Change of plan, I’m going to do the blog posts more frequently than once a month.
I could get so much hate for this one…
This is a site and blog about crime fiction, so I’m assuming that if you’re British you’ll remember Broadchurch, Chris Chibnall’s Scandi-noir style thriller, only set in a small seaside town on the Dorset coast. The first season hooked the UK, giving us twists and turns galore and compelling characters with DI Alec Hardy, DS Ellie Miller, and the grief-stricken Latimer family. The third season was also gripping and twisted like a snipe (although I’ll give some brief thoughts on the ending here). Spoilers ahead. But first, something I want to be clear about. I think Chris Chibnall is a bloody good writer, and Seasons 1 and 3 of Broadchurch are some of the best crime drama the UK has produced in the last fifteen years. That’s as long as I’ve been watching crime fic, so as long as I’m qualified to judge.
Seasons 1 and 3, very, very good. And then there’s season 2… Imagine a teacher saying that they’re not angry, they’re just disappointed, in a slight Yorkshire accent, and you’ve got my general tone of voice. Season 2 opens with Ellie’s husband Joe Miller, arrested for the murder of Danny Latimer, about to stand trial for the killing. Hardy, meanwhile, is off active duty with a heart problem and obsessing over a failed case from before he transferred to Broadchurch. It starts out semi-promising, but then, well…
So many problems. Soooo many problems. And very hard to talk about on a website with a ‘no negative reviews,’ policy, so… it goes into the blog section instead!
Where to start? Well, I’ll start by saying that one of the earliest things that people had problems with – Jodie Whittaker’s character, Beth Latimer, being questioned about her sex life with husband Mark – I actually thought was fine. Chibnall clearly drew on the trial of Levi Bellfield for the murder of Millie Dowler, where her father was (very controversially) questioned about his sex life and how much his daughter could have known about it. In both cases, the questioning represented a valid, if uncomfortable, defence for the accused. Bellfield’s defence was that Dowler was a depressed, unhappy runaway teen and that he’d never encountered her, and there was sufficient supporting evidence for the judge to allow the defence to raise it in the first place, although the jury rejected it and Bellfield was convicted. It was harrowing for the Dowler family and got a fair few ‘Right-minded people,’ frothing at the mouth, but it was a valid line of defence, and (a point I’ll come back to) the judge would never have allowed it in the first place if there wasn’t some probative value to the questioning of Dowler’s father. Similarly, when Beth Latimer is questioned about her sex life with husband Mark, it forms part of a valid defence by Joe Miller’s lawyers – that Mark killed their son Danny, linked to struggles in his and Beth’s relationship. It made uncomfortable viewing (although I doubt any of the complainants felt as bad as the Dowler family), but, like Levi Bellfield in reality, Joe Miller in fiction had the right to a robust defence. So, that part of Season 2 I’ll defend, it was realistic and reasonable.
As for the rest… well, I’ll make a chronological list and try and work through it, shall I?
1). The cliché-a-minute ending to episode one.
2). Prosecutor is noble community servant, defence lawyer is evil pantomime villain.
3). Retired detective is obsessed with solving his One Failed Case.
4). Trial judge casually excludes major evidence for no real reason.
5). Suddenly Mark Latimer doesn’t have an alibi after all.
6). Defence lawyer alleges affair between senior police officers with no supporting evidence.
7). Horrendously incompetent prosecutor doesn’t deal with the above three points easily.
8). All leading up to… say it with me, the man everyone knows is guilty gets away with it.
9). To cap all it, detective’s One Failed Case turns out to be Far More Complicated.
Yeah, Joe Miller’s acquittal was a real head-desk moment. At times it seems like Chibnall was trying to write every cliché going.
Some good stuff
Ok, the acting in this series is terrific. It’s got some of the best British talent on display, and some scenes sizzle with tension even though they have no right to. The writing of the dialogue is excellent, the cinematography is beautiful, and Season 2 tries much harder to work in some roles for POC actors than Season 1 – a black lawyer, an Anglo-Indian judge (and the principal lawyers and the judge are all women).
1). The cliché-a-minute ending to episode one.
