Terese Willis: More Sinned Against Than Sinning

When diminutive Terese Willis strode into Ramsay Street in her wrap-dresses and high heels, her husband Brad and teenage twins in tow, viewers could tell tell that this was a woman with a big personality, who would become central to future story lines. My first impression of Terese was that she didn’t seem over-motherly, given that she had three children. She was very career-focused, perfectly groomed, and businesslike in manner. Some long-time viewers compared her personality unfavourably to that of Lauren Turner, whom we all knew was Brad’s old flame. They remarked that they had always felt Brad and Lauren belonged together, and had been disappointed when he eventually chose to marry Beth. After Terese’s introduction to the show, we learnt that Terese had been the ‘other woman’ who had broken up Brad and Beth’s marriage (albeit all off-screen) so perhaps this was another reason people didn’t warm to her. How could she be justified in feeling insecure about Lauren and Brad’s history, when she had been involved in a marriage break-up herself, some fans reasoned?

Paul met his professional match

But, maybe that’s too harsh an opinion of Terese. This was not a black and white, right and wrong situation. Brad could have been partly to blame for the demise of his first marriage, and if we look back at the 1990s love-triangle between Brad, Beth and Lauren, we can see that he dithered considerably over which of them he wanted to be with. We were first introduced to Terese when Lucy Robinson invited her to Erinsborough and offered her the job of hotel manager, unbeknown to Lucy’s brother Paul. Terese had been working at another branch of the Lassiters’s chain, and was the family breadwinner whilst Brad was busy coaching Josh in his promising swimming career. Once she had got the measure of Paul, Terese decided the job offer was too good to turn down. Paul was angry about his sister’s underhand dealings, but Terese was hired as it was immediately apparent that she would be a valuable asset to the hotel. Viewers knew that Paul had met his professional match; Terese was not one to be patronised or put down. This was going to be an interesting work dynamic.

Terese had to accept that the move to Erinsborough meant she would be living across the street from Lauren, a fact of which she was initially – albeit reluctantly – accepting. If Terese had reservations, she probably told herself not to be silly, that Lauren and Brad split up over twenty years ago, and besides, Lauren was seemingly happily married to Matt. Brad had been a loyal husband up until now, so why should Terese get hot under the collar about someone he dated long ago? Determined that things would work out in Erinsborough, Terese made a point of being openly friendly towards Lauren. However, you couldn’t help but wonder, was she trying too hard, and was she really as okay with things as she made out?

Terese had not bargained for all that was to occur after the family relocation. Let’s think about what she has had to contend with. First came the revelation that Lauren had a baby by Brad over twenty years ago, something which also came as a shock to Brad. Then, news that the baby had not died as Lauren had always been led to believe by her mother Kathy, but adopted out, illegally. Brad and Lauren decided they wanted to search for their long-lost daughter. It’s easy to say that Terese should have been fully supportive of this decision, but if if we were in her situation, would we be generous of heart and unreservedly accepting of it? I’m not sure it would be that straightforward. Understandably, Terese was concerned, not only for the impact it might have on her marriage, but on her and Brad’s children: Imogen, Josh and Piper already had one half-sibling, Ned, and now another might be introduced to the clan. How might this alter the family dynamics?

Inextricably linked to the Turners

We realise now that Terese had good reason to be concerned, certainly with regards her marriage. When Brad and Lauren shared a kiss during their search for Paige (then known as Lily, Lauren’s intended name for her) you could guess the tryst wouldn’t be secret for long. Next up was Paige’s arrival and, after she eventually revealed her true identity, her birth parents started bonding over her. It’s little wonder that Terese felt put out. Brad and Lauren spent their time being smitten with the daughter they wanted to get to know. Meanwhile, Terese and Matt both felt sidelined in their respective marriages. Then there was Josh, who had a great chance of getting to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, until he was injured in an accident which started as a stupid dare. And who was the one who encouraged him in this dare? Mason Turner. Wherever Terese turned, there was always some underlying connection to the Turners that inextricably linked the families together and brought further conflicting emotions to the fore. No wonder that the as-yet-unseen Piper is still in Canada on the longest school exchange programme in soap history. If the poor girl is aware of all the familial events of the last two years, she probably isn’t in a hurry to return to the fold!

Terese watched as Amber and Josh began a romance; yet another link to the Turners. She’s seen Josh broken-hearted as Amber cheated on him with Daniel Robinson, and then in another twist, Josh was revealed to be the father of Amber’s unborn baby when he ‘comforted her’ on the night of Amber and Daniel’s non-wedding. Added to that, we now learn the baby has a potentially serous medical condition. Another terse two-family debate about expensive medical treatment ensued. And let’s not forget Josh’s alcohol intolerance storyline, culminating in the punch that almost killed Chris Pappas. We had Imogen’s eating disorder and Terese’s vicious assault at the hands of Ezra Hanley. Oh, and Terese’s brother, Doctor Nick Petrides, whom she’d idolised all her life, turning out to be a despicable conman. She found it difficult to accept the lengths Nick would go in order to get his cancer treatment centre funded. Well, I think I might have had difficulty with that one too! And to cap it all, Matt Turner had to go and get himself killed whilst saving Brad from the path of a speeding car. Poor Terese felt torn between being glad that Brad’s life was saved, and sorry about Matt. But when Brad revealed Matt’s last words had been to ask him to ‘look after Lauren’ it could only spell one thing: Trouble. All in all, then, quite a lot for Terese to brood on.

