Home and Away “Welcome to Summer Bay”: Rewatching the early years.

Mel O'Drama

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Episodes 105-110

It's been a slow few days' viewing here. I wanted the ending of #104 to resonate with me, so I had a couple of days without watching at all. Then I lost my groove.

There's been some greatness and some "business as usual" after the wedding drama.

The aftermath of Frank's accident had shades of Sid Fairgate, I thought. What with the shots of the old boat of a car being moved from the scene, then the imagery of Frank on the operating table. His eyes being held shut with little criss crosses of tape made him look even more vulnerable. And we got the surgery mixed with family in the waiting area (albeit mostly Tom, Pippa and Nico). Then the inevitable flatline.

Also akin to Sid's post-accident episode, there was (as I remember) very little dialogue for a while. Instead we saw people reacting having become aware of the news: Neville watching Floss solemnly burn her tarot cards, etc.

I had no idea what a spleen was until I first watched this episode (and even then, not for some time afterwards). But on the rare occasion the word is mentioned I always think of Frank.

Alf's reaction - to pack Roo's belongings - was powerful enough. And Morag taking advantage whisking Roo away to gain further control over her was enjoyably frustrating. Now she's escaped and headed back to Summer Bay, leaving Morag speechless. And she wasn't the only one. There was a terrific post-wedding confrontation between Ailsa and Morag which crackled with an exciting energy:

Ailsa said:
I don’t like you, Morag. I decided that the minute I laid eyes on you. Oh, I realise that the feeling’s mutual. But I would have thought two mature women, we could hold off scratching each other’s eyes out for a couple of days at least. But you, madam, are pressing your luck. You butt out of my life, and my marriage, or you’ll come off second best I promise.


Naturally, this sparring was even more fun to watch having recently watched these two real-life good friends playing on-screen good friends in Sons and Daughters.

The daily grind has involved plots like the return of Narelle, and Carly stealing some money from the household savings. But the borrowed money plot has taken us back to basics of the family unit operating without Frank, and shown how important trust is within the family unit (perhaps foreshadowing a key theme from next year).

Narelle continues to be enjoyable enough, and there was a lovely scene where Lance and Martin - in the corridor - were speculating on what she and Frank were doing alone in his hospital room, and we cut to her sitting holding his hand as he spoke about what had happened and sobbed (trust, again). There was also a nicely subtle bit of playing with expectations: when Narelle arrived to see Frank, he was resting, so she gently cleared her throat and he opened his eyes to see her there. Some time after the two had bonded, Frank was again resting alone in his room. We hear the sound of a young woman gently clearing her throat. Smiling, Frank opens his eyes to see Roo standing there.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Episodes 111-119

Barbara has proven to be a gentle breath of fresh air to the series, changing the dynamics slightly. It’s interesting that she arrived after Morag had finished her first stint, so we haven’t yet seen all four Stewart siblings together.

Barbara’s “call it as it is” directness is proving enjoyable to watch, and what’s interesting is the equality with which she dispenses her opinions. She had a great exchange with Roo in which she pulled no punches laying out exactly why Roo’s deception was so hurtful to Alf. And then Alf opened up to her and again Barbara was happy to play Devil’s Advocate:

Alf said:
Barb, I’ve given that girl more chances to smarten herself up than she deserves. I’ve tried talking to her. I’ve tried punishing her. And she just throws it all back into my face. An’ then young Frank goes an’ nearly kills himself because of her. I’ve showered her with everything. This is the thanks I get.
Barbara said:
God, you haven’t changed a bit. Come on Alf. You know what you’re like. Once you get stubborn your judgement flies right out the window… You keep this up, it’s soon gonna be a case of her forgiving you. Now you think about that.
I love the irony of Ailsa risking her marriage to Alf to save his relationship with Roo. Much like Fallon and Krystle, Roo’s relationship with her stepmother is evolving. In this case it’s managing to be heartwarming without nauseating.

Roo said:
In fact it has a nice bit of bite to it.
Roo said:
Not sure I know what to say.
Ailsa said:
I’m not sure myself, kiddo. Well, one thing I do know: I couldn’t cope if you were to give me a big hug and start calling me Mum… Roo, the last thing I want is to come between you and Alf. I’m not out to try and take the place of your real Mum.
Roo said:
You couldn’t… Look, Ailsa. I love Dad and I can see now that you love him too. But I think that’s all we have in common. So thanks for getting Dad here. And thanks for sticking up for me. That means something. Let’s not live in a dreamworld, though. As long as you keep doing the right thing by Dad, we’ll get along fine.



The summing up of her three siblings in her first meeting with Ailsa is typical of the direct “call it as it is” manner we’ve seen Barbara display consistently in her time on the series:
Barbara said:
I don’t know how my parents managed to have such different offspring: a prude, a snob and a pig-headed overgrown kid. Not sure how I’d describe myself.
Ailsa said:
Oh, if Bobby’s to be believed, one real cool dame with a lousy taste in husbands.
Which covers another aspect of Barbara’s arrival. Donald’s initial outrage and then growing respect for Barbara as a relief teacher at the school has shown us some great colours on him. He’s been shown to admit when he’s wrong and to give praise where due. It’s also increasingly apparent that he still has feelings for her. And there was a delightfully awkward little exchange with Donald and Ailsa prior to the latter’s first meeting with Barbara, in which he seemed implicitly perturbed by two of his old flames coming into contact with one another.

Barbara and Donald's awkward dinner again cast Fisher in an attractive new light. He's clearly invested and seems doomed to get shot down every time he shows his human side.

Ailsa, too, is as straight talking as ever. As ever, it’s Celia who cops it:
Ailsa said:
When will you learn. You complain when the tongues wag about Roo. You berate your best friend Doris Peters for spreading rumours about Barbara. And now here you are back in business yourself. Wake up Celia.
A lighter thread in recent episodes has been Celia becoming convinced that Floss is in league with the Devil. A delusion that Roo is happy to fuel:
Roo said:
Apparently she runs a witches coven, complete with animal sacrifices and everything. They meet one night every month. Dance under a full moon. All that stuff.
Cue Celia seeing Barbara’s astrology group moving round their campfire under cover of darkness, while at the same time Floss, Neville and a stray sheep emerge from bushes. After bubbling along nicely in its own silly way when Lance and Martin played a practical joke by releasing a couple of animals in Celia’s house. Floss and Neville arrived to try to make peace, only to find Celia terrified and clutching her Bible:
Celia said:
God is in this house.
Floss follows Celia’s gaze and we get a close up of the toad.

It’s a lovely bit of mild blasphemy, something which seems to be a strength of the series.

In other news, there’s been an SFX extravaganza with Carly’s twin sister Samantha coming to hide out at the caravan park. Sharyn Hodgson seems to have fun playing the bitchy sister. It’s surprisingly watchable and actually pretty well done.



Not that she’s saved all her zingers for Samantha. Carly got a nice comeback to Steven in an exchange that has never quite left my collective memory:
Carly said:
Steven, can you get that for me please?
Steven said:
What’d your last slave die of?
Carly said:
He was shot. For insubordination
There was a scene at the beginning of #115 (after Frank’s discovery of Bobby’s feelings for him) where the camera follows Ailsa and Bobby from the doorway of her store to the water and you can see exactly how close the shop is to the beach.

Bobby said:
Amazed myself, ya know? I just stood there smiling as if he was talking about what he ate for breakfast. An’ all the time my guts were sinkin’ down into my shoes. Good ole Bobby. Lucky she doesn’t have normal feelings or she’d be real upset about it… Who’ve I been tryin’ to kid, eh? Wastin’ have me time tryin’ to… get him to notice me. All that bull about gettin’ my act together. About being feminine. I’ve turned into a wimp.

Likewise, towards the end of #119, Alf is at the surf thinking about Roo, and Ailsa’s store can be seen very close behind him.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Episodes 120-122


Alan Fisher has arrived. Appropriately enough, we first saw him on the crest of a wave.

Some adolescents have an epiphanic awakening on seeing Ursula Andress emerge from the sea. For me it was Alan Fisher exiting the ocean and stripping off his wetsuit watched by Bobby and Narelle as they fondled sausage rolls.



Narelle said:
Whoar. Talk about a spunk.
Bobby said:
Narelle. You don’t go for surfies, do you? They’re a bunch of slobbos. Too much water on the brain.
I love the chemistry between Bobby and Narelle. They’re both so lively together and I believe this friendship.

