I have a strange history with Broadchurch. It began with watching its American remake Gracepoint, which repeated the British show’s first season beat for beat, and even recast David Tennant as the lead investigator, albeit with a suitable American accent. Part-way through Gracepoint, I grew frustrated with its stern seediness, and so switched over to Broadchurch on Netflix. But the season one arc was not much improved, still full of ghoulish allegations, sleazy reveals, and boasting of an arguably sexist thread of “lady cops are bad at their jobs because emotions.”
But this week, I returned to Broadchurch, playing it in the background as I got various chores done. Because in times of stress, I turn to crime dramas to make the world make sense again. As I got to the season finale—which pulls no punches unlike it’s American equivalent with its whoopsie-daisy death—I marveled to see Netflix offer a season two. Because HOW do you have a season two after those reality-shattering revelations?!
Big time spoilers for season one of Broadchurch.
Super short season one summary: in the small seaside town of Broadchurch, two detectives—one an out of towner (David Tenant) the other a local (Olivia Colman)—are tasked with solving the mysterious murder case of Danny Latimer, a paperboy whose body was found on the beach. Forced to investigate her neighbors, Detective Ellie Miller learns all kinds of shocking secrets, and when some leak they turn the town upside down, spurring much chaos and even a suicide. In the end, it turns out the killer was Miller’s stay-at-home husband Joe, who’d strangled Danny because he threatened to reveal his and Joe’s inappropriate—but not yet sexual—relationship. Boom: Miller slept next to a killer and a pedophile, and she had no idea.
The twist was lame and infuriating. Miller’s husband (Matthew Gravelle) was not so much a minor character as a reminder that she had a life outside the office. He had as much development in season one as Miller’s toddling, talk-less baby. So the reveal felt cheap from a storytelling angle, and sordid from every other. But how do you have a season two centering around Miller and her vexing partner Alec Hardy (Tennant), when the fallout from Joe’s crime should well run her out of town?
Well, season two kicks off with Joe’s trial. And instead of pleading guilty as everyone in their right mind assumes he will, Joe—shit stain on humanity and abject coward—decides he doesn’t want to go to prison for murdering a kid, and so pleads not guilty. This pitches the grieving Latimers into a deeper level of hell, having to go through a trial that not only recounts the horrific details of their son’s death, but also brandishes wild accusations that they were somehow to blame for it. The court scenes are brutal, but goddamn is it it intense television. And yet, Broadchurch season two brings us so much more than deeper digs on the Latimers and Millers. It goes weird and sexy in a way the first season didn’t dare.
Badass Barrister Showdown
Joe’s case is given additional dramatic oomph by two new cast members, Marianne Jean-Baptiste as his cynical defense attorney, and Charlotte Rampling as the prosecutor coming out of retirement to ensure Danny Latimer gets justice. These barristers have a barbed backstory, a protege/mentor relationship that soured over a very personal murder case. But the real fireworks come from the withering side-eyes and snarking these two stalwart actresses deliver with elegance and thrilling ease.
David Tennant: Unleashed
He’s not seething with unsettling sex appeal, or jaunting about in perfectly tailored suits. But Tennant is nonetheless mesmerizing as Hardy, a man so disagreeable that every negative rumor seems plausible. Did he bungle his pre-Broadchurch murder investigation? Did he maybe bang a key witness? Is he slamming Ellie on the side? The show dangles these possibilities, and leaves them lingering as Hardy sneers and avoids the issue. Scruffy and socially inept, he refuses to worry about his reputation, dedicated entirely to seeking justice, no matter how strange his methods become. And good godtapus do they get strange, looping in spy equipment, Ellie’s abandoned house, and a pair of sketchy and maybe deadly lovers. (More on that in a bit!)
Olivia Colman: Goddess
This English actress is one of the greatest living performers. She kills in comedies like That Mitchell and Webb Look, Peep Show and The Lobster, then brings the drama—and audiences to their knees—with Broadchurch, The Night Manager and Tyrannosaur. It’s impossible to pick when Colman’s at her best, because she’s always so damn good. But in Broadchurch, Miller’s anger and no-fucks-to-give attitude gives Colman a great source to twist pathos and turn out some dark humor. I’ll admit, I guffawed when she bellowed at a broken-hearted neighbor’s censure of not wanting her around: “Tough shit!” Yet her best scenes might be where she’s battling back against the tunnel-visioned arrogance of her well-intentioned but infuriating partner, Hardy. Be warned: Tennant plus Colman is a heady drama drug.
Doctor Who Reunions
Well, sort of. Tennant never shared screen time with Arthur Darvill, as Doctor ten and Rory Williams never crossed paths. But as one runs about as a detective and the other a reverend fighting to keep faith alive in a traumatized community, it’s easy to consider Broadchurch a sort of alternate Whovian timeline. Especially because Colman and supporting players Jonathan Bailey and Meera Syal all boasted memorable guests spots on the time-travel series. Then, when Eve Myles (Gwen from Torchwood) appears and starts flirting and fighting with Tennant, things get all kinds of timey-whimey, if only in fan imagination.
The Miscasting of James D’Arcy
In the first season, we heard a great deal about the infamous Sandbrook Case that crippled Hardy’s career, ended his marriage, and ravaged his health. In season two, Broadchurch takes Hardy back to the scene of the double homicide of a 12-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin/sitter, and it acquaints us with his prime suspect. Next door, smoking a cigarette in a V-neck as cops investigate the murdered girls’ home sits brooding and undeniably alluring Lee Ashworth, a handyman with shift eyes and a bruiser’s physicality, lurking and leering at Hardy and his investigation from too near.
I chuckled when the much discussed Ashworth was revealed to be D’Arcy. Dude’s a solid performer, impressing in Cloud Atlas, Hitchcock and Agent Carter. But in all these roles, he’s exudes a gentility and poshness that made him seem an absolutely wrong choice for this blue-collared could-be killer. But damn does D’Arcy prove my assumption wrong. And damn is it ever a joy to watch him do it. And do it.
The Insane Sexual Chemistry Between Two Maybe Killers
Both new additions for season two, Myles and D’Arcy run off with Broadchurch, thrust along on enigmatic stare downs and scorching sexual chemistry. At the season’s start, Claire Ripley (Myles) is hiding from her husband, who fled the country when the Sandbrook Case heated up. But once he makes it known he’s back and he wants her back, it’s not long before she’s drawn to him like a moth to the flame. And that flame burns hard with animalistic sex appeal. These sexy suspects pitch their bodies into each other like they’re going to battle. They mix in some light BDSM, and kiss like it’s a contest. And it’s hot. Like disturbingly, unapologetically hot. It’s a welcomed break from much, much scenes about murdered children. But moreover, Myles and D’Arcy forge a fucked up romance so intoxicating, you’ll be pulling for these potentially lethal lovers even as the evidence seems to stack up against them.
So simply put: Watch Broadchurch season two here. Maybe skip season one. They rehash the crucial plot points anyhow.
Kristy Puchko is open to suggestions on must-see crime shows to feed her addiction.