RIP EastEnders’ Mel Owen (Tamzin Outhwaite), brutally dispatched in an ironically similar method to late husband Steve – a high-speed car chase with a member of the Mitchell family desperate to protect their child that ended in a truly horrific death.
The temptation to pay homage to Steve’s explosive 2002 exit and bump off Mel in an all-female restaging of his furious final showdown with Phil Mitchell was clever and entertaining (especially the jaw-dropping final touch of that speeding lorry), but it meant cutting Mrs Owen off in her prime as she was finding her groove.
As Outhwaite decided to quit, EastEnders finally figured out what to do with the character, two years after bringing her back. I’m actually missing her already – and that’s not something I ever thought I’d say.
Full disclosure – up until a few months ago, Mel’s much-heralded return had left me somewhat underwhelmed.
Yes, she’d been involved in some unforgettable key moments of Walford history – the doomed millennium wedding to Ian Beale, being among the line-up of suspects in Who Shot Phil? in 2001 – but once she was back in the Square it was clear the character had few links to the community she left behind 17 years earlier.
Beyond the initial fanfare, it felt like the show quickly ran out of ideas. Trading off her greatest hits through a contrived flirtation with Ian (he’s been married about 53 times since that fateful New Year’s Eve, were we really expected to believe he still held a torch for her?) and retconning a spark with Phil that was never really there (they had a one-night stand, not a full-blown affair) highlighted the difficulty of making Mel fit into contemporary Walford.
Bringing in bigamist ex Ray Kelly suffered from the fact their relationship history had all been played off screen, making it hard for the audience to invest in them, and only isolating Mel further from the rest of the cast as the couple appeared to exist in their own plot vacuum.
Pairing her up with Jack Branning felt like an obvious attempt to recreate his partnership with the much-missed Ronnie Mitchell, another icy, no-nonsense blonde business badass who runs the local club (he’s certainly got a type). Only a teased frisson with Max Branning piqued my interest, imagine the fun they’d have had together…
But once Mel’s surly psycho son Hunter was killed off in the Queen Vic September siege things suddenly got interesting – Mel was hard, fatalistic and lashing out in grief, desperate to take it out on someone and generally cause mischief. She was frankly terrifying, and discovered her true calling as Walford’s next big villainess.
Driven by the pain of her loss and crackling with malevolent glee, Mel blackmailing Sharon over her baby daddy secret just because she could, and stirring things up with that unpredictable, twisted glint in her eye was a treat to watch.
Making her an antagonist to the Mitchells with nothing left to lose gave Outhwaite much more to get her teeth into, and propelled the character into exciting new territory as the kind of revered alpha female the show is lacking – not a one-dimensional soap bitch, but someone with depth, layers and streak of survivor’s steel who’s prepared to stoop questionably low when they need to, shocking the audience while keeping them on side.
Someone in the mold of Janine Butcher, Chrissie Watts or the aforementioned Ronnie Mitchell. Kind of like a female Phil.
It also helped hugely having best mate Lisa Fowler back, which managed to give proper context to Mel’s first stint in the show and successfully move both of them forward as they became embroiled in the Sharanu shenanigans.
And now, in the blink of an eye, and the screech of a very big lorry, Mel is gone. Just as we were desperate to see what she was going to do next…
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