(Series 5, eps. 4&5) Double header recap for Stella for me this week, and if the anniversaries, arranged marriages and trekkie funerals hadn’t made it hard enough to fit even one in, you can bet the investitures, boxing classes and Frisky Strictly have pumped it to exploding point. It’s been new loves and old loves dominating over in Pontyberry and as always things are never that simple in the valleys.
While Big Alan may not be delighting our screens at the moment, it seems that Steve Spiers is still gracing the writers room, offering up episode 4 and delivering his usual mix of unassuming humour with deeper, conflicting personal hardships. With Rob insisting that he wants to tell Luke about his illness in his own time and hoping that Stella will let him do so before anyone else knows, their painful secrecy looms over Michael and Stella’s anniversary. Despite continuing her lucky streak by securing Michael a luxury night of pampering, free underpants and comfort (well, apart from the Eternally Soft chest waxing) their plans get put on hold for a family meal Rob contrives in a panic to avert Luke’s suspicions. Rob wants his relationship with his son to be marred by illness about as much as Luke wants charity from his dad which leaves both of them trying to find ways around their personal problems. Luckily for Luke his is an easier problem to solve. Inspired by a returning Keckers (a welcome return to both him and the long running bog roll joke) Luke has a plan for his dad to invest in a project instead. Rob jumps at the idea, but as much as he is willing to risk money on his son’s future he is still not willing to risk him knowing he may not be there long enough to see it succeed. Rob’s (frankly, selfish) reluctance to tell his son continues to be more punishing for Stella than himself as the dinner turns into what you’d expect from any other public Pontyberry last-minute-cover-up family event. While there is some lightness from Stella forcing Ben to be the only “17 year old who doesn’t drink” (that exchange was so needed after 3 weeks of Nobbish Ben) and a cracking line from Aunty Brenda to Maria “the swinger from London”, things take a turn for the worse for the leading lady as Stella manages to lose both Michael and Rob within seconds of each other, one storming out the door and the other plummeting to the floor.
As Stella fails to balance her loyalties to Michael and Rob, Aunty Brenda is somehow succeeding in fulfilling her duties for the “Slosh Emporium” downstairs at Eric the Vulcan’s Trekkie themed wake while also managing to convince the council to support her campaign for mayor (but then how could they refuse, what with the maniwhatsunims flowing from her noodle like streamers in the whatchacall?). Not only does she find out that the all the council really need is a promise of a weekly pub lunch but also that her blancmanged themed campaign-wear works two-fold as a Trekkie costume. Mayor Mătuşică Brenda manages to keep her job and ascend to her coveted position of power in one fell swoop.
Also succeeding this week is Jasminder who after begrudgingly agreeing to woo a prospective husband purely to stop the guilt trips from her grandma Nina finds out that arranged marriages aren’t nearly as bad as she feared. After they jump through a string of mortifying hoops the two youngsters contradict their title of being “of the water” and retreat to the bar. Akin to an “ugly duckling” in a 90s teen movie, Daniel takes off his glasses, ruffles his hair and Jasminder sees him for the badboy rebel she could really go for. The two ride off into the sunset for a life of debauchery leaving Jag to cope with his hysterical mother and his yearning to be able to sweep Carol off her feet in a similar way.
Set a few days after its predecessor, Episode 5 picked up a lot of the pieces of the fallout from the Saturday afternoon at the Frisky. Although not long has passed, Aunty Brenda has managed to rope the whole town in to help with her investiture (the biggest day since Magna Carta) recruiting Ben as cameraman, Stella for refreshments and Yanto to find a Pigeon of Peace. As much preparation has gone into the pomp and circumcision, she failed to anticipate the arrival of her ex-husband Clem. She’s convinced he will never change from the deceitful sponger he’s always been, but he does his best to try and woo her back including trying to rekindle the fond memories of their youth by ordering her favourite Hippy Trippy Shake (Ice, lemon, babycham and absinthe) and singing her a song. By the end of the episode his warm demeanour charms her into letting him stay at the house and I am looking forward to having more of the ever-reliable (and my fellow Fifer) Clive Russell on our screens.
