Broadchurch: Series 2 Episode 3 Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
Think back two years to episode three of the original Broadchurch when the nation sat engrossed by Chris Chibnall’s gripping mystery drama and then flash forward to today. Comparing the two beasts, they’re dramatically different and presently, I feel that Broadchurch, in my humble opinion has lost something since then.
Everyone has secrets. In Broadchurch’s case, it’s literal: every character that has appeared onscreen (yes, even Bob the friendly bobby who charmingly escorted DI Alec Hardy to his rendezvous with Lee Ashworth) harbours some kind of skeleton in their cupboard and it’s becoming more than a bit implausible. After the arch publicity building up to series two banging on about Broadchurch being the same town with new secrets to QC Jocelyn Knight’s address to the majority of the main characters in the Latimer family living room last week, I thought the none too subtle attempt to tell us that everyone has the odd secret would be put to bed for at least an episode or two. Correct I was not.
This week’s episode hinted at a host of new mysteries for us to scratch our heads over (and not in a good way). Jocelyn Knight has her elderly mother residing in a costly care home as well as her own deteriorating eyesight to deal with (resulting in one of the most stiffly British car accidents television has seen in recent years) while fellow barrister Sharon Bishop’s son has been detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Elsewhere, it appears that DI Hardy’s heart condition has been exacerbated by all the driving, running and expressively getting angry about things he has been doing. Chris Chibnall has struck gold with Hardy’s somewhat clichéd health problems as the writer can now bowl over the Scots cop just when the plot requires it (like when he keeled over moments from catching Danny Latimer’s masked killer back in series one), and it looks like the same fate might befall the frosty Knight.
There was a real whiff of melodrama in this week’s Broadchurch, something the show has mostly steered clear of. However, from the opening scenes of Jocelyn consulting her colleague about the trial while sipping a glass of wine in her dramatic clifftop home (on that note, Knight’s house is a veritable mansion above Broadchurch so it seems rather odd that she doesn’t have the money to keep her own mother in care) to DI Hardy’s noisy pursuit of Lee Ashworth, everything felt disproportionately serious. In Chibnall’s defence, Broadchurch’s place on ITV means that each section is bookended with a cliffhanger leading into the umpteen ad breaks and thus he is obliged to end on some kind of teaser. Regrettably, it’s having an effect on the story itself (another reason why the BBC still holds the crown for the best drama around).
The birth of Lizzie Latimer was another soapy sequence of events plucked straight from Albert Square and while it was undeniably exciting to watch, there was a real needlessness to it. It would not have been a stretch for Chibnall to have sent Beth into labour (… ahem) in considerably less dramatic circumstance. Furthermore, while I’m delighted for the Latimer family and their newest offspring, I couldn’t shake off a feeling of resentment toward Beth for her downright absurd behaviour to Ellie. While I completely understand that Beth – and the other Latimer cohort – might take exception to Ellie after her husband was revealed as Danny’s accidental murderer but Beth’s behaviour here seems entirely blown out of proportion. Especially after Ellie helped her give birth and did virtually nothing to hurt the Latimers.
Even though Broadchurch might, heartbreakingly, be slipping towards becoming a shadow of its former self, there’s still plenty to enjoy. DI Hardy and DS Ellie Miller’s chalk and cheese relationship has been the cornerstone of Broadchurch since the beginning and in a clogged-up plot, their alliance has shone consistently. Similarly, it’s the quieter moments that have the most impact with Chloe Latimer and Ellie’s talk on the stairway and Mark’s soliloquy to his new daughter providing a sweet respite in a lively story.
In its transition from simple ITV whodunit to globally marketed, heavily anticipated event TV, Broadchurch has lost the human touch that caused us all to fall head over hells in love with the first series. Take characters like the intrepid head of the Broadchurch Echo, Maggie (played excellently by Carolyn Pickles whenever the camera is pointed in her direction) and her protégé, the thoughtless Olly (ditto for Jonathan Bailey) as well as the gentle vicar, Paul (Arthur Darvill): all have been drowned out in the Joe Miller trial. While I commend Chris Chibnall’s chutzpah to bring Broadchurch back for a second series, the scripts this time around aren’t paying dividends to the characters that, really, made it so good in the first place.