Episode one ends with Joe Miller’s defence team, Sharon Bishop (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and Abby Thompson (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) securing an order to exhume Danny’s body for a new post-mortem and… hold on, on what grounds? See, any diligent defence lawyer would have their own expert examine the autopsy files on the victim, but, exhuming the body? There’d need to be a reason, like the said defence expert casting doubt on the original autopsy findings. Exhumations aren’t granted just because the defence lawyer asks for one – if they were, everyone would be doing it. There needs to be a reason for digging up the victim’s body. But none is ever given, beyond prosecutor Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling) telling the Latimers that Joe Miller’s defence team are, ‘Fighting dirty.’ So, shits and giggles then? I mean, as a literary device, it does its job. Straight away we know that the defence team are Completely Unprincipled whilst the prosecutor Serves Her Community. But, if you know the first thing about how courts operate, it’s high-level bollocks.
Anyway, the police arrive to dig up Danny’s body whilst his parents look on tearfully and Sharon and Abby look on gleefully (the police would certainly not allow his parents inside their outer cordon, incidentally). Hardy and Ellie Miller have also somehow heard and arrive to watch, and who should be standing on a hill overlooking the graveyard? None other than Lee Ashworth (James d’Arcy), Hardy’s prime suspect from his One Failed Case, who appears to have located Hardy using telepathy. And they have a staring match, because of course they do.
Let’s count – in five minutes, we have: defence lawyers are evil cliché, defence lawyers enjoy upsetting victim’s family cliché, murderer magically able to find detective cliché, detective and murderer have lengthy staring contest cliché. Quite literally, nearly a cliché a minute.
2). Prosecutor is noble community servant, defence lawyer is pantomime villain.
Already touched on this above, and I’ll have to come back to it below, but I give this its own section, partly because they hit this nail over and over and over, but also partly because I really don’t think it was intentional to make Sharon Bishop quite as dislikable as she was.
And yes, I have noticed that the lawyers are Knight and Bishop, and Knight is white and Bishop is black. Cause court is like chess, Geddit? Season 2 is brick-to-the-head subtle at times. Again, so, so different from season 1.
As the series progresses we learn that Sharon was once Jocelyn Knight’s protégé, that Jocelyn retired from legal work to care for her sick mother, and that Sharon’s son is in prison. And I honestly think that Sharon’s son being imprisoned for a crime that she, and by the end of the season Jocelyn as well, believes that he didn’t commit, was intended to make her more sympathetic. She tries hell-for-leather to free Joe because her son was unjustly imprisoned. But, it’s pretty tone-deaf at best, because Sharon is black, so… the black woman failed as a mother and now her black son is a criminal. How many racist stereotypes can one character take? Now, I don’t think Chibnall was going for that, but that’s how it comes across, especially when it’s contrasted, in one episode opening, to Jocelyn caring for her sick mother. She comes across as noble and selfless, whilst we’re left wondering how barrister Sharon’s son ended up on the inside (and the Selfish Career-Obsessed Woman Is Bad Mother tropes that brings up could be a whole other blog post, and, intentionally or not, it is heavily implied that Sharon failed as a mother).
Sharon’s status as a panto villain is confirmed during the court scenes. Now, I imagine Marianne Jean-Baptiste had a lot of fun with these, you can almost see the scenery she’s been chewing between her teeth, and it’s hard to imagine Sharon being portrayed in a restrained way. She’s aggressive and confrontational, tearing Beth, Ellie and Mark down in turn on the witness stand, then going back for round two with Ellie. Actually… far more aggressive and confrontational than a lawyer would be allowed to be. She repeatedly asks questions of witnesses that have been answered, introduces evidence without disclosing it to the prosecution, asserts things without any supporting evidence, and cries impassioned in her closing argument that the investigation into Danny’s death was compromised by personal relationships (see point 6).
All of which stands in contrast to Jocelyn, who is prim, proper, polite, very stiff upper lip and Best of British. She’s a local woman, so in the heart of the community (unlike London-based Sharon) and takes the case at the direct request of the Latimer family. In fact, her ties to Broadchurch are explicitly stated to be her reason for taking the case. There’s a ‘community justice,’ theme in this season that burbles awkwardly up every now and then to make points at the level of a Sixth Form law debate – the Latimers don’t want just anyone to take Danny’s case so they go for the retired lawyer living nearby, although honestly, just about anyone would have done a better job of it.
At the end, Jocelyn offers to work with Sharon to free her son, saying that Sharon needs Jocelyn to keep her in line (whilst the junior prosecutor calls the junior defender repugnant when she makes a pass at him, because Defence Lawyers Are Evil). This is presented as the resolution to their character arcs, although what it resolves I’m not too sure – shows that there’s no hard feelings between them maybe? There was so little warmth between them until that point, that whatever moment they were going for they didn’t pull off. And Jocelyn thinks she can keep Sharon in line? You’ll have to start doing more than pulling faces when she starts flinging accusations around a courtroom with no proof. Try objecting.
