EastEnders has something of an obsession with rallying in the face of adversity. It’s a recurring theme at the moment: last month, we had the Christmas blackout and the knees-up around the piano, now we’ve witnessed the bus-lift that saved the life of Martin Fowler. Both are the same story, really, but with the second being much more melodramatic than the first. Which you prefer depends on the brand of soap you go for – the everyday dramas or the set-piece catastrophes.
I like to think that there’s always a place in soapland for a full-on disaster and this week’s bus smash certainly ticked all the boxes. It was undeniably well filmed and acted, while the cliffhangers kept us coming back for more. But it also bore more than a passing resemblance to last October’s episodes of Coronation Street where David crashed his car. Remember the storyline? Gary Windass was trapped under the vehicle and everyone pulled together to lift it off him. Sound familiar? There was even the unexpected character caught up in the action: in Corrie’s case it was Anna, on EastEnders, it was Whitney.
And speaking of Whitney, I really wish the writers hadn’t used her to tempt Mick away from Linda. Why can’t Mick remain faithful? Why does he have to be tarnished in this way? As unbelievable as it sounds, some men don’t actually cheat. Glancing at the rogues’ gallery of Walford philanderers, you might find that hard to credit. But we’ve managed to go three whole years without Mick straying. And now – thanks to that fleeting reciprocation – he’s no longer the moral man he was. A real shame.
Thankfully, Max Branning remains reliably murky. At least, you always know where you are with him. Morals and Max have never been the best of pals and nobody plays shifty quite like Jake Wood. Except now there’s an extra layer to his duplicity: prison has obviously desensitized him to violence and left him dissociated from his surroundings. The ramifications look set to be damaging, especially now that he has this association with his shadowy contact at the Shard (Simon Williams, an actor able to play a supercilious s**t in any environment).
Are we sensing a Walford takeover? Albert Square razed to the ground? My only worry is that we get a return to the pre-watershed gangsterism that never works well on EastEnders. Even worse, Williams could perpetuate the soap calumny that all members of the middle class are poisonous bastards with the ethics of Marvel villains.
As for those who ended up at the hospital it seems that we needn’t be fretting about any 11th hour flatlining. Martin is ready to make babies, Whitney (as we’ve already discussed) hasn’t let a spell beneath a bus dampen her ardour, while Denise will probably be back behind the Minute Mart counter by Monday. Only the poor never-to-be-named driver was stretchered off in a body bag. All of which suggests that normal service will be resumed when next we visit Walford.
So was it a stunt for the sake of a stunt? Well, all the soaps are guilty of that from time to time (yes, we’re looking at you, Corrie minibus crash). But the lack of fatalities has made this week’s EastEnders feel one of those NCIS/CSI-style procedurals where the reset button is pressed in the closing minutes and everyone returns to where they were in time for the next episode. Unlike the bus passengers, I quite enjoyed some of the ride, but can’t help but wish that the repercussions could have been more far reaching.
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news