Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Once in a Blue Moon - Review:- Tuesday 20.06.2017

This was the best episode of this programme I have seen in a long, long time. It's just a shame that there isn't any consistency about the show now, that there will be others of its caliber anytime soon. It stuck to a theme, had two major plotlines move in the right direction, there was progress in character development, and the performances - especially those of Tilly Keeper, Zach Morris, Aaron Sidwell and the brilliantly understated Jake Wood (who could give a masterclass in understated acting) - were pitch perfect. 

I've been hard on the show of late,and I'll be harder yet again, because I don't like the direction in which Sean O'Connor has taken this show - e.g., inserting his favourites randomly into scenes with the twofold purpose of reminding people that they are still there, albeit taking a brief break from the limelight, and of using those miniscule scenes as a subtle piece of publicity for furthering developing storylines of their own. Tonight, it was Michelle's turn. When it's not Michelle, it's Denise; when it's not Denise, it's Michelle. But I can overlook that because of the quality, the tension and the nuance displayed in this episode.

When EastEnders is good, it's excellent and the top of the class; when it's bad, it's a shambles.

The Brannings. The end of the episode saw Max genuinely conflicted, but we knew that halfway through the piece. Max has issues, that's for certain. He has issues with his family - with his brother and the favouritism shown Jack by his parents when he and Max were children; with his own children and the selfishness they've inherited from both Max and Tanya and the callous way they've actually turned on Max in the past. He certainly has issues with the community, which basically hung him out to dry when he was accused of having killed Lucy Beale - and he genuinely does have a bone to pick with Ian, Jane, Phil and Sharon.

But Max isn't a bad man.

He genuinely and unconditionally loves his children, or else he wouldn't forgive them a thousand-fold when they take their frustrations out on him. He instinctively stepped in and supported Jack in the immediate aftermath of Ronnie's death, without thinking the morning her death was discovered. I would wager that Max was conflicted even when he was in prison, which is where his self-harm began and where he used this as a means of directing his anger on the safest and closest person to him in that instance - himself. It was also a means of control, of making himself stronger and able to withstand the pain which he was about to inflict.

I would also wager the cellmate, who came to his rescue (the job, the flash car, the money) is also demanding something in return - Albert Square delivered up on a plate to a corporate firm of property developers, whose business may or may not be a front for money laundering, amongst other things. I would also make a bet that the cellmate is Josh's father.

But all it takes for Max to reflect on what his actions will accomplish is a genuine act of kindness. Even before today, pin pricks of conflict emerged as he watched Lauren's behaviour around Josh. He knows who Josh is and of what he's capable, and he knows that Josh's intentions toward Lauren aren't the sort which would engender a lasting and normal relationship. Josh wants a quick fling amongst the hoi-polloi as a break from his posh girlfriend.

Yet it was Jack coming up trumps and instinctively so, through the pain of losing Matthew, by understanding the loss Max has felt through the death of his oldest son and the separation from his youngest, which turned Max.This is a first for Jack, who never acts in anyone's interests other than his own, much less Max's. It was a catharsis for him, after Matthew's departure, which was down to Max's manipulations, to be able to do this for Max, to offer him the best gift of all for Father's Day, a chance to spend the entire day with his three surviving children and his grandchild, to banter with Oscar and to play a family game. It was psychological medicine for Jack, and it brought home to Max all he really stands to lose. In the midst of this, for the first time in a long time, Jack reaches out to bond with Max, and this touches Max to the quick.

He's like the traitor who starts out as a nice enough bloke, consorting with the tough guy who's the unknown entity, until he realises he's on a treasonous route of no return, and it's too late to get out of the game. The jokey poker face references during the game with Oscar were symbolic - Max has maintained a stiff, emotionless poker face throughout all of Jack's turmoil, until that moment alone in the kitchen when the rest of the family is waiting to say good-bye to Oscar, without moving an inch of facial muscle, Jake Wood's eyes tell the real story of Max's conflict and turmoil. The destruction of the poker apparatus afterward was symbolic too - there's no getting out of this for Max. He has to keep playing the game, but whom will he bluff? His family and the community he calls home, or the white-collared crooks who pay his wages?

The rest of the Branning segment of this episode dealt with the beginning of the aftermath of Abi's confession to Steven about Lauren's abortion. I gather the climax of this turmoil will occur at Abi's 21st birthday party on Friday.

