Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Eight

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Written by Sarah Daniels. Tx 29th January 1988

Mr Griffiths has had his eye on Tegs for some time and finally runs him to ground in the girl’s cloakroom. The moment when Mr Griffiths attempts to stop him escaping by holding onto his blazer – only for Tegs to slip out of it – is slightly clumsily done, as it’s plain that George A. Cooper is actually tugging it off him.

Tegs, escorted to Mrs McClusky’s office by Mr Griffiths, remains uncowed. He denies that he’s responsible for the recent spite of bike thefts – instead he offers the head his professional opinion about safety measures (locking stands and chains would be a good idea). Poor Mr Griffiths gets a roasting from Mrs McClusky after Tegs leaves the office. Mr Griffiths’ confident assertion that Tegs is the culprit is quickly shot down by Mrs McClusky, who tells him that they have absolutely no evidence against him. Mr Griffiths’ hangdog expression after being ticked off speaks volumes. His heroine-worship of Mrs McClusky has long been one of his defining traits, so to be in her bad books is a painful moment for him.

Sarah Daniels once again comes up with the goods for Michael Sheard. Mr Bronson, lurking for no good reason in Mrs McClusky’s outer office, happens to overhear the head telling Mr Griffiths that if she can’t deal with this spate of thefts then she should resign. The words “it’s time for me to resign” catches his attention and his facial expression after this apparent bombshell speaks volumes! Also good to see the ever-faithful, if mute, Janet back in her familiar position as Mrs McClusky’s secretary.

You may, or may not, be delighted to hear that Mauler’s reign of idiotic terror shows no sign of abating. Desperate as I am for any small crumb of comfort during these scenes, I have to say that there’s a very unusual camera angle (high above the set, looking directly down) during the moment when Mauler and his posse chase Clarke round and round the lockers. Top marks to director John Smith for attempting to liven up yet another “comedy” chase.

But better times are just around the corner as Mr Bronson, like an avenging angel, strides into the frame and declares that Mauler was the boy responsible for giving him the soaking. Quite how he’s worked this out is a slight mystery – he didn’t see him at the time – but no matter as it’s a chance for Michael Sheard to turn the intensity right up. “You are the boy responsible for my getting wet”. It’s a fairly innocuous line, but it’s all about Sheard’s line delivery – the way he emphasises each word with increasing force.

I also love the conclusion to the scene. Mr Bronson tells Mauler to “follow me” and the teacher strides off, only twigging after a few seconds that Mauler’s legged it in the opposite direction! It’s only a pleasure deferred though, as Mr Bronson then runs the unfortunate Mauler to ground during the next lesson. Sheard is once again on top form as Bronson tells the boy to explain to the class, in French, exactly what he did. Sheard milks every last moment out of lines such as “you pathetic, unteachable specimen”. And what exactly was Mauler’s French explanation? “Mr Bronson, in boy’s bedroom, with basket of water on the head”.

Tegs explains a little more to Justine about his philosophy of life. “I nicked two hundred quid in fifteen minutes once. You’d have to be a politician or a pop star to earn that much in quarter of an hour”.

It’s fascinating how public acceptance of tattoos has changed over the last thirty years. Ronnie (unsurprisingly, given her straight-laced persona) isn’t at all impressed with Helen’s tattoo, telling her that she’s got it for life and only a skin graft will remove it. Back in 1988, a tattoo seems to have been seen as a departure from the norm – Ronnie wonders if Helen’s gone a bit funny and Fiona agrees, commenting that it’s a bit mad.

Matthew’s travails continue. After behaving quite normally during his few brief scenes last episode, he’s back to his old, storytelling tales today. Paul Adams’ breathless listing of untruths and half-truths isn’t terribly convincing – although I’m not sure whether this was supposed to be as scripted or was simply due to Adams’ acting. For sure, it’s a difficult part to play – and reviewing Matthew’s initial storyline some thirty years on, it seems a pity that he wasn’t given the opportunity to settle into the school community for a while before attention was drawn to his fractured homelife. Had this been done, then it probably would have generated a more rounded character.

