When biker girl Steph Scully (played by the immensely talented Carla Bonner) came roaring back into Erinsborough in her leather jacket, I knew I wouldn’t be alone in being pleased to see her again. Over the years, Steph has been involved in almost every scenario imaginable, and so you could guess that this latest return wouldn’t disappoint on the drama front. Steph has some making up to do with the people of Ramsay Street, not least because on her last visit, she neglected to take her bi-polar medication, had a psychotic episode and turned into Erinsborough’s version of The Child Catcher. Since then, she has been in a psychiatric hospital, but now that she is on the way to being completely discharged, and is eager to prove that she is well again. Besides mending fences with her old friends, her dream is to reconcile with her two sons, Adam and Charlie, with whom she is currently allowed no contact.
Viewers knew that not everyone in Erinsborough would be willing to give Ms Scully another chance, and that there would be a fair amount of scepticism about her declaration of full health. And whilst Steph knew not to expect a welcome posse, she didn’t exactly make things easy for herself. Keen to reintegrate into the community, she persuaded Fitzgerald Motors’ chief mechanic, Tyler Brennan, to employ her. Unaware that Lucas Fitzgerald had bought back ownership of the garage, Steph hadn’t quite foreseen the situation which she’d be getting into. Despite realising the need to keep a low profile, she didn’t follow this through. Instead, she elected to sit and enjoy a burger, not very far from her old haunts, with Amy Robinson, who was unaware of Steph’s identity. Being in such close proximity to her old home, it was highly likely that she would be recognised by someone she knew. It was a clever touch from the writers to incorporate a remark by Josh Willis (Carla’s son, Harley Bonner) that Steph’s face ‘looked familiar’ when he saw her lunching with Amy; you could tell that Carla and Harley were trying to refrain from laughing. I wondered how many shoots that scene took. It provided a comedic moment for those already ‘in the know’ about the real-life familial connection. In true Neighbours fashion, though, Steph was only ‘outed’ when she ducked out of Karl Kennedy’s view by dashing into the garage; upon which he decided he needed to pop in for something.
Steph’s presence will have a profound effect on quite a few residents of Ramsay Street. Not least, Toadie Rebecchi. One of the most powerful story lines involving Steph was a sham marriage to Toadie to cover up the fact she was pregnant to Dan Fitzgerald. Dan was married to Steph’s best friend Libby Kennedy, albeit Dan and Libby were estranged at the time. Complicated, much? ’Marrying’ Toadie enabled people to assume Toadie was the baby’s father. Steph would later claim that their deception was to spare Libby’s feelings, although Libby certainly didn’t see it that way when she found out! Whilst some viewers wondered if Toadie would actually have gone through with such a sham, we acknowledged that he was placed in a compromising position. Both he and Steph had been emotionally close to Libby, who had been unable to have a child with Dan. And Stephanie Scully can be persuasive. The fallout from the whole sorry scenario left a cauldron of bad feelings and recriminations which have not been entirely resolved. There was also some ill feeling from Steph about the fact that Toadie represented her in court after she had accidentally run over and killed Ringo Brown on her bike. Toadie had failed to prevent her receiving a jail term. Because of her mental illness last time round, much was left unsaid. If Steph and Toadie are to repair their friendship entirely, there needs to be some honest talking from both parties.
Then there’s Toadie’s wife, Sonya. Viewers could expect her be mistrustful of Steph. Sonya had already been romantically involved with Toadie when he and Steph executed their fake marriage. Sonya had been keen to reignite their relationship when she discovered he was about to ‘marry’ Steph. She is understandably concerned that Toadie will once more become emotionally embroiled in his old friend’s life. Steph, Sonya points out, has always been Toadie’s Achilles Heel and whenever he tries to help her out, it spells trouble. Although, Sonya – and Lucas Fitzgerald for that matter – would do well to remember their own demons and the second chances that their respective spouses have afforded them. I am glad that Toadie pointed this out to both Sonya and Lucas. Given Sonya’s propensity towards helping virtual strangers, let alone friends in need, she should maybe keep some of her concerns to herself for the time being. Her list of Achilles Heels is considerably longer than Toadie’s!
