The success and curse of the British crime series Broadchurch‘s first season was how thoroughly it handled its resolution. Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle) killed young Danny Latimer, he was arrested for it, and slowly, the town began to heal. But the popularity and critical acclaim of its first run of episodes essentially demanded that creator Chris Chibnall dream up a reason for it to continue.
The only thing that felt unfinished about Broadchurch‘s first season was the mysterious Sandbrook case, although that too seemed to have its own kind of end after Alec Hardy (David Tennant) told Ellie Miller (that marvelous Olivia Colman) the truth about the connection between the missing evidence and his wife. But the legacy of Broadchurch‘s first season wasn’t really that it made all that much sense in the end; rather, it was about its eminently bingeable nature, tied together by the extraordinary strength of its acting.
Season 2 then continued in a similar vein. The (seeming) closure of the first season was subverted when Joe Miller claimed he wasn’t guilty, and was put on trial. It allowed for the introduction of new characters in the form of several barristers (including those played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Charlotte Rampling), and once again, there was investigation into the truth of Danny’s death. And yet viewers already knew the truth of it, so we sat and watched, instead, a gross miscarriage of justice. Any thought that Joe Miller might be telling the truth (Fox’s Gracepoint, for instance, slightly tweaked the nature of the death so that there could have been some leeway for Joe) was put to rest, though, by the fact that he was essentially silenced throughout the entire season. We evidently didn’t need to hear from him, because there was nothing worthwhile that he could possibly say. The trial was just another way to again mine the emotional anguish of the townsfolk.
In conceiving of a second season, Chibnall spoke at the time of how strongly viewers felt about the denizens of Broadchurch, and how there was still so much to explore with them emotionally. I would buy that, except we didn’t really spend time with any of them other than Mark and Beth. Familiar faces appeared, but few had any real impact on the story. It was just a reminder that everyone was still there, confused and hurting.
Some crime series are completely beholden to their central mysteries, and others are not. In Broadchurch, Danny’s death largely acted as a catalyst for other revelations and dramas to unfold, and as the season wore on, it became less about who his killer was and more about dealing with truth and loss. In fact, maybe that’s why the ultimate revelation of it being Joe felt like such a letdown. Could any outcome have lived up to the breadth of the fallout around it?
In my review of the first few episodes of Broadchurch‘s second season, I spoke about how it felt right to bring the Sandbrook case back, not only as a way to keep Alec around, but also as a way to get us caught up in another mystery. Unlike the first season, though, Season 2 ended up feeling disjointed, as it bounced around from the trial to the stories of the barristers (who we never really got to know or care about, as far as their real motivations) and back to Sandbrook. Sandbrook (thanks mostly to James D’Arcy and Eve Myles‘ portrayal of Lee and Claire’s passionate, complicated relationship) was the most compelling of these, and yet, it always felt half-told and rushed.
The revelation that Claire and Lee were caught up in Ricky’s (Shaun Dooley) mistake (Ricky, who we almost didn’t get to see or know at all) was only part of the story. Ultimately, Lee was still a very purposeful child killer, with Claire as his mastermind, right-hand woman. Why would Ricky send Claire a bluebell, as a warning? They all had something on each other, and yet, that dynamic was never fully explored. And unlike Danny, who was talked about at length, and whose identity was explored in the first season, Pippa and Lisa were never presented as full characters. It was a swap from Season 1: there, the revelation of the truth of the murder couldn’t live up to everything that had happened around it and afterwards. In Season 2, there wasn’t enough exploration of the fallout (except through Alec’s horror at finding Pippa) for us to feel deeply about it.
Broadchurch as a series has been exceptional in a number of ways. The consistency of Alec and Ellie’s relationship has been a delight throughout both seasons, and the show has managed to bring together some of Britain’s very best actors, doing some of their best work here on this show (Jodie Whittaker as Beth in particular). Each season has had a compelling mystery to follow, no matter how it ultimately ends up, and I can’t think of another series with a better or more gorgeous B-roll footage in all of television.
Ultimately, Broadchurch‘s second season ended with justice for Alec, if no one else, in that he finally was able to clear the Sandbrook case and reveal the truth of it (although there is still plenty left to explore, not the least of which is what the nature of Claire and Alec’s relationship really was). Joe was the recipient of an old-fashion Church-sponsored banishing, which was its own kind of justice for the Millers and Latimers. Whether in jail or in a lonely prison of his own making, Joe deserved to be purged from the town. It’s just that this time, when Mark (Andrew Buchan) tells Beth he wants their love to be “strong as steel” regarding the healing, it’s a little less believable than the first time, given all that we’ve seen of their other struggles.
Looking towards the already commissioned third season leaves things even more uncertain. How much longer can we reasonably stay in the town of Broadchurch? Another major crime there seems statistically unlikely, although there’s always creative license to be given. Will there be another trial, and will Sandbrook be dredged up again?
And yet, it’s still hard not to want to get caught up again in Broadchurch‘s world. It’s a show that is always a gorgeous, emotional, acting showcase. Yes, it can be gimmicky and frustrating, poorly-paced and questionably plotted at times. But when it’s good it’s truly great. Maybe that’s what makes us so desperate for it to be better, because we know just how excellent it can be.
Ultimately, Alec returned in Season 2 for Ellie, and if anyone deserves more story and a chance for justice and healing, it’s Detective Miller. As long as the show’s heart is back, that’s more than enough of a reason to return one more time.