Matthew’s father once again is nothing but more than an intimidating profile. We never hear his reply to Matthew’s request that they give Clarke a lift, but Mr Pearson’s disgusted expression speaks volumes.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Nine

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 2nd February 1988

The peace of Laura’s breakfast is disturbed by the arrival of Simon. This obviously doesn’t please her (no doubt he picked up on this by the subtle way she banged a dish down on the table). True, Simon is his usual boorish self – grabbing the newspaper off her without thinking to ask first – but you could also argue that Laura’s not prepared to meet him half way. This is a plotline that’s been in a holding pattern for a while – Mrs Reagan loves Simon whilst Laura loathes him – with no sign of advancement.

I’m surprised to see that Gonch, Ziggy and Robbie’s kit hire service is still up and running. A few episodes back it seemed to be knocked on the head after Mr Robson rumbled them (or was that possibly just the reminder service?). Ziggy finds himself at the mercy of some fifth years who aren’t at all happy with the level of service being provided. These scenes are chiefly interesting for the way that Ziggy’s suddenly become the fall guy and junior partner – Gonch and Robbie very much have the air of senior partners, leaving the hapless Ziggy to do all the donkey work.

Mr Robson’s latest wheeze sees him launch an access club – featuring the likes of Badminton, Table Tennis, Weightlifting and Five a Side Football. Freddie’s not pleased, as it’ll mean that football practice will have to be cut down. This allows Freddie to once again restate his contempt for non-competitive sports. Instead, he harks back to the good old days of Mr Baxter and penny under the mat.

Helen continues to obsess about her tattoo, convinced that it’s growing larger. I love the way that Georgina shows the minimum of concern about her friend’s plight – she’s much more interested in filing her nails! Jane is the latest to view the tattoo and her obviously feigned delight only helps to reinforce the notion that Helen’s made a big mistake. She then confides to Georgina that “I bet Paula Yates had never had this problem” (yes a touch ungrammatical).

Vince has never been the brightest, but as the years roll on he seems to be regressing backwards. How else could you explain the fact that he believes Trevor’s assertion that he’s not only seen Helen’s tattoo, but that the two are an item? If that’s difficult to believe, then the notion that Trev’s prepared to nobly stand aside in order that Vince can ask her out is just bizarre ….

Danny’s return (he’s been in Scotland for a check-up apparently) sees him haunting the art room whilst avoiding Mr Robson. He’s also on hand to give Fiona and Ronnie some musical advice as they continue to craft their hip hop magnum opus. Quite how or why Danny’s suddenly become an expert (or even someone whose opinion they value) is never quite made clear.

The saga of the strip hire rumbles on. Surprisingly for a Margret Simpson script (she was always one of GH‘s more distinctive writers) the boys hit on a master plan which operates along rather sexist lines – they’ve got all these dirty clothes that need washing, so why not invite Calley and Ronnie to become equal partners? They can do the washing (well, they’re girls after all) whilst the boys handle the rough stuff, such as tangling with the likes of Big Tel (David Parker).

The episode ends with a “comedy” chase. Big Tel’s less than delighted that he was given one of Mr Robson’s football shirts (the teacher noticed and called him a thief) so there’s the inevitable run-around as he attempts to extract a suitable revenge. It’s mainly of interest due to the fact it continues during the end credits whuch at least allows it to be snappily edited. And if you think that this is one “comedy” chase without Mauler then think again – as he and his Grid Iron crew pop up out of nowhere to carry Gonch off. Quite what they’re doing wandering about the streets still dressed in their American football gear is a mystery which I don’t think has an answer.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Ten

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 5th February 1988

Gonch, now sporting a neck brace, thanks to his previous encounter with Mauler, declares that something needs to be done about him. Ziggy agrees, leaving Robbie to shake his head at the impetuousness of them both. It’s a pity that we never actually see what happened to Gonch as Ronnie’s explanation – she found him trussed him up in Harriet’s old stable, complete with a sign saying donkey – sounds intriguing.

Why Mauler suddenly decided to attack Gonch (the two have barely, if ever, spoken) is another of those mysteries which I don’t think there’s an answer for. A case of sloppy storylining or was it designed to demonstrate that Mauler’s menace is totally random? The decision is yours.

