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7 Thoughts On Broadchurch Season 1

Christopher Monigle Christopher Monigle
September 26th, 2013 3:30pm EDT

Broadchurch

Season one of BBC's Broadchurch has officially wrapped up with the finale airing last night. Here are seven thoughts about the fictional British murder mystery.

1. We think we've seen Broadchurch before. Murder mystery. Small town. Complicated male lead cop character. The conceit and premise shares much in common with many cop/mystery shows that came before, e.g. The Killing, most recently. Broadchurch isn't extremely different, but it's different enough to stand out. It sinks its claws in you with each episode, or, rather, wraps around you like a snake, or, even, it infects you and affects you. It's quiet and mournful. Broadchurch is really sad. The mystery of Danny Lattimer's killer is almost secondary to unraveling the mystery of what's inside each surviving character. Danny's death unravels the town. David Tennant's sickly, stubborn, sad, and regretful; Alec Hardy is the D.I. on the case. Hardy's a synthesis of the show's themes. Hardy believes anyone can kill under the 'right' circumstances, i.e. that we're all capable of taking a life--priest, father, newspaper store owner, etc. Broadchurch examines the town and its inhabitants with a Dostoevskian eye.

The fictional Broadchurch is the quintessential idyllic small town, located in southwestern England where everyone knows each other. For example, Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller is Hardy's second on the case, the mother of Danny's best friend in school, aunt to the up-and-coming journalist. Danny's murder reveals a fundamental truth about human interaction: no one really knows each other; people conceal things big and small from friends and family; we're all small islands unto ourselves. People Ellie's interacted with for most of her life can't be trusted. The case hardens her and removes her from the warm and friendly feelings she had previous to the murder. The search for the killer destroys lives, damages relationships, and even causes a man's suicide. Trusted friends become suspects. Mark Lattimer, Danny's father, becomes a suspect because he doesn't want to reveal he had sex with another woman the night of his son's death. The townspeople act ugly--mob mentalities, public judgments that are unforgiving.

The writing has a firm grasp on the psychology of the characters. Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the 19th century Russian titans, has been labeled the first psychological writing. Dostoevsky unraveled the deep depths of Man. He understood animal could never be as artfully cruel as Man. His characters are fully alive, good and bad, capable of wonderful acts and incomprehensible evil. Broadchurch doesn't have the exact kind of characters of a Dostoevsky novel. On a smaller and quieter scale, though, Chris Chinball gets at the heart of man's heart as a battlefield the devil and God use. Jack Wilson's crime would've been normal in 19th century Russia, but the town turns on himself for misunderstanding what Jack served time in prison for. What separates the town from Danny's killer?

2. Hardy's the lone character who actually 'sees' what's around him. The other characters are too close, too involved in each other's lives. Hardy is not attached; his eye is not skewed by life-long attachments and relationships and bias. I mentioned earlier the character's a synthesis of the show's themes. Hardy has a secret; he's not a saintly detective; he doesn't do enough to protect Jack, and he comes hard at Nigel. He's regretful about a case that went bad and didn't get resolved, and he suffers from heart disease. The Danny case literally tries to kill him each day. His colleagues want him to leave the case, to save himself, but he's like Dostoevsky's Dmitri Karamazov in spirit. Dmitri accepts punishment for his father's murder because he feels he's "committed the act in his heart already"; more apropos, though loosely connected, would be a comparison between Hardy and Crime & Punishment's Porfiry Petrovitch. Petrovitch wants Raskolnikov to confess for the sake of Christian repentance. Hardy wants to find the killer, to hear a confession, not for the killer's sake but for his own, his own absolution for failing the family of the murdered little girl.

Hardy offered his confession about what happened in the last town but the confession brought him no peace, no relief. Perhaps finding Danny's killer won't absolve him of his guilt. Hardy's confessions one of a few in Broadchurch that also brings no peace to the confessor. Reverend Paul's not helped by his admission of alcoholism. Susan's confession about her family, her long-lost son, brings her no peace, nor does it bring peace to Nige. It causes more pain, more heartache. Beth's grief over Danny, when she talks about him and it, doesn't relieve it. Broadchurch is like a collection of snapshots of small town, like what happens behind closed doors, and what people do to not feel sad.

