Ten days ago, Ben Mitchell made his exit from EastEnders. Despite the actor who portrayed him, Harry Reid, finally getting the character right on the third attempt and being generally popular with fans of the show, the three months of discontent that followed his axing announcement wasn’t enough to reverse anybody’s decision and EastEnders is now left without one of the show’s best written LGBT characters in years.
I’ve long argued that Ben shouldn’t have been axed on this blog but if he had to leave, at the very least I felt like he should have got an exit that was truly special. Unfortunately, special is the last thing that comes to mind, when I think of how Ben left last week. In a drastic change of the character that had been established by Harry Reid over the last few years, Ben ended up being the one to steal the money that Aiden Maguire made from his big New Year’s Day heist and made plans to run away without even asking his brother from another mother, Jay to come along with him. Anybody who has even been a casual EastEnders fan over the last few years, would have found Ben’s unexplained abandonment of Jay bizarre and things didn’t get any better during his final episode, when he somehow lost most of the heist money on the ferry to France, shrugged it off and then walked out into Calais, with gangster Ciara Maguire lurking around in the shadows behind him and his ultimate fate left ambiguous.
The exit of Ben Mitchell was a disaster. Rushed and forcing him to act completely out of character, Harry Reid’s promise that it wouldn’t let fans down, ended up being broken. With that said, when you look at some of the exits over the last decade or so, Ben Mitchell’s wasn’t the only one to disappoint, so today I’m going to shine a spotlight on eight of them. From endings that didn’t live up to the potential the character offered, to some that were just plain boring, this is my list of eight other Eastenders’ exits from the 2010s that left me feeling disappointed:
Character #1: Vanessa Gold
Played By- Zoe Lucker
Date of Exit- October 6th 2011
Best known for her famous ‘bubbly’s in the fridge,’ breakdown when she discovered that her partner Max Branning was having an affair with his ex wife Tanya, Vanessa Gold was a valuable addition to EastEnders in 2010 and 2011. A glamorous, high maintenance lady on the outside, Vanessa became more interesting when it was revealed that she was actually a slave to crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and eventually was shown to be brave enough to defeat her inner demons and leave her controlling and abusive husband, Harry. Despite initially only being brought in on a short term, seven episode deal, Vanessa eventually became a full time character and was even nominated for a Best Newcomer prize at the Inside Soap Awards.
The main problem with Vanessa, was that she was only brought in to have a relationship with Max, in order to eventually get Max back together with Tanya, so when their romance ended writers didn’t really know what to do with her next, leading to them axing the character. I’m a big fan of the main villain at the time, Michael Moon and this era of EastEnders in general but even I have to admit that Vanessa’s exit storyline, involving the enigmatic Michael paying her to have a false relationship with his estranged dad Eddie, wasn’t an adequate enough final plot for a character as great as Vanessa. Her final scene, where she was abandoned at the side of the road by Eddie and left to fend for herself, was perhaps a fitting enough way to write off a character as high maintenance as her but the whole thing felt a little underwhelming. Her character, who performed so well during Max and Tanya’s affair story, deserved much better.
Character #2: Ray Dixon
Played By- Chucky Venn
Date of Exit- 28th May 2013
I’m not going to pretend that Ray Dixon shouldn’t have been axed, in case it had kept us from getting Kim Fox and the wonderful Vincent from ultimately getting together but in a similar fashion to Ben Mitchell, Ray, who had shown a lot of potential as the Queen Vic’s well mannered, nice guy bartender, completely changed his personality in the weeks leading up to his exit from the soap.
Despite being a generally loyal and understanding partner to Kim before, in the months before his exit Ray became a serial womaniser and an increasingly more unpleasant and unlikeable character. His decision to kiss Kim’s sister Denise and then blame it all on Denise was such snake like behaviour, that Kim’s plans to move away with him made zero sense to begin with, completely ruining the emotional point of Ray’s exit, when Kim decided she couldn’t be in a relationship with a man she had so little in common with, forcing Ray to leave by himself. The truth is that when Ray and Kim first got together, they were shown to have more in common with each other than they did at the end. EastEnders bosses don’t always seem to get, that when you’re axing a character, you don’t need to strip them of everything that made them popular to begin with. Even five years later this is still something they haven’t grasped.