Narelle is now ensconced at the flat behind Ailsa’s shop and working at Alf’s shop where she gets up Celia’s nose. So that’s all promising. I really like Narelle. Her narration as Alan dries off is so enjoyably sexist.
Narelle said:
Don’t stop now. Go oonnnnnn. Get it all off. Oh - what a tease. Ohh. Ohhhh. Mmmmmmnnnn.

As though he’s heard her, Alan does spend half of his first episode in a state of undress. And while to my current eyes he's a fairly generic twink, it’s easy to see why my high school self had a major crush.

He also keeps his identity a mystery until the end of the first episode. His initial scenes play up Bobby’s dumb surfie stereotype. Right down to a window sticker that would horrify both MeToo zealots and sticklers for good grammar (not to mention fathers).


He knows Bobby, but she doesn’t recognise him. Until the end of the episode when he tries to jog her memory with a playful kiss... only for his long lost father to walk in.

Alan said:
Hello, Dad. Fancy seeing you here.
And just like that, Alan goes from clown to antagonistic know-all bratty son, giving out righteous anger.

In fact, Alan’s something of a chameleon. We see different sides to him depending on whom he’s interacting with. He also has a Big Secret, so far disclosed to only Barbara offscreen, but it’s fairly easy to read between the lines:
Barbara said:
Don’t s’pose there’s any chance they’ve made a mistake? …Well, it happens, doesn’t it. I mean… Don’t know what I mean.
Alan said:
That’s why I had to come here. To be near you for a while. I knew I shouldn’t have told you.
Barbara said:
I’ll be all right in a minute. Thanks for telling us. I wouldn’t want to find out any other way.
Alan said:
What do you mean us?
Barbara said:
Well, your father has a right to know.
Alan said:
No way. He gave up any rights he had years ago. If you tell him, I’ll get in my van and take off. Dead set.
After Donald’s endearingly awkward interactions with Barbara and Ailsa, Alan’s presence is once again showing us the critical parent we’ve come to know, and I suspect now as then, my loyalties will shift from scene to scene.

The expanded - albeit disparate - Fisher family is proving good for integration in the series, strengthening the links between the Stewart and Fisher families. And then there’s Alan and Bobby. As well as Bobby motivated by making Frank envious, they share a desire to irritate Donald:

Bobby said:
Who’d believe a son of yours would turn out to be such a spunk. I’m really looking forward to our date tonight. We’re going to the drive-in. It should be a lot of fun.
But their true motives are still unclear. Perhaps as much to them as us. And the ties that truly bind them are yet further away, the benefit of hindsight making the current situation slightly icky.

There’s a significant line from Ailsa on that note:
Ailsa said:
I think it explains quite a lot. Why Donald’s always had it in for you for one thing. You and Alan are quite alike. Two rebels looking for a cause.
In other news, Morag is scheming with Brett behind the scenes. Alf’s given Brett a bop on the nose. And Frank’s been left alone watching the wedding video in Lance’s caravan. So their goony antics at the wedding have an element of Chekov’s gun. Surely this is the reward for perseverance.
 

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Episodes 123-132


Alan’s fragile medical condition is already proving a goldmine for the series, because it’s all about secrecy and trying to manage who knows what. People are trusted with confidential information which, for one reason or another, doesn’t stay confidential. Information is learnt accidentally and this leads to more deception when people have to pretend they don’t know.

There has been a great series of soapy communications and miscommunications which might not have happened were we living in the age of the internet.

First we had Donald learning about Alan’s medical condition from Barbara after she’d blurted it out to him in the heat of the moment:
Barbara said:
It’s in his brain. A weak spot on the artery. A kind of bubble. It’s called a berry aneurism. It’s often hereditary. The tendency, anyway. Sometimes they can operate to repair the damage. But not in Alan’s case… Oh, I’ve checked. I’ve double checked since he told me. I just get the same answer. There’s nothing they can do.
Donald is then sworn to secrecy, but gives himself away by walking away from an argument with Alan mid-sentence. The penny drops for Alan who barges furiously into an apparently empty classroom to confront Barbara, unaware that as he speaks in raised voice about his aneurism Tom is kneeling behind a chair just yards away (he was cleaning up gum in his new position as school caretaker).

It was a great moment because of the way it was set up. We’d seen Tom clamber down to clean the gum and knew he was there as Alan spoke. So as a viewer I got to experience the same horror and powerlessness as Barbara, who also knew Tom was within earshot. It also led to a nice little exchange between Tom and Barbara after he’d clearly heard something he shouldn’t in which he assured her it would go no further.

So far, so 2019, but in a pre-Google world, Tom then needs to ask former nurse Pippa if she’s heard of an aneurism because Alan Fisher’s got one. The latter part of their conversation is in turn overheard by Carly who - in her new hyper-selfish mode - sees an opportunity to use it for her own ends.

Carly’s TV bit has been a pleasant surprise. I was expecting tedium (of which there is a dose or two), but her newfound ego and subsequent relapse into self-centredness has created some very welcome waves in Summer Bay House, leading to stand up arguments with her foster parents. First Pippa and Carly discussed her lack of responsibility around money, and Carly was given short shrift verbally. Then - after discovering Carly had told Celia about Alan’s aneurism for the sole purpose of stopping Celia chaperoning her upcoming modelling gig - Tom understandably blew his stack, pushed her to the bed and threatened to wallop her: something Carly has since used against him, resulting in Tom ordering Carly gone (there’s also been some fun evil twin stuff with Samantha - at her father’s behest - trying to alienate Carly further by pretending to be her sister and rubbishing the Fletchers to Miss Molloy. All of which led Carly to push a cake in her sister’s face).

Celia learning about the aneurism from Carly caused yet more problems for Tom, when Barbara assumed he had told her deliberately. Meanwhile, thinking Celia must have found out about his aneurism from Donald, Alan has now punched his father. So it’s fair to say things are kicking off.

And in among this there have been two losses to the Fletcher family. Frank has moved into the flat behind Ailsa’s store where he shares with Narelle. And, more significantly, Lynn has been reunited with her parents. Lynn’s been mostly under the radar of late (deliberately, I assume), but she was at the centre of things for an episode or two before departing and was perfectly serviceable. Perhaps the tears were for real. Wisely, the responses of other characters to the impending loss served the story as much as Lynn’s tears. In particular there was a beautiful scene between Lynn and her foster mum:
Pippa said:
Lynn, I wanna tell you something that I’m trusting you not to tell anyone else. My pregnancy isn’t as straightforward as everyone thinks. There might be complications. There’s even a chance I mightn’t survive. But I’m taking a risk for something I really want… [Tom] knows there are dangers, but not how great they are. I’m trusting you on this so you’ll understand that I do know what taking a risk is like. It’s pretty scary sometimes. But then I think about having my own baby and how much that means to me. It’s worth it.
The first departure of a series regular - a main character featured in the opening titles - is a notable event for the series. It hasn’t impacted on things a great deal because Lynn has never felt like a major player. Which is part of the character’s appeal. She’s simply been the girl next door. As things get ever soapier, it’s perhaps simply time for her to move on. Like her family, I acknowledge it but there’s too much happening around it for it to alter my viewing experience to any degree.


New phrase for my surfie glossary: Tea Bags, according to Alan are “Hacks who just sit out the back of the waves and jiggle around.” I'm glad he eventually told us after teasing Bobby to watch out for teabags, because Urban Dictionary has quite a different definition of the word.
 

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Episodes 133-147


Just when I’d started to grow weary of Alan’s smirking and stirring with Donald, his stunts to get his father sacked have been exposed and he was temporarily banished from Summer Bay by Barbara. Even before the truth came out, Donald had made his feelings on the matter very plain:
Donald said:
You may have got what you wanted but I’ve learned something too. You don’t deserve a father’s love. You don’t deserve anybody’s love.
Now Alan has returned to the Bay, tail between his legs and eager to humbly make amends with the town in general and Donald in particular. Suddenly he elicits my empathy again. It’s Ben McPhee all over again.

There’s also something of the Max and Danny Ramsay to Donald and Alan’s relationship: the father and son who are doomed to never quite see the other’s perspective. This is no bad thing. This situation is more complex than the Ramsays’, since it was easy to make sense of the Neighbours situation once the full picture was seen. On Home and Away - so far, at least - we’re not aware of the bigger picture. Perhaps there’s nothing to see. Perhaps it’s a relationship based on instincts rather than events. Something that can’t be explained or seen with the eye.

