Eastenders is pretty well known for the incredible two-hander episodes that often occur during big storylines. The first-ever one was back in 1986 and revolved around the break down of Den and Angie’s marriage. Other notable ones include Pat and Peggy’s showdown over Frank, Kat revealing she was Zoe’s mother, Phil taking baby Louise from Lisa, and most recently Linda getting a confession from Stuart about the shooting. They even braved a single-hander episode with the entire half an hour being Dot delivering a monologue of memories as she recorded a cassette for Jim.
It’s a really unique way of storytelling that other soaps have tried to replicate over the years, but haven’t succeeded in the same way. It’s something that is special to Eastenders and hopefully something that will continue to happen in the future. But the soaps as we knew them are changing and new filming styles and ways of telling stories are causing the shows to evolve.
They’ve become a place to highlight real-life issues in ways that haven’t been done on TV before. We see these characters on our screens for 4 or 5 nights a week which makes it easier to relate to them and their problems. It results in people recognising their problems and can often lead to them seeking help. But how do you highlight issues in new ways each time they’re brought up?
When it was announced several months ago that the show would be exploring the issue of alcoholism with Linda Carter I was excited. It was a new and completely unexpected direction for the character to be going in. Naturally, there were predictable responses online such as “well we’ve had this storyline before with Angie Watts”. While that is true, it is worth remembering that Angie’s battle with alcohol happened on screens over 30 years ago. Time’s have changed, new audiences have tuned in, and every alcoholic’s story is different.
The reasons for someone becoming an alcoholic vary from person to person. It often involves people drinking as a way to cope with high stress, low self-esteem, or depression. If anyone has had a high-stress life in recent years, it’s Linda.
In recent months she and Mick have gone through the struggle of their youngest child Ollie being diagnosed with Autism. The stress of the situation led Mick to begin suffering from various anxiety issues with him having panic attacks. Again, that was something new and unexpected for Mick as he had always been portrayed as the hard man. Now we were beginning to see a more vulnerable side to him as the stresses of life took their toll on his mental health. As Mick got more and more anxious, Linda reached for the bottle. While many people believe that Linda is just drinking as a result of Ollie’s autism diagnosis, the issue has actually been there for a lot longer.
In the past five years, Linda has been raped in her own home; she’s gone into premature labour after falling down the stairs. She had to resuscitate her baby after he fell from the high chair. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Almost lost her home and livelihood due to money problems and her husband was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Then after another cancer scare, she was held hostage in the pub by a gun-wielding Hunter Owen (that’s just a handful of things that happened to her).
Her son being diagnosed with autism was simply the last straw that tipped her over the edge. She has years of torment, hurt, and upset niggling away at her, so it was inevitable that one day she would finally crack.
Her path to becoming an alcoholic has been quite a subtle one. It wasn’t something that just suddenly appeared on our screens one day. There were instances of her having a drink in the background of a scene with no central focus being put on it. Customers at the Queen Vic telling her to get a drink for herself with their change. Other social occasions or celebrations happened where nobody would question someone having a drink. It’s all been very subtle, and in a way, it’s helped us understand what she’s going through.
Before Christmas, Linda had never seen herself as an alcoholic and instead had told herself (and others) that she was just having a drink because it was a party or because other people were. Those were the only times we’d really seen her drink too so we could sympathise with her not realising it was a problem. We all drink at parties, right? And we all drink with our friends when we can, right? It is true, but for Linda, it was gradually becoming a long line of excuses.
After months of her drinking getting worse, it all came to a head on Christmas Day as she ended up in hospital after a heavy binge drinking session. But then she vanished from the hospital and lied about where she’d been. She reappeared the following day wearing the same clothes but with blood on her shoes. We still don’t know what happened to her in those missing hours, but we’ll be finding out on New Year’s Day in another special episode of flashbacks. All we know is that whatever happened, it was traumatic.
Another traumatic event that was going to have a considerable impact on her fragile state of mind. We knew this wouldn’t end well and that she was going to hit the bottle hard. This brings us to the special New Year’s Eve episode, which we were promised would be something special. Something we hadn’t seen in a soap before. Eastenders was going to show us the night through Linda’s eyes.
The only people that know Linda is an alcoholic are her family, so at a party on the Square, her friends and neighbours gladly ply her with booze. As she gets drunk and has fun with her friends they all remain blissfully unaware of what’s really going on with Linda. To them, she’s simply getting drunk at a New Years’ party, but we can see the real story.
As she sits on the stairs talking to Honey, she confesses to her Christmas binge drinking. She tells Honey how beautiful she is and that she wished she could change places with her. To Honey, it’s nothing more than a friend’s drunken ramblings, but to us, we can see that it’s a tiny cry for help from Linda. She knows that she has a problem; she’s starting to resent herself, and for a brief moment, we see she wants an escape from it all. She wants another life free from everything that she’s currently going through. It’s heartbreaking viewing.
