Let me preface this by saying I think my expectations for this show were just too high. And I don’t think I accurately anticipated what the show was. It’s not CSI. It’s not a procedural, and the real focus of the show is not finding out whodunnit, even though such a suspenseful show will inevitably leave you constantly wondering whodunnit–for the love of god just tell me who did it!!! The show is really more about how one crime, and one secret, can impact so many people in a community.
The first episode sees Alec Hardy (David Tennant) as the newly-arrived DI in the small seaside town of Broadchurch. His arrival is a shock and a disappointment to DS Ellie Miller, who hoped to be promoted to DI. Their relationship is off to a great start, and is further improved by Hardy’s gruff and aloof demeanor and his refusal to accept coffee and foods she brings him.
The normalcy of life in Broadchurch is disrupted mere minutes into this first episode, because the body of a small boy has been found on the beach. The reactions of Hardy and Miller could not be more different. Hardy is calculating and professional. Miller is emotional and reacts like a civilian. Two reasons–Hardy has seen this sort of case before, and Hardy doesn’t yet know the people who he must now suspect of committing murder. For Ellie, on the other hand, this is very close to home. She recognizes the boy immediately as Danny Latimer, her son’s best friend.
The most horrible part about the first episode (and possibly the entire series) is the long slow buildup to Danny’s fate being revealed to his parents. They don’t know he’s missing. He leaves early daily for his paper route, so they assume he’s at school. It’s midday before his Mom realizes something’s amiss. The scene where she runs to the beach and needs to be restrained is gut-wrenching.
Over the 8 episodes of the first series/season, we learn to suspect everyone. And Ellie Miller does as well.
First, there’s the Latimer family. Why didn’t anyone notice Danny was missing? Where were they?
Mark, the boy’s father, is particularly suspicious. The entire time I watched the show, I couldn’t decide if he was a really bad actor or a really horrible character. I will admit I irrationally disliked him due to the fact that he looks like my not-very-nice uncle.
But there’s also the Mom–something is up with her too. And the daughter, Chloe? She’s got a secret boyfriend who is too old for her (I’m not making a value judgment; he’s literally legally too old for her).
But the community is full of shifty characters keeping secrets. Arthur Darvill (Rory!) plays the local vicar/reverend.
Automatic suspicion there, obviously, given that it was a young boy that was killed.
David Bradley (Filch!) plays Jack Marshall, who runs the local news agent. He’s haunted by his past and his story is both tragic and conflicting.
Because this is Britain, the interfering and immoral media show up to take advantage of the tragedy of Danny’s death. They run afoul of almost everyone, airing secrets and pointing fingers.
What started out as a small idyllic community is shown to be deeply and incredibly flawed. The point that the show makes is that the secrets were always beneath the surface. It’s just this one event that has brought them all out.
And eventually we get to a killer, an answer. But the answer just brings up more questions. We want to categorize what happened, but it’s difficult to do so.
Spoiler warning. Proceed no further if you haven’t seen all 8 episodes.
Here’s where I think they went wrong.
Sometime in episode 6, things took a shift and suddenly it hit me that it was probably Joe. I wasn’t certain. I was still hanging onto my thoroughly-random theory that it was Grandma Latimer. But that scene at the skate park with Joe and Ellie made me realize that Joe was a pretty good guess. Something about the music made him suddenly seem ominous and wrong-footed. And I’m not the only one who thought this. I discussed the episode next day with two co-workers and they both had the same feeling that it must be Joe. The combination of the music and the acting and the directing acted like a bit neon sign pointing to Joe as the culprit suddenly. The last two episodes, I was really hoping that it was a red herring and Joe was not the killer, because it just wouldn’t have surprised me. And it didn’t.
I knew, for absolute certain, that Joe would be the killer. I knew it at the exact moment that Ellie looks down on Susan Wright and asks ‘how could you not know’ what was going on in her house? That was a huge neon sign, a big red flag, an X marks the spot. Don’t say shit like that. That’s tempting fate, big time. I knew it had to be Joe once she said that. And it’s worth nothing that Beth said the same thing to Ellie at the end. Digression–Beth has no room to talk, since she had no idea that her husband was cheating on her, her daughter had a secret boyfriend, and her son was going out late at night and on weekends to go paintballing, steal pheasants, and hug grown men. She had no idea he had a second cell phone or that he’d had a row with his best friend. She should keep her mouth shut.
Back to the point: It’s not supposed to be a ‘surprise!’ kind of reveal. It’s more the slow realization that everyone was keeping secrets, and then the slow horrible reality that it was almost definitely Joe. And then the aftermath. They reveal Joe as the killer 14 minutes into the final episode, which left a lot of time for aftermath. The scene when Ellie confronts Joe was brilliant and awful, and mirrored that first scene on the beach, when Beth is dragged away kicking and screaming.
The majority of crime shows (and there are a million of them) deal with the procedure of solving the crime, and make very little of the emotions of those affected by the crime. Does CSI dwell on the grief of the murder victim’s family? Nope. Does Law & Order spend time on the wife of the murderer? Not unless it helps them solve the crime. It’s all about the solution and has nothing to do with the aftermath. I sometimes find myself thinking things like ‘hey, family, stop interfering with the investigation!’, because you’re rooting for the answers, not for closure for those involved.
Broadchurch seems to have an opposite mission statement. It’s all about the effect. When Hardy finds out it is definitely Joe, that secret weighs on him. He knows he has to tell Ellie, and Danny’s family. He has to burden others with this horrible truth. In instances like this, when the killer is someone you know, the truth can only ever make you feel worse. It can only leave you angry with yourself and questioning everyone in your life because how can you ever trust someone again?! It’s rare that a show really embraces such a heavy resolution.
But at the same time I found some parts of the show irritating. There were a lot of threads that were picked up for a minute, dropped, and never resolved. So many false clues and revelations that turned out to mean nothing. And some of them were never discussed again. A note though–we, in the US, did not get to see the full episodes. Like a bunch of complete morons, BBC America decided to take out 15-20 minutes of each episode in order to fit in commercials. Why couldn’t they just have made this a 90 minute program and actually show us the whole thing? One of the scenes I know they left out was after Joe is revealed as the killer. Apparently Mark confronts Joe in the jail cell. We didn’t see that. That’s not a small scene. And, really, we had to miss a lot. Over 8 episodes, we would have missed almost 2 hours of content. That’s pretty unacceptable. And, from what I read, almost every scene they cut had Joe in it. That seriously alters the way we perceived the show and him as a character. I’m interested to compare the full episodes to what we saw. Of course, I can’t. It’s not out on DVD yet in US format. And I can’t find any release date for a US format version anytime soon. You’re on my list now, BBC America execs. And it’s not a good list.
They’ve already announced a 2nd series/season of the show will be aired in the UK. They haven’t revealed who will be part of the 2nd series, or really any details about it, its setting, its plot, or its cast. News came in this week that David Tennant has signed up for the American remake of the show, that will air on Fox. I think this is terrible news! He’ll be on TV…in what will probably be a worse show, he’ll have an American accent, and it will (I wildly speculate) prevent him from being in the 2nd series of the original. Boo!
No word yet on Olivia Colman. I think she’s quite a brilliant actress, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tuning in every week for David Tennant. I don’t know if I will want to watch without him.
Fun fact before I end this post. Chloe’s boyfriend is named ‘Dean Thomas’ in the show. That name will sound familiar to anyone who reads Harry Potter. The actor who played Dean Thomas in Harry Potter (Alfie Enoch) has a brief cameo as a journalist in Broadchurch.