More explainable - and yet more fascinating - is the Donald/Barbara dynamic. I find myself willing them to reach an understanding. Like Donald, I’d really like them to become friends. And, from there, who knows what? But it never quite crosses that line. Like two strange cats sharing territory, Barbara will tolerate him most of the time. From the outside things look as though they’re getting on. And then something seemingly insignificant will cause her to lash out, swiping at him to bring him down to size:
Barbara said:
You make me sick. You are a small, pathetic man and you make me sick. In fact, d’you wanna know the two things I’ve done in my life that I’m proud of? The first one was having Alan and the second one was leaving you. The thought of us falling in love again revolts me.
There’s the sense that Barbara herself is confused and disappointed. In Donald. In the relationship. Perhaps in herself. When she reaches into the past to explain her present, it’s compelling:
Barbara said:
He was never Paul Newman in the looks department, but he had fire. He was intense and passionate. About all sorts of things, from art and music to physics and philosophy. We used to sit for hours just talking. He had a lot of charm in those days… He thought of himself as a renaissance man. That’s what he wanted to be. He was his own worst enemy, really. He so aspired to be like his heroes and he ended up hating himself for not being a first rate genius… It all comes out as anger; spite; bigotry. All the negative emotions. It’s a great shame.
More strained Stewart relationships: The Macklin Group’s planned Sands Resort - soon to become H&A’s very own Lassiters or Lotus Point - is currently proving to be the series’ Takapa. With Alf and Ailsa as an Antipodean Jock and Ellie Ewing.

The big difference here is that Ailsa knows Alf is backing the project.
Alf said:
Don’t let me down on this, Ailse. Because if you do, I can’t guarantee there’ll be a welcoming committee here when you come back.
Ailsa said:
I wasn’t counting on one. The way you treat me I expect to be met with a dustpan and broom and told to get on with the tidying up.

Ailsa’s irritation was perfectly understandable considering the big pitch for The Sands Resort was held in the opulence of Alf and Ailsa’s living room. It feels very Sons and Daughters that the characters should go all out with their glamorous makeovers, then be confined to the same familiar sets while playing out their romantic imbroglios and trading barbs with one another.


Seeing Frank and Steven in tuxes is reminiscent of when John and Kevin Palmer started wearing suits. But then, rather than a new direction it's currently just one night out that everyone's excited about, so nothing's really changed besides the imagery.

In a regressive move, Roo is delighted about Alf and Ailsa’s lack of marital harmony and doing all she can to enhance it. But at the party she’s got her hands full. First she has Brett on her case over her drinking alcohol while carrying his Macklin heir (shades of JR Ewing. Or at the very least Wayne Hamilton).

There’s even a moment in which Roo produces a cigarette from her bedroom dresser and prepares to spark up. It seems completely random and out of character, but thinking about it, this was done quite deliberately in front of Brett. It’s likely it was something Roo was doing to irritate him or simply to get his attention. She is, after all, still a teenage schoolgirl, despite her current storylines.

The Roo/Frank/Bobby triangle has gone into overdrive. There’s also some role reversal going on, with heavily pregnant Roo feeling frumpy and derro Bobby getting a glam makeover thanks to input from Barbara (the tailoring) and Carly (the hairdo). Naturally this has given some nicely soapy scenes, such as Roo opening the door to be confronted with the new look Bobby. And Roo’s later attempt to get Frank to herself quickly kiboshed by Bobby.


Things have got even messier thanks to Brett’s attraction to post-makeover Bobby. So that’s two of Roo’s exes floating round Bobby all evening. Even funnier, Bobby was completely repelled by Brett.

Brett’s interest gave us some more Bobby backstory. This time through the prism of her classmate-stroke-mortal-enemy:
Roo said:
Her grandparents and her mother were really nice actually. Her grandfather used to own Ailsa’s store… They left Summer Bay when Bobby’s mother died. Guess that was about three years ago. She had cancer. [Her father]’s a criminal. He’s doing time for a bank robbery. Bobby’s not much better either. She’s always been in trouble. Always getting caught for something. She’s a real moll, too… well, she used to be. She’s turned into a born again virgin. Course, no decent guy’d look at her now.
Frank, meanwhile, has gently brushed off Bobby’s advances again. They’re really getting their money’s worth out of this on/off business.

In other news, Pippa’s left “just in case” letters with Floss in preparation for her imminent possible death. And Matt has departed. Not that you’d notice. Curiously, Carly said she’d known Matt “almost a year”. By my reckoning it’s been about six months of screen time.
 

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Episodes 148-153


Alf said:
I’m sure as hell gonna keep an eye on you from now on because I don’t wanna wind up with a knife between the shoulder blades.

Ailsa and Alf are in trouble. And it’s a wonderful thing.

This blow up is an arc that I’ve shamefully forgotten. Even as I watch, I don’t know what will happen next. It feels new, unfamiliar and unpredictable. It’s giving some of the rawest moments on the series so far. Blame is given. Feelings are hurt. Voices are raised with a frequency and intensity that could give EastEnders a run for its money.

To get from being the series’ key example of triumph over adversity to Alf delivering the above line to his wife in the heat of yet another argument is quite a feat. It may have started out with them simply being in different camps over The Macklin Group’s Sands Resort (something which it’s implied Roo orchestrated with Brett as part of an elaborate revenge plan), but it’s spiralled into something far more serious.

Old ghosts have returned. Ailsa’s ulterior motive in her hasty marriage to Alf has all but been forgotten. Until the throes of yet another argument cause a slip of the tongue:
Ailsa said:
God I could kick myself for putting Bobby ahead of my own common sense
Alf said:
You only married me because Bobby needed a home… Because I was stupid enough to fall for all that rot about “let’s not worry about being different. Let’s go for it.” No wonder you’re such a lousy wife. You never ever wanted to be one in the first place. I think we should think long and hard about whether or not it’s worth your while stayin’ one.


Roo’s motives remain less than perfectly clear in this. Is she still the sulky, selfish daughter who has become better at concealing her true self from everyone but Ailsa? Or does she genuinely believe she’s protecting her father’s interests?
Ailsa said:
You really do enjoy seeing your father and me fight, don’t you?
Roo said:
Yes I do... I gave you a chance. I said as long as I thought you were good for Dad I wouldn’t interfere. My father used to be something in Summer Bay. People looked up to him. They respected him. None of that seems to matter to you. All that matters is your precious independence. I’m not gonna just watch you make him look ridiculous.
Ailsa said:
And what do you plan to do about it? Or have you already done it?
Roo said:
You’ll never know. Even when you’re signing the divorce papers, you’ll never know.
And after the argument over Bobby:
Roo said:
I was the worst in the world for telling him why he shouldn’t marry you. Now you’ve told him.
She persuades her father to talk to Ailsa - cradling her baby bump and telling him she sees things differently now - because she knows that tempers will flare up again. And she revels in Ailsa’s pain. Left alone with Ailsa, Roo goads her stepmother into almost slapping her. Then uses it against her.


And she was involved in a delightfully soapy interval involving a letter. Left by Ailsa for Alf. Discovered and concealed by Roo.

Miscommunication on top of miscommunication.

Better still, is the sense of permanence. The damage done is serious and irrevocable. Ailsa has made life-changing decisions about her marriage, her store and her residence in Summer Bay.
Ailsa said:
I just can’t live with somebody who looks at me and sees me as a killer… I know it was just for a second, but it happened, Alf. It wasn’t just a spur of the moment thing. You were thinking it… I’m never gonna be able to forgive you for saying it. I’ll file for the divorce as soon as possible. Get it all over and done with.


With the store on the market and an Averyesque tears-behind-the-wheel departure, it seems there is no going back.

 

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Episodes 154-160



The circle of life has been working overtime in Summer Bay these past few episodes. Home and Away’s first onscreen birth and first deathbed scene practically overlapped. Indeed, people came along to visit one person only to learn another was on a nearby ward.

Naturally, Bobby discovered Pippa’s “just in case” letters hidden in Floss and Nev’s caravan, and spilt the beans to Tom who up to that point had no idea how serious things were. Only to then spill all to the rest of the Fletchers while they waited. To be fair, things did seem quite serious with Pippa for a while, but all’s well that ends well with the nicely non-glossy arrival of baby Christopher.



