Broadchurch finale review

Review Louisa Mellor 22 Apr 2013 - 23:45

We finally know who killed Danny Latimer in ITV’s Broadchurch, but was it the resolution we hoped for?

This review contains major spoilers.

The last few weeks have been fun, haven’t they? We’ve enjoyed being armchair detectives, discussing evidence, swapping theories on Twitter, making topical jokes about suspecting Thatcher/Vince the Labrador/Justin Bieber of having killed Danny Latimer. We’ve played excitedly along with our enjoyable game of find-the-killer, like a pack of yelping dogs worrying a rabbit.

Then came tonight’s finale, a chastening bucket of cold water thrown on our snapping muzzles. It’s not a game, writer Chris Chibnall reminded us. Broadchurch wasn’t meant to be played. It wasn't Poirot, or Sherlock, or Jonathan Creek. I didn’t set out to trick you.

And we weren’t tricked. Joe Miller was the prime suspect - since day one for some, for the last few episodes for others - and he was revealed to be the killer. Come the revelation, I can’t have been the only viewer confidently thinking ‘No, it won’t be that easy, there’ll be something else to come’. There wasn’t. It really was that simple.

The signs were there, and more importantly in hindsight, so was the dramatic irony. Miller had heard all along she was too close to the case and that she needed to look for anyone behaving out of character. One of the first times we noticed Joe was when he expressed that unprecedented wish to go to church on the Sunday after Danny died, followed a fortnight ago by his unexpected appearance at the skate-park, ingratiating himself with Tom’s other friends. That was the setting for the Millers’ jokey handcuff talk, lines that, along with Ellie’s “In your own house, how could you not know?” question to Susan last week, now appear painfully telling.

If we’re feeling let-down, and I’m sure some are, we partly have ourselves to blame for wanting something cleverer. Over the past eight weeks, we’ve turned Broadchurch into something it wasn’t. Think back to episode one, and Beth Latimer being dragged screaming from the beach where her son’s body lay. I was too busy swallowing my heart down from my mouth to place bets or start hashtags. It didn’t feel like a game back then.

As the weeks passed though, the roulette wheel of suspects began to click, skeletons came tumbling out of closets (silent, slow-motion Broadchurch-style skeletons), and we began to join in, as if Chibnall’s story was a choose-your-own-adventure instead of an emotional drama. It’s the town’s new slogan, Broadchurch: come for the pathos, stay for the whodunit.

The psychic didn’t help. His introduction was the first stroke of the saw separating the two halves of Broadchurch from one another, one a realist domestic drama, the other a cartoony murder mystery complete with suspicious vicar and weekly cliff-hangers. This finale had to cleave to one or the other of those two identities, and it’s a blessing that it opted for the first.

It may have knocked the wind out of our collective sails for the revelation to have been so prosaic as Joe being a self-hating, latent paedophile who ‘loved’ and accidentally killed Danny, but it’s preferable to the Scooby Doo alternatives. Imagine if it had turned out to be an Orient Express-style deal, in which several people had had a hand, say, or an unsignalled, out-of-nowhere solution such as the postman having done it. Worse, imagine if we’d all really been surprised, and Beth, Ellie or Chloe turned out to be behind it all. The ending we were given was telegraphed at least, and rang sadly true with accounts of the guilty party in real-life murder cases.

The other blessing of this resolution of course, is that Olivia Colman was able to range free in those interrogation room scenes, conveying extremes of emotion with honesty and, if there’s any justice, picking up a bevy of awards as she goes. Only her “We were happy here” line as she left the family home fell flat, a surprising clanger in a script that knows how to handle silence, and should have left well enough alone. (Incidentally, if Ellie had stood on that slug in week three, she’d have topped everybody’s suspect list).

Andrew Buchan too, as Mark Latimer, deserves plaudits for his reaction to the news and confrontation with his son’s killer. Even if the script moved Mark from seething anger to pity more quickly than seemed realistic, Buchan was never less than impressive. The same, of course, goes for Jodie Whittaker, and David Tennant, whose DI Hardy lived to snark another day, and to investigate another case in the now-confirmed second series, whatever that will bring.

There are still questions unanswered of course - Where did Joe get the keys to the hut? Did Susan really take the skateboard as a way to get closer to Nige? Why did Tom have messages from a number labelled “Mum” at three in the morning? Was Jack lying about Danny’s argument with the postman? - but the finale’s thump back to reality has made me want to sheepishly turn in my deerstalker and pipe and probe no further. We all had a ton of fun watching Broadchurch, a bit too much for its own good, as it turns out.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.

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This series has been great, I could hardly wait from one Monday to the other. The whodunit aspect was secondary - this was the first time in the hundreds of hours of crime drama that I have watched that I have seen the feelings of the victims depicted with such raw, brutal honesty and such simplicity. Fortunately the rythm was slow, so that we could get to know all these people and to care for some of them very much.

