Grading the Season Finales 2015: Broadchurch

Today, Leah is back with a review of the season finale of Broadchurch.

Title Episode 8

Written By Chris Chibnall

What Happens? The episode opens with the shocking revelation that the jury in Joe’s trial has returned with a “not guilty” verdict, sending everyone in the courtroom into despair. Beth storms out in tears, and the judge wraps the case up, dismissing the jury. As soon as the court adjourns, Alec arrests Claire in connection with the Sandbrook murders and hands her off to his ex-wife Tess, while he goes to tell Ellie to harness her anger towards another goal: “I need someone as angry as me right now because we are going to close the case on Claire and Lee Ashworth.” The game, as they say, is on.

Alec sets a trap for Lee that pays off when he catches him in the act of searching for the pendant, so Alec arrests him. As they question Claire and Lee, Ellie comes up big with the discovery of new evidence, which shows that Lee replaced the floorboards in one of the Ashworths’ rooms around the time Lisa and Pippa went missing. This is the final pressure point they needed, and Lee and Claire confess, shown to the audience as a series of flashbacks explaining what exactly happened that night. We learn that Ricky killed Lisa after discovering her having sex with Lee, and he then pressured Lee and Claire into not going to the police by saying he would blame Lee for it. Since Lee’s DNA was all over Lisa from having sex moments earlier, it was likely Ricky would be believed. Unfortunately, Pippa heard part of the conflict, and at Ricky’s urging, Claire gives Pippa some of the drugged whisky to calm her down and put her to sleep until they figure out what to do. Once Ricky is gone to get the van to transport Lisa’s body, Lee realizes that Pippa thinks he killed Lisa and sees no way out of the situation, so he smothers the sleeping Pippa with a pillow. They dispose of the bodies and Claire threatens Ricky with his flask, which she has buried somewhere, and all three have been in a stalemate of mutual wrongdoing ever since. After hearing Lee and Claire’s confessions, Alec and Ellie bring Ricky in for questioning and then arrest him, and Alec is finally able to close the case.

After Joe is released from custody at the courthouse, he goes to the church to ask Paul for help. Paul knows Joe can’t stay in town, so he comes up with a plan and sets it into motion. Mark and Nigel physically carry Joe out of the church into Nigel’s van and take Joe to the hut on the cliff where Danny was killed. Waiting for him in the hut is Beth and Ellie, and Nigel leaves the four of them to have their moment. After Beth and Ellie say what they need to say to Joe, the three of them walk Joe outside and—with many of the characters we know looking on—put him into a taxi to send him away from the town for good. The people of Broadchurch created their own justice by exiling him.

Ellie and Alec say their goodbyes and seal it with a handshake, as Alec will be going back to live closer to his daughter now that the cases are over. Ellie goes to get Tom and meet up with Beth, Mark, Chloe, and baby Lizzie for the beginning of the reclamation of the beach and to continue to mend hearts with the two families. In the final scene, Alec goes to get in his taxi but pauses and looks around as the driver asks “Where to then, sir?” Perhaps he’s not done with Broadchurch after all. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Game-Changing Moment This episode felt like it wrapped up pretty much everything this show has been focused on for the past two seasons, so while I feel like there were some impactful moments in this episode, I do not see one single moment as having a game-changing impact on Season Three, other than perhaps Joe’s “not guilty” verdict. However, I recently read an interview done with Chris Chibnall (writer and creator) who said there will be no Joe in Season Three, so unless something changes, I believe we will not be dealing with that storyline more than its potential continuing affects on Ellie’s personal life.

The moment I felt had the most impact in this episode was the meeting at the hut where Beth, Ellie, and Mark had a chance to confront Joe. That meeting allowed Beth and Ellie to be able to have that confrontation with Joe and get those emotions out directly at him instead of lashing out at others or bottling it up. It was so important because it likely gave them a little bit of closure knowing they’ve had that chance to face Joe. The subsequent exile of Joe by the town gave both the characters and the audience a small sense of justice that was denied from everyone with the trial’s verdict, and it brought a sense of resolution to the story we have followed from the show’s beginning.

