I don’t know why the writers of EastEnders decided to make life difficult for themselves. A while ago, they had the perfect opportunity to set up a good old 'Who Shot JR’ mystery. Max had pushed Tanya to the edge, and Sean wanted to kill him because Stacey had overdosed or something. It wouldn’t have been hard to have Bradley turn murderous, or to have Stacey recover and seek revenge. Even Steven could have been brought in to the ensemble, trying to protect Stacey, and perhaps Jack too (a long shot, but maybe Max said something to Ronnie that made her dump him).
Anyway, that is familiar soap territory, hasn’t been done too recently (I think, while they did the ‘accidental murder of man by woman on purpose’ back with Den), and practically writes itself. Instead, the writers have rather ambitiously demanded an acting master class from Tanya and Sean (as well as, one would hope, rather convincing portrayals of anguish from the others embroiled in it all). I suppose displays of grief and anguish would have been required no matter how Max died, but they would have been marginal beside the larger whodunit plot.
The chosen path is certainly the right one for a drama, but not for the lesser production values, writing and actors of a soap. We need to see in full the journey that turns Tanya and Sean into murderers; Tanya staring wide eyed into the camera with a wobbling face and Sean screwing his face up aren’t sufficient to tell this story. If they wanted it to be a chilling premeditated crime, we should have been taken through the minutiae of the scheme. What were they going to tell the children? How did she go about researching and obtaining the appropriate drugs?
Without this slow build up, it was neither a crime of passion nor cold blooded. It felt like a sensational half-thought about killing Max on Good Friday, only to have him rise again on Easter Monday. This robbed it somewhat of tension if we’re expecting Max to survive (not helped by the fact the coffin lid wasn’t nailed down and the shallowness of the grave; I’m not asking for Kill Bill 2, but come on), although I was somewhat caught up in it with the kids coming home early, Sean leaving Tanya alone by the grave, etc.
What comes next will determine the success of this story, I suppose. I’m expecting lots more shots of Tanya whimpering, Sean reflecting his existence on the edge of sanity by hunching his shoulders up some more, and so on. I’d like to see Sean haunted by the evocation of killing his father, increasingly stretched by Stacey’s hectoring. Tanya should feel sick every time she looks at her children, drink more, but turn steelier as she is forced to profess her love for Max whenever anyone questions her.
Still, an undead zombie Max relentlessly pursuing Sean and Tanya could be good viewing too if they abandon all attempts to make sense. As soon as he freed himself, he should go straight to the police and get back to his daughters. That would end the plot very quickly. Turning Max into a vengeful killer would end any pretence that EastEnders is a gritty portrait of modern working-class life. It’s all a bit silly, really.