Pippa’s birth is the only example I can think of where we’ve been present while a C-section was performed (albeit our eyeline was mercifully kept above the waist). It felt more progressive than I remember, and there was a simple honesty to the way it happened, right down to Pippa’s throwaway comment as the procedure was about to commence:
Pippa said:
I s’pose this means no more bikinis.
The surgeon’s response that he’d try to keep the cuts below the bikini line almost falls into the too much information category. Rather like Roo’s comment several episodes back that “show” was a dirty word for her at the moment.

Incidentally, the list of names that are “jokingly” thrown out as suggestions by Floss - Fred, Felix, Bruno, Herbie - highlights how fashions for baby names have changed in the last thirty years. Most of them would be beyond acceptable nowadays.

Lynn returned for a two episode stint. She even got involved in Carly’s current storyline, hiding a boxful of money from Lance in bin bags and replacing it with cut up newspaper, only for the bin bags to be thrown out.

Another aside: if I heard correctly, Bobby refers to Colleen Smart’s bin bag as a “Sam sack”, but I can’t find anything to indicate this is a commonplace Aussie colloquialism for a refuse bag. This line also grabbed me when I watched in ’89.

With Bobby and Roo still bitching away at each other, Bobby invoked Christopher’s arrival to one-up the heavily pregnant Roo in the wind up stakes:
Bobby said:
I saw Pippa before. She reckons having a baby’s the worst agony she’s ever been through. She had to go into the operating theatre and everything. Really knocked her around. Just thought you’d like to know.
The hospital delivery scenes also tied nicely into Alan’s storyline, bringing home a degree of reality to him about his situation:
Alan said:
Everything about that place freaked me. The smell of antiseptic. The silence. All the patients lying around with tubes stuck in their faces. It could be me one day. If the aneurism only half goes. Half ruptures…
Bobby said:
Hey. I promised I wouldn’t let it happen, remember. An’ you didn’t mean half to me what you do now… I won’t let it happen.
And in the space of an episode, it is one day:



And Alan is confined to a hospital bed, comatose.




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Episodes 154-160 (...continued)


This turn of events and the scenes leading up to it have given Norman Coburn and Barbara Stephens in particular the opportunity to turn in terrific and subtle performances. Episode #160 saw each given wonderful moments with artful direction from Paul Moloney and achingly beautiful Bevan Lee dialogue.

First up is Barbara, as the camera pans extremely slowly across the hospital room, across various monitors, Alan himself, to Barbara and Alan’s entwined hands and then up to an intimate close up of Barbara for the latter part of one of the most lyrically emotive dialogues (almost monologues) in the series:
Barbara said:
Remember when he was tiny? His favourite book?
Donald said:
Barbara said:
Noddy In Toyland. He’d sit for hours just staring at the picture inside the front cover… I asked him one day what it was he was staring at. I thought it’d be the dolls. The tin soldiers. Or the golliwogs. Something like that. D’you know what it was? Up in the top right hand corner there was a picture of the Toyland railway. There was this little train going into the tunnel. The tunnel out of Toyland. He spent his whole time imagining what was on the other side of that tunnel. Don’t feel bad about not remembering. I mean, I’d forgotten. He brought it up about a month ago… He found out about the aneurism. He spent a lot of time thinking about death. Then it hit him. Trust him. He was doing exactly the same thing, all over again. There he was. Staring at the picture. Wondering what was on the other side of the tunnel. I don’t want him to find out. Not yet.

Barbara Stephens is stellar. Her nuanced reading of already beautiful dialogue creates one powerful moment, and a healing one too: the subtle moment where Donald places his hand onto her shoulder as she cries is perhaps the couple's first physical contact for many years.


Then there’s Donald, visiting his son and finally saying the words he couldn’t when Alan was able to hear him. As you’d expect, Donald struggles for words, which means there is plenty of space in the scene. As it plays out in a single shot, Paul Moloney chooses a painfully slow zoom across Alan’s bed to a close up of Donald’s face:
Donald said:
Alan, I don’t know whether you can hear me or not, but even when I’ve hated you most I’ve always loved you as a father should. Please… live.

Norman Coburn is wonderfully understated. He’s in frame the entire time and the result feels incredibly intimate and made for a potent and moving viewing experience. Donald has never seemed more vulnerable and exposed. And the visual matches. He is almost lost in the shadows, isolated and very much alone in his pain, despite his son lying in front of him and Bobby hiding in the corner, equally unseen in the shadows. So understated is he that it almost seems as though he's not doing anything, which in turn creates the sense that it's not enough, or there's something missing. All of which reinforces the very feelings with which Donald is punishing himself. There's a beautiful, very small moment where he turns his head slightly away and down - almost into his own shoulder - as though the intimacy is too much for him, before forcing himself to look back at his son.



I love the unfinished almost-but-not-quite element of Alan discovering that Donald had pushed for Brett Macklin to sponsor his surfing and seeking his father out, but collapsing before he could thank him. That they were so close to being on good terms is incredibly cruel, which makes it more poignant. Indeed, it’s Bobby who discloses this fact to him. It’s done in anger due to his resistance to what he perceives as her intrusion into his family’s private grief, but turns into a beautiful moment of detente. As with Barbara and Alan, Bobby is greater for her complex relationship with Donald, and this run of episodes has further enriched this.




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Episodes 154-160 (...continued)


Recent episodes have taken us back to ground zero of Bobby The Outsider. Indeed, much of the imagery of Bobby at the hospital notably sets her apart as an observer to events in which she herself is heavily involved.

This iconography is the natural companion to Bobby’s role in the “Pippa may die” scenario, where her experience was different to that of the other Fletcher kids present owing to what she knew. We were in no doubt that she had a burden on her shoulders and - in much the same way as we’ve seen recent selfishness from Carly and cruel scheming from Roo - the combination of recent events has triggered a “relapse” to the Bobby of old where she chooses to be fiercely and blatantly independent, sleeping on the beach and keeping people at arm’s length. In the moment where she confirms Alan’s death, the visual of her completely alone in the sterile room with not even a bedsheet to add warmth brings home the degree of her isolation.

It only lasts a moment, but it’s easy to understand how Bobby is feeling even with Barbara there to comfort her.


Incidentally, I seem to have misremembered the post-death scene between Bobby and Barbara. Before rewatching I would have sworn that Bobby uttered the line "I knew" (possibly twice) as she broke down in tears. But it seems not.



Ailsa, too, has reverted to her independent ways. Now that her marriage to Alf has imploded, she’s left town. And after a number of Ailsa-less episodes, her recent brief visits have been as the slightly mysterious outsider from the city: bringing flowers for Pippa, warning Bobby not to turn out like her, avoiding Alf and evading questions about her new companion… a familiar pairing to Sons and Daughters viewers:

Finally: Irene gets some quality time with C.B.

The timing of Ailsa’s absence has come at a bad time. Celia, too, is out of town. Out of the country, in fact: visiting her parents in Tahiti. She hasn’t been seen on screen for some time now, leaving town with a parting story and scenes that were worthy of her permanent departure. I’m intrigued by the reasons behind these two actresses' absences (try saying that one without your teeth glued in). Were they both off somewhere promoting the series? Or could Fiona Spence’s absence be related to promoting Prisoner, which was launched in the UK around this time?

Celia’s gossipy light relief shoes have been somewhat filled by Colleen Smart, whose role in the series is gradually increasing. Despite her association with the tedium that is Lance and Martin, she’s had her moments. In fact there was even a flash of substance when she realised Bobby hadn’t heard about Alan’s initial collapse.


Steven’s Uncle Philip has arrived. My memory is that the casting is a little hit-and-miss from this point. John Morris is not a terrific actor, but I do applaud the way they distract from this.





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Episodes 161-166

With the death of his son, Donald Fisher is the series’ richest character for me at the moment. Just as Carly, Roo and Bobby have recently suffered relapses to default behaviours familiar to viewers of early episodes, so has his son’s death meant that Donald's public and private behaviours have become further distinct and his character as a whole even more complex and unpredictable. In public, we haven’t quite reverted to the man who asked the Fletchers to bend the truth - and the law - to get rid of Bobby. But there’s no doubting that his immediate return to school saw any sign of soft edges or humanity well and truly gone as he doled out detentions and double detentions within a minute of setting foot into the classroom.