I cannot imagine how a second series will be made. The action must still take place in Broadchurch, but probably centered around different people. How can Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller be brought back in a plausible way? Actually I am ready to suspend disbelief completely - I don't care how they come back as long as they do, because I cannot bear not to see them again!

Thank you for your excellent reviews. I am in the "no spoilers of any kind" camp, I just let the show happen without very much speculation on my part. I stayed away from everything except your column. Brilliant work.

Much of my enjoyment came from the extraordinarily beautiful look of the series, from rock steady balanced shots to the color palettes to brilliant editing. My favorite scene has to be Ellie's interrogation of Susan in episode 7, go back and watch how they frame Ellie's face on the right side of the frame and Susan's on the left so when it's edited together they're almost nose to nose. Fabulous.

Thanks again, and I am really looking forward to the next series.

I loved this series. I found tonight so moving. The acting, the way they went back and showed what happened, thank you writers for actually fully showing a story like this.
I loved that they spent the time showing it all. How everyone reacted and felt and dealt with it. You never get to see that on these type of murder mystery shows. Brilliant.
So well done.

Agreed!

It's not the fault of the viewer if they are disappointed with the simplicity of the finale, it is the fault of the script which was trying to tell two different stories. Had this been a story told over four weeks which focused upon the grief of the family, the impact upon the community and - as we saw last night - the effect of the arrest upon the family of the murderer, then this would be remembered for years to come. However, although the grief of the Latimer family was at the forefront of the narrative for one or two episodes - mirrored by the impact of the revelation of Joe's guilt on his family and friends in most of the final episode - episodes three to seven were far closer to a whodunnit. If Broadchurch was intended to be a drama about the impact of a crime, why bother with the whodunnit elements and the red herrings? The latter were increasingly clumsy (Susan Wright's story as dramatic parallel to Ellie's impeding personal crisis was very crude) but were focus for the majority of viewers. Broadchurch was two very different narrative types - with some obvious polemic - squeezed into one narrative frame in a fashion which was, ultimately, unsustainable.

Chibnall has done a great job, building characters and stories amazingly well. When the time arrives to find the new Doctor Who show runner he must be a top contender. Makes me quite excited

Excellent review. I was both let down and deeply moved by a finale that was both obvious and opaque. Shame it had to be paedophilia again though - other crimes are available.

The beacons lighting reminded me a little of Lord of the Rings and took me out of the moment with a chuckle.

Totally understand the writer and producers going for the 'realism' angle, following a path set by the hugely successful Scandi-Dramas we've all been gobbling up. With 'The Killing' etc in mind, there are plenty who say that the sagging middle episodes, where the character development just stopped dead, along with the investigation, was the meat of the show; the good stuff and if you don't like it, go back to something more contrived and juicy - but I disagree, this is just an convenient 'out' for stretching out what could have been a really fantastic piece of 'boxset' telly. As others have said, this should have been over four episodes, feels a little greedy on behalf of Kudos and maybe they've missed a trick as they've really hampered the show's 're-watchability'.

Also, if it's realism you're going for, you have to be very careful over the scenes you write for your killer. Other than the two discussed in the brilliant review above, there were others (where Tom asks his Dad how long you get for murder, specifically) where Joe didn't even flinch at the question, kept eye contact and delivered the reply 'about 20 years I think.' A reluctant first-time killer, who doesn't kill for the buzz but purely to preserve his secret and clearly had HUGE remorse, didn't show any sign of committing the crime. That, unfortunately, is why from that moment, I was hoping it wasn't him.

Great drama, real take-the-breath away ending not because of a twist, but because of the great acting and script. I for one am glad they didn't go for a twist in the end (although right up until the end I was sure we would find out Joe was covering for his secretly psychopathic wife Ellie, especially after she stood on the slug!). Series 2 can never live up to the first, but may come close as long as they don't rush it and bring in the same writers - maybe Ellie and Hardy can return as private investigators in partnership....?!

Insightful review! You express very well both my slight sense of disappointment in the denouement and the feeling that with some time and hindsight, and in the context of the work as a whole, I may come to appreciate it more. You really hit the nail on the head when drawing attention to the piece's split identities of whodunnit and domestic drama, and having in the end to decide between the two.

I do still wish that it hadn't been foreshadowed quite so heavily in episodes 6 and 7 that Joe was the killer though - and I wonder if the writer would now consider that a slight misjudgement. On the other hand, perhaps confounding the audience's expectation of a final twist was entirely the point.

I didn't bother watching this as I could tell from the Radio Times coverage that it wasn't a whodunnit and I was surprised when people treated it as such. From what I could extrapolate, it was a domestic, realist, drama full of tears and dour expressions. That's the only sort of crime drama ITV make these days as they're not clever enough to come up with seemingly impossible murders, air-tight alibis, cunning construction and an ingenious denouement. The reference to Scooby-doo is mistaken as that was a cartoon which spoofed elements of the mystery/horror genres which were already there. Stories as seen in shows such as Jonathan Creek and Poirot are genius.

