We all know that the soap world loves a reformed character — and Coronation Street’s Jacob Hay (Jack James Ryan) certainly fits the bill.
In tonight’s instalment of the ITV soap, Jacob’s storyline reached a major turning point as he came to the rescue of injured teen Max Turner (Paddy Bever).
Viewers will remember that Jacob originally joined Corrie last year, and at the time he definitely fell under the ‘villain’ category.
Working at Dev Alahan’s (Jimmi Harkishin) chip shop as a delivery boy, he used the job as a front to deliver drugs, recruiting a vulnerable Simon in the process.
Fresh from the pain of losing young son Oliver to a terminal illness, Simon’s grief-stricken mum Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson) stepped in to take on the man behind the whole operation, drug lord Harvey Gaskell (Will Mellor), who was eventually sent to prison for his crimes.
Jacob had been full of bravado as he did Harvey’s bidding, and he even taunted Leanne over her loss. So when the young man returned to Weatherfield a few months on, it was hardly surprising that his plans to make amends were swiftly dismissed.
Yet he persevered, and embarked on an unlikely romance with Simon’s cousin Amy Barlow (Elle Mulvaney). She was about the only person willing to give Jacob a second chance, with his status as public enemy number one still very much active.
Gradually, it became clear to viewers that Jacob genuinely had changed his ways. But it wasn’t until this week that the character was given his moment in the spotlight. And it all started when Carla Barlow (Alison King) offered him a trial working at the factory, much to the fury of her relatives.
Knowing that his new colleagues were judging him, Jacob struggled to fit in - especially when Simon shamed him in front of everyone. Eventually, Jacob made a rousing speech about grabbing hold of this opportunity to better himself.
Lovable Kirk Sutherland’s (Andrew Whyment) response was to help himself to one of the sweet treats Jacob had brought in — the ultimate nod of approval.
By the time Friday arrived, though, Simon was still full of hatred for his former friend. Jacob noticed he was being watched, and used a packet of biscuits to fool Simon into thinking he was conducting a dodgy drug deal.
Read more: Next week on Coronation Street
It was at this point that they spotted Max, who was losing a lot of blood. Jacob took control of the situation while they waited for an ambulance, and Simon watched on in awe. Later, Jacob revealed that a pal of his had been stabbed to death while they were working for Harvey, prompting him to take a first aid course.
Jacob opened up about being drawn into the gang, explaining that Leanne and Simon’s decision to bring Harvey down had saved him. Simon soon began to understand Jacob in a way he couldn’t manage before.
For weeks, Amy has been telling her loved ones that Jacob was as much a victim as Simon, as he too had been targeted by Harvey. But hearing this from Jacob’s perspective was a crucial move from Corrie; introducing us to his vulnerable side which now gives him the potential to evolve.
The key to creating a popular anti-hero is to delve into a character’s backstory, explaining how and why they became who they are. The show is now following this formula, alongside captivating writing and powerful performances from actor Jack James Ryan.
Jacob is complicated and complex, but characters like him are exactly what soaps like Coronation Street thrive on, especially when they have a heart of gold underneath their less conventional qualities.
With Jacob ticking all these boxes, there’s no doubt that he will soon be a firm favourite with fans — that’s if he isn’t already.
Watch the latest Coronation Street spoilers