Abi is a Peter Pan person. She's the woman who was happiest as a child, before she was old enough to know about Max's infidelities, when she was the true Daddy's girl of the piece, who liked nothing better than to cuddle up to Max at the end of the day, her world revolved around him and her pets. In the wake of the Stax reveal, she never once denounced Max - even taking the newborn Oscar out in the middle of the night in her pajamas, whilst Tanya canoodled with Sean Slater, in order to spend the night with Max.

She was happiest as a child, and that's why I think she was really happiest living with Dot, where Dot fussed over her, cooked for her and paid attention to her needs. She felt safe there. When she initially thought about moving into the house-share, she decided against it, preferring to stay with Dot, until she was bamboozled and bullied into moving in by Ben and Jay (who used to be her friends) and by Donna, who really couldn't give a monkey's arse about Abi, except that she makes the rent they have to pay that much cheaper and that she cooks and cleans.

Even though Abi states that she's always lived in Lauren's shadow, her real problems with Lauren began when she was studying for her A-Levels, with hopes of studying veterinary science at university, and her parents were running around like headless chickens because Lauren's drinking was out of confrol. In the middle of all this, she did badly in her exams, broke up with Jay and Lauren became stronger and settled into a relationship with Peter Beale.

She repudiated her father, and even now, is on an uneasy keel with him, partly because she thinks he favours Lauren, who has a child and a job and a seemingly committed relationship, but also because she cannot understand why her father would forgive her repudiation. Of Abi and Lauren, it was Abi who was the least happy to see Max return to Walford. 

She basically wants her old place in her family to be restored to her, but the way it was when she was a child. At one and the same time, she dislikes and is jealous of Lauren - and to be truthful, her assessment of Lauren as a selfish, self-centred,self-absorbed bitch who is never satisfied with what she's got, is aptly correct; yet she longs for a close, sisterly relationship, which is why - to a point - she remained non-judgemental of Lauren when she confessed her pregnancy and her intention to have a termination. Where Abi was right was in advising Lauren to tell Steven. As much as Lauren, she knows, from their time with Max and Tanya, that nothing is gained by keeping secrets.

I think more than Lauren and from the moment she told Steven Lauren's secret, Abi gauged the true extent of just how unpredictable and unstable Steven is. Just as she cannot understand Max's unconditional love for her as a father's love for a child (hence, her inability to accept his casual and easy banter with her, misinterpreting it as criticism), she can't understand Steven's insistence on forgiving Lauren or the depth of his love for her. 

Abi knows Lauren. She also instinctively knows Lauren isn't satisfied with Steven, no matter how much she protests that she is. She feels a bond with Steven, who has been made to feel marginalised, not only by Lauren, who won't even attempt to recognise the bond he's forged with her child, but also by Ian, whom he overheard blatanly saying that Steven, the child who isn't his son, doesn't hold the same place in Ian's heart as his natural children. Steven's feeling of alienation is real, and it isn't so much that Abi's alienation isn't real - it is - but it's the extent to which her alienation is down to her own poor self-esteem, which manifests itself in jealousy and bitterness.

She simply doesn't feel that Lauren deserves the credit Steven gives her.

One scene stood out for me in this segment, and that was Steven's confrontation with Abi, after he'd left the house for Louis's nappies, when Lauren was attempting to leave when she learned Josh was outside. I'm no big fan of Abi; she's certainly done some stupid things, but Ben and the Mitchells treated her appallingly, whilst making numerous excuses for Ben's equally bad behaviour. Now, Steven makes her out to be totally unlikable,a bitter and twisted little bitch. His call-out on her character is prescient, especially considering what subsequently happened.

Steven spent most of the episode, silently dwelling on the fact that Lauren had aborted their child and being juxtaposed with any and all sorts of baby references - coming back to the pub to hear about Martin's and Stacey's baby news, sitting at a table with a variety of fathers (Ian, Martin and Patrick have all raised or are raising boys who weren't their biological sons) and listening to tales of sleepless nights, nappie changing and the like). And finally having Ian admit his remarks were out of order about referring to him as anything less than his son, reaffirming his love for Steven and finally having a heart-to-heart with Steven about the future of his relationship with Lauren.

The ultimate outcome of this segment of the episode was the re-emergence of psycho Steven. Everyone seems to have forgotten that Steven has more than just a smidgeon of instability. When he spies Lauren having an intimate chat with Josh inside Josh's Range Rover, he plays the pair of them brilliantly, acting the nice guy until Lauren's out of sight before pointedly reminding Josh that he really isn't so nice at all. He later leaves Abi with the same warning.

