If I had to pick a favorite TV show genre it would undoubtedly be “British crime,” which combines my Anglophilia with a love of mysteries. It’s largely because of this that I returned to Broadchurch for its third and final season with hope and positive anticipation, even though Season 2 was largely a disappointment (it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good or as impactful as Season 1, which was originally conceived of as a standalone miniseries). But with the end in sight, and having learned from some (though not all) of its past mistakes, Broadchurch returns with a new crime and a larger theme about consent that may still be a shadow of its former self, but still a very compelling one.
Season 3 picks up three years after Danny Latimer’s death, where Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and Alec Hardy (David Tennant) are now official detective partners who are brought in to lead an inquiry into the rape of a women, Trish (Julie Hesmondhalgh), outside of the venue for her best friend’s 50th birthday party. The show takes its time in these early episodes, especially in the premiere, as we sit with Trish and go alongside her through the process of reporting her attack. There is something about the methodical forensic and bureaucratic nature of it that is even more devastating — it’s happened so many times that it’s become routine. Even as the police and care workers do everything they can to make Trish feel supported, it feels like this intimate violation has been turned into an institutionalized event.
Broadchurch’s central crimes, through its three seasons, have always been sexual in nature. In Season 1, Danny was essentially groomed by his father’s best friend Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle), and when Danny ultimately resisted his overt advances, he paid for it with his life. Season 2’s muddled story focused on a couple obsessed with one another but who were driven mad by another accidental death that originated with a sexual act. In Season 3 the focus is on a rape, and eventually, a serial rapist’s actions, but while the show goes in-depth with this issue (focusing, rightfully, on the survivor and her journey), it does so against a backdrop of more general male privilege and the sexism that infiltrates the town.
What Broadchurch has always done most effectively is explore that town and the relationships of the people in it, and the new season focuses back in on the grieving Latimers as well as other familiar faces. The Latimers are brought in organically as Beth (Jodie Whittaker) is assigned as Trish’s counselor through her trauma, something Beth has leaned into to help her use her sadness over Danny to help others. Her husband Mark (Andrew Buchan), meanwhile, has turned inward, and the two are separated while he continues to obsess over getting justice for Danny by making Joe pay for his sins.
Chris Chibnall, who created the series and leads its writers room, also has created a taught crime drama once again, ending each episode with a well-placed cliffhanger that helps make Broadchurch such an effective binge-watch. Watching Ellie and Alec narrow down the subjects (and chide them, berate them, etc, along the way) is as engrossing as ever, especially since the two now have a well-honed banter and easy conversational style that is a joy to watch. It also is a reminder of what a wealth of riches Broadchurch has among its cast, where even a weaker storyline about online media taking over the local paper becomes emotional because of how good Carolyn Pickles is, and how loathsome Mariah Gale plays her soulless corporate boss.
But the story really hinges completely on Trish, where Hesmondhalgh gives a devastating performance as a woman trying to make sense of a senseless act, and put her life back together in a town that won’t let you forget anything. There’s a scene late in the final series that is reminiscent of the scene in Season 1 where we saw lights along the coast in memory of Danny. Here, a group of women “take back the night,” as it were, to not let this predator make them feel unsafe in their own town, raising their cellphone lights in solidarity.
The twists and turns (and new secrets and other hidden truths) that unfold over the course of these quick eight episodes are part of a well-crafted crime thriller, right up until the end. Broadchurch has always had controversial endings, since most of the fun on the show is trying to guess what might have transpired on these fateful nights. As such, Chibnall tends to go for the opposite of Occam’s razor, to mixed results. There’s so much left to explore after the reveal was made, but there was no time left. That reveal and how the story ends, though, is not what makes Broadchurch what it is, especially in a season that doubles as commentary on the idea of consent in its many forms. In that respect, Broadchurch’s final season has a lot to say, and could have spent 8 more episodes unpacking it all (especially regarding the younger generation and several other dropped plots). The most important thing, though, is that it did right by Trish and her story, and in that it absolutely succeeds.
For those curious about the show since Season 1, it’s possible to jump into Season 3 and skip what happened in between altogether. Broadchurch’s emotional center has always been the Latimers, and it finds a conclusion to their story that feels right, if a little late in how it plays out. The show still has its sweeping vistas and golden-hour moments of introspection, verdant English fields, and windy moors. But the final shot belongs to the show’s detecting duo, who I would watch for endless further seasons — Alec and Ellie, in front of that iconic (and mournful, now) cliff, just going about their business as usual.
Rating: ★★★ Good – Well worth returning to.
Broadchurch Season 3 premieres Wednesday, June 28th on BBC America.