As Mick arrives to stop her and take her home, she quickly spirals out of control. The more he tells her to stop, the quicker she drinks whatever she can get her hands on. It’s like telling a child to stop doing something; it makes them want to do it more. We can all get a little childish and silly when we’re drunk and Linda is no exception. She locks herself in the utility room and slumps to the floor, crying. The tears show us she doesn’t mean what she’s doing, but like most addicts, she can’t control it anymore. She thinks the drink is the only thing that can get her through the situation.
As Mick shouts through for her to open the door, Linda comes to and opens it. But it’s not Mick; it’s Denise stood there. Time has passed without her (and us) realising. It doesn’t stop her and she drinks an alarming amount while dancing around. The scenes continue to jump from Linda dancing to drinking, to dancing, to eating. It feels erratic and doesn’t make sense. But that’s the point of it; we’re experiencing what Linda is going through.
We all have those moments when we’re drunk that are a complete blur to us. No matter how hard we try to remember everything from the night before, there are always missing pieces. It’s like our brain has blacked out and doesn’t want us to remember them. But now we get to experience them on screen. The more of these blackouts Linda has, the more the episode doesn’t make sense to us. How did Linda get there suddenly? Where did she get that drink? What did she say to so and so? She doesn’t remember any of it and now, neither do we.
She continues to have fun with Denise as the pair have drunken ideas of stealing a giant Christmas tree. They dance in the middle of the Square with Linda wearing a traffic cone on her head. They take cans of booze and cigarettes from strangers. It’s a familiar sight to a lot of people as we’ve all been in that drunken “fun” state. The hardest part about watching it play out is that you want to laugh, but you can’t. We know what Linda is secretly going through which actually brought a lump to my throat during these scenes. Many will have laughed at what was happening without thinking of the bigger picture.
Her son Lee arrives to plead with her to go home, but she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. She’s reached the point where she doesn’t know who people are and what’s going on. The blackouts are becoming more frequent and it’s becoming harder and harder to watch. Every scene is growing more and more disjointed. It hurts my head to watch it. Despite not personally drinking this New Year, I couldn’t help but feel drunk watching the episode. The camera style, storytelling, and artistry were just outstanding. It felt like a completely different show despite being the same one.
Linda eventually goes home but wakes up in the middle of the night to go and drink more. Out of nowhere, she’s suddenly fighting with Sharon who’s trying to wrestle the bottle from her hands. Sharon tells her she can trust her, she’s her best friend. Then suddenly Sharon is furious as Linda has said something insulting to her. Linda doesn’t know what she’s said, and neither do we. How many times have we forgotten what we’ve said when we’re drunk? Suddenly Linda is outside again, but now she’s heading for danger.
She heads to the Prince Albert for more drink and ends up being chatted up by a complete stranger. As the night becomes more and more broken up, she suddenly ends up with food and then back in the stranger’s hotel room. We don’t know what he said to get here there or why she agreed, but she’s there and looking for more booze. She ends up in the hotel bathroom staring at herself in the mirrors. Is she finally seeing what she’s become, or is she just trying to recognise herself again? Seeing Linda in this kind of state is so different from the character we’ve grown to love over the years. If we can’t recognise her now, then she surely can’t either.
After throwing up and telling the stranger that she feels unwell, he makes a move on her. She repeatedly says no but he ignores her pleas and continues to kiss her. This was probably the most heartbreaking moment of the episode. We know she’s been raped in the past and now due to her problems with alcohol, she’s unwillingly put herself into a situation where history can repeat itself. She eventually makes her escape and ends up back on the Square. After a brief confrontation with Martin, she’s left crying in the alley alongside her home.
I have to admit it’s one of the toughest things I’ve watched in a long time. Seeing Linda’s emotions fly from one extreme to the other was heartbreaking, and Kellie Bright really knocked it out of the park with this one. Her acting truly was phenomenal, and she deserves every award going for her performance. It felt so real, so raw, and so believable. But that was the whole point of it. It was uncomfortable viewing that was meant to put us in Linda’s shoes.
How will she feel when she wakes up after it’s all over? Will she feel the shame and regret that so many people in the same position feel? How much will she even remember of whats happened? We only saw so much of the story as we experienced her blackouts with her so if people do piece together the night for her, then that will be our way of finding out too. Perhaps we’ll never know what really happened or what was said.
All I do know was that this groundbreaking episode really was a massive achievement for Eastenders. The show has come a long way with Kate Oates and Jon Sen at the helm, and I genuinely cannot wait to see what’s next for the soap. I can only hope that these new and outstanding ways of storytelling continue to happen. While not everyone will agree with a different episode like this one, I think we can all agree that if stories like this continue to raise awareness and help people then keep them coming. Even if this episode helps one single person realise that they may have a problem, then the Eastenders team have succeeded in their message.