The Josh-Lauren dynamic makes me uneasy. Lauren is bored with Steven, but she feels guilty about the abortion, and she's genuinely trying - or at least, she tells herself she is - to give Steven her full, undivided attention; but her attention keeps getting deflected by Josh, who continues texting her remorselessly. This has nothing to do with work and everything to do with attention-seeking. Max had revealed openly to Lauren that Josh was engaged to be married, and since then, Josh has unabatedly tried to contact Lauren about this.

The conversation in Josh's car was the classic committed man's pithy excuses to his bit on the side, to reassure her of his intentions and to get her to keep the promised bed warm - the fiancĂ©e was away travelling, their relationship was almost an arranged one, he'd got engaged to her to please his father, the relationship was over when she left on her tour ... the usual tissue of lies, which Lauren bought hook, line and sinker. He's grooming her. She should have known from the very beginning, when he copped that kiss, that his interst in her was nothing professional. She's his plaything, the interest of the moment, and - as he says - he always gets what he wants. She gains nothing by reminding him that he'd never said anything about a committed relationship before, but he rightly puts the ball back in her court by reminding her that she thought to keep the fact that she had a boyfriend and a child a secret. However much Lauren might try to say this was a private matter, it wasn't. 

I said all along that this was going to end in tears -probably at Abi's party, if not later.

The Mitchells. I said this was the beginning of Keegan's redemption, and it was, with an ugly twist. Both Tilly Keeper and Zach Morris played blinders in this, but credit where credit is due to Letitia Dean and Lorraine Stanley as well for their part. Sharon was pitch perfect in pointing out to Karen that Louise was rendered prostrate over this entire ordeal. Whether Keegan's admission was a lie or not, Louise couldn't remember what happened,and she had reason to believe that she really was raped.

This was Sharon at her best, and being met verbal blow-by-blow by Karen, equally on the defensive for her child. When Karen makes the mistake of appearing to blame the entire incident on Louise having her drink spiked, Sharon's having none of it. The crux question is how Keegan knew of a birthmark on an intimate part of Louise's body, something about which he would know nothing unless he had seen her unclothed.

The revelation of this piece of information, especially when Keegan arrives home, strikes Karen dumb. In order to be able to defend him,she has to know from whom he got information about the birth mark, and when he tells her, she marches him around to the Mitchells' home with the news.

He wastoldabout the birth mark by Dennis - think back to his spying on the girls undressing for the Christmas pageant.

That was the surprise twist, and whether or not Sharon's words sank into Dennis is beside the point. For all she told Karen off about parenting, she hasn't been a good parent to Dennis - or else,she'd have turned Michelle out of the Mitchell house the moment she'd learned that Michelle had smacked her son. Instead,Michelle hangs about the place like a bad smell, and all the kerfuffle about the party would never have come to be, had Sharon and Michelle not got drunk, only to be told off (rightly) by Louise and then held to ransom by Louise about having a sleepover.

The climax of this segment was Keegan being forced to face a visibly distressed Louise, who demanded to know why he had propagated such a rumour about her without compunction. The viewers knew the reason why he'd done it - he'd confessed to his mother that he did so, because he liked her, and because he wanted to make things difficult and awkward for the seemingly perfect middle-class lad she liked, who had humiliated him. In the end, he couldn't tell her the reason for his lie. He was so ashamed, he couldn't even look at her, but when he did, it was to apologise.

I don't want TPTB to go in the direction of an eventual romance between Louise and Keegan.He's ruined her reputation, something that will be hard to shake off in the immediate future. But yet again, the bullies seem to be let off to live another day. It would be a big mistake and almost a perversion to have a romance develop between Louise and Keegan, yet I can't help but feel that Keegan is yet another walking social more of Sean O'Connor's - a walking socio-political statement - instead of a real character. 

Like his mother, though.

Kathy and Jane. Kathy is right. The odd treat and deviation from a rigid diet won't hurt Ian's diabetes, and Jane is becoming too much of a control freak. This is the woman who aided in the disposal of Kathy's granddaughter's body and callously lied about it for a year.

I resented Jane's remark to Kathy about Kathy living in Jane's house under Jane's rules. Pardon me, but I thought the house was Ian's and in Ian's name; and I think Ian would definitely have something to say about Jane trying to boot his mother out of their home. What's amazing is Ian's fear of displeasing Jane. Why does he fear her leaving him? She won't. She's drilled fear of the most extreme outcomes to Ian's diabetes into him..This is going to evolve into a power struggle for control of Ian, at least on Jane's part. She sees how fond he is of Kathy, what he's done for her and how he's influenced by her, and she doesn't like what he sees.

Me, I'm Team Kathy.

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