Most Memorable Lines “What does it take to destroy lives forever? Twelve people. Twelve ordinary, stupid, easily-swayed, hard-of-thinking arseholes.” (Alec)

“When you die, no one will mourn for you. We could kill you in here, dump your body on a beach, and no one would care, no one would notice. But we’re more than you. We will…I will not be broken by this. We all get to live, but you…you’ve no life left. Not here.” (Beth)

What Didn’t Work The biggest problem I had with this episode was the verdict, and part of my dissatisfaction with that relates to what I’ve said in previous recaps about what I was not enjoying about the trial storyline in general. For me, the way the investigation concluded in Season One was all about staging scenes to have the most emotional resonance. Choosing to have Alec confront Joe alone, to let Ellie have a turn in the interrogation room with Joe where she could express her emotions, to give Mark a scene where he was allowed to face his son’s killer—these all felt to me like choices that Alec (and the general police force) would not necessarily have made if the writing team had not decided they would make for better TV. Alec has just come off of the Sandbrook case and he was still wracked with guilt over the mistakes he made and his inability to catch that killer. Wouldn’t he thus be more inclined to follow procedure to the letter in Danny’s case, especially in all his movements after discovering Joe was the killer? Asking the audience to be okay with the show holding the writers’ dramatic choices from Season One to a realistic police force standard during the trial feels to me, in some ways, like a betrayal of the story they so beautifully told last season.

My other problem with the verdict was that we’ve had the characters beat down over and over again through this season because of the trial, and, after all of the pain they’ve been put through, there was no payoff. Personally, I get enough of the fact that the legal system is incredibly flawed in real life, so I don’t particularly want to have it in my fiction to this extent as well. For me, the not guilty verdict was a culmination of all of my problems with the trial storyline, and that’s probably why it bothered me so much.

What Worked While the “not guilty” verdict didn’t work for me, the way they had the characters deal with it felt emotionally fulfilling. I found myself feeling a sense of closure at the end of the episode because the show allowed Beth, Mark, Ellie, and the town to serve their own form of justice. I especially felt that allowing Beth to have her moment in talking to Joe was important and cathartic, because she was such an emotional guidepost for the audience in Season One, and after seeing her grieve so intimately it felt good to see her have this moment. I also think it was good that the show allowed Ellie to do this as well, because she had been hurt deeply by Joe’s actions, too, and it always feels good to see your protagonists have a chance to tell off the person who has caused them so much pain. I don’t think this finale would have felt as satisfying as it ultimately did if these characters were not given this opportunity.

In a similar vein, the beach scene at the end with the Latimers and the Millers was really important. It showed us that, despite being torn apart and hurt in some of the worst ways possible, these two families will not just survive; they will live. This will not destroy them, and they will support each other as they continue to heal. As Mark says to little Lizzie, they will reclaim the beach from its use in this horrible event in their lives, and they will make it a place of happiness and playing and family again.

I also really enjoyed seeing Ellie and Alec as a confident crime-solving team again. These two are the foundation of Broadchurch, and watching them banter as they put together the pieces of whatever mystery they need to solve is one of the principal joys of the show. Watching them discover the last few pieces of evidence they needed to finally get Claire, Lee, and Ricky to talk was ultimately very satisfying, even if a lot of the answers they received were not particularly surprising. I think it was crucial for the balance of this episode that while Joe’s trial ended in injustice, the Sandbrook case ended with the closure the of confessions from the three guilty parties.

On a quick final note, the cinematography and the score of this episode (and the whole season) were amazing. They provided incredible support for the emotions the actors were portraying and enhanced the whole experience. These two categories were above and beyond the average quality I’ve seen on TV series, and when a show gets these two things right it gives their biggest scenes even more impact, which is great for a show like Broadchurch that has so many dramatic, emotional moments.

Finale Grade B+. Despite being unhappy with the outcome of the verdict, I felt that the show handled it as best as they possibly could have and gave both the characters and the audience a sense of closure and resolution. The truth about the Sandbrook case, while not entirely surprising, was still emotionally compelling and heartbreaking. Now the only major question left is where they could possibly go in Season Three with their two main storylines of the series wrapped up.

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3 thoughts on “Grading the Season Finales 2015: Broadchurch

  1. First off, thanks for all the great reviews this season Leah, I have enjoyed them!

    I will admit this season was rough for me. There were moments in the finale that had moments of greatness, but for the most part this season didnt come close to reaching the heights of Season 1. I have to say that the not-guilty verdict at the beginning of of the episode didnt bother me. I thought with all the botched police procedure it was reasonable for a jury to have their doubts, even thought it was frustrating from an audience point of view since there was no doubt to us. What I did find incredibly upsetting, was Joe in general. He just sat there mostly silent for 8 episodes putting everyone through hell and then just thinks that hes going to go back to his old life? I just cant in a million years understand where he was coming from, and for the entire season to be based on Joe’s decision to plead “not guilty”, I think us as an audience needed to know a little bit more about what was going on in his head in order for it to be believable. Having the town confront him was cathartic, but I am still just annoyed because I cant even begin to understand why all of this had to happen in the first place.

