EastEnders' Ben and Callum revive chemistry after burnout
What did you think of their latest twist? **WARNING: Contains spoilers for EastEnders boxset**
**This article discusses scenes which have not yet aired on television and can be found in this week's EastEnders boxset currently streaming on BBC iPlayer. There are also references to sexual assault which some readers may find distressing.**
It was the moment EastEnders fans had been waiting for, as Ben Mitchell (Max Bowden) finally opened up to husband Callum Highway (Tony Clay) about his rape ordeal at the hands of Lewis Butler (Aidan O'Callaghan).
At the end of a dramatic week which saw Ben's father Phil (Steve McFadden) and aunt Sam (Kim Medcalf) attempt to take revenge on Lewis, Ben made the decision to report his attacker to the police. As he waited to be interviewed, police officer Callum walked into the room, setting the stage for an emotional conversation.
The couple have been separated since May with Callum under the impression that Ben had willingly slept with Lewis. It's been a frustrating watch as Callum continued to be cold with his ex and, even when he reached out to Ben, a broken Ben couldn't bring himself to reveal what really happened.
But with their entire relationship feeling the strain of one problem after another, the time apart paved the way for their most hopeful scene together in a very long time.
"Hopeful?!" I hear you ask. Yes, although Ben's gentle rejection of Callum's desire for a reunion made for one of the saddest cliffhangers, the interaction revealed a fresh era as their dynamic underwent a crucial moment of revival.
While their marriage may not have been revived along with it, we saw a complete shift compared with how Ben and Callum have operated over the past few years – and this was largely due to the fact that they split up. In all their time as a pair, they have had everything thrown at them. If ever there was an opportunity for conflict and drama, it was sent their way.
The first big stumbling block for 'Ballum' was Callum's initiation into the police. Criminal Ben was hilariously mortified when Callum first announced his career move, but the development soon created an endless stream of issues as Ben continued to get himself arrested.
By the time Ben stopped getting into trouble, Callum had been forced into an undercover plot in order to secretly save his beloved from a prison sentence for his last foray into illegal activities.
There was also a kidnap ordeal for Callum, and Ben lost the rest of his hearing after being injured during the boat crash. While EastEnders initially delivered some groundbreaking work here, the soap ultimately neglected Ben's deafness in favour of using it to create more chaos between him and Callum.
Since then, we've seen Ben struggle after the killer of Paul Coker (Jonny Labey), his first love, was released from prison. This was swiftly followed by Callum briefly wondering if he had missed out on life as a single gay man (just a little late there!) and the couple being subjected to a homophobic attack that left Ben traumatised and a shell of his former self.
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It was the beginning of the end for the first chapter of one of EastEnders' most adored partnerships. And this was an era that needed a definitive ending, with the show exhausting Ben and Callum with far too much drama.
The issues they had coped with within that time were undoubtedly hugely significant, and played with complete conviction and strength on-screen. But EastEnders drained Ben and Callum with its methods to keep them at the forefront.
Which brings us back to this week: after three months staying mostly out of each other's orbits, here they were reminding us that the chemistry between them is as strong as ever with powerhouse performances from stars Bowden and Clay. And without that gap, their marriage might still be suffering from burnout thanks to an overload of angst.
It's clear from the way in which Ben phrased his speech to Callum that the love is still very much alive. Now wouldn't have been the right time to put these two back together, but we'd be very surprised if EastEnders isn't priming them to find their way back to each other in the near future – naturally with a lot to sort out before the soap world offers them its own version of a happy ever after.
For now, that long-awaited heart-to-heart has reignited the spark and brought back the optimism for this once iconic partnership – something that had been lacking just a short time ago.
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