On February 19th 2015 EastEnders celebrated its 30th anniversary with two episodes that resolved the puzzle 'Who killed Lucy Beale?', an enigma that began on Good Friday 2014. Such storylines, an early example being Dallas' 1980 'Who shot JR?', and EastEnders having begun with the mystery of 'Who killed Reg Cox?', are proven to result in large audiences and the first of these anniversary episodes promised a revelation of the killer while the second was a flashback episode to the night of the murder which, as it turned out, ended with a twist as to the killer's identity.
The anniversary was heavily publicised, in a way which, Matt Hills notes, is key of the long-running series Doctor Who, and the episodes formed part of a week where segments, or an entire episode, were transmitted live. The first February 19th anniversary episode echoed the past. It opened by mirroring the very first episode screened back in 1985, with three characters bursting into the same room and discovering a dead body, a technique which was used in a more heavy-handed manner to celebrate Grange Hill's 25th anniversary in 2002. Furthermore, there were appearances of past characters during anniversary week (notably Peggy Mitchell and Kathy Beale) and the use of famous phrases ('Get outta my pub'). However, the 'Who killed Lucy?' storyline was also resolved in a way that remained true to EastEnders' emphasis on character drama. When detective Emma Summerhayes, and especially later when Ian Beale, said into the phone 'I know you killed Lucy' (a scenario that stretches back to the programme's first year when Michelle Fowler uttered the famous phrase 'I'm pregnant and you're the father' into a call-box), we could make a good stab at predicting who was on the other end of the line and at least involved not just by following diegetic clues of the past year but also by tracing generic clues of the way the programme fits in as a soap opera. The resolution to the 'Who killed Lucy?' storyline is therefore useful in what it tells us about the series and its genre. Indeed, as we will see, viewers were encouraged to watch and join in solving the puzzle on social media.
Early on in the 'Who killed Lucy?' storyline, Jane, who interestingly had been reintroduced to the series after a long period away, was one of many characters upon whom suspicion was cast with numerous other red herrings thrown at the television viewer along the way such as that Jake Stone was the killer, of Whitney sending a 'Rot in Hell' card to Lucy's funeral and of accessing Lucy's social networking site, and of Denise becoming an aggressive figure. For example, Jane was reluctant to attend Lucy's funeral and, once it transpired that the body had been moved to Walford Common, we could recall that Jane possesses a car. As the storyline progressed, the clues became stronger. The largest came just before Christmas 2014 when Jane proposed to Ian and when it was soon publicised that the reveal of Lucy's killer would occur on February 19th 2015 on Ian and Jane's wedding day in the diegetic world of the narrative. In the lead-up to the wedding, we were reminded by various characters of Ian's poor track-record at marriage so many of us were on our guard for things to go wrong in some way. In the week prior to the reveal, Lauren also told Stacey that the killer was someone they know who walks down the local street, casting suspicion away from her own family. Lauren's sister Abi was a suspect, who stalked Lauren in a sinister manner at Halloween, but attention was drawn away from her after her reaction to her father Max saying that she killed Lucy at the close of the first episode of live week. It also became apparent that Lucy was murdered at home and in live week Lauren sent Jane a card revealing this. Techniques of television reinforced these clues in the lead-up to the reveal (e.g. cross-cutting between Lauren telling Stacey that were the killer's identity to be made known it would affect so many people's lives for the worse to a scene between Ian and Jane, and diegetic music with telling lyrics playing on the radio during a conversation between the pair). There were also clues that Jane was covering up for her then-10 year old son Bobby: for instance, the fact that in November 2014 Bobby ran away and was found on Walford Common where Lucy's body was discovered, and the point that at one stage he 'killed' Tiffany in a game the two children played. Indeed, the trailer for live week featured Dot Cotton's voice-over stating that wicked deeds are sometimes committed by those who are not necessarily wicked, a speech used in a different context in the episodes. It is the clues, however, that indicated the storyline might follow the programme's heritage of presenting character drama (as well as action) by putting Ian in a trying situation in his new marriage that grabbed me.
