The atmosphere felt calculated and moody as Cain's victim unbowed their head to reveal a bruised face, hidden behind a hoodie in a dingy room as they flexed their knuckles against his restraints. It sparked a sense of initial elation.
I know and love this character; it’s like welcoming home an old friend in a manner so quintessentially Aaron Dingle — hunched over, ready to lash out. But this was quickly followed by disappointment, a weariness.
Here we go again, as the storyline appeared to be setting up for another traumatic event for the character — any Aaron fan will tell you it’s often an emotional slog.
He is banged up, bruised, and almost impossibly still going.
Aaron is my favourite soap character; we grew up together, and Danny Miller is undoubtedly one of the most talented actors in soap. He has an innate ability to convey the raw, unfiltered emotions that connect viewers to the human experience underneath, producing fierce, rough, phenomenal performances — even as his tear ducts must ache.
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Understandably, Emmerdale wants to showcase such a gifted actor’s talent by giving him intense storylines and wringing them out, draining every emotional moment. Other soaps have been equally heavy-handed in the present and past.
But it is also crucial for the audience to see how these characters deal with everyday situations to fully invest in their traumatic experiences, to see them lick their wounds and process, rather than continuously, callously, reopening them.
Without this balance, these highly emotional moments begin to feel manufactured and lack the human touch and reality that makes them relatable.
As viewers, we have invested countless hours watching Aaron endure an endless stream of traumatic events, each seemingly chipping away at him, smashing into him. We have been constantly given close-up shots showcasing his emotional burdens and bloodied fists, the tension that seems to radiate from his skin perfectly, ever-coiled to react to the next misfortune.
Hasn’t he been through enough?
From coming out as gay after trying to reject it, to struggling with mental health issues and being the victim of physical and sexual abuse, and the loss of loved ones, each storyline has been expertly crafted and brought to life through Miller’s acting.
While it’s important to address these crucial and sensitive issues through storytelling, it’s equally essential for the show to explore other storylines and themes that don’t necessarily involve the character’s suffering. I can’t remember when I last saw Aaron show a positive emotion or even smile.
His return could be an opportunity to explore new storylines and showcase Miller’s acting range beyond portraying trauma. By bringing him back without mining him for trauma, Emmerdale can showcase a more nuanced approach to storytelling that is still compelling and sensitive.
After all, the endless spiral has led to many fans feeling burnt out and desensitised. The show needs to explore other storylines and themes to give more than just the character barely scraping himself up off the floor before the next trauma hits him square in the jaw.
One of the reasons why Emmerdale is so successful is that it manages to balance drama and realism. The show has always been grounded in real-life issues, but it has also created some of television’s most compelling and layered characters.
But, over the years, Aaron has simply become the body on which to place the trauma until it becomes expected routine drudgery. He has faced a relentless cycle of hardships and challenges, never getting a chance to take a step back and process these experiences.
Unlike others who can reflect and resolve storylines between life events, Aaron has been constantly pushed forward into the next challenge. He rarely experiences anything that delves deeper than the surface, due to the continuous onslaught of hard knocks that leave no room for introspection or reflection.
With the permanent return of a beloved character, Emmerdale can showcase a more nuanced approach to storytelling by bringing back Aaron without relying on his trauma. By doing so, they can offer a fresh perspective on the character and create new, captivating storylines that allow Miller’s acting range to shine through.
It’s time to move past the character’s defining characteristic, his frequently mined but never thoroughly explored pain, and allow him to live a fuller, more varied life onscreen.
Welcome back, old friend. I can’t believe you’re still going — and coming back for more.
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