Monday, 10 April 2017

TV Review: Broadchurch's penultimate episode can't decide what to focus on

Contains spoilers.

Last week's episode of Broadchurch was outstanding. It was bold, focused and deeply moving. Tonight's episode, the penultimate of the series as well as the entire show, unfortunately fails to recapture that glory. This isn't an actively bad hour of TV, but it does return to the sort of just-about-fine-but-nothing-really-special standard that Broadchurch's third series has mostly been defined by.

While last week's episode did a complete 180 on the Mark/Joe subplot and made it something actually worth all the time invested in it, episode seven stumbles with it again. Joe's name is dropped in once, if I recall, and the aftermath of Mark's attempted suicide isn't focused on enough to resurface any of the emotion that last week's final scene brought. Andrew Buchan, Jodie Whitaker and Charlotte Beaumont act the hell out of their moments in the spotlight, but there's little depth to anything they're given to say.

This mostly stems from the fact that this whole subplot has shifted gears so dramatically far too close to the show's resolution. The rest of series three hasn't laid enough groundwork to allow the central investigation to be sidelined, and therefore we still spend the bulk of our time there tonight. It creates a strong feeling of momentum heading into the finale, but it's tough not to feel disappointed by just how empty all of the Mark and Beth scenes felt here. Last week was beautiful and heartbreaking, tonight was lukewarm.

That wasn't the only issue, either. Episode seven is also plagued by a scene so poorly handled that it sticks out like a sore thumb - if you couldn't tell, I'm talking about the iPhone torch tribute to Trish. In what feels like a blandly modernised version of Danny's send off back in series one, the entire town of Broadchurch appears on the street and shines their phone torches in the air, to show support for Trish. It's a well intentioned scene, there's no doubting that, but it seems fundamentally torn in its goals. Does it want to show a town's loving tribute to a shaken soul, or does it want to break the fourth wall and address every sexual abuse victim watching the show?

It sort of feels more like the latter, which is nice and all, but it stops the episode dead. After a steady stream of police interviews and new evidence, everything grinds to a halt for a few minutes. The scene does accomplish one thing though - Trish and Cath are friends again! I'd like to say I care but Cath has been shown as such a horrible person and Trish's characterisation this series has been sloppy at best, so I'm not really sure I do. Also the less said about Maggie Radcliffe and the show's thematic work on feminism the better. It really isn't working.

Admittedly, the interview scenes and police work are all handled well. They've made for a lot of Broadchurch's most consistently solid sequences this series and tonight was no exception. A lot of suspects were covered tonight too, which is always nice to see, but it didn't all click together as smoothly as other instalments. This is a shaky episode of Broadchurch at best, and a badly timed misfire at worst. If the show heads into its finale on the same footing as it tackled this episode, it'll be hard not to walk away from a once terrific series without a sour taste in the mouth.

  • Stunning shot (at the head of this review) of Beth, after learning of Mark's suicide attempt, sat in the hallway talking to Chloe, framed through the bedroom and slowly tracking through and out the doorway. Beth and Mark's chance of sleeping peacefully in that room ever again seems a long way away now.
  • The scene of Alec Hardy shouting at the school kids felt misjudged. A father going all out to protect his daughter? Great. A policeman publicly screaming at seemingly innocent teenagers and making some pretty severe threats? Hmm, you know how your bad temper holds up in court, Hardy!
  • Could all this talk of porn be connected? I've had a theory for a long time that maybe Tom will come across a video of Trish's assault - that light she saw could've been a camera flash, nicely connecting to the torch tribute tonight. It would be a tidy way to clean up a lot of small thematic threads littered across the series.
  • Ellie Miller's face when she learned Hardy took her advice was delightful, and the way Olivia Colman shifted that delight into confusion after Hardy said he is "too nice to people" was brilliant.
  • Well, I really can't call it. Part of me wants it to be Jim Atwood because it makes thematic sense. I almost don't want to be surprised by the reveal, I want it to be smart and make sense and not go for shock value. Series one pulled the rug out from under our feet brilliantly, you don't need to try it again, Broadchurch.
  • For real though? I'm gonna bet on Jim. I feel like it's going to be a very different finale to last year. Time will tell!

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