Back in 2013, if you liked your crime to be character-driven, if you were keen on small towns whose idyllic surface belies the darkness below, if you were looking for something altogether less surreal and more British than Twin Peaks, then Broadchurch was a good option. The series wasn’t novel in its plot or themes, but it delivered its tale of a small community being brought to the breaking point by a horrible crime with honesty, sensitivity and the kind of cast that would make grown men weep.
So how do you ruin a series that was rightly lauded as excellent and, more importantly, that told a complete story? You make a second series that is badly plotted and that signals its pointlessness at every twist and turn. And yes, it did make grown men weep.
When they announced a third, final series of Broadchurch, I wasn’t immediately on board. They’d made a right mess of it once, so why should I trust them again? If the starter is a perfect dish and the main course a pile of cow dung, my usual reaction isn’t to ask for the dessert menu. At the same time, though, the cast was still strong – though the second series had wasted the likes of Charlotte Rampling, so the actors might just be the truffle shavings on top of the generous helping of manure à la Chibnall.
In the end, I couldn’t resist the lure of Olivia Colman and the cranky Scotsman, and I’m glad I didn’t. The third series of Broadchurch does quite an amazing job of saving a series that had been all but destroyed by a follow-up that was neither necessary nor well crafted. The first, original series still doesn’t need a continuation, but Broadchurch S3 both tells a strong new story and provides a worthwhile epilogue to what had gone before, even providing some meaning to one of the second series’ most ill-advised plot developments.
What makes this work better from the beginning is that Broadchurch doesn’t tell yet another tale of child murder, so while there’s the familiarity of the core cast the story doesn’t feel like a retread. Instead, the third series revolves around a rape – though this tricky topic is handled with intelligence and tact, which is rare in popular culture and especialy in TV shows. There are moments when Broadchurch errs on the side of sensitivity to the extent where I didn’t entirely buy that a small-town constabulary would be that au fait with the modern MO of how to process rape cases, but I will gladly forgive the series’ occasional forays into didacticism, because it was smart about where it was sensitive to a fault and where it allowed its emotions to be hurtful and devastating.
Broadchurch‘s final series isn’t perfect, and there are too many moments where it is beholden to the conventions of TV crime serials, deploying some of its red herrings and cliffhangers more with a view to ad breaks and episode length than developing them organically from the material. There are also times when its narrative seems driven by the need to make a point, by the argument the series wants to make about rape culture, rather than by its characters – which isn’t a problem in and of itself, but Broadchurch S3 makes its points best when its characters take the lead.
Nonetheless, after the hyperbolic, unbelievable melodrama of the second series, Broadchurch redeems itself. It tells a compelling story, it does its characters justice, and it gives especially its female actors strong material. Julie Hesmondhalgh as the victim of the rape that begins the story is a stand-out, Olivia Colman is still eminently watchable in anything she does, and Jodie Whittaker has more than earned her shot at wielding the sonic screwdriver. Anyone who felt like me about the second series should give the final one a shot.
Having said that, if Chibnall & Co ever decide that, hey, they managed to turn things around, so why not tell another chapter in The Ongoing Adventures of Hardy and MILLAH? Well, if they do that, I hope that Colman gives them the kind of disapproving look and stern talking to that only she can.