I didn't bother watching this as I could tell from the Radio Times
coverage that it wasn't a whodunnit and I was surprised when people
treated it as such. From what I could extrapolate, it was a domestic,
realist, drama full of tears and dour expressions. That's the only sort
of crime drama ITV make these days as they're not clever enough to come
up with seemingly impossible murders, air-tight alibis, cunning
construction and an ingenious denouement. The reference to Scooby-doo is
mistaken as that was a cartoon which spoofed elements of the
mystery/horror genres which were already there. Stories as seen in shows
such as Jonathan Creek and Poirot are genius and not cheap soapy-melodrama.

I didn't bother watching this as I could tell from the Radio Times
coverage that it wasn't a whodunnit and I was surprised when people
treated it as such. From what I could extrapolate, it was a domestic,
realist, drama full of tears and dour expressions. That's the only sort
of crime drama ITV make these days as they're not clever enough to come
up with seemingly impossible murders, air-tight alibis, cunning
construction and an ingenious denouement. The reference to Scooby-doo is
mistaken as that was a cartoon which spoofed elements of the
mystery/horror genres which were already there. Stories as seen in shows
such as Jonathan Creek and Poirot are genius and not just cheap soapy melodrama.

Can't resist suggesting that Alec Hardy regenerates and returns to be played by Matt Smith. His new DS could then be played by another Col(e)man.

This. ^

Being ITV, I was expecting Schofield to pop out and shout "The killer in Broadchurch 2013 is..................................................(advert break)...........................(longer dramatic pause).................(tension drums)...........................................JOE!!!!
Instead of Schofield though we got the mobile phone trace/heartbeat acting in exactly the same way, once that started I was expecting the killer to be James Arthur in the hope of releasing another single.

The beacon thing at the end, and the Priest's little joke was the worst ending to a show since Lost.

The first seven episodes to use a seaside analogy, was a lovely serving of fish and chips eaten on the beach, last nights episode was the seagull that steals it. Utter pish.

I liked the way that it was a very simple story without any of the usual flourishes that you often see in this type of show, you don't have some massively complex story, the body count was very small with just the one murder and one suicide in the entire 10 episodes, frequently even with Morse style 2 hour self contained stories you can have several other murders to cover up the initial murder but here there was none of that.

There was no genius detective either, Joe effectively handed himself in, at the start of the start of the finale they looked like they were basically going to massively scale back the investigation, there was no smoking gun and they were some way from wrapping up the investigation. The only disappointment I have is the lose end with the Postman was never followed up.

I somehow managed to avoid this series entirely until last night, when I realised it was the grand finale and I knew nothing at all about it. So at around 7pm I set the finale to record, and embarked on a marathon.

Great choice. Great acting, well written stuff!

Dear god, no. Broadchurch may have been good, but do you want to talk about Chibnall's Torchwood episodes? Cyberwoman? Where Ianto causes the horrible death of an innocent pizza delivery girl and everyone's kind of okay with it? Or Countrycide, where Gwen and Owen surrender during a mexican standoff in which they have the upper hand, and isn't it lucky the killers decide not to murder them then and then when in all honesty they probably would have? Yikes.

"Also, if it's realism you're going for, you have to be very careful over the scenes you write for your killer. Other than the two discussed in the brilliant review above, there were others (where Tom asks his Dad how long you get for murder, specifically) where Joe didn't even flinch at the question, kept eye contact and delivered the reply 'about 20 years I think.' "

That annoyed me, too, but, in fairness, I don't think the writing was the problem there, it was the (in my view inexplicable) direction policy of not telling the actor playing the murderer that he was playing the murderer until just before the filming of the final scenes. It seems that the actor had no idea he was supposed to have killed Danny when the scene you refer to was filmed, so he didn't have a chance to play it with the requisite subtext.

I'm thinking the second series will keep the name but move away from the Town. Surely it'll be something to do with DT's failure to find the killer in his previous job.

Nice one ITV. More Foyle, Downton, Whitechapel, Broadchurch etc and less Geordie dicks, Cowell and Scofield.

I'd heard about the series, but only got round to watching it last night in one marathon. Perhaps it was not having time to speculate between episodes, or just that it was late, but it wasn't until episode 8's shoe size reference that I guessed.

Really enjoyed it.

I actually thought of the Wicker man until the beacons all around the coast lit up. I thought it seemed a bit unlikely the parents would be lighting a giant bonfire at the scene of their kid's death and where a boat was burnt to cover up evidence.

Oh my god No! Was he really responsible for the utterly appalling Countrycide? Even now just thinking about it makes me angry.

Interesting that you characterise fiction driven by plot as "clever" and character centred fiction as "cheap", "soapy". In literary fiction, the reverse is often thought to be the case. Broadchurch wasn't perfect (too many semi-famous telly actors), but it wasn't cheap or soapy. Like the best of modern TV, it felt most like a novel. A story driven by the reactions of the characters in it. Then again, you didn't actually watch it, so you wouldn't know, would you?

Thank you for your reviews. Really enjoyed them and the thoughtful comments that resulted.

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