Whilst Gonch thanks Ronnie for rescuing him (and also for not telling anyone else) this allows Robbie and Calley to enjoy a brief moment of intimacy. This slightly develops the possibility that they may become an item, although it’s still early days at present. Oh, and of course Ronnie couldn’t resist telling Calley about Gonch’s plight (she promptly told Robbie and then Ziggy found out) leading to maximum humiliation for GH’s top wheeler dealer.

Vince’s pursuit of Helen finds him running into Mauler. McCall’s not impressed with Vince’s American football top (deciding that Vince is setting up in opposition against him!). Vince is wearing the top at all times, as Trevor told him that Helen loves American football. I’ve got a feeling that Trev’s not been entirely honest with Vince ….

This is another of those slightly baffling incidental storylines. I’m not sure what’s harder to believe – the fact that Vince for a second believes that Helen (once she claps eyes on his shirt) will be overcome with passion or the notion that Mauler regards Vince as a rival. After a strong run of episodes (the two from Sarah Daniels were especially good) we seem to have hit something of a brick wall here.

The normal affable Mr MacKenzie is in a strop today. Too much petty pilfering has finally caused him to snap – although maybe the final straw came when he saw that Trevor’s pockets were stuffed with computer keys. Clearly he spends his computer studies period dismantling the keyboards! It’s been a while since the topic of limited resources and vandalism was raised (back in the early eighties it was a particularly fruitful source of drama for the series) so it’s not unpleasing to see it touched upon again.

The sudden arrival of Mr Bronson is an episode highlight. Spotting Danny Kendall being escorted by the still highly irritated Mr MacKenzie, Mr Bronson lightly skips down the corridor before bellowing “do what do we owe this honour?” to the slightly nonplussed boy. As Mr Bronson then leads Danny down away, it’s notable that the walls are looking particularly grubby. Unless I’ve previously been unobservant, I don’t think this has been a regular feature this year, so possibly – like Mr MacKenzie’s diatribe – it’s something unique to this episode. Another notable feature of their extended walk is the ambient sounds we hear as they pass various classes. Only a small touch, but it helps to create the impression that this is a living and breathing school.

Vince’s stupidity has now reached previously uncharted proportions. Despite the fact that Helen’s told him she loathes all sports (and pushed him in the fountain for good measure!) he still believes Trevor when he casually mentions that Helen’s waiting for him over by the sheds. Of course, she’s not there – but Mauler’s gang is. So Vince finds himself chained up in the bike sheds, minus his prized shirt ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Eleven

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 9th February 1988

Mr Pearson speaks! His parting words to Matthew aren’t particularly friendly though. “How many times have I told you? Don’t say ‘aint’. Just because you have to go to this dump of a school doesn’t mean you have to forget how to talk properly”. As with Mr MacKenzie’s diatribe regarding the paucity of funds during the last episode, this comment helps to reinforce the notion (not often touched upon during recent years) that Grange Hill is a far from an affluent or top-rated school.

Of course, if the Pearson family are well-off, as has been mentioned in the past, why isn’t Matthew going to a private school?

Mr Pearson’s comment also helps to restate the impression that he’s a distant and uncaring father. With Mrs Pearson and Matthew’s sister having disappeared to the country (Mrs Pearson would return, making occasional appearances for the next few years, but we’ve seen the last of the brattish Lucy) it’s not too surprising that Matthew’s wearing a troubled expression – especially if he’s now been forced to live with his father.

There’s a big hip hop competition coming up and Danny’s keen to partner Ronnie and Fiona. He’s decided that – despite his inexperience – he’d be a wizard on the decks. Fiona believes that Danny would be a liability though, so she and Ronnie are economical with the truth when Danny mentions it. This seems slightly unkind – given Danny’s recent withdrawn and angry nature, something like this would appear to be just the thing he needs to perk him up. Fiona’s decision that they need someone more professional (which Ronnie hesitatingly goes along with) marks her down as – at best – a very ambitious young women. Clearly she doesn’t want to enter the completion just for fun, she wants to win.

And still the saga of the strip hire rumbles on. Gonch is besieged by angry punters, which seems less than credible. It appears that nobody in the school ever remembers to bring their strips, so Gonch and the others face an ever increasing cycle of kit maintenance. Like Vince’s belief that Helen is desperately in love with him, suspention of disbelief is required here. Poor Gonch, having just got out of his neck brace, now receives a nasty off-screen beating from Big Tel. There’s blood everywhere (especially on the kit) which doesn’t make their business any easier ….

