Words on Walford: Weeks of 30 March – 10 April

 

It’s been almost a month since my last Words on Walford blog. The truth is, like the rest of the world, coronavirus quarantine had me a bit down. Rather than watching something as grim as EastEnders (and make no mistake—grim is why we love it), I’ve been tuning into cherished sitcoms like Are You Being Served? and The Golden Girls. In these dark times we all need a laugh.

However, just because Covid-19 has stopped the rest of the world doesn’t mean life in Walford has come to a halt—at least, not yet. Showing only two episodes a week in order to stretch out the remaining catalogue of new episodes as long as possible has slowed down the pace of drama, or at least the pace viewers are getting it. Obviously the episodes we’re seeing now were filmed months before the pandemic, so the writers and producers had little way of knowing how radically life would change for the rest of us and, presumably, the folks on Albert Square. I have found myself wondering how Sonia is coping as an NHS nurse, how Bobby is feeling stuck at home with miserable old Ian, and how Chantelle is coping being trapped with Gray.

Perhaps we’ll never know. One thing is for sure, though: the decision to air only two episodes a week, while understandable, does risk hurting the stories. For nearly 20 years the show has broadcast four times a week, and the last time it aired only twice weekly the cast was significantly smaller. That makes sense, because you have less time to tell the stories of a big cast. That, I suppose, is my concern with two episodes a week. It has been nearly three weeks since we’ve seen Jean, or Keegan, or Whitney. These are major characters with major storylines. How will not seeing them for possibly weeks on end effect how those storylines are received?

As I said, it’s entirely understandable why the BBC decided to cut back on the number of weekly episodes and there’s not much that can be done about it, so this isn’t a criticism so much as it is simple curiosity. Of course—and this is the uncomfortable elephant in the room—what happens when they run out of episodes? Will the story just pick up again where it left off? Will there be a time jump? Remains to be seen, but it seems impossible that this lockdown won’t affect future storytelling.

For now, though, let’s look backwards. The last fortnight saw the story of Dennis’ death get wrapped up (at least for now) with a neat, yet disappointing, bow on top. Dennis’ funeral was a letdown, not least because we really didn’t get to see much of his funeral. Jay leading the horse-drawn carriage through the Square was a moving scene, though the incidental music was unnecessary. This has become a hallmark of the Sen era, and it’s hit-or-miss. I was a big fan of “Stay Another Day” playing at the end of the Christmas Day episode, but EastEnders has never needed a score to stir our emotions and it doesn’t need one now.

Aside from giving Denny a final sendoff, the funeral ushered Phil (Steve McFadden) back to the Square. Exactly what I feared would happen has happened: Phil and Sharon have reconciled, or at least made peace. Their tryst was expected and just as disappointing as I imagined. I said weeks ago that if Denny’s death wasn’t the end of Phil and Sharon it would be wasted, and I was right. Sharon justifying her dalliance to Ian—that Phil loved Denny too and there was some comfort in being with him because of that—made sense, I guess, but it was still infuriating. These two have been toxic for nearly 30 years, and I hoped the final nail in Dennis’ coffin would be the final nail in their relationship’s coffin, too. No such luck.

If anything, it’s clear that Sharon is going to be used as a plot point in Phil’s broader redemption arc. First came Phil turning himself in, followed by forgiveness—or at least absolution—from Sharon. Then we saw Phil have a heartwarming scene with Ben, telling him he’s proud of him as Ben struggles with his hearing loss. Perhaps I was naïve to think that Phil Mitchell would finally get his comeuppance. Steve McFadden is a national treasure and Phil Mitchell is as iconic a character as soapland has to offer, so of course proper justice—prison—was out of the question. I had hoped Phil would get it some other way, though I was never sure how. That looks unlikely to happen, and Dennis’ death will be just another dastardly deed Phil gets away with. If that’s the case, his death will have been one of the biggest mistakes in EastEnders history.

Also, is there any doubt in anyone’s mind now that Kayden is actually Phil’s biological child? I don’t know how or when that secret will be revealed, but it will. It’s so obvious and such a shame. It looks like everything I hoped wouldn’t happen in this storyline is going to happen. Disappointing.

