Ste Hay's (Kieron Richardson) radicalisation into far right extremism in Hollyoaks has been the most controversial soap storyline of 2019. The vulnerable character is now aware he has been groomed and manipulated by the anti-Islamic group, but remains trapped by threats of violent reprisals if he tries to leave - setting up the plot's final chapter.
Speaking exclusive to RadioTimes.com at a Royal Television Society event, Hollyoaks' executive producer Bryan Kirkwood explained how Ste's journey progresses beyond Wednesday 18th September's harrowing E4 edition that saw the remorseful single dad feeling he has no way out.
- Ste rejects the far right in Hollyoaks attack aftermath – but can he escape?
- Far right attack rocks Hollyoaks as Ste turns on Jonny – but is Yazz dead?
- Hollyoaks stars drew on real life experiences of racism for far right storyline
"The events of this week have made Ste realise this is not about ideology, it's about hate. When he watched Jonny choose death over being treated by a Muslim doctor he realised he's made some big mistakes.
"Over the next couple of months he will try to extricate himself from the situation. As we learnt from our research way back when we embarked on this storyline, the de-radicalisation process is as complicated as the radicalisation process itself, but with the help of organisations such as Prevent (part of the government's counter-terrorism strategy), Ste will hopefully get there.
"This is not the end of the story, we always knew de-radicalising Ste would be the final chapter."
More like this
Who will help Ste escape the far right?
Group leaders Stuart Sumner (Chris Simmons) and Jonny Baxter (Ray Quinn, a revelation in a difficult role) have spent the last year carefully grooming and isolating Ste from his loved ones to make him reliant on them, meaning the character has precious few people he can turn to as he attempts his escape.
"Ste has burnt most of his bridges," acknowledges Kirkwood, "but Hollyoaks is a place where love, family and community eventually conquer all. More than the other soaps, we have a responsibility to give our audience hope. Ste will find strength from his sister Leela, best friend Sinead and the authorities.
"Rarely have we dug into the complexities of organisation like Prevent and ExitUK, but their processes will play a massive part in the narrative going forward.
"We have seen Stuart throw another member of the group, Dave, under the bus without hesitation to take the blame for this week's attack - Ste and Jonny are canon fodder to the likes of Stuart, so Ste must walk a tightrope keeping him happy while seeking an exit. Ste wants to expose the group but fundamentally he wants to be safe and have his family back. All the things he's been pushing away for the last year are the only things he needs."
Kirkwood defended Hollyoaks' position in tackling the taboo topic, which was greeted with trepidation when it was announced in November 2018, but has since won fans and critics over with careful slow burn storytelling combined with unflinching moments of drama.
"Our research confirms our audience are really intelligent and hungry for this kind of material. They might be challenged and call it a tough watch, but agenda-setting material among the escape of watching a soap is an essential part of the package. The audience deserves it."
Visit our dedicated Hollyoaks page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers.