Take a look back at EastEnders‘ history and you’ll spot the same recurring figure present for some of its biggest moments, often at the heart of the action but occasionally lurking on the sidelines quietly influencing the course of events.
In over two decades this character has become an unassuming catalyst for game-changing twists and established unbreakable links to Albert Square that have seen them make several brief but impactful returns, always accompanied by trouble.
We’re talking about Lisa Fowler (Lucy Benjamin), who shows up again on Monday 2nd September. Yes, dowdy Lisa, one of Phil Mitchell’s numerous exes, errant mum to Louise Mitchell, eternal victim – and a character who changed the course of EastEnders forever.
Don’t believe us? Read on for the evidence…
When Lisa was introduced in 1998 as the meek market inspector prone to falling for the wrong man, no one could’ve predicted the indelible impression she’d make. And then she got together with hard man Phil Mitchell, and morphed into a tragic, traumatised, compelling soap anti-heroine who sparked one of the show’s most famous storylines.
Who Shot Phil? is surely up there with Den and Angie’s 1986 Christmas divorce in the pantheon of iconic plots: the epic whodunnit from 2001 assembled a gallery of the kingpin’s many enemies, all with a vengeful axe to grind, one of whom took a pot shot at him while hiding in a bush.
Weeks later, and after fervent speculation that gripped the nation, Phil’s mousy partner Lisa was unmasked as the most unlikely culprit, motivated by the cheating and mental cruelty he subjected her to. The reveal episode famously caused one of the biggest power surges in history as parched fans desperate for a cuppa popped the kettle on as the credits rolled, and marked a turning point in Lisa and Phil’s dynamic as one of the most toxic and compelling partnerships the show has ever seen.
Since then we’ve had Who Killed Archie Mitchell? and Who Killed Lucy Beale? among other guessing game story arcs that keep viewers hooked over a prolonged period – but it all began with Who Shot Phil?, a template that EastEnders still follows.
Phil has also been at death’s door countless times since, often thanks to a bullet wound, but most recently thanks to a blow to the head from Stacey Fowler. Giving half the cast a grudge against Mr Mitchell then putting him in hospital virtually guarantees viewer engagement and big ratings.
So Lisa snapping and pulling the trigger on the poisonous patriarch is a fixed point in Walford time, from which decades of plot and character development have sprung: inspiring the tormented tug of love for their daughter Louise, making Phil increasingly paranoid and embittered about who he can trust, shaping his archaic attitude to the women in his life, giving him a warped sense of power over the people he’s meant to love, and sending erratic Lisa’s mental health spiralling as she constantly attempts to get one over on the man who tried to silence her.
There are many examples of the domino effect Lisa’s actions had – Steve Owen’s explosive car crash death in 2002 only occurred because he was helping Lisa get baby Louise out of the country and away from Phil, Dirty Den’s ill-fated return in 2003 saw him team up with Lisa to shoot Phil again and finish the job, Phil’s descent into drug addiction in 2010 came as a result of Lisa regaining custody of Louise again and doing a runner – and now she’s back again in the thick of the ‘Ben Frames Keanu‘ story, helping her daughter and her boyfriend stage a daring escape.
Like a quivering, curly-haired Zelig or Forrest Gump with a gun, Lisa Fowler’s influence on EastEnders is bigger than anyone realises. What effect will her latest return have on Walford’s future?
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