3. A confession did not bring peace to Hardy, though, or to Ellie Miller. Joe Miller, Ellie's wife, needed to confess like Raskolnikov, but confession did not lead to catharsis. Just more pain and rawness. Hardy tells Ellie that one can never see what's inside the heart of a man. Ellie can just cry. Broadchurch has been defined by the secrets of the town. Each week brought out a new and terrible one. Of course the finale would have the most brutal of secrets. Everything connects in a wave during the finale. In episode 7, Ellie's dumbfounded that Susan didn't know what went on in her house. An episode later, Ellie's the one who didn't know. Why didn't I see what was there the whole time? Why didn't I view events and clues like Alec Hardy? Another piece of brilliance in the writing is that it leaves one feeling that way, that it takes you deep within the town, makes the viewer part of it, and infects one with the blindness that infected the town.

4. The most devastating collection of scenes of the series happen after Ellie learns the truth about her husband. Olivia Colman's performance during Ellie's meeting with Joe is visceral. Jodie Whittaker didn't disappoint in the entire series, especially not in the scene where Hardy tells the Lattimers who killed Danny and why. David Tennant's quite understated in the finale. The words carry enough weight on the page. He's restrained, consoling, comforting, and accepting. Ellie regrets having not listened to Hardy's warnings. I already mentioned Hardy's advantage as the outsider and the eyes of Broadchurch, seeing what no one else could, and so it follows he's the most together in the end. He's together and is able to sit on a bench and accept he's done as Detective Inspector.

5. The media's role in the narrative is/was intense. Its portrayal is split between vilifying/scathing and responsible/accountable. The national media initially declines to cover the story for a number of appalling reasons. The Lattimers reach out to the national journalist, Karen, so the country won't forget what happened to their boy and to help aid in finding the killer. The national media is villainous. The editors take liberties with the story, change facts for the sake of the narrative, and help ruin a life. England's history with media is messy. The paparazzi were ruled responsible in Princess Diana's death. The local media's portrayed differently--warm, responsible, accountable. Oly's interest in Karen and her paper wanes after Jack's suicide. The media then faded from the narrative, until the finale. Karen wipes away a tear upon hearing the truth. The news hits Oly right in the family.

6. Reverend Paul is a figure and representative of the church. The church's role is cold and distant. Paul's not a comfort in the days after Danny's death. Beth's questions of why God would take her son are met with weak answers about Danny being recalled to heaven, of the importance of maintaining faith in a plan. Hardy suspects Paul after he sees him touching the hand of Tom at memorial luncheon, which then leads to Paul's admittance of a past with alcoholism. I think it's interesting how Paul's scenes are lighted. The scene's never warm with him around. There's a shot in either the 5th or 6th episode in which he's in frame from a distant, as distant and remote as the church has become to many people. By the finale, though, Paul brings together the town and surrounding communities in Danny's memory.

7.  Broadchurch is the prettiest show I've ever watched (second to LOST, third to ANGEL). The beauty of West Bay, Dorset, England is staggering and almost unfair. The coastline looks transported from paradise. Many, many shots left my mouth agape and unable to force words out of it. The finale opens with a staggering and stunning shot of David Tennant framed against the cliffs along the shoreline at dawn. The next shot is of the clouds hovering above the glistening ocean. The shots at night are brilliant. Watch everything around Joe Miller placing Danny on the beach--the mist off the ocean, the light against the dark; or watch the sequence of Hardy following the beeping of Danny's phone, the fateful path to the killer. The sound design complements the dream-like sequence dreadfully. Had the series not captivated me narratively, I would've continued watching for its look. It's simply gorgeous. The final images of the beacons of fire lit across the linked communities seemed perfect. The images mean a number of things. Immediately, to me, I connected fire with warmth. The beacons were symbols of warmth, of love, of healing coming to Broadchurch. No, no one really knows what lurks in the hearts of man, but we must try and love each other anyway.

Photo Credits: © BBC


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