Contains spoilers: if you haven’t seen the final episode, do not read on!
I can’t remember the last time that ITV went to town hyping the last episode of a drama series quite as much as it did with Broadchurch in the days leading up to Monday night’s conclusion to the eight-part series.
In many ways, all the build-up and hype were the show’s biggest enemies in the end, reducing the story of “Who killed Danny Latimer?” down to the same level of whodunnit parlour game as “Who shot JR?” or “Who killed Laura Palmer?”. In fact the show had never been intended a simple matter of guessing who the guilty party was: instead it was meant as a deep and emotional study on the effects of a terrible crime on a small close-knit community. A Fatal Attraction-style shock/twist ending was never really on the cards and just like Forbrydelsen before it, Broadchurch was determined not to go down that road no matter who it left feeling dissatisfied.
Instead, the character who did it was the same character who has been many viewers’ prime suspect right from the start. By contrast I only locked onto the identity of the killer for certain midway through episode 7: the description of the man Susan Wright (Pauline Quirke) said she saw dumping Danny’s body on the beach together with DS Ellie Miller’s final words to Susan – “How could you not know?” – sealed it for me. And lo, the culprit was confirmed surprisingly early in the final episode, actually before the first commercial break rather than waiting for the very end. It did build up to the reveal with a teasing feint, a scene tracking DI Hardy walking through the town making you think he was going to call in on first one suspect and then another which came as a dark echo to the fun, jaunty walk enjoyed by Mark Latimer that introduced the ensemble cast at the start of episode 1 before the discovery of the body on the beach.
Just like Forbrydelsen, this early revelation/confirmation of the guilt of a prime suspect proved somewhat anti-climactic in a sense. The premature timing left us expecting a further twist in the final 45 minutes of airtime (was the guilty party confessing in order to cover for his young son, for example?) that never materialised. But the scene when you finally knew there could be no ‘just one more thing’ coda to the tale was when Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker) confronted Ellie and coldly repeated the “How could you not know?” line back to her, making it clear at that moment that this story could never have ended any other way. Broadchurch was always Ellie’s story at heart, and the resolution was the climax to her story more than anyone else’s. The only really major downfall in the script was that the killer simply gave himself up rather than it coming as the culmination of the police investigation.
Instead of a Hollywood-style shock, then, writer Chris Chibnall returned to the core purpose of the show and presented us with a powerful, moving and quite traumatic short meditation on how the news of the killer’s identity spread through the community and on everyone’s shocked reactions to it. Normally a detective show stops when the killer’s identity is known, but here it was extraordinarily effective seeing how the Latimer family received the news, the effect on the police investigation team, and of course on the Miller family itself: Olivia Colman’s scenes as Ellie when told that her husband had confessed to the murder were simply some of the finest, most gut-wrenching acting you’ll ever see on TV (and David Tennant as DI Hardy, Andrew Buchan as Mark Latimer and of course Matthew Gravelle as Joe Miller were also all outstanding in this final episode.)
Despite everyone’s best efforts there were a few loose ends left straggling (what about Danny’s row with a ‘postman’ reported by Jack Marshall? Or the calls from Tom Miller’s phone to ‘Mum’ at 3am on the night of the murder? Or that weird psychic/medium red herring?) but no where near as many as the untidy end to the first series of Forbrydelsen which I still revere all the same. The unusual structure of using the entire second block of the final episode as one extended flashback to the murder allowed Chibnall to wrap up most of outstanding questions without resorting to a long Poirot-style exposition while leaving us with no doubts, no wiggle room for final surprises.
Except there proved to be one final surprise after all, it turned out. The very end, the last shot: “Broadchurch will return.” Really? A second series? I hadn’t been expecting that, and I’m not entirely sure it’s a wise idea, let alone how they’ll do it story wise – although Chris Chibnall has since said that “There was another very different story we could tell afterwards. I’m really thrilled we’re going to tell that story too,” and he’s more than demonstrated that he knows what he’s doing. But it was without question the one moment in the show that truly caught me by genuine surprise.
Series 1 is released on DVD on May 20, 2013.