Tegs’ decision to attend the remedial reading class is an interesting wrinkle. Given his unconvential homelife it’s not surprising that he’s fallen behind with his studies. Tegs displays a pleasing sense of vulnerability during this scene, although he returns to his more usual persona after sensing that he’s being accused of being behind the recent spate of petty thefts.

Tensions between Calley and Ronnie continue to bubble away. Calley’s unhappy that she’s been lumbered with the kit washing (Ronnie’s spending all her time hip hopping). Calley’s complaints are the latest reason why the kit hire scheme is beginning to crumble – hopefully so, as I think it’s about time it was knocked on the head.

Gonch, Ziggy and Robbie share quite a long scene in the launderette. It’s noteworthy since it’s a one take, single camera effort . This explains why when George Christopher slightly stumbles over a few lines they’re kept in (if it was a normal scene then they’d be able to drop in an insert to cover this fumbled moment).

Freddie continues to mock the efforts of those participating in the access group – such as Vince playing badminton – at all times. It’s another boorish display from a character who doesn’t have many positive traits (unless narcissistically self-obsessed womanisers appeal). Laura and a number of extras also join in with the general jeering. Luckily Mr Robson’s on hand to ram his point of view home. “I’ve no doubt you find it very amusing, you lads, who’ve never had any trouble with sport. But it’s people like you, to whom games come easily, who make it hell for the people who find it hard”.

Even after Mr Robson concludes by telling him that his job is to ensure everybody in the school enjoys physical education, Freddie remains locked in his tunnel-vision outlook. This clearly irritates Laura – who at least has the good grace to accept that Mr Robson has a point.

As with the previous episode, Mr Bronson only makes a brief appearance, but it’s certainly memorable. When Ziggy, Robbie and a clearly unenthusiastic Gonch decide that the time has come to teach Mauler a lesson, I was all set for another interminable “comedy” chase. But luckily that wasn’t so. Instead, they all cannon into Mr Bronson, knocking him to the ground and dislodging his wig. Not only is it a rare chance to see Mr Bronson sans hairpiece, but any time that Mr Bronson’s dignity is ruffled it allows Michael Sheard to shine. The sight of Mr Bronson, his wig replaced somewhat haphazardly, desperately attempting to reassert his authority is a lovely one.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Twelve

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Written by David Angus. Tx 12th February 1988

If Ronnie’s had a defining character trait since she first appeared back in 1985 then it probably would be her honesty. So the opening of this episode – she steals a ten pound note from behind her mother’s back – is the first sign that something’s awry with her. But no doubt she considers it was only “borrowed” and also in a good cause (expenses for the hip-hop competition).

What happens next is especially interesting. Ronnie, out in the local shopping precient, spies Calley, Helen and Georgina indulging in a little light shoplifting (lipsticks). Clearly blocking out her own pilfering, Ronnie is her usual moral self – she doesn’t directly accuse them, but it’s pretty obvious that everyone registers her disgust. How long have the others been shoplifting? It’s obviously not the first time. Calley must have become pally with the others offscreen as there’s not been a great deal of interaction between the three during the episodes to date. Whilst this seems to be just an incidental story detail, we’ll shortly see how it serves as the catalyst for Ronnie’s downfall.

Gonch, Robbie and Ziggy are back down the launderette. They seem to spend more time there than they do at school ….

Ziggy, attempting to get a free drink from the launderette drinks machine, gets squirted with boiling coffee for his pains. There are several points of interest here – not only is the drinks machine absolutely massive but the gleeful cackling from the old lady (played by Ruby Buchanan) after Ziggy gets splattered is very memorable. Subtle acting it isn’t. Ziggy then strips down to his boxer shorts, paying homage to a well known advert of the time.

Tensions at Chez Reagan remain high. Laura’s not exactly looking forward to an upcoming dinner party organised by her mother – as the loathsome Simon will be there – but the reappeance of a tanned Julia helps to cushion the blow somewhat.