It’s not just his critics who get it. Those who support him are dealt with as harshly:
Roo said:
Uncle Donald? I just wanted to say how sorry I am about Alan.
Donald said:
Must I remind you, Ruth, that personal family matters do not extend into school time?
Roo said:
Yeah, I know. But everyone’s gone, so I thought…
Donald said:
What’s the matter with you? Are you deaf? Didn’t you hear what I just said? Now if you don’t mind I have some work to do.
Bobby’s former intrusion into Donald’s private grief has taken their relationship of respect and conflict to a whole new level.
Frank said:
I saw Fisher on the way over. He was going to school. That guy can’t have any feelings.
Bobby said:
I saw him in tears at the hospital last night. Just don’t tell anyone, OK, ‘cause he probably doesn’t want it getting round.
Frank said:
OK. I still don’t know how he can go straight back to school a couple of hours after his son dies.
Bobby said:
Well, I guess he figures it’s useless sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. He might have a point, too.
It’s proved a leveller, too, for Bobby’s other major antagonistic relationship. The one she has with Roo:
Roo said:
Bobby. I just wanted to say sorry. I know you and Alan were close.
Bobby said:
Yeah, well I guess we’re all sorry.
Alison said:
Except Fisher. He’s probably glad to see Alan snuff it.
There’s nothing like tragedy paired with mutual enemies to bring people together and, to that end, this run of episodes has seen Alison Patterson going into overdrive as Summer Bay’s troll.
Alison said:
…Anyway, [my stars] said I would do well out of other people’s misfortunes, so I knew he’d be away. Didn’t think it’d be ‘cause his son carked it, but. He an’ Babs’ll be shattered. Should keep ‘em at home for at least a week, I reckon.
Roo said:
Why don’t you shut your mouth, Alison, before you fall into it.
Alison said:
And why don’t you go back to cooking your bun.
Roo said:
He was my cousin.
Alison said:
Well then, maybe you should have taken the day off, too.
and

Alison said:
At least the aneurism’s hereditary. Maybe [Fisher]’ll pop a blood vessel and cark it too.
The latter comment set the ball rolling for a delightful series of ironies. First, it was Bobby who defended Fisher by getting into a St Trinians-esque catfight with Alison (complete with navy knickers being flashed). Then, to spare his feelings, she wouldn’t tell Fisher the reason she’d clocked Alison, leading him to come down more hard on her than ever:
Donald said:
Miss Stewart expressly asked me to be kind to you today. Apparently under the belief that you might have been upset by Alan’s death. Obviously you fooled others into believing your grief. But I’m afraid I find your public brawling further evidence that you are nothing more [than] a sham and a manipulator. Tears won’t help you either.


Then, it’s Roo who gets Bobby off the hook by telling Alf the real reason for the fight:
Alf said:
Apparently some of the kids were slinging off at you for being back at school so soon after Alan’s death. Bobby was stickin’ up for you. That’s what started the fight.
All of which leads Donald to take Bobby - and Barbara - by complete surprise when he approaches her outside the venue for Alan’s funeral:
Donald said:
Thank you for coming, Bobby. Alan would have been pleased. Will you come in with us?

It’s a beautiful moment. Simple but truthful. And with the rough road to this point over the last two episodes it felt very cathartic to watch as a viewer.





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Episodes 161-166 …continued


I thought the interior of the venue used for the service felt very real. I’ve been to a number of funerals with a similar feel.


Morag commented that Ailsa was conspicuous by her absence at Alan’s funeral. For me, the two glaring absences were Celia and the as yet unseen Rebecca. There was a throwaway comment that Rebecca hadn’t shown up, but I don’t think anything was said about Celia until the reading of Alan’s will. Yes - we know she’s in Tahiti. But I find it impossible to believe she couldn’t and wouldn’t have been there for her nephew’s funeral.

Adding at least a little credibility to her absence is the speed with which Alan’s funeral was arranged. When Donald agreed to make arrangements while Barbara was in the city, he suggested the service should be in two days’ time, and that happened. The entire chronology seems incredibly quick actually. It appeared that characters arrived at the will reading immediately after the funeral, still wearing the same clothes. Is this a sign of the times? A regional thing? An advantage of living in such a small place? Or is it just soap? Answers on a postcard, please.

The impending funeral gave us yet more character insight when Donald made his feelings on cremation quite clear:
Donald said:
I find the whole idea repugnant. To be reduced to a handful of ashes.
Naturally, Barbara cried beautifully at the funeral,. while Morag has never looked more dramatically gothic.


Foreshadowing alert:


Meeting further disapproval was Alan’s choice to have Wipe Out played to close his funeral. The mixed reception was a joy to behold. It's just a shame Celia wasn't there to react.


The further bonding of Bobby and Roo at the funeral was a nice touch. Roo’s been involved in so much underhanded scheming recently, it’s important (and yet almost disorientating) to see this supportive side to her.
Roo said:
It’s pure Alan, isn’t it?



Bobby said:
Let it play, Rev. Let it play.



Bobby said:
Good on ya, spunky.





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Episodes 161-166 …continued


After velveting their paws for a few hours, Roo and Morag were straight back to scheming at the reading of Alan’s will, where the claws were back out for Ailsa as they plotted to keep her and Alf apart.

Morag even went to the trouble of visiting Pippa at the hospital to try to find out more about Ailsa’s mystery man. It was amusing how transparent she was - even to Pippa. And even more amusing that she seemed to have no idea how to feign interest in baby Christopher.


This is the first will reading we’ve seen on the series, and it furthers the Sons and Daughters vibe.

Except Dee Morrell never asked Stephen to sell her surfboard “and have a slap up party for all the rels”.
Morag said:
Alan came to me two or three months ago and asked me to take care of his will. He subsequently amended it two or three weeks ago. I’ll spare you the legalese and just read it out. It’s rather unusual, but then that’s not surprising, is it?

“I, Alan Donald Fisher, being of sound mind and body do solemnly declare this to be my last will and testament. Yes folks. Surprise surprise. Here I am, a blast from the past with a bundle of goodies for everyone.”

You do realise these are Alan’s words. He insisted on writing like this.
Just for the record, here’s what everyone got:

Alf: nothing.
Morag quoting Alan said:
Because you, Uncle Alf, are the man with everything.

Roo:
Morag quoting Alan said:
I leave a piece of advice. You’re basically a good kid. Don’t ruin your life by being a two-faced manipulator. Sometimes you’re just great. Try to make it always.
I remember Alan’s advice to Roo appearing on the back of one of the novelisations (The Roo Stewart Story, probably).


Bobby: a parcel containing Alan’s teddy bear Benjamin, and a letter saying how much he loved her.


Barbara:
Morag quoting Alan said:
Mum, thanks for everything. You’ve put up with a hell of a lot, but you were always there. I wish I had lots of valuable things to leave you, but I want you to take this package. You can decide what to do with it. If it’s worth saving or should be thrown out.

Celia:
Morag quoting Alan said:
Some more advice… Loosen up.

Donald:
Morag quoting Alan said:
I leave my ashes and this videotape. You won’t like it, Dad. I’m telling you now. But what the hell. As you always used to say: it’s my funeral.

One of the more interesting interactions of the will reading was that between Morag and Bobby. If memory serves this is their first exchange, yet they weren’t even in the same shot while Morag read out her part of Alan’s will. Morag appeared to steel herself before saying Bobby’s name, and the looks she cast in Bobby’s direction while passing her the package.


Note how the perfunctory sympathetic smile flashes across Morag’s face after she’s looking away. The only moment she looks at Bobby, Morag is actually glaring. It’s hard to pinpoint when the scene plays out, but… something is going on here. With the benefit of hindsight it’s giddily exciting.




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Episodes 161-166 …continued


The relationship between Barbara and Donald continues to be compelling viewing. As they deal with their grief, it’s quite a journey: from arriving home together in the aftermath to making funeral arrangements, to Barbara losing patience and destroying him in front of her family at her son’s will reading.


Barbara said:
You don’t have a compassionate bone in your body, do you? Our son is dead. Do you think you could remember that for one second? When he was alive you took every opportunity you could to avoid him. Now he’s dead you want him to conform to your idea of correct behaviour. You’re a selfish, small minded man who never took the time or effort to… try to understand anybody except yourself. Particularly Alan. Now it’s too late. If I were you, Donald, I would find it very hard to live with myself because as a father and a human being you are a total failure.
Episode #162 - the same episode in which Barbara chews him out - shows Donald at his noblest. He is the driving force behind making two of Alan’s dreams a reality.

Alan’s left Donald his ashes. He also left Barbara the manuscript for an autobiographical novel in which, naturally, Donald is the villain of the piece. And she asks him to read it and let her know if she should publish it or not.

