This time last week, if you were to ask me what the most surprisingly original and affecting drama to be shown this Christmas period was going to be, there would have been no way on Earth I would have answered, “Casualty”. Last weekend, though, Barbara Machin created a two-part story that showed that the world’s longest-running medical drama still has the power to shock and surprise.
Saturday’s episode, Killing Me Softly, took a non-linear approach, with three overlapping strands focussing on paramedic Josh (Ian Bleasdale), nurse Ellen (Georgina Bourzova) and frantic mum Laura (Holly Aird). Plotlines weaved in and out of each story, each gradually building towards a devastating conclusion. Dialogue which could otherwise have been mistaken for the usual background filler in a standard episode expanded as each scene was replayed from a different perspective. And while the revelation that Laura was suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy would not have been a surprise to many a long-standing viewer of the programme, the discontinuous narrative helped the episode steer clear of too many clichés.
In many respects, Sunday’s episode Silent Night was business as usual compared with Saturday’s narrative structure. While the rewind effect, used the previous day to signify the end of one tale and the start of another, returned here, it was generally used on a scene-by-scene basis to delay a plot twist or revelation, such as Nathan’s discovery of Josh, bleeding in the back of the ambulance. All of Casualty’s core strengths were here, particularly the gruesome make-up and prosthetics work in evidence as the team struggled to save their friend’s life.
Sadly, some of the series’ flaws re-emerged too, most notably the need for Laura and her ex-husband to have a big, exposition-heavy showdown in the relatives’ room. But this came after the most horrid, shocking twist of all: after finding Laura and nearly succeeding in calming her down enough to return her sick daughter to the care of the ED, Ellen runs out — to be knocked over by a motorcycle courier. For the second time that day, the staff have to struggle to revive one of their own — and, tragically, this time they fail.
On being written out of a long-running drama, actors must surely dream of such an exit. Throughout the episode, with Ellen’s worries over the threat of cancer returning and the impact that would have on her fertility, to her struggles to cope with the frenetic environment of the department, to her one-to-one with Laura, Georgina Bourzova gave Ellen a tender stoicism that made her departure all the more poignant. Who would have thought when she arrived on the scene three years ago, as a stroppy, unhelpful temptress, that her loss would be felt so keenly?