The Mitchells have been an iconic presence in EastEnders for decades, with Phil’s son Ben teaming up with him in recent years to continue the ‘family business’.
Their enduring soap legacy is unwavering, but now these gangster exploits have become a tired tradition. With the duo showing no sign of slowing down, it’s about time they were given a break from the same old antics.
Every run-in with the “Old Bill” ends with Phil and Ben managing to outsmart them. Their trusty solicitor Ritchie Scott (Sian Webber) has had an impressive success rate in helping her notorious clients out of trouble, yet it only leads to them going round in circles.
Time and again, the pair form dodgy alliances, from Danny Hardcastle to “Shell-Suit Stan”. We see them commit over-the-top offences in a bid to make money, before expecting to get away with everything scot-free – and miraculously succeeding in doing so.
We’re not suggesting EastEnders puts Ritchie out of a job by making the Mitchells turn over an entirely new leaf – where would be the fun in that? But with their menacing attitude towards anyone who dares to cross them, they have become Walford’s answer to the local mafia.
The soap can afford to tone things down and break this predictable pattern. There’s no reason why their life of crime can’t be seen in the background for a while, with the family taking less extreme measures.
As a result of their scheming, they have started to lose the respect they once had from their neighbours. Phil’s attack on Ian Beale was blamed on poor Tina Carter, and he is now firmly in Mick and Linda’s bad books. The Mitchells’ involvement in the ill-fated exit of fan favourite Kush Kazemi has also highlighted just how ruthless their routine is.
Ben and Phil’s calculated manipulation of Kush to take the blame for their own wrongdoing has arguably made them look more villainous than ever. Given Ben’s character growth over the past few years, his unsympathetic reaction to Kush’s death felt cold and out of place.
This may have been in keeping with the famous Mitchell bravado, but it’s a glimpse at just how disconnected he can become from other characters when in the midst of a shady plot.
Ben deserves more screen time with the other side of his bloodline – a chance to revisit his role as mentor to nephew Bobby, and share the excitement of his impending nuptials with mum Kathy.
The dynamic between father and son also needs a turning point. Although Ben has notably stopped trying to impress his father, the young man hasn’t given up joining him in illegal ventures, and this could be preventing them from sharing progressive scenes together. Phil has come to truly accept his son, yet there have been lost opportunities to strengthen their bond on-screen.
Lately, Ben’s meetings with Phil are reserved only for discussing their misdeeds, while their relationship is only referenced through separate scenes. It was heartwarming to see Phil booking a surprise honeymoon for Ben and his fiancé Callum Highway, but now we want to see him taking an interest in the festivities while in his son’s presence.
Actors Steve McFadden and Max Bowden have delivered powerful material together in the past, and there is plenty of room to further explore their alter egos’ complex history – or to cement a new, positive era for the family without losing that trademark edge.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve also been reminded that there is plenty of life left in Phil beyond the next ‘job’. In a sentence we never thought we’d write, his romantic entanglement with Kat Slater has actually grown on us.
Once we recovered from the shock of seeing Mr Mitchell with a recurring smile on his face, Kat’s brilliant one-liners and realistic approach to dating Phil were rather refreshing.
Yet the consequences of the botched robbery have put this dalliance on pause, proving once more that the story struggles to move along due to the repetitive format. It will be interesting to see if Phil and Kat can overcome the fallout.
An ongoing passion for risking his freedom stands in the way of Ben’s popular relationship with Callum, too. Yes, there have been some welcome lighter moments as Ben looks forward to their upcoming wedding – but the influence of his criminal career threatens to overpower the event.
What started as an intriguing conflict has become a constant hurdle that leaves Callum’s role in the police growing ever more difficult. The arrest sheet is getting longer, as are the amount of times the words “bailed pending further investigation” are uttered.
Before they marry, a change of pace could be crucial for their future – allowing them to consider a life that doesn’t revolve around how Ben might escape justice.
If a balance is found between Phil and Ben’s contribution to Walford’s crime rate and their time spent behaving like half-decent citizens, order will be restored once more. EastEnders can move away from the excessive gangster plots and send the Mitchells in a new direction, all the while leaving their reputation intact.
EastEnders airs on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on BBC One.
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