even now, Preston's playing mind games with her. When Martin informs her that he's seeing Rebecca's head teacher today about the porn link, he mentions how nervous he is about seeing her. Preston quips that Michelle would be able to offer him advice - after all, she is well-versed in dealing with head teachers. (Big mistake here: an American wouldn't realise what a head teacher or a "head" of a school is. In the US, they are called "principals".)

What was very interesting and entertaining in this piece was exactly how perceptive Louise and Dennis, especially Dennis, were about this guy. Michelle is so distracted by his being there that she's effectively neglecting both Dennis and Louise, whom she's supposed to be supervising in their parents' absence. Not only has she forgotten that Dennis needs money for a school trip - she's probably had to spend the monthly allowance Sharon's been sending to see to an unexpected guest - she also forgets to ring Dennis's teacher to tell her she'll have the funds the next day, and now he can't go on his trip. 

But it's Dennis who takes the first phonecall of the day. What time is that? About 8AM? Fuck me, it's 3AM in Florida, so Ma Prestonovich must be chewing nails and pissing rust, as we say in the South. Dennis is quick to note that the woman on the phone sounds angry. (Why didn't he also note that she was American?) He even sees through Michelle's lie that the woman is a friend of hers from Florida.

The highlight of the episode was the dinner scene. Michelle isn't even capable of rustling up a decent meal for the kids, so distracted is she by Preston. She feeds them a watery stew concocted from a bunch of vegetables Martin was going to throw out from the stall. When Dennis and Louise protest and get shirty - Dennis implying that Michelle is a liar - Prestonovich attempts to intervene in what he perceives as a manly fashion (calling out Louise for disrespecting Michelle, when Louise points out that Michelle is only in charge of them because Sharon and Phil are away), Louise turns the tables on him. 

Prestonovich is big about respect, she quips. What about Rebecca? She points out that Martin was at school today about Rebecca, who is extremely upset about the porn link, but there was also the matter of Preston sleeping with her and dumping her thereafter ...

When Michelle attempts to intervene and Louise backchats her, Preston huffs,

Do you speak to your mother like that?

Before anyone can say anything, Dennis observes that Preston doesn't speak to his mother at all, and to Michelle's horror, he says that Preston's mother had rung earlier, angry, and Preston wouldn't speak to her. Moreover, he said, Michelle lied about the call being from his mother. 

I was literally punching the air. Dennis is onto something. That lie, which he easily sussed, made him suspicious. 

This has seriously spooked Michelle, but Preston has another tack to try. He admits that he's going North to Manchester to visit this friend of a friend he's met only once and he'd be leaving the next day, which softens the silly woman's resolve and leads to a moment of unguarded intimacy on the couch in the Mitchell front room, when Preston assures her that Dennis and Louise are upstairs asleep; but Michelle hears something and doesn't see the person who's suspected her all along and who's witnessed the sordid truth behind the Mitchells' uninvited guest: Dennis.

Let the games begin.

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