On TV, the soap EastEnders has presented life in Albert Square in London since 1985, the story of the Beales and the Mitchells, and many other characters, all told.
It airs here in late-night TV slots on the weekend, many months behind its broadcast in England. I find the value to be to appreciate how it is to live in a community other than the one in your life, with which you are familiar.
The lives of soap characters can be interesting. There are confrontations and there are obstacles. If nothing else, it’s a bit of fun.
Watching EastEnders in October 2019, not long before the thirty-fifth anniversary of the show, I can remember a little how it was watching the thirtieth anniversary, five years ago, when the soap revealed that the Beale girl, Ian’s daughter, had been murdered, a mystery.
What interested me in particular now, to the extent I am saying something about it here, is the going away party for Bex to celebrate her acceptance to Oxford. Bex, before she relented, was a Goth girl, so to speak, ranking in the subculture of the disenchanted. I think Bex had interests in the high school theatre where she went to school, and in playing the guitar.
She is pretty while presenting emotionally adrift. EastEnders characterizes Bex as an intellectual and artsy teen, moody and pointedly smarter than her peers, conflicted about her role in the life of Albert Square.
Bex has shown talent as a musician before giving it up. She performs songs in a much earlier episode of the show, taking the stage in the Vic, when she is beginning to take on the role of a neighbourhood talent, a bright artistic girl struggling, given her ability to make waves. What I’m moved to write about is the character’s decision, the night of her going away party, when her friends and family are celebrating her acceptance to Oxford, to pen a suicide note, and to overdose on pills, tears in her eyes, by herself in her bedroom.
Often EastEnders diverges from its responsibilities as a soap, presenting sometimes troubling storylines entertaining for soap audiences.
The suggestion that a brilliant, youthful, and gifted character, with circumstance thumping for herself, would settle on the extraordinary choice to end her own life, made me think. Youth suicide is extremely sad, and it perplexes me that Bex would make that decision, bringing hurt on herself, and on everyone who knows and loves her. The song that soundtracks the tragedy for Bex is the Tears for Fears song Mad World, music adding to a sense of despair and confusion that Bex is experiencing.
“The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had,” the song presents lyrically, as Bex drifts into near-death sleep. Time-lapse photography shows the lights going out in the Vic, and the encompassing night sky giving way to a cloudy morning, when Bex may be lying there dead in her bedroom. Her mom discovers her.
That’s the end of that episode. Elsewhere in the TV landscape, that tapestry of storytelling that even in 2020 is compelling, the song Mad World has received another place of honour in a TV soundtrack, but in another show, in another nation, and for a different format. Maybe strangely, but provocatively, Season 2 of the CW show Riverdale has likewise presented Mad World.
By Episode 8 of Season 2, the Riverdale character Jughead has risen in the ranks of the Serpents. Musically-talented Archie and Veronica are presenting Mad World to their friends and family until the tension between them hits a breaking point, and they leave without finishing the song.
The group, a significant number of who are Serpents, are disappointed. Betty thinks fast and takes the stage, picking up where Archie and Veronica stopped. Betty quickly takes Mad World to a different level, assuming the role of dancer and drawing the Serpents in.
Jughead watches with shock, and maybe with interest. With his yearnings to use the Serpents, it isn’t unusual that Betty would in like manner expect another job. Both EastEnders and Riverdale hit big audience numbers, and anyone who sees TV could note a similarity between the two Mad World scenes.
For Bex, it is about an early closure, and for Betty, it is tied in with seeing Jughead order the Serpents. Bex’s mistake in EastEnders, which went down quite sometime after the Riverdale showstopper, reflects a character who feels alone, despairing so much that she decides to take her life.
Perhaps it could even be derived that she knows about Riverdale from TV. EastEnders is set in reality. The EastEnders characters watch real-world TV and hear real-world music in the Vic.
Bex, simply, doesn’t deserve death. She is a beautiful, intelligent, talented young woman, for who opportunity is knocking.
I like both shows, both EastEnders and Riverdale, but there is a kind of question of how appropriate Bex’s act of self-destruction is.
The Mad World scene in Riverdale could, I see, be haunting, if it is relatable. In EastEnders, the pendulum has swung away from the physical, to be a forebear of doom. Both shows have a sense of appreciation for popular music when songs present loud and clear.
The haunting going on in these TV episodes has to be executed within the context of plot devices, or else it isn’t effective. It needs to make ideas click for an audience, or it falls short of the substantial. I think both shows want to present specific circumstances to get viewers feeling haunted.
“I find it kind of funny; I find it kind of sad…” Curious that the song lends itself to drama. You’re welcome to comment and/or follow. Thanks for visiting.