Soap Box: Meltdown for the Ice Queen; The week ahead by Tony Stewart.
She's the cool blonde who her envious female rivals call the Ice Queen, but Melanie Owen's life is about to go into meltdown. And in her final week in the Square, she discovers the two meanings of "banged up". First she's slammed into a cell screaming and protesting. Then the prison doctor has more dreadful news. "You're pregnant," she tells her flatly.
Her husband's dead, she's lost her house and club, she signed over The Meal Machine to Laura, and she's been arrested for laundering drug money. One man is to blame. Steve Owen... who she still believes shot Phil. "He was evil an' he was twisted," she tells her best friend Lisa. "An' I am not bringing an evil and twisted man's child into this world."
Although her exit may not be as fatal as Steve's in that fireball, these four episodes are just as thrilling. For Mel's fall is a devastating story of betrayal and her ultimate revenge.
One by one her friends desert her. When Beppe is asked to speak up on her behalf, he pathetically wants to save his own skin. "I need to keep a low profile," he bleats. "If I draw attention to myself, it could be me next." When jealous Laura is asked to stand pounds 30,000 bail, she sees it as an opportunity to keep her love rival in jail. "The Meal Machine's not her personal bank account," she snaps. But two men come to her rescue. Anthony to arrange her abortion. And Phil with a get-out-of-jail card.
There are other blondes who are having much more fun, though. That young chap Matt is smitten with the "filthy slag" Janine and woos a freebie out of her with wine and flowers. Peggy also coaches daughter Sam in the art of seducing Beppe by wearing "summink classy, a bit `come hither, but if yer try it on, you'll get a thick lip'... Think of all the times you made `em wait an' `ow they respected you for it." Sam wouldn't know Respect if Aretha Franklin sang it in her ear, even when Beps murmurs, "I need to give you one more bit of advice... on how to use my toaster in the morning". All charm, eh?
Billy too is trying to raise Little Mo's spirits with her imminent court case by staging a Mr Bojangles night at E20. The Slaters are seated in an "exclusive" VIP area, which is just as well for the safety of other clubbers considering the damage Zoe and Kat do to Janine in the Vic. Even Phil is feeling benevolent when he makes up with Jamie.
But with a scorching performance by Tamzin Outhwaite, this is Mel's show as she decides "to settle a few old scores", not least when Lisa reveals she too has betrayed their friendship. Mel holds three secrets over Beppe, Laura and the terrible trio of Phil, Lisa and Mark that could shatter their lives.
When she faces her last exit at Victoria Coach Station, there is a glint in her eye as Mel looks at the destination board and speaks on her mobile. "Pick a number for me," she says. "One to 20. Great. Thank you." And with that she is gone... but never forgotten.
Maxine has the terrified look of a mouse that's carelessly run the wrong way through a cat-flap. And a vicious feline has bared her claws and is about to pounce. "So what happened?" Charlie asks as she bursts into the Peacocks' to confront jittery Maxine and Matt. "How did a drunken one- night stand turn into true love and happy families? And where's Ashley? Did you kick `im out or is he buried under the patio?" Sadly, he's just coming downstairs... and down to earth with a bump.
For tomorrow night is the moment of truth when the gullible and distraught Ashley discovers there's been a rogue sausage in his butcher's shop. Amidst Matt's shouting and Maxine's weeping, he becomes increasingly panicky. "I'm so sorry," his wife sobs. "I never meant it to happen... an' I've never stopped lovin' you. Never. I slept with Matt. It was only one night. We were drunk. Ashley, please speak to me. Pleeease!" But there isn't time for him to respond as she lets out a cry of anguish and goes into labour, two months early.
This is another gripping story of betrayal that started with Matt and Maxine's champagne-fuelled night of lust seven months ago. Two marriages are now in tatters and, as a baby boy makes an early entry into the fray, the men are battling over who is the real father. And while Ashley usually displays the emotional and vocal range of a chipmunk, actor Stephen Arnold produces a performance of searing intensity. Tracy Shaw might steal the headlines, but he could quietly walk off with an award.
As much as this dominates a classic week in the Street, there are other dramas taking place. Mike concocts a scheme to avoid financial ruin following his competitor's claim of "copyright infringement" over Fiz's rip-off bustiers. Sally is also left with just washers in her cashbox at the hardware store, but luckily she has the good sense to reject Tricky Dicky's proposal of remortgaging her home, not least because that would be like signing her own death warrant.