He watches Alan’s video, in which Alan asks him to hand his ashes to a surfer “to scatter them while riding on the face of a wave”.


We then see Donald flicking through the manuscript and hear fragments of the content in Alan’s voice.



Next we see Donald approach a bonfire with the video and the manuscript in his hands.


Then we segue to the video on the smouldering remains of the bonfire and Donald watching reflectively. Bobby arrives and has a conversation with him. And it’s only when he stands to leave that he picks something up, walks off and then turns around to say something else and we see what he’s holding.

It’s a nice, understated reveal. It’s not cued in with music, nor is there a zoom. It’s just something that the audience can feel good about spotting if and when they do.

Watching the video in isolation. Burning something precious to him. Letting others' wills be carried out at the expense of his own happiness. It’s pure Greg Sumner.

Donald discusses the manuscript with Barbara:
Donald said:
Go ahead. Publish it if you can. With my blessing… The whole book hurt. But it is superbly written. And no matter what misconceptions about me may have inspired it, it deserves to be read. It will certainly have a longer life than I have.
Barbara said:
Did anyone ever tell you you’re a brave man, Donald Fisher?
Donald said:
Well, yes. You did. On our wedding day… There’s been too much fighting in our family, hasn’t there? Perhaps Alan’s given me a way to end it.
And we see him carry out Alan’s wishes for his cremains. As with watching the video, reading the manuscript and the burning ceremony, Donald watches alone. A solitary figure on the beach, sharing the moment only with us.


Even after this he continues to be misunderstood. He’s absent from the next episode which features the party Alan asked for, but this is well used on his return when Barbara is furious about his non-attendance:
Donald said:
I did come last night. I sat outside in the car for an hour listening to the music. The people laughing… You know how the kids around here feel about me. I would have been a wet blanket on the whole evening. I thought about it for one solid hour, and decided I owed it to Alan to stay away. Lord knows, I did little enough for the boy when he was alive.
It’s a lovely little moment of insightful self-deprecation. And his acknowledging how others feel about him increases both his own isolation and our empathy towards him.

And he’s about to become lonelier still with the departure of Barbara:
Donald said:
I shall miss you, Barbara. It’s been good having you round these past few months. Almost like being together again. I’m sorry for any trouble I might have caused. I didn’t mean it. Just the way I am, I’m afraid.
Barbara said:
I’m glad I came now. For all of our sakes… However much I try to hide it, I do still love you. Don’t get me wrong, I could never live with you again, but I do care about you. I think we both care. In our own way.





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Episodes 161-166 …continued

There’s been a heap of other stuff going on. A whole lot of Bobby and Frank stuff, for instance:

Roo said:
Alan’s no sooner out of the way and you’re moving in on his girlfriend.
Frank said:
The poor kid’s just lost her boyfriend. How d’you think she feels?
Roo said:
I’ve lost a few boyfriends in my time.
Frank said:
You didn’t lose them. You chewed ‘em up and spat ‘em out.


Narelle said:
Reckon seein’ Bobby feel so much for another guy’s makin’ him realise she’s a woman, not a kid.
Roo said:
I didn’t think you could read. You must be able to if you can spout out all that Barbara Cartland bull.
Narelle said:
You know what happens in her books, don’t ya? The heroine always gets her man. An’ I reckon it’s gonna happen this time too.
Now they’re an item, but pretending to argue so people don’t realise they’re an item. It’s a little tedious, actually. And Roo has a valid point.

Morag is all over the show at the moment, which is great. There’s been a nice bit of comic awkwardness in the store when she was reunited with former classmate Colleen Smart (nee Hickey), where - to their mutual horror - each reminded the other of their school nickname: “Pudge Stewart” and “Hopeless Hickey”.


There’s also some business at the caravan park with Christopher crying and Tom and Pippa scheming to get Alf and Ailsa back together.

Frankly, though, any scene that doesn’t feature Donald Fisher feels a bit second rate at this moment in time.
 

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Episodes 167-174


To this day, the geography of Summer Bay is something of a mystery to me. Far more so than most soaps which are set on a specific street. Now and then there’ll be insight to give an idea of what’s outside of the usual establishing shots we see. Like a previously mentioned shot of Ailsa and Bobby walking out of the store and onto the beach in one continuous shot. Intriguingly, the same two characters were given a long continuous shot - two full minutes - as they walked round to the side of Summer Bay House, to a footpath running behind it then reached the camera and continued, the camera turning to follow them and reveal the land beyond.

It was a nice scene, and showed Judy Nunn for the professional she is, delivering exposition about Graham being a Christian brother while hitting her marks and displaying great chemistry with Nicolle Dickson. But it also showed what stunning surroundings the house has.

Ailsa’s now sold her shop to Celia, despite Brother Graham’s warnings.
(It's still a huge novelty to see these two S&D actors together again).



Now that Roo has given birth to baby Martha, the way Roo and Brett are written is proving to be a nice seesaw of villainy and endearment, and the way I’m feeling about characters is fluctuating, episode by episode, scene by scene. Just when I’m sure I dislike one of them intensely, something happens to endear them to me. One episode has Roo cruelly telling Bobby she’s not allowed to touch her baby. The next has her being forced to tearfully hand over her baby to Brett. The next episode has Brett beaming with childlike wonder while Pippa shows him how to feed baby Christopher. It’s a confusing time.


Roo has been given some crackers of storylines in the short time the show’s been on the air. At this stage she feels positively worldly. And she’s villainous enough to strike some low blows, for instance her line to Bobby:
Roo said:
Hear you and Frank are a bit of an item now… Don’t get too used to it… You must be the only person in Summer Bay who doesn’t know he’s only doing it because he feels sorry about the way you lost Alan.
But Roo is still just a sixteen year old girl, and susceptible to blackmail. Which is where Brett, who has decided he wants Martha even though she’s a girl, goes all Wayne Hamilton:
Brett said:
There was a reason we decided to set up the resort in Summer Bay. Investment. Your Dad’s investment. Your Auntie Morag’s investment. Then there’s the matter of Frank’s job… If my old man decides to cut his losses and pull out, your old man’s gonna lose all his cash. And I mean all… And if you mention this to anyone… Frank, Morag, Alf. They’re gone.
It’s a major bluff. Brett’s father won’t back him and wants nothing to do with a female heir. But Brett amps up the pressure on Roo, building threat upon threat, consequence upon consequence. And she is effectively isolated. The writing sells it well, but all the same it feels like a heck of a stretch that Brett could take things this far without interference. Alf being on a visit to Tahiti helps with credence (where do all these actors keep going?), but I've had to make a conscious effort to suspend my disbelief over this particular sequence of events.

The scene in which Roo handed over Martha to Brett was reminiscent of Leigh handing over her baby to the father who'd wanted no part of his own child until now in Sons and Daughters. Once again, a real baby makes it feel more raw. And Justine Clark gives great Drew Barrymore crinkly crying faces:

Brett said:
It’ll happen. Don’t fool yourself. It’ll turn your Dad into an old man overnight.
Roo said:
Don’t do it to us. Please, don’t do it to us.
Brett said:
I have to. For her sake.

In true soapy style, Roo announces to family and friends that she’s handing over Martha but follows Brett’s orders and doesn’t reveal what’s changed her mind. So she’s being well and truly judged for it. Best of all, it gives us some nice Celia scenes as she is first angry, before returning to Roo with an armful of toys and a heart full of hope:

Celia said:
When I got engaged I was given all the Stewart toys. For my baby. The baby Les and I had planned to have after we were married. I decided to keep them. I saved them all for you… You can have a life of your own. You’ll be free to go out. I’ll be here… I’d love to do it… It’ll be like the baby I never had. Oh, I won’t be too possessive or anything. It’ll just be so nice. Don’t do it. Please don’t do it.
Those last lines - Celia echoing Roo's earlier plea verbatim - were a nice way to show Roo's conflict. She is forced to present a different character to her Aunt than she had to Brett. And she angrily pushes her Aunt aside for expressing the same wish that she herself holds.

And on top of this she has to sit her HSCs:
Roo said:
One of the questions. About Lady Macbeth being less of a tragic figure and more of a victim of her own plotting… If anyone in that class can answer it, it’s me. I’ll be writing about myself, won’t I?
There’s more exam drama with Carly cheating using Bobby’s crib notes. Despite the stories being worlds apart dramatically, it all manages to feel cohesive and organic. But the less said about Lance, Martin and their decoy ducks the better.

