Have you been watching BBC1’s “The Replacement?” Good wasn’t it, but frustratingly flawed as far as endings go. The story of award-winning architect Ellen who interviews hopeful maternity cover applicants, was gripping viewing. Paula, the successful candidate then begins to show her sinister side. On paper it was nothing new. It has been done before hasn’t it?
Where “The Replacement” was good was not just the obvious things. We all knew Paula would take the baby, in fact I expected it to happen earlier when Ellen unwisely left the baby in the car. Whilst it was a risky thing to do it was only for no more than 2-3 minutes and she was within sight at all times. If the baby had continued to sleep, Paula would not have noticed when she pulled her car over. I don’t exactly think this warrants brandishing Ellen as an unfit mother to be kept away from the baby unless supervised at all times. You could leave a baby in its cot and walk into the kitchen, and you would not be placing the baby at risk. If however it was a hot day and you left the baby in the car to do your Tesco shopping say, then yes, that’s another matter.
No, where “The Replacement” excelled was on the issue of motherhood. Every woman who becomes a mother has the difficult decision of when/if she returns to work. To see someone else come into your work environment and take over your role, is an eery, unsettling feeling. In “The Replacement”, Paula effortlessly charms the office and the clients making sure she is one step ahead of Ellen. Before Ellen is even looking pregnant, she is already feeling ousted. Although for me it seemed like Ellen agreed to her having the role and then immediately took against her, before even we the viewers had a reason for doing so. Indeed if we had not read the blurb in the TV guide, we would not even know Paula was dangerous. This felt very premature. At least let the woman show some psychotic behaviour first!
I think we knew from the beginning Ellen was not a maternal character, although I’m not really sure I saw otherwise in Paula. Whilst she was pretending her daughter was still alive Paula didn’t strike me as someone who was maternal either. She was too perfectly made up – flawless make up, hair perfectly in place, good, fitted clothing; in short everything she should be in caricature form. That’s not to say you can’t be maternal and well turned out, you can, but these are the signs as a viewer that you notice and form your opinions on.
The next thing was Ellen struggling to deal with the impact motherhood would have on her life, and after going into premature labour, bonding with her baby. Rushing back to work, caesarean stitches still in place, was a very fast turn around! Of course she did this to prove Paula wrong about needing longer with the baby and to get back to the job that defined her. The main shadow of fear that the replacement will be better liked, better skilled and better able to do the job than you, is forefront in the mind. No one wants to feel second best, and the uncertainty of everything when becoming a mother for the first time, cetainly feeds into this.
So, what didn’t work? Well, Paula’s husband wasn’t very convincing, was he? Or was it just me? While Paula could blindly play at still being a mother, her husband knew the truth and seemed to leave as soon as others knew it too. It was also very easily done that Ellen’s husband would move on from Ellen and consider an affair with Paula, all while the baby was not even a month old. That is fast work! I think we were all pleased she refused to take him back at the end! Also, if Ellen was back at work, why was Paula still around? What else went wrong? Well the ending for one; so many holes. Why get in a car with Paula, why swallow pills that didn’t even put her to sleep let alone kill her, how did that heavy looking cabinet end up wedged on the driver’s door so Ellen could not escape from the car? There was no way Paula could lift it by herself! Why leave the car keys around when all Ellen had to do was shift to the driver’s seat and crash through the garage? Also, how come she suddenly worked out where the baby was? When she found her daughter and the police arrived, I thought they were going to arrest her not Paula! Handcuffing her after taking her to the library was bizarre.
Watching “The Replacement” reminded me of “The Little House”. Did you see that? It was on television several years ago. There were many similiarites. Ruth, a young teacher finds herself coerced into motherhood by her husband and mother in law before she is ready. Conveniently a house becomes available next door to her in laws, and the in laws buy and gift the house to them. Ruth is unsure but her husband who clearly counts his mother as number one in his life, jumps as it, so they move in. Ruth has to have a caesarean as the baby is distressed. When she comes round she sees her husband and mother in law holding the baby. She is effectively usurped into third position for her own child, and struggles to bond. Then weird things begin to happen.
Watching this was also gripping viewing, but it made me wonder if there was a book. On television it was very clearly the evil mother in law who was making it look like Ruth was a bad mother who couldn’t cope; putting the baby in harm’s way until granny appears and saves the day. By the end of the two parter, she was even trying to kill Ruth. Whilst in the TV version Ruth does ultimately win the battle, her husband and father in law are unaware of what has taken place.
There was a book and it was completely different! You have moments of doubts all the way through. Ruth does things and places the baby in potential danger so sometimes the mother in law is helping the less experienced mum. She is an unreliable protagonist. It really does make you question right to the end. I am now wondering if “The Replacement” is the same; if in the book you seriously doubt Ellen’s sanity and paranoia regarding Paula, but also her abilities as a mother. The book was more engaging, more riveting, it stays with you when you can’t figure it out. It has been several years since I saw “The Little House.” I probably would have forgotten it, if not for the book and trying to work out which of the characters is more reliable. It feels like a massive let down to the author to completely change this focus and make this one dimensional and predictable. It takes the psychological tones away from it. The element of doubt is what keeps us hooked, not a clearly defined baddie.
Either way, good drama like good books, keeps you thinking and questioning. A book should not finish at the last chapter after all!