Last week, a fascinating storyline emerged in Eastenders. It’s all about the weak standing up to the strong.
Bald bully Phil Mitchell (Steve MacFadden) is pursuing a vindictive vendetta against cheery Minute Mart Manager, Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker). Patrick saw Phil’s son Ben (Joshua Pascoe) kissing another boy (Monday) which led Ben to try to intimidate Patrick into silence (Tuesday) This led to an argument which Phil interrupted. He asked Patrick to apologise but this was refused. Phil has therefore ostracised Patrick from Shirley’s cafe, and had him sacked from his glass collecting job at the Queen Vic (Thursday).
Phil is not the only nutter on Albert Square. Two other characters, Michael Moon (Steve John Shepherd) and Dr Yousef Khan (Ace Bhati), are currently behaving in a much more dangerous manner, but their agendas are purely personal. Phil’s behaviour, on the other hand, seems to be more about the exercise of power in general, rather than a personality clash. Patrick is being punished only because he challenged the primacy of the Mitchell clan. Phil needs to be seen to prevail, whereas Michael and Yousef prefer subterfuge.
What is interesting about this new storyline is how this power corrupts other characters. The two most amiable characters in the show, Alfie Moon (Shane Ritchie) and Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison), are both financially dependent on Phil Mitchell, and both are forced to act unfairly towards Patrick. The young Mitchell generation, Ben and Jay (Jamie Borthwick), certainly realise that their father is in the wrong, but have no interest in challenging him, because their own standing in the community is derived from Phil. Perpetual doormat Billy Mitchell (Perry Fenwick) is likewise an enabler.
Phil has been allowed to get away with such appalling behaviour for so long because of his money. He owns four businesses around Albert Square (the pub, the nightclub, the Arches garage, and the cafe) and therefore has economic power over the less financially secure characters (i.e., most people). Therefore he shows little remorse for psychologically damaging his entire family and almost incinerating everyone in the Vic during a drug-induced rage last year.
However, what is so delicious about the emerging storyline is that this power is now being challenged, and may even be shown to be built on thin foundations. Patrick has made a martyr of himself by standing by his principles and refusing to apologise. This dignity in the face of abuse has inspired an unlikely revolutionary in Heather, who has moved out of Phil’s house in a symbolic gesture of solidarity. The next step will be dissent from within the Mitchell regime that undermines Phil’s aura of impunity. Ben has yet to build up the courage to confess his sexuality to Phil, but when he does that will shatter the unity of the family. Power broker Shirley (Linda Henry) may even take sides against Phil when she returns to Walford.
Now Heather and Patrick have shown dissent, let us hope that other citizens of Walford follow suit. Although Phil is well off, his money is geographically tied to Albert Square. A community boycott would therefore be easy to organise and could have quick and far reaching implications for Phil.
The worry is this: If Phil Mitchell falls, who or what will fill his place. Albert Square is an odd sort of community? On the one hand, it is very tightly woven, and one hopes that this would allow a fairer hierarchy to emerge. On the other hand, the residents have an unlikely appetite for conflict. They are quick to make vocal judgements about other people, are happy to engage in public rudeness and humiliation, and rarely choose reconciliation when it is offered. This lack of a culture co-operation could allow another rich tyrant to step into Phil Mitchell’s shoes. Janine (Charlie Brooks) is my best bet to fill this role – she has just come into a large inheritance and is busy building a property empire on Albert Square. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.