This third series of Broadchurch marked a return to form as creator Chris Chibnall tackled the sensitive topic of rape and the drama reverted to the whodunit format that served it so well when it first burst onto the scene.
The victim was Trish Winterman (masterfully played by Julie Hesmondhalgh), and as the weeks passed we totted up the list of suspects while a conveyor belt of sinister Broadchurch characters were wheeled in and inspected by the police. As each one was put under the microscope, and skeletons were flushed out of closets, we found ourselves wondering how this sleepy Dorset village had bred so many nefarious males.
But we played along, speculating on who we thought had done the deed. It felt a bit uncomfortable given what the crime was, but the internet remained awash with theories, suspicions and betting odds as Tennant and Colman’s Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller closed in on their attacker.
And I suspect that’s exactly what Chibnall wanted from us – an audience who, while aware of the sensitive nature of the subject matter, still treated it somewhat like a game. Who guessed it right? Who had it figured out first? I joined in, writing articles about the suspects each week – but as I watched the chilling horrors of the final episode play out, I felt a sort of numb guilt for my reaction.
What have we been doing these past two months? Guessing the identity of a rapist? Take a step outside TV land – and remember that this is something that happens in real life – and it feels a bit, well, wrong. Our ‘sport’ has turned sour. Even if I’d guessed rightly, the full disturbing horror of a young man unmasked as a sexual predator, robbing women of their dignity, confidence and – in many ways – their self-respect, left my speculation feeling misguided.
Because what we witnessed in Broadchurch’s farewell was so shocking it was sobering – a teenager made to have sex with a defenceless woman beaten unconscious, gagged and bound. You’d have had to be a pretty twisted online detective to predict the dark depths of Leo Humphries.
“You felt powerful?” Hardy and Miller asked him in the interview room. “Not so much powerful, just proud,” came the rapist’s stony response. “It makes you feel in control and for that moment it’s just you, nothing else. There’s a moment when you’re in harmony with the world and it’s… beautiful.”
What Chibnall does so well is portray the mind-set of a cold-blooded criminal as well as a victim. It’s what he did with Joe Miller in series one – but while before, we all gave ourselves a jolly pat on the back for guessing rightly that it was Ellie’s husband who’d killed young Danny, the appalling reality of series three’s conclusion left a bitter taste.
Whether intentional or not, Chibnall has proven a point. At the start of this series, he spoke of how violent sexual assault is “not treated with the time or delicacy it deserves”. He certainly did his bit to right that wrong, giving it the time and forcing us to think about the delicacy and impact on the victims.
Forgive me if I come across po-faced in the aftermath of what was a terrific piece of television drama. The final instalment was full of high points, from the quietly emotional scenes between the broken Latimer family, to Ellie Miller’s seething one-liners (“swaggering little s**t”, anyone?) and the wistful chemistry she shares with her cranky boss.
And now we know the outcome, the speculation is over. We’re never going to look back on Broachurch and wonder again whodunit. So instead, I hope we’ll remember it for its stunning landscape, those fiery putdowns and the way it dropped you into the heart of a close-knit community put through hell… twice.
We’ll fondly recall Hardy and Miller’s affectionate bickering, the Latimers’ tearful torment, and the tightly woven plots that – for the most part – Chris Chibnall expertly conjured.
So farewell, Broadchurch. You will be sorely missed. You challenged us, engaged us and thrilled us. But – most important of all – you made us think.