EastEnders spoilers follow.
She may be the life and soul of the party at The Queen Vic, but EastEnders’ Elaine Peacock has been missing something rather crucial since she moved to Walford – empathy for her troubled daughter Linda Carter.
Linda has rather a lot on her plate at the moment, as she harbours a dark secret about Christmas Day while struggling with the continued presence of Dean Wicks, the man who raped her.
While Elaine doesn’t know the half of Linda’s problems – namely that she murdered Keanu Taylor – she’s fully aware that Linda needs her more than ever right now. So why is Elaine so devoid of sensitivity?
When Elaine moved in with Linda full time last year, we had no reason to doubt her. Previously played by Maria Friedman, Elaine has always been forceful and eccentric, but always rushed to Linda’s side during a crisis and usually sensed when something was wrong.
Since taking over the role, Harriet Thorpe has breathed new life into Elaine, who is a force to be reckoned with. If only EastEnders would let her use that fierce side to come out fighting for Linda.
As new joint owner of the pub, Elaine quickly made herself at home, bantering with the locals and trademarking her now famous cackle. Yet her behaviour concerning Linda’s wellbeing has consistently fallen short.
First, Elaine appeared unmoved by the ‘death’ of Linda’s childhood sweetheart and soulmate, Mick Carter. She later admitted that her own grief for Mick had stopped her from rushing straight to her family’s side in the aftermath of his presumed drowning.
But in a more recent scene, Elaine found Linda in tears over a photo of Mick’s baby son, born to Janine Butcher. This would have been the perfect moment for Elaine to finally offer Linda some genuine support; yet she was too distracted by The Vic’s psychic night.
Elaine told Linda that once the event was over, she would then be able to "shed a tear". It was a cold, tactless comment that made it look as though Elaine couldn’t care less.
When Dean invaded Linda’s home, Elaine’s fiancé George jumped to her defence, pushing the evil character down the stairs. The incident led to a disgusting twist, and viewers were outraged as Dean ordered Linda to lie that the rape never happened, in exchange for his dropping the charges against George.
Instead of expressing unconditional horror, Elaine urged Linda to agree to the terms. Spurred on by her mum’s wishes, Linda bowed to Dean’s demands, only to find her words recorded and used to humiliate her. Elaine’s choice to put George above her own daughter’s state of mind added an extra, twisted layer to an already vile narrative.
Her eventual apology did little to redeem Elaine in our eyes. In stark contrast, George himself had been prepared to go to prison for attacking Dean, tried to stop Linda from doing what Dean wanted and even helped her remain sober for a time. George’s compassion has only served to highlight Elaine’s careless attitude.
The arrival of Linda’s son Johnny this week has, at last, challenged this baffling dynamic. Johnny was stunned over his mum’s relapse with alcoholism, and confronted Elaine for neglecting Linda and avoiding her issues. Elaine’s furious reaction caused Johnny to backtrack, as she insisted she had always been there for Linda.
But Johnny has voiced something that’s been apparent for months. His words might just have sunk in, as Elaine confided in George that she should have made more effort with Linda decades earlier, when the loss of her father triggered a battle with bulimia.
Elaine added that she knew she was letting Linda down in the present too, and EastEnders must build on this realisation rather than glossing over it. Stating that she knows she needs to do better simply isn’t enough at this point – Elaine needs to step up and make amends.
Injecting more warmth into the character would be a good start. The consideration we’ve seen from Elaine when bonding with George’s daughters Gina and Anna is sorely lacking in her relationship with Linda, and it’s about time that changed.
It wouldn’t take much for the soap to dedicate more time and energy to Elaine’s scenes with Linda, reminding us why they are supposed to be so close. Doing so would also help make the pair’s business partnership more authentic.
When Linda first became landlady of The Vic, her ability to paint on a smile behind the bar while letting her guard down behind the scenes followed beautifully in the footsteps of soap legend Peggy Mitchell, helping to establish Linda as an iconic presence on EastEnders.
Elaine’s loud-and-proud persona doesn’t need to change, but currently that front she paints on for customers is lingering heavily during private moments with her daughter. She should be ensuring Linda feels able to open up, rather than dismissing her at almost every turn.
If EastEnders wants to cement Elaine as a key fixture, it must add that one last ingredient – centring on her treatment of Linda.
EastEnders airs on Mondays - Thursdays at 7.30pm on BBC One. The show also streams on BBC iPlayer, where most episodes drop early at 6am ahead of their TV broadcast.
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