I’m constantly amazed at how good EastEnders is. Though there are still too many tedious scenes involving superannuated beetroot-faced thug Phil Mitchell, or Ronnie and Roxie bleating “you’re my sister and I love you” at each other every five minutes, there’s also brilliant drama like the current baby storyline and the fiendishly clever way the Lucy Beale murder story seemed to be resolved and then came roaring back into life. I feel like I actually care about a lot of the characters, and in a soap that used to be accused of being relentlessly bleak there’s now a lot of comedy, thanks to some great writing and some very versatile actors.
The last few episodes have been astonishingly good. Thursday’s was one of the funniest half hours of television I’ve seen for ages – Masood’s sudden transformation into an awkward lothario, bedding Bonnie Langford and trying to kiss his sister in law in the space of 30 minutes; Martin happily chundering all over the Square while Stacey gave him her best disapproving face (which is actually Stacey’s only face, as her default setting is miserable) and wondered if he was really parent/boyfriend material; the long-suffering Tamwar as always gazing around him like he’d just arrived from Planet Normal to be faced with an out of control world.
In the middle of everything the glorious Shabnam, a woman who is by turns playful and spiky, fierce and funny, running around being chief organiser, peacemaker, bride-to-be, disapproving daughter, severely conflicted by her own high moral standards and the knowledge that she’s already failed to uphold them. Heavily pregnant, she spent most of that episode rubbing her bump, like pregnant women do, but at the end she revealed that she hadn’t felt the baby move for hours.
On Friday she discovered what she already feared and knew in her heart, that her baby had died. In last night’s episode she had to give birth to her stillborn child, and it was a devastating half hour of television. The moments when Shabnam and then Kush held their baby were almost impossible to watch, the emotion felt so real. The portrayal of grief and loss from the parents and grandparents (and Tamwar and Nancy waiting at home) was brilliant and Pete Lawson’s script was sensitive and realistic. It takes a lot to reduce me to tears, but I was well and truly reduced.