Lucas Fitzgerald and his wife, Vanessa, are arguably the ones who have most cause to doubt Steph. It was their baby, Paddy, she snatched during her psychotic episode, believing him to be her own son Adam, who was by then was in the care of his father, Dan. Also, let’s not forget that Steph has some romantic history with Lucas, too. Lucas and Vanessa have since put the past behind them, moved to the country, produced two more children and built up successful businesses. Buying back Fitzgerald Motors as a second garage is testimony to their upturn in fortunes. Steph being on the scene is a painful reminder of the grief that she caused them. That Lucas reluctantly agreed, under Vanessa’s strict terms and conditions, to give Steph a chance at the garage, shows admirable forgiveness. But Vanessa still has to be convinced about Steph’s mental state. She has insisted that Lucas and Steph have no face-to-face contact, although viewers won’t be surprised if that promise is broken, either deliberately or by circumstance. And if so, both Lucas and Steph will incur Vanessa’s wrath, for she isn’t someone to be disobeyed!
Paul Robinson’s expression was priceless when he first came face to face with Steph this time around, akin to having seeing a ghost. He has since been vociferous in his distaste at her presence. There are manifold reasons for this displeasure: Steph was once Paul’s stepdaughter during his short, acrimonious marriage to her mum Lyn – a liaison riddled with deception and fraudulent activity. He was very close to Ringo Brown’s wife, Donna, who was like a daughter to him, and Paul has never forgiven Steph for Ringo’s death. He is fiercely protective of grandson Jimmy, to whom Steph is taking a maternal shine, because he’s the same age as her estranged son Charlie. She has also struck up a close friendship with Amy, bonding over the fact they’re both single mothers of sons, and because they both work in male-dominated professions. We could be sure that as soon as Steph made herself at home in the street, Paul would be quick to blame her for kidnapping, starting fires, and anything else to tar her character and reputation.
Karl and Susan Kennedy have reasons not to be overjoyed at seeing Steph again. In their opinion, Steph betrayed Libby by sleeping with Dan. It did much damage to Susan’s friendship with Steph’s mum, Lyn Scully, and Susan in particular found it hard to forgive Steph for causing daughter Libby such pain. The betrayal even sparked a temporary rift between the Kennedys and Toadie, for his part in the whole saga. However, despite their reservations, Steph managed to convince Karl and Susan on her previous visit that she was completely recovered. But that was before Karl discovered that Steph wasn’t taking her medication. Whether Karl and Susan can trust Steph, this time around, remains to be seen. And will they feel duty bound to let Libby know Steph’s whereabouts? Libby has enough on her plate, now that she’s embarking on a second teaching stint in China and she’s dealing with teenage son Ben’s involvement in the Erinsborough school fire. She may be less than happy to think of Steph getting her feet under the tables of Ramsay Street.
The initially mysterious Belinda, who turned up and started ‘warning’ residents about Steph still being fragile, gave viewers cause to wonder not only who she was, but if she was trustworthy. Steph was eventually forced to confide in Toadie about the fact that Belinda was an ex-girlfriend and also her former psychiatric nurse. The dialogue between Toadie and Steph was perfectly executed; awkward silences, and a mixture of coyness and curiosity on Toadie’s part. The writers can be proud of the way they dealt with the topic of bisexuality. Steph explained to Toadie that she had simply fallen in love with a person. Toadie was concerned that Belinda had manipulated Steph, but Steph was quick to insist that it was she who encouraged the relationship. However, Belinda having been Steph’s psych nurse complicates the issue. She’s not happy about Steph being in Erinsborough and yet now seems keen to hang around herself, even being interviewed for a job at the hospital. This doesn’t bode well for Steph and there is bound to be more drama to come.
Despite having stuck resolutely to her mission to prove that she can be trusted, events beyond Steph’s control have constantly put her in the spotlight. She must have known that when Jimmy went missing, she would be a prime suspect. But in helping with the search, her mistake was not telling Kyle that she guessed where Jimmy was, instead rushing off without explanation. It was fortunate that Jimmy backed up her story, and also fortunate that Amy has chosen to judge Steph for herself and not on her father’s bias. It was a good move by Steph to organise a wheelchair basketball game to help Toadie come to terms with his recent disability, and opinions of her started to thaw slightly. Despite Sonya still being wary of her, Steph spoke a truth in saying that whether Sonya likes it or not, they both care about Toadie and they’ll always have that in common.