EastEnders' 30 year history has seen two approaches to 'who-dunnits'/ murder cases. In some instances, police intervention has seen the guilty party imprisoned, as was the case when Nick Cotton was revealed to be the perpetrator at the climax of the 'Who killed Eddie Royle?' storyline back in the Autumn of 1991, and as was so when Ben Mitchell murdered Heather Trott in 2012. Indeed, Nick Cotton was at first mooted as prime suspect in Lucy's murder by many viewers, who did not believe he had really died in early 2014 and who saw him resurface later in the year, until it became abundantly clear that policewoman Emma Summerhayes was not speaking to him in the park on New Year's Day 2015 about having an involvement in the killing. In other cases, the guilty party is arrested but escapes justice. However, actor Danny Dyer, who plays relatively new character Mick Carter, revealed in an interview in relation to another storyline, this time involving rape, that the programme is not about the police solving cases but is about the impact of situations on regular characters. This emphasis on character drama could be seen at the climax of the 'Who shot Phil?' and 'Who killed Archie?' storylines. The revelation of Lisa as Phil's shooter in the April 6th 2001 episode allowed for the characters to explore their relationship and what she had done. The television viewer also knew that Lisa was pregnant with Phil's child, though she kept this secret from him. Similarly, the 'Who killed Archie?' storyline, which began on Christmas Day 2009, concluded on February 19th 2010 in a live 25th anniversary episode with prime suspect Bradley falling to his death while trying to evade capture. The fact that Bradley's partner Stacey then confessed to his father Max that it was all her fault and that she, in fact, had killed Archie, arose naturally out of the episode's situation. This allowed for an installment much later on March 26th 2010 where Max tracked Stacey down and confronted her. Max tried to get Stacey to hand herself into the police before deciding that Bradley would have wanted her to be happy. The police investigation into the murder was brought to a halt, because it was decided to leave it at the conclusion that Bradley was guilty (which policewoman Marsden did not believe).
The episode where Max confronted Stacey was indeed a two-hander, a form for which EastEnders has become famous, far more than Coronation Street and Emmerdale. EastEnders has contained 18 of these two-handers to date, the first having been between publican Den and his wife Angie on October 16th 1986. In those cases, the entire episode consisted of just two people working out a situation, whether it be a troublesome marriage, as in the Den/Angie case, or simply being a nostalgic reminiscence. Indeed, even, on 21 January 2008, an entire episode consisted of Dot Cotton-Branning recording a cassette of memories for her husband Jim who had a stroke. EastEnders has also experimented with three- and four-handers (the first often involving two characters interacting separately with one another and the second often consisting of interweaved scenes between two pairs of characters). In all these cases, the emphasis is on character drama, a key element of soap.
The resolution to the 'Who killed Lucy?' storyline fit within the second model of 'who-dunnits'. Executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins has expressed in interviews that the idea for the storyline originated in a desire to place the Number 1 family, the Beales, who, with the Fowlers had been present at the show's origin, at the centre of the anniversary year; this was done not only through the identity of the murder victim but also through that of the killer. The Friday February 20th entirely live episode did not begin where the flashback episode of the night before ended, with Jane telling Ian what really happened (that their son Bobby killed Lucy), but instead took us back to the end of the first anniversary episode where Ian was in the belief that Jane alone killed Lucy and where a shot of Jane as the culprit led into the closing credits. Were the killer to have been immediately revealed as Bobby, we would have been deprived the initial emotional scenes between Ian and Jane. The episode indeed began in the manner of the 'two-hander', but came to feature other storylines as well as seeing Peter and Cindy join Ian and Jane in the Beale household. Even once Ian realised that Jane was covering up for their son, it rested on her to explain what happened and how she disposed of Lucy's body. Earlier in the episode Jane removed her wedding ring, and was spatially distanced from Ian and the rest of the family, though the situation was resolved to the point where Ian later replaced the ring on her finger and there was a family group hug, minus Peter. As in the case of 'Who killed Archie?', we were told in the February 23rd episode that the police investigation into Lucy's murder was being cooled off, in this case due to there being no fresh leads. Through the killer first being revealed as Jane, followed by Bobby, the episode fit in with the programme's emphasis on character drama, while maintaining Jane as a good person, and providing a twist associated with the 'who-dunnit'.