- Retired detective is obsessed with his One Failed Case.
Long section about the lawyers, but damn! They annoyed me!
Now, to Hardy and Miller’s Crime of the Series – Hardy’s attempts to solve the Sandbrook murders, the investigation whose failure drove him to Broadchurch to begin with. A lot of the Boredchurch complaints that this series got started here, and again… well, it’s not hard to see why. The story of the Latimers gripped people because you cared about them, Beth especially and her struggles to try and move on (even more so after she unexpectedly learns she’s pregnant). The story of the Gillespies… not so much.
There are two girls in the Sandbrook case, Pippa Gillespie whose body Hardy found in traumatic circumstances, and Lisa Newberry, whose body was never found. Pippa was twelve; Lisa, her nineteen year old cousin, was babysitting her. And here’s problem number one – we have no connection to Lisa. We never meet her grieving parents, we aren’t even entirely sure which of Pippa’s parents she’s a blood relative of (although it’s implied to be dad Ricky). In one flashback we see her tell key witness Claire that she hates her mum, but we never meet her mum, so the impact of this is minimal. All we really ever learn about Lisa is that she has a stalker who Hardy didn’t rule out, or even learn about in his original investigation (more on his original investigation below).
Problem two is the deeply unsympathetic nature of Pippa’s parents. Her dad Ricky (Shaun Dooley) is, to use technical terminology, a cheating bastard, who seems to have fancied his niece as well having had an affair with Hardy’s key witness that neither of them disclosed. And which Hardy didn’t know about, surprisingly since mum Cate (Amanda Drew) apparently was aware of it. You start to wonder how much Hardy was aware of – whatever his excuses about evidence being stolen, his investigation comes across as increasingly sloppy the more you think about it. Cate has never moved on from Pippa’s death, which should be a sympathetic trope, but she’s written as a bitter alcoholic and so any sympathy is lost.
Lastly, Lee Ashworth and his girlfriend Claire Ripley (Eve Myles). Two fine actors who give far better performances than these ridiculous characters deserve. The idea seems to be that Lee has some kind of irresistible sexual magnetism to the point where Claire has no control over herself around him (no, really), which didn’t stop her sleeping with Ricky Gillespie. Indeed, it gets hard to remember who was sleeping with whom in Sandbrook.
The most likable of the people involved in the Sandbrook murders is prime suspect Lee (again, I don’t think intentionally, I think because d’Arcy acted him that way and because Dooley played Ricky Gillespie as very unsympathetic indeed). When your prime suspect is your most likable character, you done fucked up somewhere.
And I’ll say it again – the actors involved in this are of really high calibre, and give great performances. But, where Season 1 was psychologically subtle and Joe’s motives for secretly befriending and then murdering Danny were ambiguous, Season 2 relies on Lee’s unstoppable sexual chemistry as the catalyst for everything. As a psychological analysis of Lee and Claire, much like the dissection of the court system, it feels kind of like something an earnest class of Sixth Formers might debate. In a Gothic story where Lee could have some kind of paranormal sexual appeal, it might work well, but Broadchurch is supposed to be tethered in the real world. It’s brick-to-the-face level subtle again, and it lacks the psychological understanding and nuance that underpinned Joe Miller, and which made Season 1’s ending as satisfying as the journey to get there.
4). Trial judge casually excludes major evidence for no real reason.
Any defence lawyer will tell you that trying to get a confession excluded is hard. Especially in Britain, where modern police procedures mean that it’s virtually impossible for the police to coerce a confession, or alter it after the fact. Nevertheless, Joe Miller’s confession is excluded from his trial, on what are, to put it nicely, quite flimsy grounds.
Now, I get that Chibnall needed to build some tension into the trial, and Joe’s confession effectively killed off any of it. And obviously, fiction involves some suspension of disbelief. But you don’t have to suspend disbelief to swallow this; you have to dangle it over a ravine by a thread. Simply put, this isn’t how real courts work. It’s a Daily Mail fan fiction version of how courts work designed to get All Right-Thinking People foaming with indignation.
Essentially, Sharon Bishop begins questioning Hardy about his arrest of Joe, Joe’s words to him, and Joe’s subsequent confession. Hardy failed to follow proper procedure during his arrest of Joe, and so there were no corroboratory witnesses. She therefore uses this to accuse Hardy of threatening Joe without other police officers present.
