EastEnders review: why Ronnie and Roxy got the deaths they deserved

David Brown praises the macabre end for the Mitchell sisters

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It was obviously too dark in that swimming pool to read the sign. ‘No bombing. No running. No pushing. No heavy petting. No diving while drunk or wearing a wedding dress.’ If only Ronnie and Roxy had turned the lights on – they might still be alive tonight. But no: blushing bride became corpse bride after failing to rescue reckless Roxy from the deep end.

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It was the ending that the Mitchell sisters surely deserved, so florid and baroque has been their time in Walford. Where else can you go with people that have ticked off a dead baby swap, murder by boot lid and a fight for life in a frozen lake during their years on the show? Had the swimming pool not been available for filming, I wonder how Ronnie and Roxy might have met their maker? EastEnders says they filmed multiple endings: could they perhaps have been impaled on a lightning rod like Patrick Troughton in The Omen?  Stolen that bus like the Young Ones did and careered over a cliff? Nothing would have surprised me.

I know it might be sacrilegious to say it – what with the two of them currently lying in a drowned tableau – but the Mitchell sisters had kind of reached their sell-by date. There’s only so much misery you can heap on characters before we stop believing in their plight and, let’s face it, Ronnie and Roxy spent more time angsting than breathing. In recent years, Ronnie appeared so emotionally damaged that she constantly had the woozy look of someone awakening from general anaesthetic. And Roxy’s demons became so pronounced in the run-up to her death that she spent her life walking through the Square barefoot in a narcotic haze while getting slut-shamed by everyone on the market. Something had to give.

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And give it did in suitably macabre style. In fact, this 2017 New Year’s Day episode felt like the Mirror Universe version of last year’s, which – if you remember – also contained water and a wedding. But back then, nobody died and viewers got a happy ending. This time around, we got gothic madness and two dead bodies, but it was very Ronnie and Roxy – even if, to me at least, it wasn’t exactly obvious why the latter didn’t emerge from the depths. Are we supposed to believe that she was high? And, if so, why none of Roxy’s trademark voluble sniffs that have accompanied every recent scene where she’s emerged from the Vic’s toilets looking blitzed? At one point, she even seemed to think twice about taking cocaine, but perhaps that was her second or third baggie? Who knows?

Before that climax, we got plenty of callbacks to the Mitchell sisters in their heyday. Archie’s signet ring, the impressions of Aunts Sal and Peggy, plus Ronnie’s locket. But most telling was the soda syphon/Calvin Harris montage, which did of course hark back to the promo that heralded the arrival of Ronnie and Roxy in 2007. Back then, they were fun-loving Ibiza party girls set to shake up the Square. It was also the one and only time that Samantha Womack was allowed to smile on the show. But we shouldn’t really have expected anything less: the trajectory of most Walford women is to arrive carefree and leave broken. If you’re lucky, you get to dust your cares from your fake-fur collar and keep that head held high. If you’re unlucky, you go in a coffin.

But perhaps Ronnie brought the whole tragedy on herself. On the 1st of January 2011, she was reeling from the death of her baby son James. On the 1st of January 2014, she was sending Carl White to the car crusher. On the 1st of January 2015, she was involved in a near-fatal car crash after marrying Charlie Cotton. All the signs were there: this is not a good time of year for Ronnie Mitchell. Anyone in their right mind would have stayed at home and binge-watched The Crown while planning a nice Valentine’s Day wedding. But oh no, she has to go off to a country house and get dragged to her death by some saturated satin.

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And so, the soap gods have had their way with the Mitchell sisters. Ronnie finally punished for bumping off Carl, Roxy killed for treating motherhood like an app she downloaded long ago and then forgot about. It was a Cinderella story more grim than Grimm, but done in an eerie, atmospheric way that succeeded in spite of the niggling plot holes. Thelma and Louise meets Titanic with added peroxide. And a stark, brutal reminder that everyone on EastEnders should steer well clear of wedding gowns on New Year’s Day.

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