    I also was not a big fan of the Sandbrook case. There was so much focus on it and it was hard to care on the same level as the Broadchurch case since it was so new to us as an audience. Both Lee and Claire were mostly horrible people and I didnt really care what happened to them. Again I was left with more characters where I just dont even get where they were coming from.

    I think if anything this season just made me sad. It made me sad because what we essentially have here is three dead kids, and they are all dead for stupid reasons. Lee, Claire, and Ricky will all likely be going to jail for what they did, Joe wont, but it doesnt really matter because those kids arent coming back. I dont really think that Lee, Claire, Ricky, and Joe are people that pose a threat to the general public, they are just selfish people that did stupid bad things that ended up hurting a lot of people. And thats the real tragedy, that guilty or not-guilty verdicts, it doesnt matter, because there is no amount of justice that can make things right when it comes to these types of crimes.

    And after a season full of whys, the biggest why I am left with is why I should tune in for another season. They failed to prove to me that this season was necessary, so convincing me we need another one is even a harder sell. I dont even think that Alec and Ellie’s perfect relationship can bring me back, which is a shame, because they are great characters that deserved a better chance to shine this season.

    • Thank YOU for commenting! I’ve really enjoyed talking with you about the show!

      Yeah, for me this season was a bit of a roller coaster. It had some good points, and some small things that I loved, but it also had some points where I went “why should I even be watching this?” It didn’t come close to reaching Season One’s level at all.

      I felt it was completely reasonable for the jury to have doubts, because with the way it was presented I would have had doubts as well if I was on the jury. But like you said, it was completely frustrating as the audience, who knew what had happened, to have to sit through the whole season hearing lies about our main characters and then to see the characters become more and more upset until finally they receive that last stab in the back by the way the trial ends. It just felt exhausting and depressing to me. Most of my problems with the not guilty verdict really originate in my problems with doing the trial storyline in the first place, because of the way it will possibly taint that last episode or two of Season One when I do a rewatch. Will it be as enjoyable and cathartic emotionally to see the killer caught and the release of emotions by the main characters afterwards as it was the first time I watched Season One, when I know now that they’re making mistake after mistake that will eventually get Joe off all charges? Probably not. I don’t know, maybe if I decide that Season Two doesn’t exist it will work lol (like I have done with some other shows :p).

      Ultimately I agree with you in that I feel like the show didn’t prove to me that they had needed another season. There were moments I liked throughout, but at this point I would actually rather have only had one season. Ellie and Alec’s friendship was the bright spot in a mess of plot, and without their partnership I am not sure I would have kept watching. I’m going to have to see what type of storyline they’re going to try in Season Three, because at this point I feel like they left their characters in spots where there’s no story left to tell that connects to anything in the show – other than perhaps Sharon’s son’s case, and I have zero interest in spending more time with Sharon (which is a shame because she was basically the only person of color in the whole show).

  2. Leah – I just wanted to say that I so enjoyed your take on Broadchurch this season. While the show paralleled an extremely busy time in my life so I have missed a lot of the Spring commentary as a result, I did really enjoy having your take on it.

    I wasn’t so much bothered by Joe’s not guilty verdict because I thought it was a reasonable conclusion to make several points. One that while knowing someone is guilty, doesn’t mean proving them guilty is a forgone conclusion. Justice is a tricky thing and like forgiveness can’t be found within the crime itself. It is why the final 15 minutes of the episode practically made up for the season as a whole. I think you beautifully touched on what made that conclusion so powerful. The mending of friendship as a community found a way to bring justice to a town that needed it.

    My largest issue with the season, and I came in with low expectations, was that I wasn’t interested in Hardy’s unsolved case. I just didn’t care about it, because to me, the fall out and aftermath of the people who I invested in last season was what I wanted to see. I mean, I live for Olivia Coleman in this show, so I loved watching her for sure. I am hopeful for a new case next season and these folks moving on.

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