Now, in a real court Sharon would have to be very careful here, because she knows Hardy didn’t threaten Joe. She can’t accuse him of something she knows didn’t happen, she can’t ask questions that obscure the facts as she knows them, and she can’t claim something to be true when she knows it isn’t. All of those things would be contempt of court, and any of them could potentially see her disbarred. She herself has no corroboration that Hardy threatened Joe, so the most she could do would be to put it to Hardy that he had threatened Joe. Hardy would deny it under oath, and with no further evidence to support that theory or to contradict Hardy’s testimony, the judge would tell her to move on. If it was that easy to get evidence excluded, no evidence would ever be included.
Ah, some might say – but didn’t Hardy allow Ellie into the interview room after Joe confessed, where she assaulted him? Might that not have swayed the judge? Well, maybe. This happened after Joe’s confession. Hardy clearly showed a lapse in judgement in allowing them to speak, but he and his officers swiftly removed Ellie from the room. Far from showing a conspiracy to threaten and intimidate Joe, it shows Hardy preventing Ellie from doing just that. And if there was such a conspiracy, would Ellie really have attacked Joe on camera, knowing that his defence team would see it? That’s the second question a judge would ask, right after asking why a confession should be excluded based on something that happened after it. Again, the idea that Hardy and Ellie intimidated Joe, whilst Sharon can validly suggest it, has no supporting evidence, or very little. A judge would want more to contradict the word of two senior police officers.
I expect Hardy would be severely censured by the judge for arresting Joe on his own, and then allowing Ellie to confront him in an interview room, but the censure would at least partly be for allowing his integrity to be attacked in that way. Nothing Sharon suggests casts any serious doubt on Joe’s confession, and a judge would want much more before excluding it.
Does it matter? Well, how many people watching this think that that’s how courts actually operate, and that obviously guilty men like Joe Miller can lie their way free from justice? No, if you’re writing a drama that’s purportedly set in the real world, you have to give a reasonable approximation of how that world operates. Slimming procedures down is one thing, but ignoring how a court works altogether? That’s going too far.
- Suddenly Mark Latimer doesn’t have an alibi after all.
About halfway through Season 2, Mark takes the stand to defend himself against Sharon’s allegations that he’s the real killer, and Jocelyn points out that there’s an hour missing from his account. This annoys me for two reasons…
1). Er, maybe you could have mentioned this in Season 1? Mark was able to supply an alibi for Danny’s death in the form of his affair with local hotelier Becca Fisher. I don’t recall anyone mentioning that Becca couldn’t alibi him completely then, and it’s a very convenient alibi as well – Becca can account for Mark’s movements that night for as long as it’s required by the plot. It’s a clunking, retrospective McGuffin. I’m not picking on Chibnall exclusively with this. I was also annoyed at Jed Mercurio for pulling something similar in Line of Duty Season 3 with Steve and Lindsay – as spoiler free as possible, something that would have occurred during Season 2, but was never even alluded to, suddenly became a major plot point. The difference is, LOD was well-written in every other respect, fast-paced, full of twists, and it always had a very authentic feel, so one retrospective McGuffin didn’t stick out too much. Broadchurch moved so slowly, and the court scenes were so inauthentic, that everything sticks out. Chibnall tried to sneak one past the audience, and it didn’t work.
2). Wait… Hardy didn’t account for this missing hour himself? He didn’t have a police officer of roughly Mark’s size and weight try to carry an object of roughly Danny’s size and weight from the cottage where he was killed to the dock, and then to the beach, then return to the cottage and clean it thoroughly, to see if Mark’s missing hour was enough time for him to commit the crime and then perform the clean-up? He just ruled Mark out on the basis of a partial alibi? So far this season, we’ve learnt that: Hardy didn’t detect an affair between his key witness in the Sandbrook case and a major suspect; didn’t learn of Lisa Newberry’s stalker; didn’t properly check Ricky Gillespie’s alibi; and now he didn’t properly eliminate Mark Latimer from the Broadchurch murder either! Seriously, was his promotion to Detective Inspector a raffle prize or something, because, to quote LOD’s Superintendent Hastings, ‘What I’m seeing here is a pattern. A pattern of failure to discharge your duties as a senior detective.’ Fella.