Blanche, meanwhile, is happy to flirt with undertaker Archie as they plan a weekend away in Blackpool. The journey may be slow in his vintage hearse, but her daughter still thinks the romance is moving too fast. "Have I got this right, Deirdre? You're telling me I should be playing hard to get?" Blanche asks. "It's not bad advice," Dreary answers. "You were always on at me, telling me not to make myself easy." Blanche remembers, "Well, you never took a blind bit of notice. So why should I?"
There is also some humour when Peacock Junior makes his appearance, with Ashley angrily seeing off the family doctor. "You were brilliant. I don't know how I'd've got through it without you," Maxine praises. "Makes up for not being there when he were conceived," Ash responds, before rejecting both mother and child. But that may save the nipper ever going to Weatherfield comp where there's abusive behaviour and a belligerent drunk in the classroom. And that's just teacher Charlie. But she is to receive a lesson in sobriety... Glug!
That little speech of thanksgiving Phil recently made haunts him and the rest of the Soapstars family this week. "Coming here, starting over was never gunna be easy," he toasted as they sat down to a celebratory meal. "But I think we all deserve a pat on the back." And viewers deserve endurance medals. But just five months after their much-publicised arrival, Jess is the first of the five to quietly leave, with three others surely not that far behind.
Of course, best-of-the-bunch Maggie has cause for jubilation. She's safe in her job at Dale Park, she's rid of her malicious step-daughter, and Nasty Nicola is left without a friend in the village. Nor is she the apple of her father's eye. "You are a selfish, spiteful little girl!" Rodney seethes. "I've paid for your house, I bought you a car, gave you a job. But no longer. That's it. You're on your own."
And who is to blame? Why half-sister Bernice. And after stewing in her own noxious juices for the week, Nic can't resist giving her an undeserved slap in the face. Literally. "She's wrecked her marriage and wrecked my wedding," she screeches in The Woolpack. "Needed a blood check to find out the father of her baby... I hate your ugly face." Families, eh?
With the exception of Mr and Mrs Tickles resuming their "magical, mystical journey - destination paradise", the episodes concern crime and punishment. And while the comedy duo of Bob and Viv get out the paint brushes to spruce up the cafe, there are others pulling far more serious strokes. For Marc there's a hiccup with his release from clink when he's caught with drugs, although there are better lessons in villainy in the village.
The ultra-ambitious Gloria is schooling Pollard in the art of political spin... and blackmail. Unfortunately, hard-nosed Councillor Ledbetter is reluctant to jump on the couple's mayoral bandwagon. But giving a friend's schoolgirl daughter "a lingering kiss" is not something Ledbetter wishes to be exposed. "I know how much pressure you must be under," Pollard smarms. "The council, Mrs Ledbetter, your girlfriend's GCSEs..." So that's another vote in the bag, then.
But there is just no honour among thieves, and snooty Gloria's credit card finds its way into the hands of Cain and Latisha. Remarkably, even clueless cop Angie is soon on their trail, although thick Latisha suspects the "pulling" the constable wishes to do is not just having Cain in for questioning. "He's mine now," she snaps, "so keep your hands off!"
As if. Angie wouldn't touch him with somebody else's truncheon.
Sheer carelessness doesn't come into this one. They still haven't found Imelda's body, which suggests that even if Manor Park was built on a graveyard, they'd have great trouble stumbling across a corpse.
But Little Antnee's nightmare is far from over. First he has to fight off a gang of scallies in the school bogs. Then he's shaken by an emotional television appeal by the dead bully's mum. And finally the battleaxe turns up on the Murrays' doorstep. "He drove her away," she accuses the lad. "For all I know she's lying dead somewhere! She's just a little girl." Right...
But the only searching that seems to be going on is that of the collective souls and, as ever, it's tortuous stuff for the Dixons who have obviously never listened to local hero Ken Dodd's rousing Happiness. Or second thoughts... Not even a car crash and the opening of Bar Brookie can deflect Jacqui from her misery as an expectant mum. And her fears? "Apart from the most agonising pain on earth, yer mean?" she snaps at Max. "My hair coming out in clumps, my teeth rattlin' `round me head and elephant ankles?" Just that?
Not even dad Ron can offer any cheer as he gloomily reflects on his lonely life, which could be explained by his inclination to behave like a complete prat. And even his time in jail has spectacularly failed to teach him the errors of his ways - particularly when Bev offers a bit of TLC.
Unfortunately, a buxom woman making coffee with a squirt of whipped cream is just too erotic for the old groper's hormones and he makes an inept fumble for her goody bag. "You'd do it for a gay bloke's lover," he whines. "Do it for me!" Oh, just do one, Ron...
PRIDE: Max and her boy