Even the breathers between the trial here are still action based with Claire Ashworth (Eve Myles is mesmeric at playing the doe-eyed innocent) and Ellie’s outing to Weymouth simply a front for Ellie to spy on Claire. To top matters, when the two women returned to Claire’s cottage with a couple of mute men in tow, the night ended with a somewhat gratuitous sex scene.
Speaking of the meek Claire, this week revealed that she might not be quite as meek as we suspected. For the first two episodes, Chibnall deftly lead us to believe that Claire’s macho, estranged husband, Lee was most likely the man behind the Sandbrook murders (although simultaneously watching James D’Arcy in Marvel’s Agent Carter in which he stars as the plummy, chivalrous butler to the eponymous spy, it’s hard to take him seriously here) but this week we had the first inkling that Claire might have more to do with the death of Pippa Newbury and the vanishing of her cousin. Could Chibnall be subverting our rather clichéd expectations (sweet-natured and innocent wife versus her belligerent and guilty husband) and that Claire is the person behind Sandbrook having framed her husband for the crime? My guess is the answer to that question won’t be revealed for a good while yet.
Regarding Joe Miller’s trial, there has been a lot of fuss made over the legal accuracy of the courtroom scenes and while I’m entirely supportive of Chibnall taking a looser approach to the more scientific, judicial aspects (it’s hardly Law & Order although Broadchurch seems to be turning into one, gigantic episode of that particular show), certain moments in this week’s episode raised a few eyebrows. For example, when Sharon Bishop, quite evidently grasping at straws, surmised that DI Hardy and DS Miller were engaged in an affair and had conspired to have Miller’s husband locked up so they could continue worry-free, it simply beggared belief.
Judge Sharma (Meera Syal seems woefully miscast in something that’s amounting to a bit part) has been dominating the court with an iron fist in a velvet glove, taking very little off-topic chat and the idea that she would allow Bishop’s inquiry to continue with gossamer-thin evidence is hard to swallow. The Joe Miller trial has been going around in circles dramatically with a new, far-fetched accusation being aimed at the Latimer defence each week, all with the same preposterous result. Perhaps it’s time Chris Chibnall edged away a little from the Miller trial and turned his attention to other aspects of the show.
The performances this week were tremendous once again with Olivia Colman effortlessly snatching away scenes from her fellow cast members. Again, Colman continues to excel herself with the trip to Weymouth and her time in the witness box standing out as particular highlights. David Tennant does excellent work although occasionally it seems as if he is doing it by rote and I yearn for some of the meatier scenes he was given in series one (seeing as DI Hardy is entangled in the Sandbrook case after he took the fall for his police officer wife, I would be interested in seeing that element of the story crop up again). Charlotte Rampling is magnificent as ever and it’s pleasing to see that she will get something more substantial to work with in the future with the recent revelations in Jocelyn Knight’s tale. Likewise, Marianne Jean-Baptiste got a bit more to do this week and while there’s something eminently exasperating about her incredibly pedantic character, she simply shines on screen.
Broadchurch has not failed and I still have plenty of faith in Chris Chibnall. While it’s frustrating to see the emergence of a bundle of new storylines, he has exhibited that he’s a keen player of the long game so, of course, I shall be bearing with Broadchurch but that doesn’t mean it has its weaknesses. With an overstuffed plot, an absence of the endearing fellow feeling evidenced in series one (neglecting the townspeople outwith the trial) and a worrying sense of increasing melodrama, this was far from Broadchurch’s finest hour but with stellar turns from both Olivia Colman and David Tennant, it’s the performances that kept me watching this week. For the second series of Broadchurch to be as memorable as the first, it has to up its game – and quickly.