Elsewhere, Michael is still giving Stella the cold shoulder after their spat and Rob is still somehow managing to avoid telling his son the truth. I know the sensitivity of the subject, but really Stella, now is the time to flaunt some of that Pontyberry bluntness and force Rob to come clean so you can fix your relationship! Luke, who I am fast believing has to be the most oblivious character on the show (and that’s saying something) bought Rob’s pathetic excuse of being on a health kick and having had one lager top too many and is still none the wiser that his dad is on death’s door. In fairness though, he does have a few distractions this week, what with the return of Zoe and starting up his new business. As he brags to Stella and Michael about how half the village are happily signing up, including his Dad, the couple have mixed reactions. Stella is probably torn between hoping a swift blow to the head may knock some sense into Rob and abject fear that it could be the final blow he has. Michael however, spurred on by Maria, is desperate to exert his manliness. He used to spend his summers punching steaks in the backroom of his French Gite and he’ll be damned if he’s going to let some Pontyberry ex-pat one up him. A little light teasing is all well and good, but once Michael admits his paranoia is due to thinking Stella is going to stray she takes him through a few verbal rounds of her own before Michael takes his own anger out on Rob during the session. Finally waking up the the destruction he is causing, Rob finally does the right thing and comes clean to Michael, sending him to Stella with his tail between his legs. Finally after a pep talk from Bobby, Michael picks the hazelnut out from his teeth and wins Stella back at the Frisky.
Once a reconciled Stella and Michael are kicked off the dancefloor, the long anticipated Strictly at the Frisky is able to occur. As little interest as I’ve had in the dancing storyline this series, this week it made the episode for me for two reasons 1) Scott ‘F***ing’ Quinnell and 2) Conchita. Yes, this week finally saw the return of Pontyberry’s rent-a-cameo who despite not being as qualified as Gavin Henson he was commandeered as guest judge alongside Mayor Auntie Brenda and Nina. While the two most demanding women in Wales make for every contestant’s worst nightmares, the contestants are wittled down to the dream pairing I never knew I had of Cheryl and Bobby up against Ivan and Nadine (a.k.a. El Lobo and Conchita). It’s been a rough few days for Nadine’s confidence, what with Stella’s Digustin’ insinuations that she and Ivan may share more than just dancing passion but with some help from Ivan she managed to suppress her guilt by diving into a Spanish waitress alter ego named Conchita and assigning one of El Lobo to her partner. She explains the inspiration (her time as a tour guide in Magaluf and an Argentinian cruise) in an unexpected and perfectly timed burst of español and so is born probably my favourite moment of series 5 so far. Back at the dance, Scott Quinnell takes charge of the deciding vote between his bickering co-judges and crowns Nadine and Ivan Los Ganadores. Unfortunately in winning the competition, their characters overtake their senses and their chemistry finally spills from the dancefloor to the pavement as they finally share the kiss that has been looming since Nadine first laid eyes on his moves. Love is also brewing for two other couples. Young Ben’s dislike of Cerys seems to be more of a crush and Jag finally gets his moment with Carol in a fashion just as adorkable as I imagined.
As you can always rely on with any Stella silliness, the episode isn’t over until it’s managed to catapult us back down to earth by the heartstrings. After some urging from the reformed Michael, Stella and Rob finally pluck up the courage to tell Luke the truth. In a moving display from Craig Gallivan, their son is furious that they have been keeping it from him for this long and I’m reminded that it’s not just Ruth Jones who can pack an emotional punch. With their boy having stormed off in a rage at their secrecy, they drives home and Rob trickles out a little more of the bad news (he is infuriating even more than usual this series). He isn’t going to be able to have a bypass and has all but run out of options. Ruth Jones once again takes up the class acting baton and explodes in a blast of conflicted emotion just like the bomb that goes off every time Rob is back in her life. What really moved me about this scene is that it’s easy to forget that this pair have been in each other’s lives since they were children. This is her childhood sweetheart and father of her first child. It’s really in that moment I understood why she let this illness affect her so much and could see that regardless of everything he has put her through she has no concept of a life without him being somewhere in the world. She gently takes his hand and they face the world crashing down around them no less than had it taken place in one of the many shared memories of their youth. They linger too long though and the real world jolts them into remembering that this is not their youth and they both have others in their life. While admiring the delicacy and the poetry of this relationship, I can’t help but fear where this is headed and can only hope that Stella doesn’t regress too far into the mistakes of her past.