By Laura Denby
Soaps are known for delivering slow-burn, long running narratives. It’s a classic trait of the genre, and EastEnders has certainly lived up to this expectation upon its autumn return. Newly qualified police officer Callum Highway found himself the victim of blackmail, and his situation has only grown more complicated with every episode.
Viewers have become frustrated over the endless amount of turmoil the poor man is facing, willing it to be over. But the storyline has its advantages, acting as a catalyst for issues that have yet to be dealt with and providing an intriguing backdrop for other characters.
In order to secure his boyfriend Ben Mitchell’s freedom, Callum reluctantly agreed to investigate Ben’s dad Phil (Steve McFadden). The young rookie therefore decided to gain Phil’s trust by using his role in the police to help with his dodgy dealings - making him something of a double agent. Who would have thought the notorious hardman could be fooled so easily?
It’s a complex format, but there are so many elements that make Callum’s dilemma the perfect soap timebomb. He has become a beloved character, so just the presence of the intimidating DI Thompson (played by Philip Wright) is enough to make the audience seethe. The love story between Callum and Ben is also central to proceedings.
The couple’s romance has a huge fan following, making them a constant talking point. Ben and Callum’s popularity both individually and as a unit makes them a compelling watch in any scenario; so however viewers feel about recent developments, they will still be tuning in.
The role reversal between the characters has been a welcome change of pace. After a year of lies rolling easily off Ben’s tongue, it’s Callum’s turn to be deceitful - even if he has been forced into it and it’s all Ben’s fault in the first place! Giving Callum his own story is equally important, after several months as a supporting character.
His alter ego’s impossible situation has placed actor Tony Clay right in the middle of the drama, with the strong performances he has always delivered now taking centre stage. There is an edge to the character that we may not have discovered if the soap had taken the easier route and had Callum remain as the moral compass.
Still, alongside his treacherous behaviour, Callum attempts to put Ben first at every stage. He has made the very same choice that has plagued Ben throughout their relationship: his boyfriend, or his loyalty to Phil. Actor Max Bowden (Ben) recently suggested that the current plot could finally solve that problem for his character. So perhaps it could put an end to the main points of conflict for ‘Ballum’, allowing for a healthier dynamic in the long term.
The twists also make the Mitchells’ repetitive criminal activities much more interesting. A heist or scam is more common in this family than a downpour of rain in Walford; so it’s refreshing to add something new with Callum’s involvement. Taking the focus off Phil and Ben’s latest great escape, EastEnders dropped another cliffhanger in the form of newbie thief Kush Kazemi (Davood Ghadami), who threatened to take Ben down with him unless Callum let him go.
The blackmail angle may seem overused; but bringing in such an unlikely character was a clever choice that put a different spin on events. If there’s one thing we weren’t expecting to see, it was Callum debating whether to arrest nice guy Kush! We are constantly being surprised and left in suspense - which serves to prove how inventive the scriptwriters have been.
This week has seen the pressure mount further for Callum; and as exasperating as it can be to watch, he needs to be pushed to the limit so that the stakes are raised even higher. Concluding the storyline before that point would be premature, and the show is sure to have more shocks on the way. It has already been hinted that PC Highway will reach breaking point in the coming weeks.
The pay-off will be worth it as an explosive aftermath is guaranteed once the bombshell drops. Every outcome has disaster written all over it, even if it does ultimately lead to changes for the better - and EastEnders will continue to captivate us while we wait.