Warning: If you haven’t seen Season 1, this will contain spoilers.
What do you think of when you hear the word “Broadchurch”? Pretty beaches? A sad Olivia Colman? Desirable houses? Superb drama? Episode 3 of Season 2 delivers on all of the above – with one niggling exception.
Episode 2 climaxed with Beth having a go at Ellie in the street for her husband’s killing of Danny – despite the rest of her family being quite understanding of the fact that Miller had no idea Mike was guilty. Just as Beth was hitting full flow, her waters did the same, gushing all over the picturesque street. It was the first moment in the series that made you pause and think “Really?” – a sign that this second run has lost something of the first season’s unimpeachable quality.
The second arrives only a few minutes later, as DI Alec Hardy tracks down Claire (Eve Myles) and James D’Arcy’s Sandbrook suspect – after they escaped through a living room window – by simply driving back to her house. What was the point of the cliffhanger, then? Apparently to give D’Arcy a moment alone with Claire, to reiterate his innocence.
D’Arcy does his wrongly-accused-man routine with conviction, storming about the village in a vest with a sledgehammer in one hand and a folder of evidence in the other. By the end of the episode, he actually starts to sway us into thinking that he might be right.
It helps that the Sandbrook subplot is given added weight by Eve Myles’ wonderfully quivering turn; together with Colman’s depressed cop, they make a fun double act, even going out on the pull together. But three episodes in and Chris Chibnall’s script feels bizarrely rushed and yet strangely underdeveloped; teases of bluebells in Alec’s mailbox continue to remind us how little we know about the case, but we also haven’t spent enough time with the characters to become fully engaged before the inevitable plot twists start arriving. You almost wish it were the programme’s main focus.
The same growing detachment is happening across the rest of Broadchurch, as the screenplay gradually morphs from a British version of The Killing to Mock Trial with J. Reinhold. Believability in a fictional courtoom is far from a priority for any TV series – and rightly so – but when that doubt distracts you from the story, it’s a sign that something is amiss. After dismissing Joe’s confession entirely, thanks to Hardy’s allowance of Miller to beat up her husband, Meera Syal’s smirking judge is now faced with the question of whether to let Ellie testify.
Of course, there is no doubt over the answer. Broadchurch’s narrative twists and turns increasingly seem to follow one guiding principle: whatever makes Miller the most upset.
“What’s the point of you!” yells Hardy, realising that she let Claire slip away. Beth, meanwhile, orders Ellie away, even after she has helped deliver the new Latimer baby.
“I don’t want you here!” she yells. Miller glares. “Tough shit.”
As Ellie increasingly begins to snap, Colman reminds us just how good she is: if the show leans on her, it’s because she can take it, and make us care about her taking it too. That kind of accomplished acting – emotional enough to keep us tuning in week after week – is what we’ve come to expect from ITV’s series. The neat parallel between Ellie and Claire is par for the course as well, subtly raising doubts where there were none before. But as Chibnall introduces increasingly soap opera-style flourishes to artifically ramp up the tension (Affairs! New suspects! Previously unseen children!), Broadchurch is beginning to feel less and less like Broadchurch.
Therein lies the problem. If this were another series, it would be entertaining, if a little clunky. But after the high standard set by Season 1, Season 2’s quality cannot help but feel like a let-down. When Charlotte Rampling’s scene-stealing Jocelyn almost drives past a sign pointing to the familiar hotspot, you can’t blame her for not recognising it.
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?