Warning: The following contains mild spoilers, but no actual plot twists.
“None of us have got anything left to hide.”
There are no sharks in Broadchurch, but you sense they’re circling somewhere near the Dorset coastline.
The legal sharks, of course, have eagerly descended, after Episode 1’s shocking revelation that Joe Miller is pleading not guilty to the murder of Danny Latimer. Broadchurch Season 2, it turns out, isn’t going to be another murder mystery: it’s a full-on legal drama. Farewell, Miss Marple. Hello, Ally McBeal.
It’s a brave decision for a show that nailed the balance between whodunnit and whocanbemostmiserableaboutit in its first run. But Episode 2 suggests that it might also be a bad move. After the opener’s swift, suspenseful reveal of Joe’s claims to innocence, the second instalment drags out the trial like there are another eight episodes to go. It’s not until halfway through that we actually enter the courtroom, as creator Chris Chibnall instead spends his time making sure everyone is ready for what’s to come.
On the plus side, that means lots of Charlotte Rampling, who’s wonderfully crinkled as shrewd prosecutor Jocelyn Knight. She summons our two battered detectives to her home for a quick briefing, mainly to determine what happened when Ellie kicked the crap out of him in police custody – and also to admire the sea view out of her living room window.
“I build a wall of evidence,” she explains to the pair, before highlighting the weak brick of Joe’s confession, as a result of Ellie’s angry assault. “It’s your fault,” she says, staring right into Olivia Colman’s gigantic, tear-filled eyes.
Oh, yes. Broadchurch is back. And it’s more miserable than ever. Not only is Ellie to blame for that, she also has to deal with the ongoing hostilities from the Latimer family – led by an angry Beth.
Danny’s mum, on the other hand, gives us the flip-side of Broadchurch’s new focus: the family invite Jocelyn to their home for a quick natter about the case with all the witnesses. Knight, shocked, warns them that such discussion is out of the question, but then gives them a speech about being honest on the stand anyway.
“None of us have got anything left to hide,” replies Beth, with a smile – a line that not even the wonderful Jodie Whittaker can deliver without you giving out a groan.
As the camera pans across everyone’s obviously guilty faces, you remember why Broadchurch was so good in the first place: because it avoided all this stuff. It might have wallowed in sadness, but it did so with class and subtlety. Only two hours in and Broadchurch Season 2 is getting, for want of a better word, a bit silly.
Fortunately, there’s another subplot to keep the serious stakes high, with the reveal that DI Hardy (David Tennant) is hiding Claire Ripley (Eve Myles) from his failed Sandbrook case in a nearby home driving much of the episode’s tension. She continues to ring Alec, worried that the accused-but-not-convicted child murderer Lee (James D’Arcy – the sexiest dangerous man it’s not ok to find sexy since Jamie Dornan in The Fall) is about to jump out at her from the garden. Hardy lies, giving Tennant ample opportunity to look concerned, while D’Arcy swans about in the distance, staring menacingly.
Haunted by those intriguing bluebells (and his medical condition), it’s not long until the bearded Hardy agrees for a meeting to take place in a neutral location. But where should it be? Ellie’s old house, of course. Where else?
That’s the first sign that Broadchurch is beginning to teeter on the cliff of cliche; Miller’s agreement to babysit Claire in Episode 1 gives Colman and Myles a wonderful chance to wag chins – and, at one point, eat the world’s best fish and chips (hello to Dorset’s tourist board) – but their victim wife parallels offer enough drama as it is, without the need for Colman to return to the site of her former marriage and sit down, upset, on the stairs.
Once you’ve started to notice the series’ approach to the shore of absurdity, it’s hard to ignore it. In the courtroom, things start off superbly, with Meera Syal as a judge joining Rampling and Marianne Jean Baptiste’s steely lawyers – in one fell swoop, a pleasing showcase for female acting talent. But they quickly start to dip a toe in the cheesy soap opera tide, as the legal team actually argue about the validity of one piece of evidence in front of the jury, only for a witness in the stand to later cry out: “Who’s on trial?”
Chibnall previously sacrificed crime for character, but while the visuals may be as beautiful as ever and the performances top-notch – even Ellie’s orange coat is the same – the script is starting to feel like it values surprise twists over substance. And with the big question of Season 1 sort-of already answered, Season 2 needs to come up with a lot of new ones to keep people tuning in: Is Claire safe? Will Joe get away with it? What about Beth’s baby?
It’s a gamble, one that could easily descend into unbelievable stunts for the sake of it. And so, as the waters break, you look out to sea. The Dorset coastline remains fun to watch, but it’s starting to look slightly less pristine. The sharks, you sense, are circling. And Broadchurch might be lining up for a jump.
Season 1 and 2 of Broadchurch are available on-demand with ITV Encore, ITV’s premium subscription channel. ITV Encore is available through Sky on demand and Sky Go. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream ITV Encore’s catalogue through NOW TV, which costs £6.99 a month, no contract.
Where can I watch Broadchurch on pay-per-view VOD?