Warning: If you haven’t seen Season 1, this will contain spoilers.
“Where to, sir?”
That’s how Broadchurch ends – and you wish that was how it began. Chris Chibnall’s second season revealed itself in the final episode to be a study of failed justice and destroyed parenthood – and, yes, Season 1’s echoing theme of isolation versus community. But after that strong opening episode, which gave us the sickening suggestion that Joe Miller could walk free, the season lost its direction; there was no one, it seemed, to ask Chibnall where he was going.
It was hard to shake the sense of padding and contrivance, as, one by one, the plot points that had led to Joe’s arrest in the first season were undone through technicalities; a dismantling of dramatic satisfaction that proved a useful drive for exploring of how fallible the justice system is in real life, but also spent so long trying to drum up tension with soap opera cliches that we lost sight of the emotional impact of that fallibility.
The finale, then, is a welcome return to the centre stage for The Latimers, so perfectly played by Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan.
But more on them later.
That’s the other problem Broadchurch Season 2 has suffered from: the flip-flopping between cases that, thanks to the uneven pacing of each subplot, has left Chibnall having to reveal his deliberately-cliffhung trial verdict but also deliver a solution for the entire Sandbrook case.
The answer we get is, somewhat impressively, even more disturbing than Broadchuch’s revelations, introducing drugging and incineration into the inappropriate child-adult relationship arena. Eve Myles is chilling, in particular, as we see her lie to Pippa about Lisa’s death, while holding a hip flask, before (in the present day) lying to Ellie about Hardy forcing her to have sex with him. Lee may be menacing, but Myles gets the real chance to play dirty.
It’s a well executed flashback, but one that also hinges on several key confessions – confessions that, in the end, are so easily obtained and concisely delivered, that you wonder why they weren’t unearthed weeks ago. If the Broadchurch fallout has been diluted by the dual-story framework, Sandbrook has suffered just as much.
But the show’s strength has always been emotional rather than narrative twists. If we’re annoyed by Season 2 rendering the entire first season irrelevant, imagine how the characters feel. Sandbrook’s emotional fallout was mostly felt by Hardy, who struggled to move on without having solved the case. He explains to Miller in one telling exchange that her anger at Joe’s trial should be used as fuel to drive her to help him solve Sandbrook. The idea of using one case to redeem guilt over another is a bit dubious, but it proves just how effective the pair are together: David Tennant remains engaging, even after his whole illness nonsense, while Olivia Colman is never less than heartbreakingly brilliant.
“You can’t trust anyone,” he tells Miller in one particularly poignant scene. “Ultimately, we’re all alone.”
But Broadchurch’s message, overall, has always been one of togetherness: just as the town united at the end of Season 1, releasing balloons on the beach in memory of Danny, Season 2 retreads similar ground – almost literally, as we go back to the cottage where Danny was bumped off. It’s the scene of a harsh interrogation, one that gives Colman a chance to let loose with her most bitter bile yet – and Jodie Whittaker the opportunity to reiterate Chibnall’s rousing motto. “I will not be broken by this,” she spits, through tears. “We all get to live.”
In the case of our legal rivals, that’s hardly a promising statement: some reconciling between Jocelyn (Charlotte Rampling) and Sharon (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) reminds us how little we care of Broadchurch’s cardboard-thin characters. (The absence of Abby here only seems to highlight how little relevance she really had to their subplot.)
Where the balancing of Sandbrook and Broadchurch does work, though, is in underscoring that theme: the old mystery proposes that being separated from one’s kids is punishment enough for a parent, a sentiment that the Devon townsfolk take to heart, as Joe is told he will never see his son again. While it is rewarding to see Arthur Darvill’s Reverend Coates have a part to play in the communal justice, it’s a shame to think that Matthew Gravelle never got a chance to do anything other than look glum and keep schtum.
The idea of strength in numbers – and weakness in solitude – is summed up nicely in an upbeat picnic on the spot where Danny’s body was first discovered; a picturesque tableau that draws a line under both cases and sees the Latimers unite and Ellie crack her first smile in 16 episodes. And what of Hardy? Will he stay around for the inevitable next season? Will the third run see everything that’s been found out in Season 2 rexamined and taken apart again in court? After this muddled sequel, perhaps Chibnall will find himself a new direction for our detectives to head in, complete with a new town name. Satisfying and frustrating in equal measure, Broadchurch’s finale reminds us that the series is best when the cast are allowed the freedom to do their thing. Where to? Hopefully as far away from Broadchurch as possible.
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.
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