A harrowing time for the Mitchells paved the way for one of EastEnders’ strongest scenes in weeks, as Phil (Steve McFadden) dropped his tough act to share a heart-to-heart with traumatised son Ben (Max Bowden).
Ben was raped by barman Lewis Butler (Aidan O’Callaghan) earlier this year, leading to a downhill spiral that almost cost him his life.
Introduced to a drug that promised to give him a break from his torment, Ben took so much of the substance that he collapsed with a heart attack.
Found and left for dead by Suki Panesar (Balvinder Sopal), it was Ben’s estranged husband Callum Highway (Tony Clay) who raised the alarm.
But with Callum still unaware of Ben's plight, he couldn’t bring himself to be the anchor Ben needed. Step forward unlikely candidate Phil, as Ben’s mum Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth) urged him to be the support their broken son needed.
When Kathy first told Phil about Ben’s assault, Ben denied everything — a move which stemmed from Phil’s lifelong ‘man up’ mantra.
Read more: EastEnders: Ben rushed to hospital
Fresh from a stint in prison, the patriarch still has the usual schemes up his sleeve. But he put them to one side to prioritise Ben; and the result was a heartbreaking extended scene with stunning performances from actors Bowden and McFadden.
As Ben admitted what he had been through, he reminded Phil of the kind of toxic masculinity the latter had subjected him to since he was a child. Ben dared his dad to repeat more of the same, but Phil didn’t take the bait - instead opting to show the unconditional love that should have been there all along.
It’s safe to say that the Mitchells have been overloaded with gangster drama for years. It’s the driving force behind most of the clan’s storylines; but in having Phil acknowledge Ben’s pain, EastEnders produced a moment that fans had longed for.
The show tackled one of soapland’s most complex father and son relationships in an emotional two-hander and, frankly, the only flaw was that we could have done with a full half-hour dedicated to this.
Back in 2019, a showdown saw Phil confront Ben for his actions after Phil endured yet another close shave with death. Ben screamed that he was never at the top of Phil’s list, and Bowden later revealed that the memorable scene was filmed in just one take.
The compelling partnership between Bowden and McFadden guaranteed that we would always be gripped by their screen presence as a duo, and we certainly were here.
It’s not clear whether Phil’s rare moment of reflection will keep him on the right path in looking out for Ben, but EastEnders recently announced that this Autumn, Phil’s past will be explored in a flashback episode.
Read more: EastEnders: Phil Mitchell's fate revealed
With Jaime Winstone taking on the iconic role of a younger Peggy Mitchell (who was played by the late Dame Barbara Windsor), perhaps we’ll see how Phil came to be the man he is today as his bully of a father Eric appears on-screen.
It’s about time the Mitchells were seen in a new light; and the fact that McFadden can dazzle viewers with such a powerful delivery after three decades in the role shows that Phil still has much more life left in him.
EastEnders only has to broaden his horizons and veer away from the criminal underworld to allow him to shine just as brightly as he did in that beautifully crafted hospital scene.
Watch troubled Ben's confession to the Panesars in EastEnders