For years, EastEnders has neglected the potential of fan-favourites Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold) and Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick).
But now that Lola and Jay have finally got their long overdue moment in the spotlight, the BBC soap is set to tear the newly-reunited couple apart, breaking hearts across the nation.
Lola has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour, and despite her promise to recover for beloved daughter Lexi (Isabella Brown), her cancer will be confirmed as terminal.
It’s a prognosis faced by so many people, and EastEnders is working closely with Brain Tumour Research and Macmillan Cancer Support to tell this hard-hitting story.
This week, a terrified Lola underwent surgery to treat the tumour, and was left devastated when the operation was unsuccessful. The aftermath saw Lola confront the possibility of her death as her surgeon (played by Dan Tetsell) discussed palliative care, and her emotional loved ones pledged their support.
The poignant performances from stars Harold and Borthwick have moved fans to tears. It's a reminder of just how much these skilled actors are capable of when trusted with such strong material.
They’ve both been hailed for their past work on the show, yet it’s been so long since they were given the kind of focus that now falls onto their alter egos.
During Lola’s first EastEnders stint, the harrowing tale of baby Lexi being ripped from her mother’s arms by social workers had the nation weeping. Airing in 2012, this was the last time Lola was given a leading storyline.
Harold’s powerful portrayal made those scenes some of the most memorable in the soap’s 37 year history, and now make Lola’s new fight to stay by Lexi’s side for as long as possible all the more touching.
Borthwick, meanwhile, earned acclaim upon joining the cast back in 2006. From Jay’s heartrending grief for his father, to that bizarre plot device which saw Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) lie that he had been the one to kill Jay’s dad, the actor has shown time and again what he’s made of.
But in recent years, Jay also hasn’t had the screen-time he deserves. Now, through his quiet, crumbling reaction to Lola’s illness, his perspective is at last crucial to the piece.
Often restricted to playing supporting characters for the likes of Billy (Perry Fenwick) and Ben Mitchell (Max Bowden), it was about time Lola and Jay got the chance to form their very own narrative. We only wish that we didn’t have to lose the strong, feisty Lola for that to happen.
Underrated and underused, it would have been great to see her and Jay in a long-running plot that gave them real staying power. But such is the nature of soapland, where death lurks around the corner and tends to creep up on the most popular characters in order to make the biggest impact.
We’re sure to see how this painful situation changes Jay, both during and beyond Lola’s battle. There’s a difficult journey ahead for Lexi too, and rising star Brown certainly has the talent to play this out and keep Lola’s memory alive with that sassy spirit.
As this storyline progresses, we know we’re in for a tough, intense watch. Of course, we’d love to see EastEnders deliver a sudden miracle, but the soap has a duty to pay tribute to real-life sufferers by honouring their experiences.
It shouldn’t have taken years for Lola and Jay to rise up through the Mitchell pecking order. But now that they have, it’s an opportunity to overtake all the gangster vibes and hone in on the kind of drama the notorious clan usually shy away from.
The loss of Lola, and of Harold from the EastEnders cast, will be monumental. But if the show commits to this story, the character’s legacy will be huge.
Watch the latest EastEnders spoilers