The reveal had this effect of intensifying emotion in the Beale household in a way which would not have been possible were many of the other suspects revealed to be the killer. Too many of these suspects would have been dealt with swiftly by the police with the case closed at that point. In the February 20th episode Peter said that he was going to fetch the policewoman DI Keeble but Ian prevented him saying that they needed to hear Jane's account of what happened all the way through. Let us for a minute imagine any of the other suspects as the guilty party, putting to one side the notion that some of them did not have the means to move the body. By the time of the reveal, Denise Fox was no longer so connected with the Beale's since her romantic relationship with Ian had terminated and she was replaced by Jane as Ian's forthcoming and then new wife; Max would have simply been labelled a sex killer which is at odds with his character, something which David Wicks pointed out earlier in 2014; and youngsters Jay Mitchell, Whitney Dean or Lee Carter would have simply been labelled 'young killers'. Certainly, there was potential for emotional drama in exposing Abi as the killer at an earlier point when Emma Summerhayes was involved in a relationship with Abi's father Max Branning but this storyline reached a conclusion on New Year's Day when Emma was run over by a car and killed. This also would not have created the same drama within the Beale family. There could, however, have been emotional drama were Lauren to know that her sister Abi was guilty and find herself torn between her family and Peter.
Had Ian himself or his son Peter been revealed as connected to the killings this would have intensified emotion more strongly in the Beale household, and indeed between Peter and Lauren, pregnant with his child, but would have been at odds with their initial reactions upon learning the news of Lucy's death. Another possibility for the reveal was Cindy and this too would have intensified emotion in the Beale family; the daughter of Ian's now deceased treacherous first wife, jealous of Lucy's place in the family as Ian's natural child. Indeed, the episode of February 18th concluded with the live scene of Peter accusing either Ian or Jane of murdering Lucy, with Cindy significantly in the room by his side, while the anniversary episode of Thursday February 19th 2015 saw Cindy tear up the card Lauren had written to Jane telling her that Lucy had been murdered at home. This is a card that Cindy had seen Jane holding and had been intrigued by early in the February 18th episode. Likewise, Ben Mitchell, Lucy's uncle, is part of the Beale family, but his role as a suspect was played down. In fact, many characters could have been unmasked as the killer but making a prediction based on EastEnders' heritage of presenting character drama and putting Ian in a trying situation with his new wife, as I did, was correct.
Additionally, the emphasis on character drama could be seen in the episodes in the week beginning February 23rd 2015. If Dominic Treadwell Collins' points on Twitter are to be believed, in order to keep the identity of the killer secret during the filming of the subsequent number of weeks worth of episodes in case there was a leak, a number of 'drop-in' scenes were filmed after live week, and already filmed scenes did not spell things out. Importantly, there was not a public reveal at Ian and Jane's wedding or in the Queen Vic. Only a small ensemble of characters were privy to the identity of Lucy's killer as revealed in the final episode of 'live week': Ian, Jane, Peter and Cindy. This is so even though Lauren had pieced some of the mystery together and even though Mick Carter realised that Ian knows the truth. At the beginning of the following week, a shattered Ian discussed events with Jane; and Peter decided to emigrate to New Zealand, to get as far away from his family as possible, taking Lauren with him. In the episode of Tuesday February 24th 2015 there was a long-shot and silence as Peter explained things to Lauren in the cemetery and even when Bobby asked whether he killed Lucy Peter denied it, making it possible that someone else, including Peter, could have been the killer and did not explain how Lucy's body ended up on Walford Common. It remains to be seen what effect the reveal will have on characters later on, just as in the 'Who killed Archie?' storyline at first only a recording of Stacey's confession to Max is played over a shot of her standing alone in her room with Max confronting her after a period of time and her actions having an effect on later storylines.
