Emmerdale viewers are in for a shock tonight when a despairing Rachel Breckle attacks Sam Dingle. The confrontation comes at the end of an emotional day for Rachel that has seen Jai gain the upper hand in their custody fight for Archie after he schemes for her to miss their mediation session.
“Rachel is trapped in this constant game of manipulation and bullying,” explains actress Gemma Oaten to RadioTimes.com. “It’s a difficult situation. I do not condone violence in any way, shape or form, but sometimes – when these things happen – people can take their anger out on those they love. And that’s what’s happening at the moment with Rachel – she’s so frustrated and she vents that on poor Sam.”
The fact that it’s naïve Sam who gets targeted is sure to raise the hackles of loyal fans. There’s no denying that Rachel has herself been the victim of underhand treatment by Jai, but to then lash out at Sam is sure to make those watching wince. So is Oaten expecting a backlash from people not expecting this kind of behaviour from her character?
“I’ve already had people coming up to me and asking why Rachel has changed since she came back. Some have said that they now can’t stand her. And that’s fine – I’d much rather engage with people than hide in a corner fearing that they’re going to throw eggs at me.
“You can’t go into this industry wanting to be watched by people and then turn away when the storylines affect them. I have a responsibility to engage with that and I’m a strong enough person to deal with it.”
The clever thing about this particular Emmerdale plotline is that it’s hard to know for whom we should be rooting. Jai is getting more evil by the episode as he persecutes Rachel – and yet Rachel is now attacking the innocent Sam. As the abused becomes the abuser, just what would constitute justice in the battle for Archie’s future?
“In my head, it’s not black and white,” admits Oaten. “But it’s not like Rachel’s anger has come out of nowhere. Jai has made her fall apart. So I’d like to think that, despite what’s going on between Sam and Rachel, the audience is still rooting for them to get through this. But some people might be on Jai’s side, even though he’s being out-and-out awful. They might think, ‘hang on, why shouldn’t he see his son?’ Others might be wondering, ‘what is Rachel’s problem? She’s got this amazing man in Sam and yet she’s taking it all out on him!’”
And is the storyline something that she knew about when she returned to the soap in January? “No, I learned about it once I was back. And I’ll hold my hands up – when I was told, I did think, ‘Really? Rachel?’ But you can’t have a happily ever after on soaps. I think the audience would be bored if we were just buying pints and patting each other on the back.
“And we are reflecting a real-life issue. You’ll see Rachel be regretful about her behaviour and completely remorseful. She loves Sam. And she’ll genuinely mean it when she says that she won’t do it again. But, from the research I’ve done, what happens in the real world is that people struggle to control their anger. So this isn’t going to go away overnight.”
Of course, with Oaten having announced last month that she’ll be leaving Emmerdale later in the year, this fractious situation has to come to a head at some point. So when is Rachel’s final episode set to air? “I’m not really allowed to say,” she says with a laugh. “There’s a massive story coming up, but you know what we’re like – we want a big of intrigue! There’s plenty to come yet. And it’s been well-documented that the show’s going to have a big summer. Whether I’m a part of that remains to be seen…”
But surely she’s going to miss it once she’s gone? “Oh, so much! I was filming on a recent bank holiday, doing these really intense scenes. And Chris Bisson [Jai] just kept making us laugh. He was the culprit but he kept blaming me and Bhasker Patel [Rishi]. At the end of the day, I got back to my digs and I was still giggling about what had happened. And I did realise that I really am going to miss these people. They do become family and, even after I’m gone, they’ll always be in my life.”
You can watch a 60-second rundown of the coming week’s episodes of Emmerdale below.
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