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If the quality of a soap was measured in the number of characters murdered over a six-month period, then Emmerdale would win every award going.
Since July last year, homicidal Meena Jutla has been blithely bumping people off like she’s the village’s answer to Villanelle, but tonight her conscience-free killing spree appears to have come to an end.
It had to, really.
If she’d been allowed to continue, there’d have been no one left by summer. Each episode would just have been Meena skipping merrily around the local graveyard or stroking the contents of her trophy box, now swollen to the size of the largest unit at a self-storage company.
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In there, by that stage, would be Marlon’s chef's hat, Cain’s leather jacket and Pollard’s moustache, shaved off and preserved in a display case.
Instead, Meena has been forced to flee and was seen tonight singing the praises of a Glasgow-bound trucker by the name of Tommy, who’d come to her rescue. He was her “knight in shining armour”, though she’ll probably find a way to pierce Tommy’s chainmail and impale him at some point in the near future. Meena doesn’t do fairy-tale endings – her methods are more grim than Grimm.
And something tells me that we haven’t seen the last of her anyway. Like Michael Myers or Ghostface, she’s the kind of villain who won’t be able to resist the opportunity to return for one more scare.
When the time is right (or, let’s face it, when Emmerdale needs some press attention ahead of a crucial public awards' vote), Meena will no doubt return with a whole bag full of poison-filled syringes ready to be plunged into the necks of her unsuspecting victims.
So dominant a force has she become of late that an encore feels inevitable, but there are some viewers who won’t be relishing the prospect of an even meaner Meena wreaking more havoc. There have been objections made about the delight she takes in torture, the cluelessness of her neighbours (who really need to watch a couple of episodes of Criminal Minds), as well as the sheer amount of screen time given over to her warped soliloquising.
Even those who’ve been enjoying the mayhem can hardly deny that ever since winsome Leanna Cavanagh was tipped over that bridge last year, Emmerdale has become The Meena Show. Very little else has registered, to be honest.
Do we care that much about Al scheming to get his hands on the Woolpack? Nate reuniting and then breaking up with Tracy time and again? Or even the prison plight of Liv, a character who seems to be contractually required to collapse every couple of weeks — usually at 7.30pm on a Thursday when ITV needs us to return at 8.00pm to watch the next episode.
No, it’s just Meena who’s mattered. But then Emmerdale has obviously felt the need to play its strongest hand at a time when tensions behind the scenes were making their way into the tabloid press.
An investigation into an alleged race-row incident led to actors Matthew Wolfenden (aka David) and Isabel Hodgins (Victoria) being temporarily benched, while fellow star Aaron Anthony (who plays Ellis) is said to have quit the soap following the same backstage argument.
Such ructions undoubtedly led to last-minute script rewrites, with David and Victoria, for instance, shipped off to Portugal when, ordinarily, we’d have expected to see them play a large part in Meena’s ongoing drama. Instead, it’s been left to Manpreet to get on the wrong side of her sister and then discover her wrongdoing in a way that, at times, was head-scratchingly hard to credit.
Ask any fan who scrutinised the chain of events and they wouldn’t be able to satisfactorily explain how Manpreet came to be tied up and almost killed after stumbling across the truth. And that must surely be down to the rejigging of story strands in order to accommodate those abrupt cast departures.
Manpreet dug up details on Meena’s deadly past way too easily, to the extent that it felt as though we’d missed vital scenes in which the cogs whirred and suspicions gradually mounted before she eventually realised she had a psychopath for a sibling.
It would have made far more sense had Victoria – who’d already been subjected to Meena’s not-so-veiled threats – pieced things together and then put herself in peril.
And for David (rather than Vinny) to have been brought to the brink of death after coming to her rescue. But that scenario wouldn’t have been able to play out due to circumstances beyond the scriptwriters’ control. All guesswork and speculation on my part, of course, but it would have had more of an internal logic.
Instead, we got rather a lot of crazed grandstanding from Meena, some of which felt like it was there to paper over the plotline’s cracks. Although having Liam face off against her seemed appropriate retribution for what she did to his daughter.
Now, though, it’s surely time for Meena to take a breather and do her scheming off screen for a while. Others need some time in the spotlight and to be given a few crises to deal with that don’t involve dead bodies and wrongful arrests.
Then, after an appropriate period of time has elapsed, and David and Victoria have perhaps found their place in village life again, Meena can return to get retribution on those she feels have done her wrong. She’s a character who certainly has her critics, but believe me, absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder.
Even when it comes to swivel-eyed sociopaths who seem like they've over-indulged on box-sets of Killing Eve.
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