Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Eight

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We open with a nicely tanned Charles taking a dip in his outdoor pool (for once in Tarrant, it’s a sunny day). But there are, ahem, storm clouds brewing elsewhere. He spies the arrival of the police (who are also at Relton, removing paperwork by the boxfull). From this unsettling opening we switch to a taciturn Ken, who’s taken matters into his own hands by having a bonfire with his paperwork ….

There’s a lovely moment later when Ken and Laura discuss Charles’ problems. Ken tells her that since any business dealings he had with Charles never really came to anything, he has nothing to hide. “Yes, I see that the incinerator’s been working overtime” she archly comments! How does she do it? She seems to be everywhere and knows everything. It’s very unnerving.

It’s business as usual at the Mermaid. Bill’s fretting that they’re falling behind schedule whilst Jack remains blissfully unconcerned. Tom, as ever, is caught in the middle and so decides to launch a broadside attack on Jack. When Tom and Jack lock horns it’s always a joy.

There’s not been a great deal of screentime this year shared by Jan and Leo. Possibly this was just the way the storylines fell, or maybe it was a deliberate move – since it does enable Leo here to express his disapproval that his mother seems to be shutting him out. Once again, the impression is given that Jan is more interested in her business than her family.

Jan doesn’t have time at the moment to think about Leo, Abby or the baby’s upcoming scan – she’s something much more important to deal with (the launch of James’ new fashion line). If you like hats, then you’ve come to the right place as even before we discuss what the models are wearing there’s Vanessa’s (a white one, worn at jaunty angle) and Laura’s (black with a veil).

Here’s a new nugget of information (unless it’s been mentioned before and I was asleep at the time). James and Laura have a past. When she turns up it wipes the smile off his face and the same happens to Jan’s countenance after she spies Laura giving an unwilling James a long, lingering kiss. This is further evidence that beneath her friendly surface there’s an arch manipulator just waiting to get loose.

Compared to some of Jan’s previous fashion shows, this latest one is rather more upmarket. Less pop music and more classical as the models strut their stuff. I’m no expert, but the clothes don’t seem to be the sort of thing that would set the fashion world alight.

Last time the police came calling Gerald was frantic and Charles was cool. This time the positions are reversed as Charles is beginning to crack under the pressure. It’s very unusual to see him under such stress – but I guess we’ve waited the best part of five years in order to witness his unflappable persona breeched in this way.

Abby’s scan is chiefly interesting for the way that the doctor (Angus MacKay) interogates both Abby and Leo afterwards. He’s very interested to know whether Abby plans to divorce Orrin and marry Leo. Eh? His job is to check the health of Abby’s unborn child, why does he need to know all of this? I guess it’s simply a rather clumsy way of making the pair of them discuss the idea of marriage later.

This was one of MacKay’s final credits. One of those instantly recongisable actors, he was often to be found playing laywers or bank manangers (or occasionaly Time Lords, as in the Doctor Who story The Deadly Assassin). It’s only a brief scene, but it’s a pleasure to see him.

Ken – like a big flappy octopus – is extending his tentacles everywhere. He’s keen to buy Tom’s stake in Howard Brooke whilst he’s also interested in snapping up some Frere Holdings shares (given their recent problems it’s the ideal time to buy). And with Laura and Gerald very pally, maybe she could winkle some inside information out of him.

An extra layer of complexity is added to Jan’s plotline after it’s revealed that James and Ken have been seen togehter. Jan’s paranoia that Ken is scheming to destroy her (as we’ll later see, not unfounded) ensures that she and James have an entertaining ding-dong confrontation as she desperately tries to get at the truth. It starts slowly, but by the end they’ve really built up a nice head of steam. Both Jan Harvey and Andrew Bicknell aren’t holding anything back here.

What’s interesting is that it’s also another scene where Jan is painted as a totally obessive businesswoman, something which is clearly seen as a bad thing. James tells her that “if business is all you care about then you might suceed. But at what price?” Charles, Tom and Jack might all be driven by their business interests, but it’s never suggested that they’ve sacrificed anything. Jan, as a woman and a mother, is clearly held to a different standard.

But as we’ll see later, you can’t necessarily trust what James is saying.

Leo and Jan have a late night conversation. This is presumably after James has stormed out, since Jan’s looking a little the worse for wear. For the first time in a while they’re able to talk, which is clearly what Leo needs. As usual, he’s tended to keep his feelings intensly bottled up (is this the reason why he found powerboat racing so diverting – as a way to banish the negative thoughts he was unable to articulate?).

Given that it’s always been so hard to really understand what he thinks or feels, after he reveals that he doesn’t know whether Abby loves him or not (he also believes she got pregnant on purpose, rather than accidentally as she claims) it comes as something of a surprise. This scene offers Edward Highmore something a little dramatic to get his teeth into – as opposed to Leo’s more usual fare, which tends to see him reacting to others rather than forcing the narrative himself.

Unexpectedly, Kate turns up out of the blue (her first appearance this year). Although she’s been mentioned in passing, the casual viewer could have been fogiven for thinking that she’d gone for good. Her reapperance is good fun – she finds her way blocked by James, who is disinclined to let this strange woman into Jan’s house. Kate is equally perplexed as to why James is blocking her way and also why he’s got a key to her house ….

There’s a stormy Mermaid meeting. It’s obviously symbolic that Tom and Avril are sitting on one side, Jack and Vanessa are on the other with Jan somewhere in the middle. Jack suggests they develop closer ties with Ken, something which goes down like a cup of cold sick with Jan. “I don’t trust him” she mutters, a sentinment which Avril agrees with. This is a very shouty episode with Jan – once again – raising the roof. Tom, Avril and Jan vote against, so Jack’s motion is defeated 3-2. How do you think he takes it? Yes, not very well at all.

Easily my favourite moment of this episode comes when, having stormed out of the office, he spies a looming Kate. He looks mournfully as the oncoming storm approaches. “Oh, they’re bringing in reinforcements. She’s back. My headmistress”!

Following that treat, we then get confirmation that Ken and James are in cahoots. Interesting …..

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