I need to talk about EastEnders
Just over six weeks ago, Lee Carter was pushed to the very edge. Under enormous pressure at home and work, struggling with debt and various other personal issues, Lee wrote a short note and stood on a wall, ready to end his life. It was a genuinely brilliant episode, with Danny-Boy Hatchard delivering an emotional, hard-hitting performance as he opened up to a stranger, who ultimately helped him realise that he has something worth living for.
Then something changed.
Lee confided in his father Mick (Danny Dyer) about his struggles. I had been looking forward to this moment. If there was one thing we'd come to know about the Queen Vic landlord over the last couple of years, it's that he cares for his kids and would do everything to help his son.
Well this is what I think I and many other regular viewers would have expected, and liked to have seen happen...
Sadly, whoever Danny Dyer is currently portraying on-screen is not the Mick Carter we've come to know and love. Sure, he's under a lot of pressure himself, and is currently without Linda and facing money problems of his own. But it still doesn't make what we've witnessed any easier to stomach.
Lee has become a villain in his own story. And now it has gone step further with Lee lashing out and hitting Whitney. There's absolutely no excuse for this whatsoever, and it's such a shame that Lee's battle with depression is now meant to sit alongside this, leaving viewers conflicted over his struggle and this behaviour. That was not necessary in order to facilitate an exit storyline.
The pub raid was never going to be an easy thing for Mick to forgive and forget, but again, it felt like an unnecessary sensationalist twist. After weeks of bullying from his co-worker Oz, we discover that they have somehow off-screen communicated enough to arrange a robbery? Okay. Lee was in a desperate situation and put his family at risk; I can just about tolerate this as he's not himself and clearly isn't thinking logically, turning to the people who have made his work life impossible.
That was more than enough conflict for viewers. The slap was a cruel move on a character we know is soon to leave Albert Square behind. Did we need to dislike Lee before he goes? Did Whitney have to become a victim in order to end their marriage?
On Monday (February 13), I couldn't believe what I was watching. A show that has portrayed mental health incredibly over the years and been rightly praised for Lee's storyline at various points, ripped up everything and set it on fire.
There's no doubt that in real life everything isn't easy for somebody once they confide in someone about their struggles. Some people aren't lucky enough to find support, to have the backing of a loving family who can overlook your behaviour because they know it's not the person they know and love. I've been there. I count my blessings every day that I've not wound up alone on the streets somewhere.
It saddens me that the show didn't take the opportunity to show millions of viewers that taking the risk can pay off. You're not a bad person. You're not evil.
Over the past few weeks, I've been amazed at how Lee has been treated by his family, especially Mick. It just never rang true with the father figure we saw support Johnny 1.0 when he came out as gay. Whoever the guy in the Vic is, it's not Mick Carter.
The final nail in the coffin? Mick and Shirley deciding that they need to tell Lee to leave Whitney. The way they spoke about him was so heartless, if you didn't know the story, you'd think he was a complete monster. Nothing more came of the Samaritans' card Lee had kept in his wallet, the same one that initially led Mick to confront him about what had been going on.
Somewhere along the line, the original storyline has transformed into a horrible exit plot, which I can only now presume sees Lee's life fall further apart.
The response of 'not being able to make excuses' for someone just because they have depression is a common one. I've been there, heard that. Of course you cannot always. And no wife should have to tolerate anything like what Whitney has. But it's the total lack of empathy from his family that has felt most damaging here - and I can only speak for myself as someone who has spent over a decade dealing with mental health issues. No one can find a magic cure, no one can force you to get help -- but they can certainly try. We've seen no example of any support or concern towards Lee from those closest to him. While ringing untrue to the Carter family, I simply find this such a missed opportunity for the show to use it's platform to encourage viewers not to be afraid to reach out.
If I was where I was 13 years ago now and watching this, would I feel comfortable and encouraged to seek support? Not a chance in hell. And that frightens me most.
There is a horrible ignorance towards mental health. Take a pill, get a new job, wise yourself up, go out for a night and have a laugh. It makes sense that we see this highlighted to show how damaging it can be. I just wish there was a balance. Just one person fighting Lee's corner. Perhaps this is where we are missing Linda and Nancy's presence. But this attitude thrown in on top of the robbery and Lee hitting Whitney has derailed what was such a promising portrayal.
Sticking up a helpline number at the end of an episode doesn't undo the damage. Have I been affected by the issues raised in tonight's episode? Which issue is it actually tackling, because I've lost track now.