Grace Dent on TV: Lucy Beale's death hails new golden era for EastEnders

There's nowhere like Albert Square for enduring the banality of death

It’s safe to say that EastEnders is having somewhat of a “moment” right now. A revival. A golden era. Yes, some people think EastEnders is merely a lot of depressed people standing in rooms where the net curtains need a good boil wash, crying and shouting, which it still absolutely is, but of late there have been a lot of excellent things to shout about.

Lucy Beale – Ian Beale’s long-limbed, pinch-faced daughter, the one with the charm of a slightly damp Vileda Supermop – has been murdered. Off to the big Arthur Fowler memorial allotment in the sky.

Executive producer Dominic Treadwell Collins possibly could have marked EastEnders’ 30th birthday next February in a happier way, perhaps with a lovely plot where all the gang scoot off to Bognor for a knees-up and Sonia Fowler cracks out the trumpet for old times’ sake and maybe Sharon Watts, Kelvin Carpenter, Ian Beale and Wicksy re-form The Banned.

But EastEnders fans like myself enjoy the darkness.

The hunt for Lucy’s killer will chunter on until almost Christmas and the repercussions will rock all the greatest alliances in the show.

Ian Beale has already had tepid, confused grief sex with his ex Jane. He’s also chucked two of his remaining children out of the house and found solace in the bear-hugs of Phil Mitchell. Lucy’s not been dead two weeks.

EastEnders does death with grand aplomb. No other soap matches it. EastEnders has the brass balls to do grief scenes in real time. Minutes can pass with characters hardly speaking. Instead cameras simply follow wounded humans padding about.

Peter Beale grieves for his twin sister Lucy Peter Beale grieves for his twin sister Lucy

Peter Beale turning in circles, trying to make tea, trying to make sense of his mobile phone. Ian trying to locate family members to break the bad news. Denise is in shock, but silently panicking about how she can never leave Ian now his daughter is dead.

So yes, EastEnders is built on shouting, but it has a great capacity for terrible silences too. There’s a yearning within EastEnders to honour the British way of mourning.

For example, there was an episode back in 2010 where Carol Jackson’s son Billie was found dead on the sofa one morning – due to alcohol poisoning – which was pretty much one of the most visceral, bewitching pieces of television I’ve ever seen. Again, long, slow examinations of the process and admin of dying.

We see Carol Jackson taking the phone call from her daughter Bianca, who has just crept in to take Billie a cup of tea. But Billie won’t stir. Bianca teases him, gently at first and then with growing concern. The camera shifts to Carol at work in the betting shop placing a 50p punt for Alfie Moon. It takes minutes of stuttering – in real time – for Bianca to get the message that Billie is dead. Then Carol sets off across Albert Square to see her son’s corpse. The pavement appears to be made of glue. Such beautiful television. When I’m told that soap is for numbskulls it makes me rather cross.

Of course, EastEnders does big, silly panto-death too. I loved the symbolism of rubbish villain Carl White being murdered by Ronnie Mitchell, shoved into a car boot and then driven to an unfeasibly unmanned car-crusher plant to be squished. It was a brilliantly silly death.

Lucy Beale’s murderer may well be on the loose, but so are Ronnie Mitchell and Roxy, Phil and Sharon all seem to know she’s killed Carl but are still inviting her to Friday-night pizza because Carl was a pain and probably asked for it. Janine Butcher kills almost every man she shags – like a brilliant Karen Millen-clad black-widow spider – but she’s still welcome in the Queen Vic.

Danny Dyer is wonderful as soft-hearted pub landlord Mick Carter Danny Dyer is 'wonderful' as soft-hearted pub landlord Mick Carter

And of course, it’s not all gloom. One of EastEnders’ greatest joys this year has been the arrival of the Carter clan. Danny Dyer is wonderful as pub landlord Mick Carter. A soft-hearted man despite his cruel upbringing, Mick has a gay son, Johnny, a lesbian sister, Tina, and a pain-in-the-arse childhood-sweetheart wife, Linda. My favourite Carter may be Mick’s daughter, Nancy, who is a rather clever, strong-minded, non-emotional sort of Walford woman rather than the usual Chardonnay-and-tears type.

I’m also enamoured of Treadwell-Collins’s glut of returning well-loved faces. Welcome back Stacey Slater! Oh she’s gone again. She was quickly arrested for murder. Sonia Fowler! Sonia was accompanied by a lolloping teen daughter who plays painful acoustic guitar and will hopefully be murdered too. Denise’s daughter Libby – or Squiggle as any real fan would call her – has made an appearance too. Bliss.

One mysterious ghost from the past is Martin Fowler, Sonia’s husband, who is mentioned frequently but doesn’t appear on screen. Sonia has hinted heavily that he is neglectful and has now begun snogging Tina Carter.

Sonia has a history of terribly half-hearted lesbianism. Her last bout fizzled out after about six weeks when she failed to resist the manly allure of Martin Fowler weighing string beans in a paper bag. Tina Carter has a violently jealous firefighter girlfriend.

I sense more shouting. Lovely lovely shouting. I’m so happy. Let them shout.

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