But, unfortunately for Steph, the Erinsborough school fire put her credibility at risk once more. The fire was deemed to be suspicious, before Ben Kirk and Piper Willis confessed to their part in it. We saw Steph come along to the protest-against-closure sleep-in, having been given a pass from the hospital for the occasion. We saw Toadie turn her away after being approached by Belinda, claiming that Step wasn’t well enough to be in Erinsborough. And when Sonya was having trouble pulling Toadie from the burning building, who should be passing by but Steph. Then we learnt that a petrol can found at the scene of the fire came from Fitzgerald Motors. Paul, of course, was more than happy to suggest that Steph had been involved, leading her to being formally questioned. Thankfully her mobile phone records proved her innocence, when she remembered that she had left her mum Lyn a voice-mail message from where she was walking, well away from the fire at the time it was started.
We could predict that being absolved of starting a fire wouldn’t be the end of Steph’s problems, however. She started hearing ‘Greensleeves’ being played at the garage, a previous trigger of her psychosis. Or did she? She wondered if someone was trying to set her up, but didn’t have any concrete proof. Together with hearing Greensleeves, a phone call she assumed to be from son Charlie, and a customer complaint about her doing unnecessary work on their car, almost served to convince Steph that she really was relapsing. It was painful to watch her struggle to work out what was real and what wasn’t, and laudably scripted and acted. Viewers started to wonder who would have most wanted to play this cruel trick. The obvious suspect was Belinda. Did she really love Steph or was she a manipulator who was scared of being struck off the nursing register if her affair with Steph was revealed? it was even hinted at that Vanessa might have been the perpetrator, although most viewers found it hard to believe that she would be so vindictive. She did, though, deal Steph another blow when she told her that she had been sacked from the garage.
Cue Paul Robinson suddenly being uncharacteristically nice to Steph, offering her a job as a bar tender at Lassiter’s. Alarm Bells were ringing louder than the Erinsborough High School alarm. Paul isn’t nice to anyone he despises, unless he is up to something. And poor Aaron Brennan, currently employed as Paul’s bodyguard, got caught up in the deception. He struggled with his conscience and his loyalty – after all, he didn’t know Steph previously but had heard worrying things about her – but, after suspecting that Paul had been switching Steph’s medication, he sent a text on Toadie’s phone to warn her. Unfortunately by then, Paul was driving Steph to Bendigo to see her old doctor, she having had a Paul-induced psychotic episode whilst on bar duty. It was obviously his intention that she would be sectioned again and never return to Erinsborough. However, Steph received the text message she assumed was from Toadie, questioned Paul, and as seems to happen frequently in Neighbours, his car was run off the road and they crashed.
This was the satisfying point at which we saw Paul get his comeuppance. The old Steph Scully that we knew and loved had returned; eliciting a confession out of Paul whilst pretending not to have already called an ambulance, recording the whole conversation and later giving him no option but to agree to her terms: Steph won’t report Paul if he continues to employ her and give her glowing references in future. The hospital scene in which she lay down her terms was one which I particularly enjoyed. It’s not a good thing that Paul has got away with this hateful crime, but it’s one-nil to Steph, and you can imagine that mum Lyn will revel in hearing all about it. Furthermore, it will be fun to see Paul squirm every time Steph goes near him.
I had not fully appreciated until Steph’s return how much I’d missed this emotionally complex and vibrant character from one of the street’s most infamous families. So far, it’s been a delight to have her back, and I hope that it’s a permanent move. Carla Bonner knows Steph inside out, she’s played her through the heartache of being jilted at the alter after her sister ran off with her fiancé. She’s been involved in accidents, a shooting, a sham marriage, jail, survived breast cancer (twice), been estranged from her children, and most recently battled a serious mental health condition. There isn’t much that the seemingly indomitable Steph hasn’t had to face. And whilst her fans might want Steph to find total health and happiness, we know that whatever life throws at her from now onwards, she’ll come shining through. The way that she has outwitted Paul is testament to her resilience and strength. Because apparently, even he has had to learn a hard lesson: Never sully a Scully!
© Carol Ann Wood
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