Hardy is supposed to be a good detective unfairly traduced in the media because of the collapse of the Sandbrook case. But the plotlines of Season 2 seem to be driven by his not doing basic detective work in either of his major investigations. Much like Becca’s alibi for Mark, Hardy only seems to be good at his job when it’s convenient to the plot.
- Defence lawyer alleges affair between senior police officers with no supporting evidence.
As an aside point, Joe’s defence need to (and never do, at least not on screen) declare what their defence of him is. As it is, the audience is left to piece it together from the questions Sharon asks the witnesses on screen – that Danny was in fact killed by Mark and Joe has been wrongly accused. The obvious question, then, would be why the police would fit up the husband of the Deputy Senior Investigating Officer as a murderer. Why indeed? Well, Sharon’s way ahead of you there. ‘What time did the affair with DI Hardy start?’ she snarls across the court at Ellie when Ellie takes the stand.
And, to quote a (much more realistic) lawyer from LOD, ‘You need to demonstrate some legal basis for that question, or I suggest you withdraw it immediately.’
Basically, Sharon probably can’t ask that. And she certainly can’t ask it in that way.
I’ve mentioned this before, but Sharon cannot mislead the court. She cannot, on pain of disbarment, claim as true things she does not know to be true. She cannot ask questions that obscure the facts as she knows them to be. So, unless she knows, for a fact, that Ellie and Hardy had an affair, and has evidence that unequivocally proves that, she can’t ask her what time the affair started. That is flat-out misleading, and no judge would tolerate it. The jury would be told to disregard the remark, and Sharon would be risking being found in contempt of court, as well as being called before the General Bar Council.
For once, Jocelyn is stirred into action and does demand that Sharon provide some evidence to support her assertion. And Sharon’s proof? On the night that Joe was arrested, Ellie visited Hardy at Becca’s hotel, where at the time he was living having not sorted out accommodation since his transfer.
And that’s it. That’s her only evidence. Ellie visited Hardy at the place he was living at. Once.
Flimsy is putting it mildly…
There’s no way, on that basis and with a plausible alternative explanation (as shown on screen, Ellie was seeking some comfort from her boss after her husband’s arrest), a judge would allow Ellie to be questioned in that way. Sharon might be allowed to put it to her that the purpose of her visit to the hotel was to have sex with Hardy, but that’s all she’d be allowed. She certainly wouldn’t be allowed to, as shown on screen, ask Ellie the question repeatedly, in a manner that suggests that she knows full well that an affair has actually occurred.
And that’s assuming a judge would even let her raise the question of an affair between Hardy and Ellie in the first place. The only corroboratory evidence is the hotel visit, which can be plausibly explained away. So, its probative value is limited, but it could be enormously prejudicial (ironically, this is exactly how it’s shown on screen – the jury seems convinced even though viewers know the affair never happened). A judge would very likely exclude it as evidence on those grounds – and with no admissible evidence to support her claim of an affair, Sharon wouldn’t be able to raise it. Yes, defence teams’ evidence has to be admissible too. Not often mentioned, but true.
After Sharon questions Ellie, Hardy snarls that this is why guilty people get away with their crimes. Once again, Broadchurch chooses to depict a Daily Mail fan fiction version of the court system where Sharon is able to lie, cheat and manipulate Joe to freedom. In reality, the courts have long been wise to ludicrous, unsupported claims that still might sway a jury if repeated loudly and often enough, and know to keep them away from a jury, but watching Broadchurch, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they aren’t.
7.Horrendously incompetent prosecutor doesn’t deal with the above three points easily.
I said it above and I’ll say it again – it’s ironic that the Latimers begged Jocelyn Knight specifically to take their case because they didn’t want just anyone, when just about anyone would have done a better job.
Seriously. Most of the people in my A Level law class could have got Joe convicted. But Broadchurch’s court scenes mostly consist of Sharon gleefully running rings around Jocelyn whilst she sits there and alternates between looking shocked, concerned and horrified. The idea that she might, I don’t know, object to some of this, never seems to cross her mind.
Let’s start with the confession. Sharon’s grounds for having it excluded are flimsy enough (suggesting that Hardy could have threatened Joe when he arrested him, without any corroboration). But if the judge is even looking swayed, Jocelyn can quite easily deal with this by just calling as witnesses all the other police officers that Joe interacted with after being arrested. Did he look frightened? No. Did he have any injuries? No. Did you see DI Hardy speak, or act, in a threatening manner? No. As the husband of a Detective Sergeant, you would have known Joe Miller – could he have told you if he was intimidated by a police officer? Yes. Did he do so? No. Well, my Lady, either the entire Broadchurch police force is in on a conspiracy to coerce a false confession from the husband of their senior officer… or there is no such conspiracy. No judge is ever to going accept that twenty or more police officers are lying without a lot of proof.
