It’s the morning after the EastEnders the night before, and my jaw is still on the floor next to the pile of soggy tissues. It was, quite simply, the best half hour of drama I’ve ever seen in a TV soap.
Producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins said, “We’re doing it forensically. The minutiae. We’re doing grief first; it’s not a silly death. It’s about death in a family,” and he wasn’t kidding. The episode focused on the immediate aftermath of Lucy Beale’s death: the police telling her father, Ian, and Ian telling the rest of the family. I’d expected to feel sad and tearful. What I hadn’t expected to feel was such a sense of dread at various points – when Ian had to face going to the mortuary to see Lucy’s body, when he had to tell his other children. Even when his phone rang and he wasn’t ready to talk to anyone. It was grief shown like it really is. Almost the most poignant scene was when Ian was sitting in the waiting area at the mortuary with the police officer, and they made small talk about where she grew up and the places they both knew. He even smiled at the memories, but you could see behind the smile was the realisation that nothing in his life would ever be the same again. It was utterly real, and the performance from Adam Woodyatt as Ian was incredible and intense in every facial expression and every gesture. All the peripheral details added to the brilliant work from the lead actors – little things like the policeman washing up the tea mugs, or the look on Lauren’s face when she saw Ian coming into the pub to look for his son, Peter (lovely work from Ben Hardy).
The most amazing thing was that, along with the most intense scenes of grief were some laugh-aloud hilarious scenes at the Queen Vic, where the Carters’ dog, Lady Di, was giving birth. The dialogue between Shirley, who was acting as midwife, and the rest of the family who were in various states of excitement/panic/nausea was hilarious. Then one of the puppies wasn’t breathing, and it fell to Phil Mitchell, of all people, to save its life by sucking mucus out of its airway. Not a sentence I’d ever thought I’d write. The way the action swung between comedy and tragedy from scene to scene was masterful.
The repercussions of Lucy’s death are going to be felt for almost a year, as the storyline turns into a murder mystery – apparently Broadchurch was the template for it. Dominic Treadwell-Collins has said, “Ian and the rest of the family realise that the killer is… a monster. When the killer is revealed, we don’t want everyone to go ‘Oh, that was clever, I never would’ve guessed that.’ We want everyone to go ‘Oooh, that makes sense,’ and “Oh my god, that’s upsetting – and very clever.”
Based on last night’s episode, they’re more than capable of pulling that off – and EastEnders is going to continue to be unmissable.
Last night’s episode is available for the next 7 days on iPlayer