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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