Jake Wood gave the performance of his career as Max Branning in a flawless EastEnders episode

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Jake Wood gave the performance of his career in huge EastEnders episode for Max
He has spent the last year smirking knowingly from the shadows, stabbing much loved characters in the back and intricately snaking his way through an oblivious community but after a powerhouse of a performance in a seriously special EastEnders episode, Jake Wood has made me feel the unthinkable. Yep, I am feeling sorry for Max Branning. 
He has done some pretty wicked things since he returned from prison from having young Matthew taken away from Jack and breaking Carmel’s heart through to leaving Jane to burn to death and depriving the Carters of their livelihood. It was fair to say that many had considered Max an irredeemable character and one that had overstepped that invisible but very much there soap line of what is acceptable and what puts a shelf life on a character.
But in a standalone episode which focused on the Branning situation closely, the tide was turned and we were reminded of what we may have forgotten over the past eleven months. Max’s motive for revenge still hurts him as much as ever and we felt it as Jake worked his way through the destroyed psychosis of his damaged character.
Max falls apart in EastEnders spoiler
(Picture: BBC)
Beneath the smirking, conniving and often intimidating villain lies a vulnerable and broken man, aching from the betrayal of those he trusted, fractured from what he endured in prison and covered head to toe in emotional and physical scars.
Max isn’t the cocky businessman with a bit of a swagger and a roving eye that we once knew. Max is once again the character we only ever heard about. The person cowering in fear in darkness as someone who was meant to love him turned on him.
The character development of Max has been sublime and although the build up to this may have been frustrating in terms of pacing at times, the pay off is incredible and we are still only scratching the surface. This week has been prime EastEnders – raw, hard hitting, dialogue and character led drama and tonight’s episode was the cherry on top.
The family turn on Max in EastEnders spoiler
(Picture: BBC)
The pure agony behind Jake’s performance as Max was captivating and gripping. He spouted some absolute bile to his family members but we could see the root of it. We were shown through the very layered acting that what Max was destroyed by what he was saying both because he was hurting his relatives and because it was shrouded in a painful truth.
Max letting rip at Jack, Lauren and Abi in turn, exploding with rage with them for judging him when he blamed their actions for where he was now was heart-stopping and brilliantly done. And although Max was being genuinely horrible, I couldn’t help but feel for him.
As viewers, we were along for a very long ride when Lucy Beale was murdered – who could have ever guessed that it would still be having an effect now? Very often as soaps press, we are sold stories that say ‘life will be changed forever’ but in this scenario, it has never been truer. And that’s where soaps can really deliver when it comes to pay-offs. We have been on this journey with Max so we can feel his frustration, anger and pain more than we ever could if this scene were the culmination of a 90 minute film.
Max is on a road to destruction and tonight heralded the start of a spectacular downfall around Christmas – if you thought Max had hit rock bottom tonight, then just wait! But the episode was important not just for some top drawer drama that proved what EastEnders and soap as a genre can be capable of (which it did ten times over, in my view) but also to serve as reminder for what Max’s driving force is.

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