As The Paradise sashays on through Episodes 2 and 3 of the series, some distinctly unsubtle yet nonetheless valuable themes are beginning to emerge. I’ll come back to these later, but in the meantime, let’s browse through what’s been happening in everyone’s favourite fictional department store.
The other blindingly obvious theme in these two hours of Paradise viewing was that of competition. In this case, the rivalry was present in both genders. This was most apparent with the paired couples of Katherine and Tom Weston, and Denise and Moray. Whilst the latter’s relationship is erring more on the side of chocolate box than abusive, unlike their rivals, they still disagree on professional matters, and this affects their personal relationship. Katherine and Tom, on the other hand, are so desperate to outdo each other that their professional and personal lives bleed into one, with their ownership of The Paradise and relationship with persons in it at the centre of everything. There were also rivalries between men and men, women and women, as the arrival of the alluring Clemence set up Tom and Dudley, Denise and Clemence (initially, at least) and later Katherine and Clemence as love rivals. There was also the obvious streak of competition running through the proceedings of replacing Miss Audrey, not only amongst the applicants but amongst the decision makers as well.
In Episode 2, with Miss Audrey (Sarah Lancashire) about to be wed and thus depart her position as Head of Ladieswear, there is much gossip as to who will replace her. A French business associate of Moray’s (Emun Elliott) by the name of Clemence (Branka Katic) arrives. Once safely ensconced in the town, she spends her time spouting some very progressive opinions and generally setting the cat amongst the pigeons by flirting dangerously with everyone in sight, whilst attempting to sell her own brand of fireworks. Quite literally. Tom Weston (Ben Daniels) continues to throw his weight around at every possible opportunity, flaunting his desires for both Clemence herself as well as shop girl Clara (Sonya Cassidy) in the face of his equally manipulative wife Katherine (Elaine Cassidy)’s face. Meanwhile Denise (Joanna Vanderham) frets about Moray’s feelings for Clemence, as well as Clememce’s treatment of Dudley (Matthew McNulty) in her business games. Disgraced but fiercely loyal former employee Jonas (David Hayman) returns in mysterious circumstances with a terrible fever, but quickly settles back into his old place in the store hierarchy.
Episode 3 saw competition for Head of Ladieswear really hot up, with Denise and Clara back at loggerheads as of old. Tom Weston managed to become even more sinister, shouting at his admittedly rather shrewish wife, barking orders at his young daughter and threatening to send her away to boarding school, much to lonely Katherine’s distress. Moray and Denise grew further apart as the extent of the Weston’s manipulative plans began to come to light, as his fears for her safety as his lover overshadowed his professional role as the employer of an ambitious young woman looking to get ahead. The charming Mr Weston, not content with treating Clara and Denise as pawns, then took it upon himself to cancel the annual staff outing, leaving it to Denise to find ways for the staff to have a good time. Naturally, she more than rose to the challenge.
Going back to those themes I hinted at earlier, the first and most obvious in these two episodes was that of a woman’s right to follow her own path, regardless of what society dictates. Clemence’s lovely speech in which she stated that ‘when we give in to our passions, we are free’ summed this idea up rather well, as she suggested to all the female member s of Paradise staff that they could do anything they wanted as well as, if not better than their male counterparts. More specifically, though, this particular theme was seen through the trope of marriage, especially in the idea of career versus matrimony. Miss Audrey, having long battled between the two, was the first to see the light, and to recognise that this ‘either or’ idea is fundamentally wrong. Denise wasn’t far behind, as it became clear that Moray still treats her almost as a child as someone to be protected. She too will have to choose one day we’re told, as Clara retorts ‘you can have the job, but you’ll lose the man’.
Seemingly not content with being a blissfully silly escapist drama, The Paradise has actually begun to establish some rather clever ideas. Naturally, they’re not totally explored to their full, dark potential and everybody’s at home happy with a cocoa by bedtime (except the Westons) but then, what more do you want from a Sunday evening?
At the moment, at least, The Paradise’s department store dramas are balancing the books just right.
The Paradise is next shown on Sunday, 8pm, BBC One.