Then we come to Mark’s conveniently partial alibi. Now, ok, so to be fair if Hardy hasn’t properly eliminated Mark, Jocelyn’s on a sticky wicket with this one. Of course, what she should do is what I outlined above – get a police officer or staff member of roughly Mark’s size and weight, have him do all the things that Sharon is alleging Mark did, and see if he can get it done in under an hour. If he can’t, then Mark’s alibi holds. Ok, so some people might say that Jocelyn didn’t know Sharon would attack Mark’s alibi until the trial – but she should have done. I said it above, but it bears repeating here – Sharon has to disclose what her defence is, what evidence she’ll be using to support it, and she also has to follow any instruction Joe gives her (she can advise him, but if Joe says, ‘You must do x,’ Sharon is professionally obliged to do x). She and Jocelyn must play by the same rules. Sharon never makes her defence clear, and judging by the obvious surprise on the faces of Jocelyn and Joe during the courtroom scenes, it appears that Chibnall is imagining a courtroom where Sharon can invent her case as she goes along, without reference to her client.
Lastly, the affair between Hardy and Ellie. Leaving aside the question of supporting evidence being so flimsy, Jocelyn ought to be able to puncture this by applying some simple logic to it. Hardy and Ellie first met on the morning of Danny’s death – Mark Latimer had been ruled out within 72 hours of the murder. So, in those 72 hours, Hardy and Ellie, whilst working flat-out to investigate a murder, have decided to begin an affair and fit Ellie’s husband up for that murder, all without any of their colleagues noticing. That seems, ahem, unlikely. And we know that, for the conspiracy to work, all these decisions would have to be made within 72 hours of their meeting, because otherwise why wouldn’t they arrest Mark Latimer – according to Sharon, the real killer? Fortuitously, Mark decides to plant Danny’s missing mobile on Joe, and having discovered it Joe, instead of immediately calling 999, decides to turn it on and wait for someone to show up, by astonishing coincidence behaving exactly like a murderer wanting to surrender to the police. Which is more likely? That two senior police officers, within days of meeting each other, have decided to have an affair and have crafted a conspiracy to frame one’s husband for the murder that they’re investigating, helped by the real murderer planting evidence on their intended target, who then acted like a murderer… or that Joe Miller is in fact the killer?
That’s what Jocelyn should be telling the jury – that Sharon’s defence is a whimsical, fantastical conspiracy unsupported by any evidence. That for all her impassioned speeches, Sharon has no evidence to support her defence. If a judge would even allow her to use half of it in the first place.
- The man everyone knows is guilty gets away with it.
With grim inevitability.
They used the verdict as the cliffhanger ending to episode 7 – would Joe get away with his crimes? Some cliffhanger, the audience has known he will since the confession was first excluded. The drawing-out of it just adds to the annoyance of the whole charade.
What happens next? Well, Joe goes back to Broadchurch, the town where everyone knows he killed a child and got away with it, and to the surprise of no one is confronted by the whole community and run out of town – vicar Paul packs him off to a halfway house in Sheffield. All jokes about Sheffield being hell for Southerner aside, what Broadchurch appears to be asking us to consider here is whether the justice meted out by the community is better than that meted out by the courts.
To which, any half-decent law student will reply, ‘Hell no!’ There’s another term for ‘community justice.’ It’s ‘lynch mob.’ But what we’re being told is that the Broadchurch community can do a better job that the courts, because they aren’t fooled by the lies of Joe’s defence team. So, Broadchurch sorts it out itself, as a community. The child killer gets his justice, and he’s Sheffield’s problem now.
I think I know what Chibnall was trying to get at with the court scenes, and I’ll elaborate below. But I think that whatever his plan, he was pretty wide of the mark.
- Detective’s One Failed Case turns out to be Far More Complicated.
Well, I suppose it sort of has to, since otherwise it would have been solved the first time around. I mean, it’s a cliché that every detective has that One Failed Case that they eventually revisit, but it’s not the most annoying thing in the world. It depends on how it’s handled – it has to be done carefully or the detective can look like a right idiot for not solving it in the first place. CSI used to get around this by making solving the case dependent on forensic technology that didn’t exist at the time, neatly defraying any criticism of the CSIs themselves.
