This review contains spoilers.
Trish Winterman’s rape may be at the centre of Broadchurch series three, but around it, a thought-provoking case file is being compiled on sex, power and the ways straight male sexuality can harm women and girls.
By placing story threads about online porn, sleazy pin-ups, adultery, teen sexting (if that’s what Daisy’s storyline turns out to be), even dating apps—adjacent to the attack on Trish, this series tacitly prompts us to consider the relationship between it all.
The tacitness is key to its success. Without pounding a podium or shaking a fist, writer Chris Chibnall is building a recognisable thematic context around the rape investigation that confronts his audience with some uncomfortable truths. Broadchurch has always been a Feminist drama, and this series is doubly so.
Twice now, we’ve been shown Page 3-style pictures decorating walls (first in a workplace and now in a convicted rapist’s “man-cave”) while the after-image of Trish’s brutalised body is still burned fresh in our minds. Without explicitly drawing a link between the ambient objectification of women and sexual violence, the series nonetheless leads us to think about the two in the same instance.
Ditto the town’s current epidemic of male adultery – Jim, Ian, Clive, Aaron Mayford if you believe his ‘we were both drunk’ story, even good old Mark Latimer in series one…, the men of Broadchurch are routinely unfaithful, and their wives, like Lindsay Lucas, or Mayford’s partner with a babe-in-arms, routinely forgive them.
It’s obviously not a one-way street. Women—Alec Hardy’s wife among them—also cheat, but series three feels as though it’s building towards a conclusion about how the modern world serves male desire.
About that, in the briefest of flashbacks to Trish’s attack from her PoV, didn’t the light she saw look very like the light of a mobile phone, as Miller suggested it might be? If it is, does that mean Trish’s rapist, or an accessory to the attack, could have filmed it on a phone? That potential development could tie in neatly to series three’s gathering cloud about the schoolboys, online porn and whatever it is on Ian’s laptop that has him so worried.
Because of the flashbacks, episode four was the most structurally complex instalment of the series so far. Cutting between a Trish we haven’t met before—grinning, cheeky, full of life—and the woman we know—subdued, unstable, traumatised—was the clearest and most moving way to establish the deleterious effect Trish’s ordeal has had on her.
The party flashback also served another key purpose, the same one as the beach football match later in the episode. They were, like series one’s press conferences and church services, and series two’s courtroom scenes, a chance for all the main players to be gathered in one location. There, the camera could trail over each face in turn so we could evaluate everyone’s relative guilt or innocence in our ongoing sofa investigation.
What’s new on that front? Trish’s attacker may be a serial rapist according to a new victim encouraged to come forward because of a press report. The weapon used to cosh Trish may have been identified, if not recovered. And, as expected, Jim turned out to be Trish’s Saturday morning tryst.
The logic Jim used to deny being Trish’s attacker appeared to conceal some ugly attitudes to rape, and perhaps to Trish herself. “I didn’t attack Trish. Why would I? If I wanted to have sex with her, I could and I did,” he told Hardy and Miller during his interrogation, adding “I wouldn’t. She’s…” he starts to say. She’s what, Jim? Spit it out.
We also learned that Trish smelt alcohol on her attacker’s breath, which would seem to rule out Ed Burnett. (Unless Ed fell off the wagon that night. Has he always been a non-drinker, or did he go tee-total at some point in his past? If the latter, what happened to provoke him to sobriety?) We already know that Ian was drunk on tequila that night.
The vilest new suspect is Aaron Mayford (Jim Howick, the latest comic actor to take a decidedly non-comic role in this series) who was exactly the delight Miller predicted. His perverse pleasure in scaring DC Harford and cowardice at approaching her only when she was alone tore shreds off his earlier haughty protestations of innocence. Yes, juries can be wrong—Ellie Miller knows that better than most—but his behaviour in that scene was disgusting.
Speaking of man-children, there was less focus on taxi driver Clive Lucas following last week’s trophy drawer cliffhanger, save for the knowledge that he kept stepson Michael’s school suspension from wife Lindsay. Might he have had something to do with the porn Michael shared at school?
It’s all beginning to feel like a conspiracy. If I were Nige (Nige!), I’d have skipped this series. The men of Broadchurch aren’t coming out of it at all well.
Through all the sleaze and nastiness, our moral centres remain stalwarts Hardy and Miller, who independently expressed the same disdain for Aaron and Leo’s motivational “galleries”. Our detectives, and chief of all Miller’s beaming delight at having rumbled Hardy’s “cheeky date”, provided some of the only light in this increasingly sordid, uncomfortable story.
Beth and Mark provided the rest, though for more poignantly romantic than comic reasons. Mark’s clearly still besotted with Beth, which makes it all the more painful that his obsession with doling out vigilante justice to Joe Miller, though understandable, is doomed to drive her away for good. Fingers crossed that whatever Mark discovers on his road trip is enough to convince him that Miller’s not worth sacrificing his remaining family for.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.