Stacey Macklin has arrived. She can make grown men cry. If for no other reason than those jangly bracelets which must bring tears to the eyes of the sound department. She’s upset Narelle by distracting Philip. And she’s disturbed me by saying “anythink” more than once.
 

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Episodes 175-179


The interwoven paths of four or five characters have been the key relationships of these five episodes. Nothing’s quite as it used to be in these relationships, but there’s the sense that they could be. Tentative truces have been broken, only for a further truce to come out of it. There’s been straight talking. Lies that have been tainting the atmosphere for the longest time are being dispelled and we’re reaching a point of truth.

With Alf back from Tahiti, Roo continued her act, making it seem she was choosing to give up Martha. It’s a lonely rock bottom for her character, as - Brett aside - only the viewer is aware of her pain. We see her frogmarched to the hospital by Brett in order to breast feed the baby he’s forcing her to give up. And further isolating her we see Brett and Alf bonding as it appears to Alf that Brett is more interested in Martha than Roo.

After signing over her shop to Celia, Ailsa has been given what seems like a definitive exit, leaving her friends in Summer Bay and her oldest friend Graham as she plans to fly to London forever.


The Bobby/Donald scenes continue to crackle with an exciting energy as Donald initially chastises her for skipping her exam to say goodbye to Ailsa, and refuses Bobby’s challenge to test her with an oral exam there and then. He changes his mind after an off-screen phone call:
Donald said:
I’ve just received a call from Perth airport from Ailsa. She went to great pains to explain there was a mix up that caused you to go after her this morning. She said she felt responsible for you missing your geography exam. And I know Ailsa to be honest in the extreme so I’ve decided I will give you a second chance: an oral exam. Twenty questions. You get one wrong and the mark is zero. That was the arrangement, wasn’t it?
Naturally, the new, studious Bobby gets her mark. Not that this impresses Roo:
Roo said:
What a stupid idea; skipping an exam to say goodbye to someone.
Bobby said:
Couldn’t expect you to understand. Not when you’re the type to give away your own baby. That makes you about the lowest form of life there is, I reckon.
The battle between Roo and Bobby has been given further ammunition with Roo’s recent actions. Not helped at all when Roo seeks out Frank for support only for Bobby to walk in on them embracing.
Bobby said:
Go for it. Be Frank’s friend. We all need friends, and you haven’t got a hell of a lot. But you ever try to manipulate Frank or take advantage of his friendship you’ll have me to face. And you won’t like what I’ll do to you.
Roo said:
Are you jealous of me?
Bobby said:
I used to be jealous of you. One time I thought you were everything I wanted to be. Isn’t that a laugh? Now who’d want to be like Ruth Stewart? Breaks up her Dad’s marriage. Tries to trick a guy into marrying her. Gives up her own baby. For someone who had everything going for them, you really blew it, didn’t you?
The truth will out, though. The turning point for Roo is realising that Alf has reached a point of acceptance that giving up Martha may be the right thing for Roo to do. Adding substance to this frothy story is a further bit of oral history from Alf:
Alf said:
I dropped you once. I was changing your nappy and I turned around to get a safety pin, an’ you just rolled off the table. You were fine, but it took me about four Scotches to settle my nerves. Look love… if you want Brett to have your baby, well, you got my blessing. He seems to be doin’ all the right things to try and make a good home for little Martha. And motherhood’s more than just a matter of biology. It’s somethin’ you’ve gotta want to do.
Roo said:
Dad, you don’t understand… I wanna keep Martha. I do. I wanna keep my baby. Brett’s gonna have the Macklin organisation pull out of Summer Baby. They’ll leave you bankrupt, Dad. I was only doing it to save you.
Alf said:
I’ll kill the little mongrel.

Roo’s moment of confession creates an immediate shift in how these characters interact. Not least, Roo and Bobby:
Bobby said:
What Brett’s done is the pits. An’ if it’s fair enough for me to slag you off when you’re in the wrong, it’s fair enough to speak up when you cop somethin’ like this. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna start thinkin’ you’re right all the time. An’ it won’t stop me thumping you if you’re still after Frank. But I wanted to say it. I saw Alf pounding away on the motor outside.
Roo said:
Yeah. Because he hasn’t got Ailsa to talk to about what’s happened. He’s missing her like crazy.
Bobby said:
Are you still in there stirring?
Roo said:
I was. I’ve thought about it a lot lately, though. Since all this stuff with the baby. [I’ve] done some pretty lousy things. Probably being punished.
Bobby said:
So if Alf was to go all out an’ get Ailsa back, you wouldn’t stir or nothin’?
Roo said:
Everything I did. Where’d it get me? Sure, Ailsa went. But who’s happy? Not me. Not Dad. No - I wouldn’t stir.
Which prompts Bobby to break Ailsa’s confidence and tell Alf the truth about Graham’s relationship to Ailsa, along with details of the hotel in which Ailsa is staying. The balance for Alf is arguably tipped by Roo who takes Alf by surprise with her input into the situation:
Roo said:
I never thought [Bobby]’d put herself out to say something nice to me. She’s quite a surprise sometimes. Did she mention Ailsa?
Alf said:
Yeah, she did. An’ look love, if you’re gonna have…
Roo said:
All I’m gonna say is… go for it. No-one should be deprived of the person they love.
On the face of it, Roo’s new outlook towards Bobby and Ailsa is a frustratingly sudden hackneyed softening of a character. Particularly with the slightly nauseating suggestion that motherhood has instantly self-actualised Roo. What makes it fly is that we’ve been here before. Roo’s been Bobby’s friend. She’s welcomed Ailsa. And she’s betrayed that trust. So, rather like Patricia Hamilton at her smiliest, she’s become a little more interesting because it’s not yet clear if has an agenda and whether or not she is simply using her current situation to win points.

Alf, though, takes her at her word and gets in touch with Ailsa, whose Singaporean stop off has given us a Sons and Daughters-esque intertitle:

Like Alf’s heartfelt proposal to Ailsa, Ray Meagher pulls the emotional rug out from under us by showing us Alf at his most sensitive and vulnerable. Both actors are beautifully in the moment, with Alf spilling his guts and Ailsa overcome as she listens to him:
Alf said:
I’ll never forgive myself for sayin’ some of the things I said to you… I was mean. I was unfair. I let my stupid pride get in the way of… everything we’ve had going for us… I wanna put somethin’ to you, all right? Ceel’s always been goin’ on about us sneakin’ off an’ not having a proper wedding an’, well, I reckon if it’s OK with you, of course - if you’d consider coming back - we should wipe the slate clean an’ reaffirm our vows. Make a fresh start. I love you, Ailse, an’ not having you here’s like having a hole in my heart a mile wide. It’s not gonna get any better until you’re back… I was the one who made you run away this time an’ I’m sorry. So, for God’s sake just stop running and come home.




Meanwhile, Brett’s skipped town with Martha. When Philip tries to stop him, Brett crushes Phil’s hand in his car door. And with it, perhaps any chance of Phil being a surgeon. There’s been some power romancing going on for Philip and Stacey, but it’s difficult to care. In fact there’s something about the Macklin office in general that feels so dead and empty that anything happening within its confines feels at best unimportant and at worst a drag to watch.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Episodes 180-186


The suddenness with which Alf and Ailsa’s re-wedding happened was startling. After the reprise of Alf putting his proposition (or re-proposal) to Ailsa, there’s an immediate dissolve to the ceremony itself. Once again, the event is held in Alf and Ailsa’s living room, though there is at least dialogue to explain that this was what Ailsa wanted.

It seems surprising that they would choose to renew their vows immediately, with Alf’s granddaughter kidnapped and his daughter worried sick. Perhaps, though, that’s the key reason for the low key approach to the ceremony. Although it is important enough to be attended by the entire main cast.

Alf said:
I love you, Ailse. I don’t know any fancy way to say it. That’s just how it is.
Ailsa said:
I love you too, Alf. I’m never gonna let myself forget how much.

More than once recently, characters have discussed the bad fortune of the Stewart family this year. Martha’s disappearance proves something of the last straw for Celia whose faith is shaken.
Celia said:
They could be right. Those who laugh at me behind my back. Sometimes to my face. They think I’m an old fool to believe in God and all the goodness he stands for. It never worried me because I had faith. Now, for the first time in my life, I’m wondering if I’m wrong.
In a nice touch it’s Ailsa who convinces Celia not to give up her faith. The interactions between these two have been enjoyable recently, with Ailsa saying Celia should keep the store if she wants to, and Celia seeming somewhat excluded now that Ailsa and Roo are bonding a little.

