EastEnders’ Max Branning is no saint, but his latest actions have turned him from flawed, feckless rogue to a remorseless would-be killer prepared to take another life.
This is potentially worrying news for the character, as killing is the one trait that guarantees a shelf life in the moral world of soap.
We’re used to Max lying, cheating, seducing and deceiving, but leaving a woman on crutches to die in a burning building – then attempting to destroy her oxygen tube as she lies in a coma in hospital – is really crossing the line.
Does this mean Max Branning is now basically a murderer and his days are numbered? Or can he still be redeemed?
The murky revenge plot has seen Max has get into bed with the shady Weyland corporation to destroy Albert Square by way of serving his own agenda of getting his own back on the community who framed him for a crime he didn’t commit (the murder of Lucy Beale).
But it doesn’t quite seem a justifiable enough reason to make two attempts on Jane’s life.
So if he’s to remain in the show – and still garner the sympathy of the audience – where does Max go from here?
News of Lauren and Abi’s exit is interesting timing, following this week’s announcement that Jacqueline Jossa and Lorna Fitzgerald are leaving the show, and suggests the Branning siblings will be involved in the rehabilitation of their on-screen dad.
One way to restore Max’s morals and teach him a lesson would be to punish him through pain: could EastEnders kill off his daughters, sacrificing the next generation of a core Walford clan in order to make us feel sorry for Max again? Putting him through the emotional wringer as a grieving father would be a surefire way to elicit forgive him his sins, especially if the sisters’ demise was somehow linked to the Weyland story.
If Fi Browning, Josh Hemmings, the Chairman, the cellmate (we still don’t know their names) and the other mysterious players in Max’s Machiavellian plot turned really nasty, Lauren and Abi may end up paying the price and their father could end up with blood on his hands. Although don’t forget Max has already lost son Bradley – would it be simply too grim to kill off more of his children? Considering Ian has lost both Lucy and Steven Beale in the last few years, perhaps not.
Another way to turn it around for the bald bad boy is to have Max switch sides and turn on his Weyland cohorts, deciding things had gone too far and that he wants to fight for his community, not destroy it.
This could potentially put his family in danger as Weyland turn nasty, so with Lauren and Abi’s lives at risk because of Max’s actions, might he get them out of Walford to safety and take a beating for his betrayal to his big business bosses?
The audience has forgiven Max’s many past sins, and his mistakes have created some unforgettable moments – the Christmas 2007 reveal of his affair with Stacey is still talked about, but we’ve put to one side the fact that he stole his son’s girlfriend and tore his family apart.
However, you can’t help thinking that EastEnders wrote itself into a corner from the minute Max threw that fire blanket over himself and left Jane to burn, and unless the long term plan is for the character to leave (considering his popularity that seems unlikely) there’s a lot of work to be done to regain sympathy for Mr Branning.
Luckily Jake Wood is one of the best actors on the show and is adept at making the audience root for his character, with a multi-layered performance that is never less than compelling – sometimes more so than the storylines themselves.
We had a glimmer of hope earlier this week when Max expressed a flash of doubt to partner in crime Fi Browning about the serious repercussions of their plan. Was that a hint of regret we detected from Max after Fi told him to “man up”?
When it comes down to it, Max is still that scared little boy beaten by his abusive dad, desperate to escape his demons and be a better parent. That indelible image of young Max locked in a coffin by his bullying father and the trauma it caused him explains a lifetime of self-destructive behaviour – but in going too far down this latest route, has the show locked away Max Branning’s soul for good, making him irreversibly irredeemable this time?
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