Last Night’s TV: Broadchurch

Just before the finale of the first series of Broadchurch producer Richard Strokes tweeted to ‘watch to the very, very end’. Viewers expected one final twist in an already incredible series, but what they got – an end-of-credits message proclaiming “Broadchurch Will Return” – divided fans.

From the very beginning Broadchurch was sold as a drama about community life, centred around a murder and its domino effect, rather than a basic whodunit. But it was, rightly or wrongly, the crime-solving that overtook the show, finding itself in a situation not dissimilar to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks years earlier.

Indeed, once Broadchurch stepped outside of its tight-knit community boundaries and into a provincial court room, and even further afield to resurrect detective Hardy’s old Sandbrook case, it all fell apart. The widely criticised second series with its less exciting narrative, inconsequential tangents and disconnected subplots served little more than to simply undermine what had been a near-perfect first series.

There’s no doubt much of that criticism has been taken on board by writer Chris Chibnall during this final return to the south coast, and indeed this third series has gone some way to undoing some of the damage. But his obsession with the first series’ characters means they have dominated large portions of screen time, often putting the more thrilling mystery on the back foot.

Worse still, a potentially fiery reunion between Mark Latimer and Joe Miller became a drab anti-climax, and even when it seemed like their story had reached a beautifully bittersweet denouement with Mark’s suicide, he was unnecessarily resurrected in the following episode.

Consequently, for much of this conclusion detectives Miller and Hardy waded at full tilt through suspect connections, interviews and hypothesis – albeit, as for most of the series, merely revelations to themselves, rather than us viewers who have been weeks ahead of them. It’s over halfway through the episode before taxi driver Clive finally reveals his step-son Michael and Leo to be the perpetrators.

This Latimer obsession means we are ironically given very little time to see the consequences of the rapists’ unmasking to the community. Attack victim Trish, the centre-piece of the whole series, is given an all too brief ‘here’s who did it’ spiel from Miller (and a ridiculously premature offer of a reconciliation Chinese take-away from spying husband Ian) while Lindsay Lucas, the mother of Michael and wife of Clive, simply gets a mere knock on the door from Hardy.

As a viewer you can’t help but feel cheated out of witnessing these moments, or being given a more plausible back-story as to how Leo committed the first two rapes and indeed his motivation – not just whodunnit, but why. A self-restricting once-a-year rapist, back from university over the summer simply doesn’t add up with the little facts we know, and the deus-ex-machina reasoning seems cheap even for a show that liberally throws out contrived clues and suspects.

It’s even more frustrating given how well rape cases and the portrayal of its victims have been handled throughout this series so far, with Julie Hesmondhalgh portraying the moments of the early police interrogations, evidence collection and subsequent return to the crime scene so emotively.

While Chibnall has always said Broadchurch is a drama first and a crime story second, many amateur sleuths will also undoubtedly be unhappy at so many loose ends. What exactly was Trish doing for two days wondering around after the rape? Why was convicted rapist Aaron lying about going fishing and the mystery mackerel? Why did Ian’s new partner send threatening messages to Trish? If nothing else, the Wessex Police have got months of work left to uncover what all the other shady folk were up to.

Looking back it’s unbelievable to think that Trish on the day of the attack had: booked a taxi with a creepy man who once dated her and collects trophies left behind by his female passengers; obliviously worked alongside her stalker boss who has over 5,000 photos of her on his phone; used a laptop hijacked by her recently separated husband with software to spy on her through the built-in camera; and, remarkably, slept with her best friend’s husband on the morning of her 50th birthday party.

Inadvertently this latter plot device leads to the biggest overall narrative issue with this series, albeit one that the script itself has recognised. In what was probably the best scene of the entire run, best mates Cath and Trish faced-off as the latter revealed her betrayal, only for her stoney-faced friend to calmly reply: “Of all the women at that party, why would somebody rape you?” It was a moment that broke a fourth-wall taboo, very much addressing the character’s – and therefore the actress’ – personal looks, but that also inadvertently underlines just how absurd the nature of Broadchurch’s male population’s obsession with Trish is.

In the end, this series pretty much followed the pattern of the first, and not without some praise. It’s clear how Chibnall writes – a central story, overarching morals and hot topics are planned, then various red herrings (or in this case mackerel) added to flesh out the series. And while at times it has felt a bit like a public information film, you can’t fault his intent, and even scenes such as the earlier cloying ‘Reclaim the Night’ march, or this episode’s church sermon had their heart firmly in the right place.

All of which brings us onto the very final act, and a perfectly pitched couple of minutes that reminded us why we loved Broadchurch in the first place. In fact it’s all about love. Paul Coates’ sermon urges us to spread love and do good deeds. Daisy, Hardy’s daughter, is finally proud of her dad. Mark’s begun the journey to forgiveness, while Beth proves that life does go on. This is where Chibnall’s writing thrives, at the very heart of community life.

And to Olivia Colman and David Tennant, who quite rightly share the final scene with the show’s other star, the beautiful Jurassic coastline. “We could go to the pub? We’ve never been to the pub.”, says Miller. After a momentary pause, “Nope.” replies Hardy, “See you in the morning.” As the cliffs become sea and the beautiful score plays out one last time, you can’t help but feel the journey we’ve been on.

For all its faults – and had it been left at the original eight episodes it may have well been one of the modern classics – this has been a return to form of sorts for Broadchurch. A strange hybrid between Nordic Noir and Agatha Christie, it’s done itself proud. You could watch Miller and Hardy as an on-going serial for years, but better to remember of the legacy it leaves, with both the characters and, indeed, us viewers having found redemption in Broadchurch.