Broadchurch, season 3.

I’ve mentioned my love of the British TV series Broadchurch a few times – writing about season one and season two – particularly my admiration for the dialogue, which is some of the best I’ve ever seen on any show, incorporating enough realism to set the show well apart from the police procedurals that have poisoned the airwaves for the last few decades while still giving viewers enough insight into the characters to build emotional attachments. The show was originally written to be a one-and-done, eight-episode story, but returned for two more seasons, the third of which just aired this summer (and which everyone involved says is definitely the end of the show). If this is truly it, the writers and actors gave us more than a mere victory lap, but managed to incorporate an entirely new story and set of characters into the tapestry they created in a small seaside town already reeling from the child murder that started off the series. It’s on amazon as well as iTunes.

Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) are back, now working together as partners instead of the adversarial relationship that drove the first season (mostly Alec’s doing, as he had some Greg House-like qualities), investigating a new crime: the rape of Trish, a woman in her late 40s, recently separated from her husband, who was attacked at a friend’s 50th birthday party. Trish was drunk and then knocked unconscious, so she couldn’t identify the rapist, and the list of suspects is long, including her former husband, her friend’s husband, a taxi driver with a criminal past, and Trish’s boss. The case is immediately complicated by other factors that also drive wedges between friends and motivate different witnesses to come forward – and, as you might expect, other women emerge with similar stories of rape in the same area over previous years.

The writers spent months working with rape counselors and investigators, learning about such cases and how they’re handled by authorities, giving the writing of season 3 an intense, often uncomfortable (by design) realism throughout the eight episodes. Trish’s reactions, unwillingness to discuss details, guilt and self-loathing, and the varied reactions of other victims all give Broadchurch a level of pathos absent from the SVU style of storytelling – 44 minutes to rush through a story, requiring every victim to be reduced to two dimensions so we can get back to the chase – and depict the complexities of investigating cases like this.

The big surprise of the season is Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker, also known as the next Dr. Who), who spent the first two seasons as a mousy, thin character paralyzed by grief and shock, appearing as a rape counselor who is assigned to Trish. Beth’s strength only appeared in flashes in the previous season, but she takes on a much more central role in season 3, both for her work advising and counseling Trish and also as a now-divorced other of two, still grieving her son’s death, and trying to cope with an ex-husband who can’t move on with his own life. I might have had doubts about Whittaker as the lead character on the long-running sci-fi series had I not seen the breadth of her abilities in the final season of this show, as the writing this year and her involvement in two major storylines allowed her to show off a range of emotions, notably the harder edge on display in scenes with her ex-husband or her resolve in dealing with the police when she’s asked to violate the ethical rules of her new job.

The central mystery of season 3 is somewhat less compelling than that of season 1, primarily because the identity of the rapist becomes subordinate to the web of relationships and deceptions uncovered during the investigation. Watching Hardy and Miller work, and now to truly work together as partners with complementary skills who have developed strong respect for each other, is easily the season’s biggest highlight – the very unromantic chemistry between these two, and Miller’s unflagging attempts to draw Hardy’s emotional core out, allow two tremendous actors to show their stuff while also giving the viewer an atypical male/female partnership. Hardy is less House-like this year, as his relationship with his daughter becomes more central and less afterthought, and the writing makes him more socially inept than absent. If season 1 Hardy was just misanthropic, season 3 Hardy is more clueless. He can’t pick up some simple social cues and doesn’t take compliments well or give them any more easily, but now it leads to amusement rather than Ellie wanting to throttle him – often justifiably, given how badly he treated her when they first worked together.

If there’s a hiccup anywhere in this final season of Broadchurch, it’s that they worked a little too hard to make all of the suspects in the rape case a little too creepy. Toxic masculinity plays a role here, and the writers did well to separate out its various aspects and spread them across multiple characters, but there are also at least three men who are called into the station who look or act too … well, too suspect. It’s as if the writers and actors were trying to throw viewers off the scent by making everybody seem guilty. And if you remember the twist in season one, you might see the twist in season three coming too.

If you haven’t started from the beginning, I don’t think you’ll appreciate the full impact of season 3 given how much screen time is devoted to the aftershocks from the first murder, so I would recommend starting with season 1 and watching all 24 episodes in order. It’s some of the finest TV writing I have ever seen, never sacrificing story for dialogue but instead using realistic, thorough dialogue to help give the story more depth than you’ll find in most other television series.

Comments

  1. My wife and I absolutely loved this series. All three seasons worth. Terrific acting and storytelling throughout.

  2. Had to skip the spoilers because I’m definitely watching this.

    We love British cop shows, too. Have you checked out Happy Valley, Line of Duty, or Endeavour?

    A couple of other series we’ve been enjoying in the not-British category are Patriot, Sneaky Pete, and Goliath. All Amazon Originals and definitely worth watching. Especially Patriot, if for nothing else, the “Donnelly Nut-Spacing” speech. It’s the best thing I’ve seen in years.

  3. Along with the writing, it’s the pace of Broadchurch that I’ll miss so much. Even when they try to do 8 or 13 episode miniseries, American TV often feels compelled to interject (as you call it) the chase aspect, or shock-twists out of nowhere or makes the capture of the criminal into some adrenalin injection.

    Broadchurch did none of this, and by avoiding it allowed its characters to deepen. The Season 3 arc of Beth’s husband Mark was written and acted so well that when its pivotal moment occurs it feels natural and earned.

    Just smart filmmaking

  4. I’m still a bit skeptical about Whittaker as The Doctor, but that’s due to a combination of my own “But The Doctor has always been a male and even though I’m completely for gender equality, for some reason I can’t seem to handle this development!” and my worry that the Doctor Who writers will try to sexualize the character, since they did that during the Tennant and Smith eras and now they’ve cast a male companion.

  5. Scott Christley

    This is one of my favorite shows of all time. The dialogue and the way they continually make everyone seem suspicious, so you are always questioning whether or not you have it figured out. Plus, the details that they showed in the handling of the case at the beginning of Season 3 is something that is rarely seen in American shows. BBC America does a really great job with their series. Bittersweet knowing that this was the final series for Broadchurch.

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