Ronnie’s asked Gonch to arrange transport for the sound system, which will manipulated by Fiona’s cousin, the ebullient Wesley (Alan Cooke). This he does, although it probably wasn’t what they were expecting – a rag and bone man’s horse and cart! Were there still horses and carts on the streets of London during the late eighties? Slightly hard to believe, but it’s possible I guess.

Mrs Reagan’s party is in full swing and Simon makes an immediate beeline for Julia. He’s smoothness personified – expressing surprise that she’s not a teacher but is actually Laura’s former best friend.

The hip hop party is also swinging, albeit just a little bit louder. It’s probably not coincidental that the episode switches between the two – especially since we hear one of Mrs Reagan’s guests querying “what’s hip hop?” in their best high court judge’s voice. Luckily Simon’s on hand to explain to a bow-tied older gentleman that the Beastie Boys are hip hop people, sort of (everybody seems to have heard of them). Mrs Reagan wears an expression of delight as her beau once again demonstrates his knowledge of just about everything.

Later there’s some smoochy dancing in the (fairly small) living room. Spandau Ballet’s True (something of a golden oldie at this point) is their song of choice. We then jump back to the hip hop competition, where Fresh ‘n’ Fly finally have their chance to compete. They’re …. okay, but obviously not the best. Mind you, their weedy sound system might have had something to do with this.

Fresh ‘n’ Fly don’t win the competition, so there’s no prize money for them. How will Ronnie replace the ten pounds she pilfered from her mother?

And then we’re back again to the dinner party, where Simon’s decided that he’d rather like to kiss Julia (he corners her in the kitchen when no-one else is about). This is a final confirmation that he’s a rotter (to be honest, it would have been more of a shock had he turned out to be a decent chap after all). And then Julia disappears. This was her sole S11 appearance (and her final GH credit too) so clearly she featured here just to perform a single function – the reveal (to only the audience at this point) that Simon’s nothing more than a slippery snake.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Kay Trainer. Tx 16th February 1988

Ronnie isn’t one of life’s natural conspirators. This is made plain after she discovers her mother anxiously looking for something. The money which Ronnie pilfered? No, a nearly overdue library book. Crisis past for now, although Ronnie’s still giving off anxiety and guilt in waves ….

Her isolation is restated minutes later, after she’s cast in the role of a silent observer – watching Gonch and Fiona walking by, gently flirting. It seems a little strange that Gonch – who’s barely exchanged a handful of words with Fiona all year – would decide to chat her up, but it serves the purpose of darkening Ronnie’s mood just a little more.

She explains her dilemma to Calley, who’s sympathetic, but unable to offer any practical advice. Calley’s got her own problems to contend with – the revelation that she’ll need to wear a brace depresses her enormously.

I’m delighted to hear that the strip hire business has been wound up. Hurrah! Another entrepunerial sideline is launched after Chrissy and Susi decide to sell badges with real fruit on them. Yes, really. This odd minor plotline does through up a few nice character moments with the teachers – Mr Bronson is less than sympathetic to hear of their debate as to whether the olive is a fruit or not (although he later pops into the library to secretly look it up!) and kindly Mr MacKenzie (now fully recovered from his hissy fit a while back) is gently amused when Susi declares that they should make him a badge with a leek on it. He suggests that a thistle might be more apt ….

Once again we see Matthew running like a hare from his father’s car. Despite this, he’s late to Mr MacKenzie’s registration (not entirely sure why as it’s not made clear what he’s been doing). Mr MacKenzie casts a slightly concerned glance his way whilst later, Miss Booth also picks up that things aren’t quite right. Although he’s been acting in an off-key manner for a while, it doesn’t seem to be something which the staff have picked up on until this point and it has to be said that they’re rather slow in doing anything about it.

The slow torture of Matthew’s life continues after we see him, extremely unwillingly, undress for gym. Several vicious looking welts on his back tell their own story (one which probably wouldn’t have come as a surprise to many, since it seemed a while back that the story was heading in this direction). Later we see him unable to get into his house (his father is out a meeting and he tells Clarke that he’s lost his key). As so often with Matthew, it’s possible that he’s not telling the whole truth. Has his father has denied him a key? The meeting part of the story might also not be true, unless the meeting was an alcoholic one ….

