The final episode of BROADCHURCH began with Detective Inspector Alec Hardy getting his walking papers and literally walking away — but he also got his man, collaring Danny’s killer on his last day on the job. True, the murderer wanted to get caught, but Alec had his suspicions and would have got him even without Danny’s cell phone.
The best thing I can say about the BROADCHURCH finale is that lived up to it promise; the series got the ending it deserved. And, as the recently concluded DEXTER proved, that’s no easy feat.
Not long after DI Hardy (David Tennant) received his medical discharge and was today to clear out his office, DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) got a call that Danny’s cell phone had been activated and the signal triangulated. Alec followed the trace to… Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle), Ellie’s husband. An extended flashback revealed that Joe had struck up a relationship with Danny (Oskar McNamara) in which they would talk and hug (all fully clothed) at the hut. Danny wanted to end it, and Joe, fearing exposure and public humiliation, accidentally strangled the boy in a rage. He transported the body to the beach — just as Susan had described — and staged the crime scene.
Alec took Joe into custody and then told Ellie the news. She reacted badly, at first convinced there had been a mistake, but ultimately so enraged that she physically attacked Joe in the interrogation room. Ellie is obviously removed from the case.
When Alec informed the Latimer family, Mark (Andrew Buchan) was enraged and Beth (Jodie Whittaker) stunned into disbelief. Later, Danny’s body is finally released to his family so they can bury him. Rev. Coates (Arthur Darvill) delivers a sincere sermon, his voice cracking with emotion. Later, down on the beach and up on the cliff, bonfires are lighted in Danny’s memories. The Latimer family is comforted to see tribute fires blaze all up and down the coast (courtesy of Paul spreading the word). Beth sees a vision of a content Danny for a moment.
The sequence that exposed Joe was wonderful: Guided by a beeping GPS, Alec walked through the field to the Latimer and Miller houses. Was it actually Mark? No. After an agonizing slow-motion walk, Alec traces the signal to Joe in the shed. “I’m sick of hiding,” he said. Joe admitted giving Danny the mobile and the 500 pounds because he wanted the boy to love him.
While the reveal of the identity of Danny’s killer — which I called last week — was essential, what was really important about this episode was the exploration of the fallout from that disclosure, which is why Joe was exposed so early. The real meat of the drama was the effect on the rest of the characters of knowing Joe killed Danny.
The scene in which Alec addressed the rest of the Broadchurch police force was very important for his character, because it demonstrated how much he had changed over the course of the investigation. While he was still capable of contempt for small-town gossip, he recognized what a blow the reveal would be to the community and made clear his support and sympathy for Ellie. The Alec from the first episode would have shrugged at the suggestion of dire consequences from the truth and bluntly went about doing his duty.
This episode was a great opportunity for the actors, and no one disappointed, especially not Colman, finally got a moment cut lose. Her disbelieving fit in the interrogation room was a joy to watch, as it felt like unplanned, sincere anger mixed with revulsion. I loved the way Colman sat down, stood up, walked around the table — as if she couldn’t find a comfortable place in her skin. And when she squatted in the corner and puked a little bit? Simply brilliant. And then there was the devastating moment when Beth confronted Ellie and unknowingly threw Ellie’s harsh word for Susan back in her face: “How could you not know?” Ellie was supposed to be the best detective in town, but she didn’t see. She refused to see. “I should have seen it,” she groaned. “I’m a bloody detective.”
Gravelle, who until this episode was deliberately kept in the background, got a chance to show how good he is at portraying angst and self-loathing. And, of course, David Tennant was amazing. For the whole episode he played Alec as filled with sadness: sad that he was leaving the job, sad that he was right about Joe, and sad about the effects of that fact on the town.
As corny as the lighting of the bonfires along the coast may appear in retrospect, while it was playing it out, I was very affected by it. It was the climax of the emotional catharsis the entire closing funeral sequence represented. It was the release of all the feelings that were bottled up while Danny’s body was held in cold storage, awaiting the unmasking of his killer.
So now the first season of BROADCHURCH is done. It represents a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end. But there will be a second season. Creator Chris Chibnall is remaining mum about who’s in it and what the plot is (expect that it will be a different mystery), but it begins production soon. And Chibnall has written the first episode and will serve as executive producer on an American remake for Fox. (Chibnall hinted the US version might utilize one of the unused alternate endings from the BBC series.) So there is more BROADCHURCH in our future. But can it be as good as this?