Dirty Den and Dot Cotton Air Their Dirty Laundry

By Michael McCarthy

We.ve been privy to the disintegration of Dirty Den Watts over the past several episodes. Job had an easy time of it compared to Den.

His affair with his wife.s best friend Kate ended with a haircut in its most radical form, a parting gift from Chrissie to a chastened Kate. Den, of course, did nothing to stop his wife from leaving him. In a mano a mano poker game, Den and Andy ended up with Andy being on top and Den disgraced at the Queen Vic in front of the whole Square, including Sharon and Vicky.

Den sank so low as to come on to Zoe and was caught by his son Dennis. He loses his temper, punches Dennis, then exits his home for a quiet night walk on the streets of Walford, away from his family.

Dot Cotton lately has been anything but her usual self. She.s been avoiding Pauline and puzzling her husband Jim Branning. She recently confided to Dennis that she is sick. No one other than Dennis knows. He insists driving her to hospital, where tests indicate Dot has cancer. She lies to him, saying that the tests came back negative. Jim wants to take Dot on a trip to the seashore and can.t understand why she won.t hear about it.

Dot finds herself alone at the laundrette after closing. She forgets to lock the door. A gang of young toughs let themselves in to break into the coin machines. A petrified Dot is hiding in an alcove, terrified they might find her. Den sees the light on and the hooligans whooping it up. Itching for a fight, he confronts them. They taunt him with laughter, dismissing him as .granddad.. Den looks like he means business, and they back down and hurry out.

Den slumps down onto a bench, alone with his demons.

Dot abandons her hiding place, locks the door, then she offers Den a bottle of sherry.

The stage has been set. It is fitting that their encounter happens here at a shop to wash dirty laundry. What follows is the special magic that makes EastEnders so unique. Two veterans of the war that is life on the Square, they stand toe to toe, each taking the other.s measure, as they absorb blows and confess all.

Dot berates Den for cheating on Chrissie, and losing her. Evoking first wife Angie, she nails Den for his inability to be faithful and his self-justification as he pushes away those foolish enough to love him. She cuts through his defences until he admits that he does miss Chrissie. He isolates himself from the pain of loving someone he fears will only leave him, alone, just like all the others he managed to drive away.

Den gives as good as he takes from Dot:

. What is she doing alone?
. Why wasn.t she home with her husband?
. Is the pot calling the kettle black?
. If Dot is so happy in her marriage, then why is Dot holding tight to her Bible and not to her family?

Den keeps up his attack until Dot finally confesses that she has cancer. She tells Den that she has decided not to get treatment. Not afraid of dying, she does not want to bother Jim with her illness. Den tells Dot that Jim has a right to know and that she is being selfish.

He offers to make phone calls to get Dot the kind of treatment that she needs.

Dot holds fast, and the encounter ends with Jim knocking on the door. Den retrieves the key that Dot has kept, and lets Jim in. Hearts have been laid bare but neither Den nor Dot has made any resolutions.

The scene ended truthfully both for the characters and the actors . June Brown and Leslie Grantham . who brought this encounter to life. (Editor.s note: credit should also go to the scriptwriters and director.) Instead of releasing the tension, as would be the case in another show, the writer pushes the tension level much higher; the stakes for both Den and Dot have risen.

A bridge has been crossed, how and where Dot and Den go from here is yet to be discovered.

This kind of intensity is possible because of the years that Brown and Grantham have logged in as Dot and Den, a lifetime of shared experiences on the Square.

There are no easy answers, no magic bullets, no short cuts. No matter what might happen in the lives of Den Watts and Dot Cotton you can be sure to be surprised when life presents them with a way through the woods.

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