The third episode of BROADCHURCH was concerned with ruling out the prime suspect in the death of Danny Latimer: his father, Mark — the man with the most punchable face in town and the flimsiest alibi.
The show made a wise decision in trying to get us to sympathize with Mark — or was that trying to get us to suspect him more than ever? — by giving us a dream sequence in which Mark finds his son cold and wet but alive, and emotionally embracing him, telling his son he’s sorry.
Sorry for what… exactly?
When detectives Alec (David Tennant) and Ellie (Olivia Colman) takes Mark’s (Andrew Buchan) statement, he tells them he was with his coworker Nige (Joe Sims) the night Danny was killed, but Nige’s attempt to back up Mark collapses when Ellie gets the real story from Nige’s mother. The other part of Mark’s story — that he fixed a plumbing problem at the hut where Danny was murdered — was countered by Susan (Pauline Quirke), who claimed she never gave him the keys to the place. When Ellie’s son, Tom (Adam Wilson) is deposed, he reveals that Danny said his Dad used to hit him. Worst of all, Ellie and Alec find blood on Mark’s boat. Alec formally arrests Mark for interfering with the investigation by lying. He is later released when Becca (Simone McAullay) reveals Mark was with her the night of the killing.
Alleged psychic Steve (Will Mellor) follows Beth (Jodie Whittaker) around town and attempts to give her a message from Danny, which she only begrudgingly agrees to hear. He says Danny says she knows his killer very well. The combination of her own suspicions and the police arresting Mark compel Beth to ask if he killed their son. Disgusted, he leaves and has a rendezvous with Becca — which Beth witnesses because she followed Mark. Karen (Vicky McClure) reveals that she is actually focused on Alec because she believes he bungled a previous case, and she doesn’t want him to ruin the lives of another family. Alec confesses to Dr. Baxter (Moray Hunter) that he sees his job in Broadchurch as penance.
Again this week, some small things resulted in big emotion — first, the sight of Danny all alone and vulnerable in Mark’s dream, and then, later, Beth transfixed by the bottle of Danny’s shampoo. Should she throw it out? She couldn’t stop staring at it because, no matter how silly it seemed, it was a piece of Danny. And no amount of scrubbing — literally of the tub, or symbolically of her mind — could remove Danny’s memory. Mark’s dream showed that despite his attempts to present a passionless exterior, he really is torn up by Danny’s death. When he told his spectral son “I’m sorry,” he meant for not being there. As he told the police, he took Danny and his family for granted that night when he hooked up with Becca, and that’s when he lost his son.
Having had to cross Mark off his suspect list, Alec next concentrated on the crime scenes; why was Danny’s body placed specifically where it was? It would have been easier to stage a death scene closer to the hut, so why move a body so far? I’m sure Alec is going to prove to be a good detective, but so far he’s just being brusque and playing up his alieness in Broadchurch.
However, showing the first signs of a chink in his armor, Alec accepted Ellie’s dinner invitation in a sequence that almost made me laugh out loud because Ellie did not want her boss in her home — it’s just what people do! Perhaps if Becca spent less time sneaking around with Mark and more time on the hotel food, Alec wouldn’t have to spend his off-hours with “the help.”
Alec was casually cruel to Ellie this week, making her handle the morning briefing with no prep time — but it’s hard to tell if he really wanted to embarrass her or if he sees something in her and is trying to bring it forward. Maybe he thinks she could be a good cop one day — provided she can tame her feelings.
And Alec definitely did admit to having some feelings — if only to his doctor. Tennant did a wonderful job of expressing Alec’s seething hatred for Broadchurch, its citizenry and everything it stands for without making him seem like a complete bastard; he doesn’t really hate the townsfolk as individuals, he just isn’t comfortable with the familiarity of small towns where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Dr. Baxter’s cryptic warning about Alec risking death if he doesn’t cut stress out of his life seems to hook into the mysterious dizzy spell Alec suffered in the first story. What are those pills? Anti-anxiety meds? (Did Baxter really go all the way to Broadchurch from wherever he was just to counsel Alec? Talk about a house call!)
And what was the deal with the burning dinghy at the end? Was it real, or symbolic? Was it supposed to be connected to Steve’s “message”? I think writer Chris Chibnall was trying to hint that Steve is a fraud by having her try to cold-read Beth — that bit where he mentioned having a spirit guide who gave him a message about someone with an R or a J in their name and played the piano. Such asking of questions and tossing out generic information is a common way for people to fake psychic powers. That, and making incredibly broad statements, such as suggesting that Danny’s death was link to water in a seaside tow. But then Chibnall doubles back and presents the burning boat to make viewers wonder if Steve does have the “shining” after all…