Did Hayley and Bev’s vicious EastEnders showdown go too far?

The furious argument in Thursday's episode left David Brown cold

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Bad mums are something of a staple in soapland. They arrive in a whirlwind and kick up a stink, so that we can all have sympathy for their put-upon offspring. Think Cilla on Coronation Street, Kerry on Emmerdale and now – so EastEnders were hoping – the monstrous Bev.

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And she truly was monstrous, right? Here, in case you’ve forgotten, was her advice to the pregnant Hayley: “You should have got it sucked out when you had the chance, like I should have.” There was also this charming recollection: “I used to pray you’d be born dead.” As a sign-off, she then abandoned her daughter as she crouched bleeding in the road, screaming with fear that she was about to miscarry her unborn child.

It was an horrendous scene and – in my opinion – one that was totally unsuitable for the timeslot in which the show is broadcast. Was the Compliance team on holiday, perhaps? In the past, I’ve always defended EastEnders against the perennial charge that it’s just “a load of people shouting”. But this was exactly that – and just nasty for nasty’s sake.

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If the aim of the showdown was to help viewers empathise with Hayley, then it was unnecessary: she’s actually been the best addition to the show this year. If it was to introduce a new villain, then it’s a misfire: I, personally, don’t want to spend any more time in Bev’s company. Instead, what it ended up being was misanthropic and cruel.

There also now seems to be a worrying ethos on the soap to punish its female characters; Hayley’s haemorrhaging coming just before a new storyline that will see recent returnee Ruby Allen become the latest in a long line of EastEnders rape victims (see Kathy, Kat, Linda and Stacey for further details – and that’s just the ones still living in the neighbourhood).

Now, I fully realise that soaps are all about women dusting themselves down in the face of adversity. But are we perhaps seeing a few too many victims and not enough triumph? Stories of survival and recovery appear to be in short supply, instead what we seem to be getting here is EastEnders’s own version of Nil By Mouth.

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What’s also striking is that Hayley was left completely alone at the moment of her cliffhanger scream, proof that – aside from a few tentative conversations with Keanu – she has no allies outside of her own family. And this does appear to be part of a larger problem with EastEnders at the moment, in that everyone is operating in their own orbit.

The Who Shot Stuart? whodunnit barely impacts on anyone who isn’t a Carter, Kush leans on his mum and not Denise, while the remaining Brannings also seem largely self-contained. True, EastEnders has traditionally had a clannish set-up but, in the past, neighbourliness and the Square’s sense of community has usually trumped family ties.

These days, there are hardly any plotline crossovers, which means that relative newcomers like Hayley are lacking a support network and have no one in whom to turn at a time of crisis. Instead, we have people like Bev literally shutting the door in the face of her daughter. It all makes for rather bleak viewing and actually starts to undermine the key ethos of soap: that sense of lives being meshed together. If the characters don’t even care about each other, then why are we supposed to care about them?

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