A staffroom scene allows us to take a look at some of the posters on the wall. Fair Pay for Teachers is an obvious one (remember this was the 1980’s, when teacher’s strikes were very common) but it’s slightly more eye-opening to see a CND poster. It’s not commented upon, but again it helps to anchor the series very firmly in a specific period.
Mrs McClusky hasn’t really featured for a while. She briefly pops her head round the staffroom door – only to have her ear bent by Mr Bronson – but just as quickly disappears. It’s a shame that Gwyneth Powell has been rather underused this year – there would have been plenty of dramatic mileage in setting Mrs McClusky and Mr Bronson at loggerheads over the best way to run the school (although maybe it was felt that this plotline was exhausted last year).

Helen’s tattoo woes continue. Now that her mother’s found out, it simply makes her all the more anxious to get rid of it (but using a scrubbing brush isn’t going to do the trick). She cuts a teary and forlorn figure, but luckily Miss Booth’s on hand to offer some common sense advice. It’s rare to see Helen quite so exposed – her normal image is strong and assured – but the tattoo seems to have stripped away her normal acerbic defences, leaving her vulnerable and childlike.

If Matthew’s storyline has suddenly picked up some traction, then so has the question of Simon. Louise spills the beans to Laura about Simon’s mauling of Julia, which leaves her with a dilemma. Should she tell her mother, and even if she did, would she be believed?

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 19th February 1988

Justine’s gained a couple of giggly friends, who help to arrange her hair in a kaleidoscope of colours (thanks to the judicious application of ribbons). Fair to say that the new crop of first years (despite only numbering six main speaking roles) are a fairly dysfunctional bunch – Justine’s a fashion rebel, Matthew’s cursed with the home life from hell and Tegs is an unrependant criminal. Throw in the slightly flaky Susi and Chrissy and it seems as if Clarke’s the only straightforward one amongst them (which possibly explains why he doesn’t last too long – nobody likes a normal person).

The only thing worse than Mr Bronson on the warpath is a jolly Mr Bronson. So the sight of an effusive Mr Bronson, humming a merry tune, is probably the last thing Matthew wants to see at this precise point – but see it he does. “Your face is a mask of tragedy” he helpfully tells the boy, which is just the sort of thing to raise his self esteem ….

Freddie continues to chunter about Mr Robson’s training methods whilst Susi keels over in a spectacular fashion after Mrs Reagan tells her to get changed for games. Justine’s unconventional hair results in a trip to Mrs McClusky’s office. Finally, Mrs McClusky is given a little something to do, expressing weary exasperation as to why Justine – not a normally disruptive girl – indulges in these feats of exhibitionism. I also like her outburst, after Justine suddenly decides to unpick her creation there and then. “Not here! This is my office, not a hairdressing salon, you’ll do it at home”.

Mr Robson drops a bombshell – he wants to withdraw Grange Hill from the District Cup – an act which is sure to irriate Freddie all the more. For a new character, Mr Robson’s had a decent crack of the whip so far this year. These early episodes of his are also a reminder of the more radical and aggressive teacher he used to be, before the pressures of command took precedence.

Mr Griffiths, like Mrs McClusky, has been a little underused of late. But his reminisces of his own school days, to a clearly uninterested Tegs and Justine, helps to redress the balance a little. “You had to roll down a sock, because you see in those days it wasn’t everybody who wore long trousers. And it wasn’t everybody who had socks either. That was it. You had to roll down your left sock, right down to the ankle, and that was a sign”. Wonderfully, they simply carry on their interrupted conversation after Mr Griffiths wanders away.

Tegs invites Justine to tea round his Aunties. It quickly becomes clear to the audience that he’s lying – it’s just a random house that he’s decided to burgle. Again, Justine is shown to be rather slow on the uptake – even after Tegs’ shifty explanations (he tells her that his Aunty has popped out but left the back door on the latch) she doesn’t twig. It’s only when Tegs’ “Aunty” comes down the path that the penny finally drops. A smashed back window serves as the final confirmation of his crime.

Some of the long-running plotlines remain in stasis – namely Matthew’s abusive homelife and Laura’s dilemma over her mother’s lecherous boyfriend. Elsewhere, there’s an interesting two-handed scene between Chrissy and Susi where they discuss training bras and periods. Period pains are something that the series has briefly touched upon in the past, but not quite as bluntly as we see here.

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