The topic of faith coming up has made me curious about Ailsa’s faith. She said to Celia that she went to church occasionally but it didn’t mean much, and she commented that she envied Celia’s faith. So I guess she’s agnostic. But I’d love to learn some more about various characters’ beliefs (or lack thereof) outside of the more devout characters.

Celia says a little prayer which is answered when Martha is safely returned. But not before Roo has contemplated suicide. After isolating herself and having numerous characters out looking for her, Roo’s salvation comes when she stumbles into Summer Baby House, finds kindly Pippa alone with baby Christopher and is overcome when Pippa entrusts her with her child.

Note-for-note, it’s a scenario that will be re-enacted with a different character just a couple of short episodes later. With even more moving results.

Following her epiphanic moment, Roo has also reaches a decision which causes uproar with Stewarts and Macklins both:
Alf said:
You’re talking about putting my granddaughter up for adoption. Just turfing her out like a stray cat an’ you reckon it’s none of my business.
But Roo’s mind is made up. And Brett, worn down into tiredness and submission, tells her he’ll agree with whatever she decides, so long as he doesn’t have to stick around.

Brett said:
Bye Roo. I hope it all works out for you. Both of you.




continued...
 

Mel O'Drama

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Episodes 180-186 ...continued


Increasingly on the series these days are B-story type plots that seem to be there to fill time in between more significant events. Most of them are painful “comedic” plots involving Lance and Martin. Such as them spiking Donald’s unhygienic-looking water bag with vodka (in a bid to dampen Colleen’s ardour towards Donald so that he didn’t end up as Lance’s stepfather), only for Celia to drink the contents and fall onto Donald’s shrubbery. We’ve even dipped into the old Channel 7 parts bin, when Neighbours’ Maxine Klibingaitis had a one-off episode as a bimbo who was hanging round Lance.

It’s a sad state of affairs after some enjoyably dark early Neighbours moments involving her being held hostage by her first husband, and then shooting her second when he was going to report her for committing a murder. In related news, we’re only a few episodes away from the debut of one of Maxine’s Neighbours in-laws.


A hike and camping trip for Steven, Philip, Narelle and Carly looks very much like being one of these meaningless b-stories, albeit one with some nice scenery.

Then come the nods to John Carpenter’s Halloween (with a dash of The Three Sisters)

Narelle said:
No-one goes near that place. Especially at night… It’s the old Standish place. Everybody knows it’s haunted.

Naturally, this is exactly where the foursome set up camp. Cue strange noises, flashes of movement inside, disappearing property and cynical Carly going inside to explore. Alone.

As a b-story, it’s a half decent one. The location work is enjoyable and the interiors feel suitably atmospheric.

And as it turns out, this scenario is a way to re-introduce a character who’s been absent for a little while, and probably forgotten by many. So we segue from the thrills of Halloween to the tragedy of Phantom Of The Opera. With a little Frankenstein for good measure as Carly comes face to face with the “monster” she helped create:

Walter said:
I’m not mad. I had the operation. It left me like this. That’s why I stay here, away from everyone. I’ve been here for months… You must keep my secret… I couldn’t stand people pointing and laughing. I know I’m grotesque.
The crossed wires here perfectly highlight Carly’s self-centredness. She’s clearly terrified, but she doesn’t listen to a word he says. By the time she reaches the safety of her three friends - after watching Bertram fall and begin fitting on the ground - the story she tells is that he’s nuttier than ever and he came after her. Thankfully Steven and Philip are grounded enough to question her perception.



continued...
 

Mel O'Drama

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Episodes 180-186 ...continued


With word getting out about Walter’s whereabouts, he braves venturing out and - just as Roo did before him - he heads for the warmth and safety of Summer Bay House where he finds earth mother Pippa alone with baby Christopher.

Walter said:
Mrs Fletcher. Pippa, please don’t be frightened. I mean you no harm. I beg you. Please believe me… I needed refuge. I didn’t know where else to go… I thought Carly would understand. Till I saw the fear in her eyes… I’m as sane as you are, Mrs Fletcher… Look what the operation did to my body. I’m trapped in here. .. Are you afraid of me too? He’s a fine boy.
Pippa said:
No, I’m not afraid. Will you hold him for a minute?
Walter said:
My condition. I may drop him.
Pippa said:
Oh, well I’ll put him back in the cot. Can you try and pacify him? You must be tired. I’ll make a cup of tea.


The demonstration of trust is a powerful thing and, I suspect, very difficult to encapsulate in a production. Pippa has been involved in two scenes in recent episodes in which she entrusted her new baby - the most precious thing in her life - to a relative stranger who could be viewed as potentially or actually unstable. First Roo, and now Walter. I imagine it’s something that many parents would find difficult to do. Some may even view it as blasé or reckless. All the same, it speaks volumes about the character of Pippa who has devoted her life to trusting those on whom others have long since given up and reaping the rewards of that. Her actions come from the very core of her character. What would be unthinkable for most comes naturally to Pippa. And so Christopher’s arrival has been a good thing for the series. Even if there are a lot of scenes of him screaming (very few series have demonstrated this wearing aspect of new parenthood as clearly and as regularly as Home and Away). It’s impossible not to feel the humility, disbelief and gratitude of Walter when he realises he’s been trusted with a baby. The moment in which Pippa turns her back on Walter to place Christopher in the crib is a terrific visual image of trust.

In the last episodes to feature Bertram, back in the late double digits, I commented about the quality of Owen Weingott’s performance. In these return appearances, his performance is nothing short of a masterclass. So realistically and intensely does he present Walter’s fragility - the staggering walk; the slurred, barely intelligible speech; the wild stare and the pain in his eyes - that I found myself feeling quite concerned that someone in such a condition would go to work in the high pressure environment of an ongoing serial. And I felt voyeuristic for watching it.

It’s difficult to put into words the depth with which his performance has moved me. Even now, I still struggle to differentiate between acting and reality. It’s almost as though the scenes had been written around an actor who had suffered an illness such as a stroke. Curiosity aside, I suppose it matters little either way when the end result are scenes that stand up there with the best performances I’ve seen in a drama. I appreciate that Logies probably aren’t the motivation for most actors, but all the same I found myself hoping that this incredible performance was recognised in some formal way.

Walter’s return also builds on the series’ core themes of inclusiveness and acceptance. This time, the bigotry and feeling of “difference” faced by Walter is around ability. It’s nicely handled. A little schmaltzy and borderline Highway To Heaven at times, yes, but with these performances that’s entirely forgivable. And after her recent experiences with Danny, who better than Pippa to straight talk Walter when he chooses to hide out at Donald’s:
Pippa said:
You seem to think you’re the only person who’s had to overcome a physical disability. And not such a bad one, either. The longer you hide in here, the harder it’ll get. Why don’t you just go out there and face them. They won’t bite you. I’ll go with you. Come on. Let’s go now.
And, once again moved by Pippa’s faith in him, Walter does go outside. Only to be verbally assaulted by bigots:

Tellingly, it’s non-regulars who are most intolerant. Alison Patterson is the exception to this, but she’s a secondary character whose raison d’aitre has historically been to antagonise. She’s left school and working at The Macklin Group now, so she has to find some new way to irritate everyone.

Colleen Smart is initially thrown by Walter appearing in the store, but recovers quickly enough to eject Alison and make a neat little speech about inclusiveness.


There’s only one Walter episode left, which is a shame. But at least I know and can drink up the last of Owen Weingott’s performance.
 

James from London

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Noddy In Toyland. He’d sit for hours just staring at the picture inside the front cover… I asked him one day what it was he was staring at. I thought it’d be the dolls. The tin soldiers. Or the golliwogs. Something like that. D’you know what it was? Up in the top right hand corner there was a picture of the Toyland railway. There was this little train going into the tunnel. The tunnel out of Toyland. He spent his whole time imagining what was on the other side of that tunnel. Don’t feel bad about not remembering. I mean, I’d forgotten. He brought it up about a month ago… He found out about the aneurism. He spent a lot of time thinking about death. Then it hit him. Trust him. He was doing exactly the same thing, all over again. There he was. Staring at the picture. Wondering what was on the other side of the tunnel. I don’t want him to find out. Not yet.
Wow.
 
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