Terese: controlling or fragile?

Despite it being possible to empathise with Terese, it’s also true to say that she doesn’t always deal with situations appropriately. She has hidden behind trees and around corners to eavesdrop on Brad and Lauren, she has read Lauren’s journal and Paige’s text message. Contacting Paige’s adopted mother and telling her where Paige was living wasn’t really a good move, either. Terese was hoping, of course, for their reconciliation so that Paige might leave town with her mother. By Terese’s reckoning, this would give Brad less reason to be continually popping into the kitchen of Harold’s for secret chats and demonstrative hugs with Lauren. The reconciliation plan worked, but Paige has remained in Erinsborough, loyal to Lauren and her collective half-siblings. It doesn’t matter how much Terese tries to manipulate a situation, there always seems to be another problem to solve in order to keep her husband and Lauren at a distance. And Terese suspects that Paige isn’t the only one to romanticise about the two reuniting.

Terese might seem outwardly feisty and controlling at times, but if we look beyond that tough exterior, we can see a more fragile individual who just wants to feel secure and be the centre of her family. She doesn’t always endear herself to others in Ramsay street, sometimes appearing a little brisk and frosty. I believe it’s just a front. Terese doesn’t let her guard down and would hate anyone to think she wasn’t in control of every aspect of her life. (Who else comes downstairs from an afternoon nap wearing heels?) She’s used to organising, making decisions, and given the relatively poor background she’s come from, she’s had to work extra hard to make something of herself. She probably doesn’t want to reveal any vulnerabilities, either in business or personal life. We know, for instance, that she has always felt that Doug and Pam preferred their first daughter-in-law Beth, to her. On a brief visit, Doug made a flippant remark about Terese’s lack of culinary activity, and you could see that it hurt her, but she wasn’t about to let Doug know it. Terese, for all her outward capabilities, seeks approval in every compartment of her life. And if she can’t find the time to produce the freshly-cooked suppers that Pam and Doug would approve of, she makes breakfasts for her brood that would feed an average family for a week.

Unlike other characters about whom I have written recently for Perfect Blend, there are no classic comic moments which spring to mind when I think of Terese. She hasn’t been seen in the hot tub, and she hasn’t been locked in a portable toilet, or wrapped in cling film with Paul Robinson. I have, at times, longed to see a more light-hearted side to her, but given her heavy story lines, it’s unlikely that she’s going to be running across Ramsay street partially clothed any time soon. There was, however, one moment where her authoritative manner made me chuckle. It was a scene of a very serous nature: Terese was in the Lassiter’s corridor, when she saw Matt kissing Sharon Canning. She went into action in typical Terese-fashion, commanding a drunk Matt to open the bedroom door while Sharon was in the shower, and then ushering him firmly out of the room. She may have only come up to Matt’s waist in height, but her strong words brought him to his senses as well as his feet. It was wonderfully acted; Matt looking ashamed, Terese reprimanding him like a naughty schoolboy. True, Terese had probably acted so quickly because she didn’t want Lauren to end up single and available to Brad, but we could also see that she had an affinity with Matt and cared about him as a friend; the two had both shared the painful revelation of their respective spouses indiscretion. Terese had almost succumbed to revengeful temptation with Ezra Hanley but thankfully chose not to go through with it. She wasn’t about to let Matt make an awful mistake with Sharon which she knew he’d regret later.

Terese’s facial expressions convey her true emotions at every turn, and that’s because she’s wonderfully acted by Rebekah Elmaloglou. The words that come out of Terese’s mouth are not always what’s on her mind, but viewers have no difficulty in second-guessing whether she’s feeling angry, vengeful, insecure, hopeful or smug. Her facial expressions say it all. And that pout is priceless. As I write this, those of us watching at UK pace already know she’s hitting the bottle a bit. And now, Sheila has seen her stealing from the Lassiter’s wine store on CCTV. Whether this storyline develops into a full-blown portrayal of alcoholism remains to be seen. If so, I don’t doubt that Rebekah will play the rôle brilliantly. I can see endless potential for this multi-faceted character and I look forward to whatever the writers next have in store for Terese; although, I do implore them to give her a bit of respite now and then. She may not deal with situations in the best way, but she doesn’t deserve all that has been thrown at her. Terese Willis, is, arguably, a woman more sinned against than sinning.

© Carol Ann Wood
August 2015

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