EastEnders spoilers follow.
EastEnders' Ben Mitchell will search for a miracle during Lola's final days, unable to accept her tragic prognosis and what this means for the family's future.
As Lola's health rapidly deteriorates, and her loved ones prepare to say their goodbyes, Ben is determined to explore other treatment options and arranges a meeting with a private doctor.
It's also been confirmed that EastEnders is exploring an eating disorder through Ben, who has been undergoing intense physical training in recent months. The BBC soap have been working with the advocacy group Beat to ensure that Ben's story will reflect those that many men face in silence.
Here, Max Bowden – who plays Ben – discusses Lola's sad story and what's next for Ben.
Ben has been under immense pressure for the past couple of months due to Lola’s prognosis, his worries for Lexi and his money troubles. Can you explain how Ben is feeling at this point?
"I think he feels incredibly isolated and trapped. Ben’s ability to control the situation for a long time has been completely filtered out, so it’s about isolation. Although they’re a strong family unit, they’re all dealing with grief in different ways which is a natural process for anyone going through trauma."
As the family prepares for Lola to come home, Ben is unconvinced that she should be leaving the hospital. Can you explain Ben’s complex thought process around this?
"His response is quite layered. Ben’s aware of his own mental state and even though he’s not being completely open about his own troubles and how he’s systematically dealing with things. He's aware that he’s not in a normal position."
Ben lashes out to Honey and Billy for accepting the prognosis too easily. Do you think Ben is in denial?
"Yes, I think so. Lola is one of the only people in his life who has been able to control him in terms of his mental health, his poor decision making, and also she is a subtle reminder of his parenting duties – with Lexi’s adoption now taking place with Jay, he’s feeling slightly more out the fold than ever, and slightly less of a parent so it’s a bit of a tough situation for him."
We know Jay and Ben also have an argument sparked by a disagreement relating to Lola’s health. Do you think Lola’s health is testing the once fiercely close relationship between Jay and Ben?
"Yes. I think there’s so much that’s unsaid between the two of them. Ben and Jay are two very different individuals. Ben’s way of dealing with things is very emotionless – it’s practical rather than empathetic. Jay, at the moment, is losing his wife so naturally their tactics of dealing with this situation oppose each other totally. It’s a reminder of their differences, but also it shows the reasons why family is so important."
Phil tries to reason with Ben and implores his son to stop being selfish. Does Ben listen to his dad?
"I think it’s a compilation of people. Phil’s advice, and the resonance from their conversation about Peggy hits home with Ben. I think there’s so much selfishness from Ben in terms of it being his way or the high way and that lack of understanding and empathy has got him nowhere through his childhood and through his early adult life. It’s now time for a bit of looking outside of the box, and looking outside of his own soul for answers and allowing other people to infiltrate his mind. I think Phil is that person."
What about Kathy? Do you think Ben listens to his mum just as much as his dad?
"I think Ben listens to Kathy probably more than he does his dad these days. Kathy wasn’t there for the majority of Ben’s life because of her relationship with Gavin, and Ben now has found the confidence to talk about his life and his issues and I think she has a real grasp and understanding of what it’s like to be Ben."
Struggling to accept the diagnosis, Ben speaks to Dr Washington. Do you think Ben genuinely believes there is hope for Lola?
"I think this is Ben’s last-chance saloon. It is guilt. Ben internally hates himself as it is, as he’s had a lot of personal trauma and a lot of loss and negativity happen to him. Lola, in particular, is someone who he really does love, and loves hard. They share a child together, which is the purest thing you can have, and the ability to not control her outcome is terrifying. I think there’s a bit of Ben that wants to get away from the situation, and a bit of him that wants to try anything he can."
Finally, can you tease what’s in store for Ben in the coming months?
"I think this is a now or never time for Ben. He’s got to try and grab control of what’s making him tick. It’s time that he needs to work on himself, he needs to be aware of his faults, he needs to not be so hard on himself and also maybe allow time for some professional help. It’s looking bleak and it’s looking tough. People deal with grief and bereavement in different ways and Ben’s almost seen this one coming for a while."
EastEnders airs on Mondays-Thursdays at 7.30pm on BBC One. The show also streams on BBC iPlayer.
Beat is a charity which raises awareness and understanding of eating disorders, and supports those affected by them. It has a one-to-one secure messaging service, and details of its phone helplines can be found here.
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