EastEnders' Max Branning (Jake Wood) and Ruby Allen (Louisa Lytton) in sizzling summer fling shock – who saw that coming?
Probably nobody, as it sounds like the kind of random coupling soaps construct for characters who have barely even spoken before but have become rudderless and in desperate need of a new focus.
The confusing state of Max's marriage to Rainie (on? Off? Fake? Real?) and Ruby finally calling time on her and Jay after months of misunderstandings and false starts to free him up to reconnect with Lola Pearce (fingers crossed) means both parties are due fresh plots and a new partnership. But will it work?
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Well, quite possibly, yes.
On closer inspection, the ex-car lot Lothario and the glamorous events manager mixing business with pleasure starts to make complete sense when you examine their pasts. And unlike Max's teased dalliance with Mel Owen, which feels contrived and convenient, the repercussions of this less predictable romance are immediately more tantalising when you get beyond the initial head scratching.
As was the case with his love rat antecedent David Wicks, misunderstood Max is constantly looking for love in all the wrong places, often with girls young enough to be his daughter (Lucy Beale, RIP) as he chases his fading youth to make up for his all-consuming self-loathing, so hooking up with Ruby is not as random a possibility as it first seems.
Likewise, lonely Ruby's unresolved daddy issues after losing father Johnny Allen – himself an alpha male with hefty emotional baggage just like Mr Branning – make her and Max a more obvious match, as does the fact they've both lost numerous loved ones in tragic circumstances (fires, roof top plunges, the usual).
And Ruby's status as one of Walford's elite thanks to wealth incurred by her dodgy dad's dirty cash puts her in Max's orbit as he also has a thing for high maintenance, high-achieving other halves – see Tanya Branning, Vanessa Gold and Fi Browning, all romances that turned irretrievably toxic.
However, there's only one woman Max's heart still truly belongs to, and that's Stacey Fowler. Their extra-marital liaison when she was his daughter-in-law being sensationally exposed via DVD in the legendary 2007 Christmas episode cemented their affair as one of the most scandalous and compelling in the show's history.
While there is no real desire for them to be a couple again – their one-off indiscretion in 2017 was forgiven and forgotten – the fact that Ruby is Stacey's best mate lends extra layers of intrigue here: does Max perhaps see single Ruby as a consolation prize to settled Stace? He's tried and failed to steal her away from husband Martin. Is Ruby viewed as the attainable version of the person he really wants but can't have? A way of staying close to Stacey but still maintaining a distance?
Ruby wasn't around during Stacey's forbidden fling with Max and is probably unaware of their intense history. It's doubtful Stacey will approve of this union, and having her closest friend hook up with a man she once shared an intense, life-wrecking connection with is bound to be confronting to say the least.
Could a negative reaction from Stacey play a part in her upcoming exit to accommodate actress Lacey Turner's maternity leave? Will Stacey find it too hard to watch Ruby and Max together, find herself falling for him again and flee the Square to escape her feelings?
We could be in for quite a ride with Max and Ruby. It's all bound to end in tears: Max will have learnt no lessons about how to treat members of the opposite sex, he'll still be tormented by his undying love for Stacey, and Rube will join the ranks of strong Walford woman left with her heart stamped on by the local sleaze and be out for revenge.
Count us in!
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