Remember how I said that one of the biggest problems with this season of Broadchurch is that you start to wonder if Hardy is actually any good as a detective? The way he failed to detect Lisa Newberry’s stalker, Claire’s affair with Ricky Gillespie, and Ricky’s lack of a proper alibi? Well, when you really start to think about the revelations that explain the Sandbrook case, you’ll wonder if both Hardy, and every officer under him, spent the entire investigation wandering around with their eyes shut, bouncing off the walls.
As eventually revealed, what happened in Sandbrook is this: Lee saw Lisa Newberry’s stalker watching her whilst she was babysitting Pippa and ran him off. Lisa had brought Pippa over to his in the meantime, and when he came back his Unstoppable Sexual Magnetism took over and they started having sex. Coming back from a wedding early, Ricky spotted them, burst in, and killed Lisa by slamming her head against the floor after she taunted him about having sex with Lee instead of him.
Then, Lee’s girlfriend Claire gets home. She sees Ricky tell Pippa that Lee killed Lisa, and after drugging Pippa, gets Lee to murder her. Lee rips up the kitchen floor where Lisa was killed to try and remove the bloody traces, then disposes of Pippa’s body, Ricky disposes of Lisa’s, and the police are called (apparently) the next morning… and, as trained observers swarm all over Ricky, Lee and Claire, nobody notices that they all seemed rather tired, as though they’ve been up all night hiding bodies, and nobody notices that half the floor in Lee’s kitchen has just been replaced in a rather random fashion.
This just goes on and on. The Gillespie house, as the place that the girls were last known to be at, would have been forensicated from top to bottom; the police should notice that Ricky’s wedding suit is either missing, covered in soil, or just been washed, all three of them things which should arouse instant suspicion. In the show, Hardy doesn’t learn that Ricky left the wedding early until estranged wife Cate tells him – but when he sent detectives to the wedding to check that Ricky and Cate left when they said they did, they surely would have realised that they left separately, and that Ricky wasn’t seen for hours. The next step would have been to trace Ricky’s movements after he left, which would show him briefly returning home before leaving again to hide Lisa’s body.
Hardy did check Ricky’s alibi, right?
I’m being facetious, it’s news to him that Ricky left that wedding early, so clearly he didn’t check it. I’m just gonna wheel out Line of Duty’s Super Ted here, and let him snarl it for me in an Ulster accent…
‘What I’m seeing here is a pattern. A pattern of failure to discharge your duties as a senior detective.’
Does this matter? Short answer, yes, Hardy has to be credible as a skilled senior detective. He has to be able to see connections that others miss, and be thorough where others aren’t. In the Sandbrook investigation he’s shown as doing none of those things. It undermines him as someone we can trust to solve the case, a persona that Season 1 carefully constructed for him. The Latimer murder was complex, but Hardy always seemed a credible character. The audience always believed that he’d get there eventually. In Season 2 he comes across as a flailing bungler whose teams don’t do basic detective work.
In this case, the One Failed Case Trope isn’t handled carefully at all. Basic things that Hardy should have learnt during the original enquiry are complete revelations to him here. By the end of it, I’m wondering whether he should have ever been made a DI in the first place.
So… what went wrong?
When I started this blog, my working assumption was time. I thought that the popularity of Season 1 persuaded ITV to commission another season on the hoof, and that Chibnall hadn’t had time to prepare it properly. With more lead in time, Season 3 was back on form.
Apparently, I was wrong about this. Broadchurch was always pitched as a trilogy even though the first season was a standalone as well. What this means is that Chibnall knew the rough outline of the season from the start. Now, what creative decisions were his own and what were influenced by ITV, I don’t know, but this does raise the possibility that Chibnall always intended Joe Miller to be acquitted. So how did he manage to write a court system that is so easily duped by Joe and his defence team, in a way that actual courts simply are not? And how did he manage to write the previously grittily able Hardy into such a bumbling twerp?