Just as one could predict who was involved in covering up Lucy's killing, even without knowledge of whether the actor who plays Ronnie Mitchell, Samantha Womack, would be staying in the programme or not and therefore whether her character, who had been in a car accident on New Year's Day, would come out of a coma or die, the seasoned viewer of EastEnders could predict that she would survive. This prediction would occur just before anniversary week at the very moment that her new husband, Charlie Cotton, has a sexual encounter with her sister Roxy Micthell. What this creates is a 'triangle', a type of plot for which EastEnders, like Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks, is well-known, again pushing the programme in the direction of character drama associated with soap. The series' triangles could involve a character having an affair with their married partner's brother or sister, a famous example from the 1980s being where Cindy has an affair with Ian's apparent half-brother Wicksy and from the 1990s with Sharon and the Mitchell brothers, Grant and Phil. However, triangles could also involve a child betraying their parent or vice versa, as in the cases of Bianca having an affair with her mother's boyfriend Dan Sullivan, or Max Branning having an affair with his son Bradley's partner Stacey. In these cases, there were double triangles where Bianca was betraying her husband Ricky and Max his wife Tanya. Triangles could further see a married person having an affair with their partner's friend as in the case of Frank cheating on Peggy with Pat, Pat cheating on Roy with Frank and Natalie cheating on Barry with Ricky, or even a man cheating on his fiancée with a gay lover. As it turned out in the 2015 storyline, Roxy told Charlie that their sexual liaison was a mistake in Ronnie's hospital room at the very point that she started to come out of a coma leaving the viewer wondering whether Ronnie heard everything. Therefore, the 'Who killed Lucy?' resolution falls into a pattern like other storylines, including also the revelation that apparent siblings are, in fact, mother and daughter (Kat/Zoe) or mother and son (Shirley/Mick).
It is also important to note the role that social media played during the 'Who killed Lucy?' storyline. During Live Week, users of Twitter were encouraged to comment, as the drama unfolded, using the hash tag #EELive. As academic Rebecca Williams has blogged, Live Week 'speaks to the importance of television as-it-happens, allowing audiences a sense of shared viewing and a collective experience that has often been thought of as lacking in the era of…time-shifting of viewing'. This 'collective experience' is heightened through the way the programme presents a mystery to solve with viewers discussing their different theories. In many cases, the (Inter)net actually closed in on Jane as having been involved and users often deduced that she was covering up for someone else who delivered the killer blow (some suggested Cindy but many correctly named Bobby as the killer).
A degree of uncertainty always goes with making predictions as to what will happen in a television series; the bookmakers rake in a lot of money from programmes like EastEnders with its 'who-dunnit' storylines. Predicting the outcome of a storyline like that of 'Who killed Lucy?' is also more than a game with which to amuse oneself. Rather, such prediction can have academic value in showing how certain expectations go with a long-running series like EastEnders. As Steve Neale (1980) and Rick Altman (1987) have written, genre creates expectations in the audience and this can be particularly the case of certain programme storylines which fit into genre in a particular way. Different soap operas approach 'who-dunnits' and murders in different ways (EastEnders, for example, varies from Dallas where the femme fatale was responsible for the shootings of J.R. and later Bobby and from Coronation Street's serial killer plots). But similarity can be found between the multiple EastEnders plots. The fact that Jane was revealed to at least be involved in covering up Lucy Beale's murder only serves to emphasise this. Time will tell whether future EastEnders 'who-dunnits' continue to follow this formula or whether they truly surprise the audience with something different.
Reference Sources: The American Film Musical by Rick Altman, Anniversary Adventures in Space and Time: The Changing Faces of Doctor Who's Commemoration by Matt Hills in New Dimensions of Doctor Who, edited by Matt Hills, Genre by Steve Neale, Going Live by Rebecca Williams in a Blog for the University of South Wales. Thanks to Dr. Mark Aldridge (Southampton Solent) for Tweeting comments to me which have proven helpful in writing this article.
Published on February 22nd, 2019. Written by Dr Andrew O'Day (2015) for Television Heaven.