The first season of Broadchurch, which originally aired on ITV in Britain before making its way to the U.S. via Netflix and BBC America, started something of a TV wave. Its limited format (which was expanded after its initial success), compelling story, and well-wrought characters engaged viewers on both sides of the pond in such a way that it produced many imitators, including Fox, who sought to remake the series nearly shot-for-shot with Gracepoint.
Gracepoint, though, could never capture the magic of its British predecessor, and so now Broadchurch returns to our shores to remind us what we loved about the series in the first place. Its imitators may not have been able to measure up, but the trick for Broadchurch‘s second season is whether or not the show can live up to its own expectations.
Three episodes in to Season 2, the answer seems to be yes. After Danny Latimer’s murder was solved, fans have rightly wondered what the series would have to explore next (the murder having been so integral to the story). But series creator Chris Chibnall has smartly not moved on from that case, while also managing to create opportunities for new characters to come in to Broadchurch. (Introducing new, compelling characters on a show like this can be tricky; thankfully, these new faces do not take away from the stories of established residents — instead, they augment them).
Season 2 picks up several months after the arrest, with Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle) on trial for the murder of Danny Latimer, his son’s best friend, with whom he was having an inappropriate relationship. The Latimers — Beth (Jodie Whittaker), about to give birth, Mark (Andrew Buchan), and 16-year-old Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont) — arrive at the courthouse for the sentencing alongside their friends and neighbors. More controversially, Joe’s wife Ellie (the wonderful Olivia Coleman), one of the former detectives on the case is also there, as is Alec Hardy (David Tennant), the detective who ultimately arrested Joe and heard his uncorroborated confession.
That’s a lot of intensity to start with, but when Joe changes his plea to not guilty, everyone — Beth, Ellie, all of the familiar faces from Broadchurch‘s first season — have a meltdown. Joe vows to betray more secrets of the town (how could there be any more?) and only causes things to get worse for Ellie, as she struggles to figure out her life now. Joe has effectively destroyed everything she had, including her relationship with her older son Tom (Adam Wilson).
All of this makes sense within the context of the Broadchurch we know: a tight-knit community is torn apart by the emotional devastation in the wake of such a terrible crime. But the show still needs momentum and mystery, and it achieves that in two ways. In the first, Joe’s full trial means an introduction to his defense attorney Sharon Bishop (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who happens to be the protege of the tough-as-nails prosecutor, Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling). (There’s also much to be absorbed about the British legal system). Both, naturally, have secrets and dramas of their own.
But the second and most interesting new (slash old) plot thread revolves around Hardy and the Sandbrook case. Sandbrook was the failed double-murder investigation he was a part of before he came to Broadchurch, where his wife lost key evidence (but he took the fall). Hardy suspected a man named Lee Ashworth (James D’Arcy) at the time, but the trial went belly-up, and Ashworth was set free. Since then, he has been helping Ashworth’s wife (Eve Myles) stay in an informal witness protection after her husband fled the country.
Ashworth is now back, but the show doesn’t allow him to stay a shadowy figure. He interacts with Hardy, and clearly has a large role to play this season. But the introduction of Sandbrook and Ashworth ties together a number of themes on the show, including the idea of a wife who doesn’t know what horrors her husband is capable of. Or in this case, did she?
So far, Broadchurch‘s second season feels even richer than its first. It revolves around two old crimes, but it investigates them in a way that feels both like a continuation of Season 1, and an entirely new show. The emotions are high, the filmmaking is still gorgeous (this show must have one of the best B-rolls on television), and the stories of familiar characters are still engrossing, evolving, and changing in interesting ways. Though there have been many imitators, Broadchurch still feels like the show to beat. Welcome back.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
Broadchurch Season 2 premieres Wednesday, March 4th at 10 p.m. on BBC America.