“I can’t do this alone.”
Rarely do shows embed themselves in the national consciousness to quite the same level as Broadchurch managed in 2013. The murder of Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) was hailed the best whodunit of the year by critics and audiences alike, earning the show a second season and numerous awards, including the BAFTA for best drama series.
Understandably, the return of the surprise summer hit on Monday night was about as hyped as it was possible to be- the plot was so secret that even the main cast members have no idea how it ended. Even more surprising, then, is the fact that the show is thus far living up to expectations- for the most part.
If Broadchurch was at risk of becoming the new Midsomer Murders, it certainly hasn’t displayed any signs of it yet. The carefully guarded narrative arc that the second season will be centred around, Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle)’s surprise plea of not guilty and subsequent trial, is tragically realistic. Joe is a much less sympathetic character this series- despite his abhorrent murder of Danny, his anguish following the crime made him pitiable, in a pathetic sort of a way.
In this episode, however, a colder, more calculating side of his character has emerged. His denial of Danny’s murder fractures the tentative illusion of normality that was gradually re-establishing itself, shattered even further when Danny’s body is exhumed, and lead writer Chris Chibnall excels at creating a realistic portrayal of what grief can do to a family, or even a whole town.
To call Broadchurch the British Twin Peaks is perhaps overdone, but the 90s murder mystery does seem to be the show’s spiritual forbear. Both shows explore the seedy underbelly of small town life through the murder of an abused child. Crucially, each town is deceptively intimate- despite the seeming familiarity between their inhabitants, the citizens of Twin Peaks and Broadchurch have their darkest secrets revealed one by one in the quest for a murderer. They are disconnected by their remote geography- the mysterious woods of Twin Peaks seem to enclose its inhabitants just as Broadchurch’s iconic seascapes of the Jurassic Coast imbue the setting with an atmospheric remoteness from the rest of Britain.
Isolation was the key theme of Monday’s episode. The Latimers may be cautiously rebuilding their family life with a new baby on the way, but the revelation of Mark (Andrew Buchan)’s affair during the investigation has clearly irrevocably damaged Beth (Jodie Whittaker)’s trust in her husband.
A jaded Ellie Miller, played to perfection by Olivia Coleman, is almost completely alone following the earth-shattering revelation that her husband murdered and abused a child. A new post at which her colleagues dislike her, the abandonment of her former friends, and the devastating absence of her son are only counteracted by the presence of DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant), a man not quite so solitary as has been previously suggested.
The entrance of Hardy’s ward Claire (Eve Myles), the wife of the prime suspect in Hardy’s Sandbrook case, was an interesting, if unsurprising, addition. The relationship between Claire and Ellie is one that I hope is explored in greater detail. Chibnall’s weakness for drawing parallels between Ellie and Susan Wright (Pauline Quirke) was one of the more obvious clues to the killer’s identity last season, but if done properly, the juxtaposition of Claire and Ellie’s respective positions could work well.
Whether Ellie will be forced to confront her husband, or even run from Joe as Claire has done, remains unclear, but seeing Olivia Coleman and Eve Myles act opposite each other is certainly something I want more of.
Though Ellie is clearly distraught at what Joe did to Danny, Claire, despite her own lies to conceal her husband’s crime, seems oddly absent of guilt. Is this simply time’s healing effect on an open wound? Or is something suspicious about Claire’s behaviour?
Other questions have emerged from Monday’s episode- is Mark Latimer having another affair? What is the significance of the bluebell sent to Claire? What exactly wouldn’t senior lawyer Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling) do for former protégé- and fellow chess piece- Sharon Bishop (Marianne Jean-Baptiste)? Why is Arthur Darvill so weirdly hot as a vicar? All in all, the show succeeds at creating mystery- if not quite as engaging a mystery as last season, so far.
I’m not going to pretend I’m not concerned for Broadchurch’s future. The show’s premise was magnetic from its first episode, and despite the eight week wait for Joe Miller’s reveal, the payoff was on the whole satisfying. Episode one of series two did not hold quite the same electrifying tension to me. I suspect that the audience’s interest will still lie with the case of Joe Miller over the mysteries of Sandbrook, and whether the show can sustain its overall momentum with a less obvious emphasis on a central mystery is unclear.
However, all the key features that so commanded the audience’s attention in season one- the stellar lead actors, the talented supporting cast, the small town’s oppressive remoteness and beautiful landscape- remain in Broadchurch today. The series hasn’t quite clicked yet, and lord only knows it’s easy to hit a sophomore slump when a show becomes a cultural talking point for two months, but I trust in Chris Chibnall and his cast’s ability to bring us a slow-burning second season of intrigue and mystery.