Wednesday, 15 March 2017
The Replacement: The wheels fall off
It was a simple story: woman in high powered job, gets pregnant hires another woman to cover her maternity leave. Paula, the brilliant Vicky McClure is almost too good to be true when she and Ellen (Morven Christie) first meet. Initially the pair bond as Ellen shows Paula the ropes but she starts to feel uneasy when Paula appears to be doing a little too well at ingratiating herself with her new colleagues and Ellen feels pushed out.
The first two episodes of The Replacement were stunning. McClure and Christie were electrifying on screen. As an audience member you had a ringside seat for this most catty of battles and I was completely invested. Writer Joe Aherne did an excellent job keeping you on your toes with barely a moment to catch your breath. Initially you think Paula's dangerous and then you start to think that Ellen is just overthinking everything she's seeing. By the time we reached the nail biting final moments of the penultimate episode I was chomping at the bit for more. Ellen had learnt that Paula had sent a picture Leah left in a car to social services, and Paula knew that Ellen had reached out to a one of Paula's former colleagues to find out the truth about who she really was. Ellen also became fixated on the whereabouts of Paula's ten year old daughter Caris. Things came to a head when Paula invited Ellen and her dippy husband Ian over for a meal. The two come to blows with Ellen demanding to know where Paula's daughter is. The episode ends with Paula looking deep into Ellen's eyes and says 'alright, Ellen, you win!'
I had high expectations for the final installment and sadly they weren't met. The episode picks up where the second left off with Paula taking Ellen into her daughter's bedroom. She informs Ellen that despite talking about Caris a lot the girl had actually died in a hit and run crash when she was eight.
Instead of viewing Paula as a manipulator our feelings shifted as we now see her as a grieving mother struggling to come to terms with the death of her only child.
Even when Ellen learns this devastating she's convinced that Paula is to blame of the death of her friend Kay who came to a sticky end at the building site that was to become the new library. With things becoming too much at work Ellen hands her notice in but she struggles to find other work as Paula intercepts her references. When the pair meet up again at the opening of the library it's only matter of time before their feud bubbles over again. As Ellen goes to confront her Paula hurls herself down an impressive staircase in front of a shocked audience who assume Paula gave her a good shove.
This is the final straw for Ellen's dippy husband who sends packing to her sisters and keeping her away from baby Leah. With Ellen loosing control of her life, Paula moves in to comfort Ian and get closer to Leah. It's here we learn that The Replacement of the title has a clever double meaning: not only does Paula replace Ellen at work but Paula also wants to replace her daughter with Ellen's new baby.
It was all very clever and interesting but, sadly from here on things take a turn for the bonkers. In a scene that would only happen in a daft TV drama, Ian places Leah's cot on an open windowsill as he starts to cook. Can you guess what happened next? Why yes! With his back turned Leah was taken! I know shocking right? Not really no, bloody stupid!
A distraught Ian calls an oblivious Ellen demanding to know where she has taken their daughter. It's then that Ellen gets a text from arch nemesis Paula saying she has her daughter and to come and meet her ALONE. At this point I'm still invested. The Replacement exists in a world of heightened drama and I could JUST forgive the daft scene of placing your precious baby daughter on an open window when you're aware there's unstable people likely to be lurking.
Sadly Paula and Ellen's final exchange is where the entire series falls apart. As Paula coaxes Ellen into the car that ran down her own daughter (I'm not entirely sure why she kept it) she is taunted by the desperate cries of little Leah. Paula explains that she doesn't believe Ellen is a good enough mother to raise her the baby. She persuades her (far too easily for my liking) to take an overdose of some little blue pills that puts her to sleep. As Paula leaves the car and locks Ellen within the garage, she succumbs to the tablets drifting off to the land of nod. I would've been quite happy for it to end there. That ending would've seen our grief stricken mother move in with Ian and raise and REPLACE Paula and raise her daughter. A knowing look to the camera would've given me the creeps and we'd wonder if Ellen had died or not. Instead, what followed seemed to undermine the entire series. Ellen woke up, hot wired the car, smashed through the garage doors and worked out that Leah was being held at that ruddy library. When she got there Paula was swiftly arrested (again far too quickly) and we got some 'bonus' scenes showing how Ellen had moved on with her life and how the experience had taught her to savour her time with her daughter.
It's an odd case and it doesn't happen very often, but the last 20 minuets of this felt so out of place, bonkers and rushed that it has sullied my opinion of the series as a whole. The Replacement was a little bit mad at times but that was also the reason we loved it, but its final set piece was such an anticlimax that I was left feeling shortchanged. It felt as if Joe Aherne had been writing and realised he was running out of time so wrote a quick ending in order to tie absolutely everything up. I've lambasted other dramas for ending without giving me closure, but with this the closure felt tacked on and verged on the unbelievable. It made it a completely different show. It was hard to revel in Paula's schemes once we learnt she was a grieving mother seeing others having that had been cruelly taken away from her. It was also hard to believe Ellen would (a wake up from her overdose and be clear minded enough to get the car started and b) that it would start so easily.
When it comes to the end of the year and I look back on The Replacement I'll try my best to focus on the rollercoaster ride and the final half hour where the wheels came off the ride. I just wish this had been a tight two-parter or a four-parter to allow the story to breathe. All in all the final installment was a disappointing mess and whatever drama I fall hook line and sinker for next I'll be thinking 'please don't let this do a replacement!'
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