What neat, macabre irony. Nick Cotton dead in a chair at No 23 Albert Square, 30 years after he left Reg Cox in the same state.
Ever since he came back last year claiming he’d been using Reg’s name as an alias, you knew Nick was done for. It felt like the tempting of fate. And, sure enough, when Dot found out that Nick had killed the pensioner for his war medals back in 1985, her well of forgiveness finally ran dry.
For three decades, Dot has been absolving Nick of his sins. Was it blithe ignorance? Or just the desperate hope that he’d change? We may never know. Not that Nick ever altered – in fact he proved his ill intent time and again. Trying to poison her for some bingo winnings, stealing cash by pretending he had Aids, plotting her death to get his hands on the life insurance.
Yet even as he lay dying, Nick was blaming Dot for his lot in life. “Perfect Christian, failed mother,” he railed. When Dot said she’d done the best she could, Nick replied: “The best you could turned me into a killer.”
Harsh words, but you can see how Dot has been trying to make up for these perceived inadequacies as a parent ever since EastEnders began. In particular, that motherly ‘good Samaritan’ attitude she’s had with everyone from Colin Russell to Arthur ‘Fatboy’ Chubb.
But tonight, Dot wasn’t standing for Nick’s skewed logic any longer. After unwittingly supplying her heroin-addicted son with some “bad gear”, she chose not to ring for an ambulance.
“I prayed to let Jesus decide whether you’d get better. Or whether the world was a better place without you” she told him, the thunder outside sounding like the judgement of the almighty.
With his final words, Nick made some attempt at an apology: “I’m sorry, ma,” he whispered. “Everything I’ve ever put you through. Forgive me.” Though this hardly makes up for a lifetime spent cutting brake cables and stabbing the odd pub landlord to death, it has to be said.
But it was Dot’s plea for Nick to confess to Jesus that was the telling remark. Conflict has always been at the heart of Dot’s character – the tortured soul behind the mask of the scripture-quoting woman of God.
Back in the 1980s, Dot’s Bible-thumping often highlighted how blinkered she could be, most notably in her homophobic attitude towards Barry and Colin. Then came the 2000 episode in which a terminally ill Ethel asked Dot to help her die, an appeal that made Dot doubt her own belief that all life was sacrosanct.
Going along with Ethel’s wishes led to a crisis of faith and a desire to be punished. And although Dot eventually reconciled with the church, her actions surrounding Ethel’s euthanasia have very definite echoes in what has just happened with Nick.
True, Ethel was the picture of innocence and Nick the embodiment of evil, but once again Dot has decided not to do all she can to prolong a life. When confronted with the very opposite of the moral values she holds dear, Dot chooses not to intervene and lets Nick die.
The return of Nick Cotton to EastEnders has been a mixed affair, his one-note villainy and the ridiculously convoluted way in which he was ‘resurrected’ at Halloween sometimes threatening to tip the whole thing over into outright panto. But his demise has brought with it some welcome nods to the past and – most importantly – some thorny issues to explore.
“I couldn’t manage without my faith, not with the life I’ve had,” Dot once said, without a hint of irony. But with her moral boundaries having crumbled even further, what will that attitude to religion now be? Have Dot’s tenets been tested to breaking point? And will damnation come in the form of a prison cell and a murder charge?
EastEnders continues on Tuesday 17th February at 7:30pm
Read what John Altman made of his exit here.
Watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of EastEnders below: