Why Hollyoaks has won soap's battle of the big weeks for the second year running

The arrival of autumn in Soapland can only mean one thing – each of the shows treats us to a “big week” of episodes jam-packed full of showdowns, stunts, shock departures and heightened jeopardy. A stylish on-screen promo showing the cast looking suitably sombre about the impending death and destruction is usually the cherry on top of the cake.

Last year, we argued that Hollyoaks had won the battle of the “big weeks” with its school explosion storyline – and brace yourselves, as we reckon they’ve edged ahead of their rivals for the second year running.

EastEnders was first off the mark with a dramatic autumn week this year, kicking off September with the intriguing saga of Stuart Highway’s shooting at the Queen Vic. Coronation Street and Emmerdale were next, with the Connor family’s road crash carnage and Kim Tate’s brief-but-bonkers return.

Never to be overshadowed in the drama stakes, Hollyoaks thought outside the box by giving us a natural disaster after years of blowing up a different part of the set each October. As a result, Storm Belinda hit the village – complete with plenty of rain, a terrifying tornado and a dangerous desire to kill off whoever’s contract was up. (RIP Tegan!)

Until this point, we’d probably enjoyed Walford’s big week the most. Although the Stuart storyline has been pretty divisive among fans, that week of tense and atmospheric episodes surrounding his sinister shooting felt like old-school EastEnders – and crucially, came as part of a long-running storyline.

Corrie and Emmerdale were more of a mixed bag. We’ve definitely enjoyed the dark twist of Ali Neeson becoming a killer in Weatherfield, while Steve and Tracy’s wedding had its funny moments too.

With that said, most of the storylines in Corrie‘s big episodes had only started, rather conveniently, a few weeks beforehand. Some, like the Connor family’s sudden feud with a dangerous gangster who wanted to kill them all, felt like they’d been pulled from a hat at the last minute for the sake of the impending stunt.

Emmerdale also provided plenty of highlights with Kim Tate’s dramatic return and that terrifying balcony fall, but the week felt frustratingly standalone since Claire King was only back for five episodes and won’t return again until 2019. Plus, did anyone really understand the pulled-from-nowhere twist that Kim had been Graham and Joe’s boss all along? Sudden rewrite, anyone?

Where Hollyoaks has really triumphed is by making their big week the pay-off to so many long-running storylines. Harry’s love triangle, Dee Dee’s illness, Lily’s romantic dilemma and the Maaliks’ domestic violence plot have been some of the biggest plots of the year, which all came to a dramatic crescendo amid the howling winds and torrential rain.

It’s easy to shoehorn in a week of OTT plots and expect the ratings to rise, but the key ingredient is for us to care about the character journeys which are playing out alongside the on-screen spectacles. In this case, carefully-crafted long-running storylines paying off at just the right moment helped to provide one of the most entertaining weeks of soap we’ve seen for a while. It certainly felt like Hollyoaks had put in the most careful planning.

In particular, Tegan’s heartbreaking final scenes were perfectly pitched by Jessica Ellis as her popular character said some secret goodbyes to her family at the hospital, knowing that she wouldn’t see them again.

The characters of James and Romeo are also brimming with storyline potential for the future, not just with each other but also their separate plots with Harry and Lily.

Headline-grabber Stephanie Davis also made a confident return as Sinead, who’s fitted back into the drama seamlessly as if she never left.

Of course, this is Hollyoaks, so there were plenty of unashamedly camp and bizarre moments thrown in too. Are Chester villages really prone to full-blown Wizard of Oz-style tornados? Probably not. What were the chances of the village sign flying off for miles and crashing into Sami’s car? Slim. Why did the most-toned members of the male cast conveniently take their tops off in the pouring rain? Even the cast were confused.

That’s the appeal of Hollyoaks, though – it regularly strays into Sunset Beach territory when the mood takes it, yet somehow gets us to still care about the characters and tell serious issue-based storylines alongside the craziness.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Hollyoaks stunts can sometimes be used to pull the show back from a bad patch, but in this case, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The show’s been on top form for months with serious plots like Alfie’s schizoaffective disorder, Ollie’s abuse from his football coach and Cleo’s bulimia.

After so many worthy plots, it was definitely high time for some classic “can only happen in Hollyoaks” moments this week. Could an earthquake or volcanic eruption endanger the village this time next year? We wouldn’t rule it out.

Hollyoaks airs on weeknights at 6.30pm on Channel 4, with first-look screenings at 7pm on E4.

Digital Spy Soap Scoop video – hit play below for all the latest Hollyoaks spoilers, as Ollie faces another emotional ordeal and Goldie clashes with Mercedes.

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