‘Broadchurch’ Series Finale: How Things Ended, and Each Character’s Fate
Spoilers for all of Broadchurch’s three seasons follow.
When it first premiered, Broadchurch was a juggernaut of a crime series. In it, a heinous act was committed in a beautiful locale where almost anyone could be a suspect. It was twisty, haunting, and engrossing. The emotional score combined with the lush cinematograph and affecting performances across the board elevated Broadchurch beyond a typical crime drama. It forged such a memorable legacy (and one forgettable U.S. TV remake) that it’s still held up as a standard of measurement by which all subsequent crime dramas are weighed.
And while it could have, and maybe should have, ended there, the new team-up of Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and Alec Hardy (David Tennant) was too hard to give up. Creator Chris Chibnall also said he always saw the series as a trilogy, although frankly, it never really felt like one. The second season brought in outsiders, with a (still accidental) crime that ran alongside a not particularly justifiable courtroom drama where Danny’s killer, Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle), was exonerated by the court. It all felt a little half-baked, as if the show wanted to broach a bigger subject about the failure of the criminal justice system, but ultimately didn’t have the time or the margins to really explore it.
I had a similar feeling while watching the finale of Broadchurch’s third season, which was an improvement over Season 2, but not without its own issues. Season 3 focused on the aftermath of a rape instead of a murder, and was just as harrowing in its portrayal. Julie Hesmondhalgh gave a particularly exceptional performance as Trish, a woman assaulted at her friend’s birthday party. This season did not shy away from investigating every horrifying detail of Trish’s ordeal with the police and the invasion of her own privacy, as she was forced to confront not only the judgement of her assault but also the fallout of her affair with her friend’s husband.
Throughout it all, Ellie and Alec continued to make a fantastic team during the procedural aspects of solving the crime, and one thing Broadchurch has been consistently great with is its twisty clues and multiple potential suspects over the course of each season. And yet, it tends to drop the truth of the crime in our laps in the finales without time for any consideration of aftermath, which can make those reveals feel unsatisfying.
But whether you watched the final season or not, here are some notes on how everything ended up:
In the finale, we learned who raped Trish: Michael Lucas, as goaded by that “swaggery little shit” Leo Humphries. Though all signs pointed to his step-father Clive (including a lot of unanswered questions about trophy keys), it was Michael who carried out the act.
There was a lot about this reveal that felt like it came out of left field. For one, the entire season focused on adult suspects, any of whom would have made for a believable perp. As is Broadchurch’s way, it destroyed their credibilities anyway, as cheaters, semi-stalkers, abusers, and just low-lifes. The story with the teenage boys was secondary throughout the season. And while Michael came to Alec’s house to ask about Daisy, and he also showed Tom some hardcore porn like Leo had done for him, and we saw how Clive treated Michael in a way that surely made him feel bullied, it still felt like a bizarre turn.
That was true mostly because that’s quite a leap to go from all of that to having Leo ply Michael with some alcohol and porn videos to then having Michael be complicit in raping a bound and gagged woman who he presumably would have known from town, especially after Leo attacked her to knock her out. I know kids are impressionable and Leo makes a case later that Michael was lonely like he had been, but it didn’t ring very true, nor did it have sufficient build-up.
Like in Season 1, the villains are predators. Leo picked out Michael and groomed him for this in the same way Joe Miller was grooming Danny to sexually assault him. But if the story Season 3 wanted to tell was about pornography and the desensitizing effect it has on a young male’s understanding of sex, it didn’t fulfill that. Instead it laid its blame all on Leo, the sadist, who we barely knew. Even though it was 16 year-old Michael who raped Trish of his own volition (I mean he had to have liked enough to be able to finish the act, as it were), he faded into the background in the face of Leo’s unblinking eyes of soulless evil.
Even Michael’s connection to Tom and the trouble Ellie had there with convincing Tom to leave his porn-filled phone behind felt like a dropped plot point (as did Daisy’s bullying as part of this overarching problem). Ultimately, the modern man (and our ideas of masculinity) was on trial in Season 3, even though Alec tried to tell Ellie that Leo was essentially “not all men.” But with what we saw throughout the rest of Season 3, that’s hard to believe.
One of Season 3’s biggest triumphs was how it continued to meaningfully incorporate the Latimers into the story. Beth’s new job as a sexual violence counsellor was the prefect way to include her in Trish’s story, especially since their connection was such an important one, ultimately, for both women.
Mark, though, was still haunted by Joe’s acquittal and looking for his own kind of justice, but again, one of the best scenes in the series was between the two men having an honest conversation. Joe didn’t mean for Danny to die, and Mark realizes that he can never have the justice he seeks because Danny is never coming back. After that, he attempts suicide in a way that thematically encapsulates his struggle since Danny died: he’s completely adrift.
Most heartbreakingly, though, the Latimers (who stuck together through all of this turmoil and even some joy with the birth of their third child) couldn’t make it work, as Beth tells Mark it’s over. Here, again, it’s so clear why Season 1 packed the emotional punch it did. Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan are outstanding, especially when they acknowledged Beth and Mark’s history, how much they love each, and how they now need time apart (hopefully not forever, although we’ll see). The scene of the two of them on the couch (with Chloe joining) as Mark watched a home movie of Danny felt like a step towards healing, especially for him. And later, the women and children of the Latimer and Miller families came together for a meal outside in the sunshine, which not only suggested a hard-fought happiness, but also that the men were always kinda the problem …
God bless Alec and Ellie and their wonderful exchanges throughout the series (especially this season). Also thank you to Chris Chibnall for not trying to force a romance between them. Their friendship and partnership was a delight, and the only part of Broadchurch that probably deserves a spin-off (as much as I’d like to keep checking in on the town and the Latimers, I’d like to see the two detectives able to be free to investigate other issues elsewhere).
The finale also didn’t force a serious friendship between them — Alec says “nah” to Ellie’s suggestion that they go to the pub, and doesn’t miraculously show up at the dinner we see the Latimers and Millers sharing. He’s still removed, but he’s also likely staying (with his daughter Daisy) in a town he has consistently grumbled about but also grown to appreciate. If there’s one thing that Broadchurch has shown us over the years it’s that even though everyone has massive issues, they all support each other — and that’s a nice thing to have.
With so much else going on, there wasn’t much time devoted to Paul’s dwindling congregation issue or Maggie’s job being corporatized and ultimately downsized in the name of online media. Maggie’s story in particular never felt like anything more than a distraction, and the idea that she would start her own YouTube channel and vlog was one of the least-plausible things I’ve ever heard. There is a good story in there regarding Maggie’ situation, and one that is all too real (I can attest), but Season 3 wasn’t the place for it.
We didn’t get to see Cath or her husband Jim, or the aftermath of Lindsay finding out the truth of her sons’s crime, either, or frankly what might have come of Ed’s obsession with Trish (though Trish’s ex Ian seemed to making a play for her affections again). It wasn’t completely necessary to the plot, but Broadchurch puts its characters first so often that when plot threads are left dangling, it is noticeable.
Another thing of note that was not properly explored: the kids of Broadchurch are definitely not alright. I’m not suggesting a fourth season, but there’s definitely plenty of material to thematically explore around that.
So what did you think of the Broadchurch Season 3 finale? Were you satisfied with it, and with it wrapping everything from the series as a whole?