Character #3: Jack Branning
Played by- Scott Maslen
Date of Exit- October 2013
Of course Jack Branning returned to EastEnders in 2015 and has been present ever since but back in 2013, there was a feeling of permanency when Scott Maslen announced he was leaving the soap behind. He spoke to the media in length about how he felt typecast as a soap actor and needed to challenge himself, so at the time it felt like when he exited, he definitely wouldn’t be back again. Big things were expected from his final episodes, perhaps involving a dramatic storyline that forced him to leave or an emotional goodbye party, that was finished off with a rousing rendition of Julia’s Theme but in the end, the whole thing ended up being kind of, boring.
Essentially, after a brief reunion with Ronnie, Jack realised that their relationship wasn’t going to work and in a final episode that could only be described as low-key, he decided to go off to France to be closer to his daughter Penny, who as we know in the present is rarely referred to and certainly never visited. I can only assume that EastEnders’ higher ups were so unimpressed with Maslen’s departure, that they decided to have him leave in as underwhelming a fashion as possible, with no Julia’s Theme to see him off but at the time the whole ordeal bored viewers and seemed like a ridiculously unfair way to see off such a popular character. Thank goodness Jack returned, leaving this terrible exit mostly forgotten.
Character #4: Sadie Young
Played By- Kate Magowan
Date of Exit- 21st January 2014
I talked about Sadie Young in a fair amount of detail, in my post about EastEnders characters of the past decade who were already mostly forgotten but it’s worth reiterating again that with proper writing, Sadie could have became a pretty important character. Sadie, who briefly ran Tanya’s salon, had the right amount of attitude and backbone, despite being a generally kind and forgiving person who just wanted the best for her family but asides from a storyline involving her husband Jake Stone having an affair with the significantly younger Lauren Branning, she never ended up accomplishing much and certainly didn’t live up to the ‘eventual landlady of the Queen Vic,’ potential, that certain fans, on a certain internet forum placed on her.
Honestly there wasn’t a lot wrong with Sadie’s exit specifically, since the low-key nature of it was kind of a fitting response to the low-key nature of her entire EastEnders’ tenure but there was something that just left a bitter taste in my mouth about the whole thing. Over the course of a week, Sadie found out her husband was cheating yet again, decided to leave him and the next day shut down the salon, before never being seen again. I’m not sure why EastEnders’ writers didn’t try harder to make Sadie into a big deal but it’s completely their fault that the character failed, thanks to constantly not making her seem important. Her completely forgettable exit just proves this further.
Character #5: Lola Pearce
Played By- Danielle Harold
Date of Exit- 28th July 2015
On the subject of characters who had a lot of potential Lola Pearce, Billy Mitchell’s granddaughter, had everything she needed to become a really important addition to EastEnders. With an extremely talented and adaptable actress in the role, who even managed to make a cliched by then, teen pregnancy storyline work, Lola quickly became a well liked citizen of Albert Square who most viewers didn’t mind watching every week. I can understand a criticism some fans may have, that Lola was perhaps a little over exposed under Executive Producers Bryan Kirkwood and Lorraine Newman but to me it seemed unfair that when Dominic Treadwell-Collins took over, Lola was pushed offscreen as much as possible and was written to do very little of interest, eventually leading to her exit.
Once again the biggest problem about Lola’s exit is that she was axed to begin with but with that said, it still wasn’t a particularly good one and it certainly wasn’t one that did her character any justice. To summarise it as succinctly as possible, Lola and her friend Jay Mitchell decided that they were romantically attracted to each other and made plans to go to Newcastle to live together. Lola and Jay had always shared this believable chemistry, so I had no issue with this but then a bunch of unrealistic nonsense happened. Firstly, Jay was arrested for stealing Lucy Beale’s mobile phone on the night she died, leaving him forced to stay in Walford for another month and while Lola was in Newcastle alone, offscreen it was revealed she had got together with past character Dexter Hartman, leaving Jay broken hearted. I have no issue with Dexter but even I found Lola’s actions cruel and unrealistic and it all just felt like DTC’s way of sticking a final nail in the coffin of a character he didn’t help create.