Another major storyline to play out over the past two weeks is Dotty’s continued blackmailing of Ian. Finally gaining the upper hand, Ian managed to steal back the phone with the incriminating voicemail in which Dennis unwittingly names him as his killer (even though Phil definitely remains man most responsible). It’s becoming clear that when—and it’s only a matter of time—Sharon finds out Ian locked Denny in that room she will blame Ian, not Phil, for his death. I’m not happy with this, and I think it’s really a stupid storyline, but it is what it is. Whatever. Phil must have a prosecco-flavoured dick or something because nothing will keep Sharon off it, not even her son’s death.

Whatever. Back to Dotty. The final scene on last Tuesday’s episode, in which she makes clear to Ian that she still plans to tell Sharon about the voicemail, was interesting. For a long time we believed Dotty was only blackmailing Ian because she wanted the Arches—like her dad, apple, tree, etc—but it turns out she wants justice more than payout. Dotty is shaping up to be a complex, interesting character whose motives aren’t always as dastardly (and, I imagine on the other side of that coin, altruistic) as we think. Nick Cotton was pure evil, a villain through and through, but Dotty is shaping up to be more like, dare I say, Phil Mitchell. That is, she could end up being one of soap’s great anti-heroines, a woman who does the wrong things for the right reasons (or vice versa at times). Played brilliantly by Milly Zero and written in a way that makes you love her then hate her then love her again, Dotty Cotton has the makings of an EastEnders legend.

The other major development over the past four episodes was Mick and Linda’s decision to sell the Queen Vic. Watching Linda fall off the wagon at Denny’s funeral was boring because it was so expected—though who can blame her the way Sharon had a go over those pepperoni pizzas?—but the payoff was worth it. Watching Kellie Bright and Danny Dyer play the scene where Linda talks about growing up in a pub and how that has influenced her relationship with booze was deeply moving, and anyone who has struggled with drink can relate to desperately wanting to be one of those people who can only have one. Seeing Shirley and Tina both support their decision to sell was heartwarming, too. The Carters are at their best when they come together as a family and seeing them rally around Linda has been nice.

So who will buy the Vic? That’s the question on everybody’s mind. The most obvious choice is Sharon. She can’t crash with Ian forever—and won’t want to once Dotty reveals the truth—and even though she slept with Phil, I don’t think they’ll reconcile quickly. Hearing Sharon talk about how happy she was growing up in the Vic might be some nice foreshadowing. Karen Taylor has also come into some money courtesy of Ian Beale bribing her to move away. It would be a very Karen Taylor thing to do to take that money and move just down the street. Ruby Allen—who got a line of dialogue last week!—could fancy owning a second business, possibly allowing her mate Stacey to run it once she returns. Ian could make a bid for it (Lord knows he’d consider it his crown jewel), or the Panesars. Sharon is the safe bet, but it really could be anyone—even someone not currently on the canvas.

Whoever it is, though, Mick and Linda selling up is the end of an era. I did the maths, and the Carters have the longest stretch of time as Queen Vic landlords in the shows history. Phil Mitchell has more time overall behind the bar, and Den and Angie Watts ran it for longer when you count backstory (pre-1985), but on screen, Mick and Linda have the longest tenure. It’s going to be weird seeing Linda’s flamingos painted over and not seeing Mick pulling pints. It’s also going to be strange seeing them adjust to life in Walford not running a boozer. What other discernable skills do either of them have? What will they do for money? Will they open a restaurant? It will be fascinating to see how they adjust to their new reality in the weeks to come.

Stray observations: I’m really not sure how I feel about Jags and Habiba, but I’m glad Habiba is getting a storyline. It’s good to see Sharon reclaim the Watts name. Callum sleeping in his pants and socks is weird. I can understand sleeping in pyjamas and socks when it’s cold, but how do people sleep in pants and socks? Is this a thing?  Ballum said “I love you.” That was sweet. Could there be a Peter-Bobby-Dotty love triangle? Or are they setting Dotty up for a romance with Vinny? Hard to tell. Vinny and Dotty have an interesting dynamic though. Wow, when’s the last time we saw Riley and Chatham?

Scene of the fortnight: Sharon going after Phil with a knife. Wish she’d shanked him. Alas and alack, as June Brown says.

Line of the fortnight: “A night with bad baby Banksy? Computer says no.” – Dotty with the jokes

Performance of the fortnight: Milly Zero really killed it as Dotty these past two weeks.

Character of the fortnight: Phil Mitchell. I mean, he’s going to get away with murder. Credit where it’s due.

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