Character Six: Kyle Slater
Played By- Riley Carter Millington
Date of Exit- 25th November 2016
At the start, a lot of time and effort was put into the character of Kyle Slater. With Riley Carter Millington’s status as the first ever transgender main character to be in EastEnders and a complex story involving Stacey’s dad having a secret family just so he could be introduced, the very least they could have done was made sure that Kyle ended up having a memorable and interesting exit. I liked Kyle but even if writers didn’t have enough faith in the actor’s ability to be forced into more prominent stories, the character deserved better than just deciding to move to France to be a chef one day and then never really being mentioned onscreen again.
Riley himself confirmed that he felt disappointed by the character’s exit and it’s hard to blame him. At the start he had a lot of interesting stories centred around his gender, including a great one involving his mum, who couldn’t accept that he had changed his sex and to see none of this effectively resolved was a big shame. Just casting a transgender character, making a big deal about it and then doing nothing afterwards isn’t good enough. You have to sign people from the LGBT community with better intent than just touting how progressive it makes you, like EastEnders sadly did with Kyle.
Character #7: Andy Flynn
Played By- Jack Derges
Date of Exit- 8th August 2016
Andy Flynn who was really Gareth Jones, the brother of Ronnie Mitchell’s dead daughter Danielle, was brought in to get revenge on Ronnie for his sisters’s death and may have have been supposed to have a more prominent role on EastEnders, only for plans to change when Sean O’Connor took over from Dominic Treadwell-Collins as EastEnders’ Executive Producer. Andy was one of those villains who had genuinely understandable motivations and his character, who was a handsome, fun loving lad’s lad on the outside, while being secretly psychotic was a really interesting and generally underused one in the world of soaps, so even though there wasn’t a lot wrong with the execution of his exit it still left me disappointed.
Ultimately over the course of a dramatic few episodes, Andy revealed who he was to Ronnie and tried to get revenge on her, only to realise that she wasn’t really responsible for Danielle’s death and ended up leaving, after making peace with Ronnie. That’s probably a fair enough way to conclude the storyline and it all felt natural instead of rushed but it was hard to take when Andy left straight away as soon as the story was resolved. Andy had built up solid friendships with the likes of Stacey, Martin, Jack and even Ronnie herself and I would have loved to see him become a full time character, so his departure felt a little disheartening.
Character #8: Luke Browning
Played By- Adam Astill
Date of Exit- 5th December 2017
The most recent exit to feature on this list and by far the most disappointing, was the exit of Luke Browning, the standout of the entire ill fated James Willmott-Brown storyline. I’d say that anybody who watched EastEnders regularly last year would know what happened to Luke but the truth is, that all it would have taken would be for viewers to miss one episode and they’d be clueless why he randomly disappeared. Despite being a prominent figure at Weyland and Co and being part of an excellent abusive relationship storyline with Ben Mitchell, Luke’s final appearance just involved him being bundled into a van by a bunch of masked men and then he was never seen and only referred to again a further three times (yeah I counted, what’s it to do with you?).
To be fair, Luke’s bemused ‘really?’ as he was kidnapped by Aidan Maguire’s friends was a really fitting way of writing out a character as quirky and unique as him but he was such a well liked element of the show and a genuine success, that a lot of people were sad to see him go no matter how well done it was. The lack of resolution about his fate was also annoying and actually was eerily similar to Ben’s recent exit. There is a possibility of course, that Luke Browning could be brought back at a later date, like the aforementioned Vanessa Gold or Danny Pennant, who were brought back after popular brief roles but for now, Luke’s fate being left unknown is just torturous and has been mishandled.
That concludes my list of eight EastEnders’ exits from the 2010s, that I felt were around as disappointing as Ben Mitchell’s. If you have any feedback on the post or feel like I left out any particularly bad exits, please feel free to let me know on my Twitter account @heathyheath_ or in the comments section below. Thank you so much for reading as always and to finish this post off in a fashion that’s fitting of this blog post, I’m going to make my grand exit by saying, well… Bye?