Where Season 1 focussed on grief, Season 2 focussed on injustice – the injustice of Joe’s acquittal, and the injustice of the failed Sandbrook case. And oddly, given what I’ve said about the creative choices regarding Hardy’s handling of the Sandbrook case, I think it’s actually a very realistic example of how police investigations collapse and fail to get any answers. Hardy’s team were unobservant and sloppy even without the affair between his wife and another officer that allowed key evidence to be stolen (Pippa’s pendant, found in Lee’s car and stolen from DS Mrs Hardy’s by Claire when she parked in a hotel to shag a colleague). They failed to notice three obviously tired people the morning after the murders, failed to challenge Ricky’s alibi robustly, apparently failed to notice the suspicious absence or dirtiness of his wedding suit, and, also, why were they searching Lee’s car and not his house as well? How did the forensic team miss traces of Pippa’s DNA left when Lee transported her body? The only explanation I can come up with is that officer who found it tripped up, fell through the window of Lee’s car, and saw the pendant. No forensics team was ever involved. And the poor officer probably bled to death when Hardy accidentally called the Coastguard instead of the ambulance to tend to his injuries. And don’t tell me Lee cleaned the car before it was searched, because he’d have found the damn pendant and got rid of it if he had. Seriously, Sandbrook was a really easy solve!
All the mistakes Hardy makes are classic mistakes made by police in failed cases – the lack of thoroughness, the focus on one suspect and failure to consider others, the failure to search obvious areas of interest. But, I think that this quite by accident, because Chibnall never draws our attention to any of them – they only become apparent when you start to think about how Hardy appears to have approached the investigation. The way it’s presented, Hardy is thwarted by a conspiracy between Claire and Ricky to hide the truth of what happened, each held in check by what the other knows. With all the witnesses lying, Hardy was foiled when Claire stole his only evidence from his wife’s car during her booty call (that one I will let go. I’m willing to believe that DS Mrs Hardy was too focussed on her booty call to spot her key witness following her. Ok, it stretches credibility a bit, but compared to some of the other things Chibnall tries to pull it’s not that bad).
But, as I’ve outlined above, Hardy had multiple opportunities to shatter this conspiracy that he just… missed. Maybe his wife’s affair distracted him, maybe the two subordinate officers shagging each other weren’t performing well either, but actually, those things need to be at least alluded to on screen. If DS Mrs Hardy and her fuckbuddy were dropping off work for assignations and missed key evidence as a result, that’s a reason for the lapses, especially if Hardy was previously a delegator (he most definitely is not in Seasons 1 and 3 and it drives Ellie spare) – or, worse, they were actively trying to undermine Hardy by sabotaging his case.
Similarly, the court scenes show a lack of understanding of how courts actually function that surprised me, given that Seasons 1 and 3 show a fairly good understanding of police procedure. I’m left struggling to decide whether Chibnall just did no research on how courts work, or whether he did and decided to present them as he did anyway because real courts would never acquit Joe Miller, and he needed Joe Miller acquitted for his ending extolling the virtues of community justice to right wrongs that the courts won’t punish.
I’m brought back to some of the early complaints about Season 2 – the questioning of Beth Latimer about her and Mark’s sex life, and the belief that Chibnall drew on the trial of Levi Bellfield for those scenes. If he did, I can’t help but feel he missed the point of the Dowler family’s complaints – and that better understanding could have produced a better show. Millie Dowler’s family weren’t complaining that Bellfield was acquitted in the teeth of evidence, having tied the court in knots – they were complaining that Bellfield’s conviction had cost them too much. With Bellfield pleading not guilty, the courts owed him (and anyone else accused of a crime) a robust defence, if on the face of it, it seemed reasonable and was supported by some probative evidence. It could well be that Bellfield chose the line of defence that he knew would inflict the most pain on Dowler’s family.
Joe, once he pleads not guilty, has to be given a defence (and his claim that there are secrets in Broadchurch that he needs to expose through his trial, and that this is why he pled not guilty, is never followed through on). A potentially more powerful story would be that Joe, knowing he will be convicted, chooses to plead not guilty and base his defence on the most painful lines of questioning possible for his former friends and neighbours. I think this would have worked especially well if the prosecutor and defender had been written the opposite way round to how they were – the prosecutor as the villain with no compassion for the Latimers, only wanting a result, and the defender as a genuinely good person being forced to provide Joe with the defence s/he is instructed to give him. What we would have ended up with, after Joe is found guilty, is the Latimers left wondering if the cost of the guilty verdict was really worth it. To me, that’s a much challenging, complex ending than the ‘Community solves problem that the courts won’t,’ that they went with.
Season 1 of Broadchurch was complex and layered, and its ending was also complex and layered. Jack Marshall, the village shopkeeper accused of being a paedophile, had a conviction for a underage sex, but with a former pupil he later married – and, as he explained to Mark during the scene where the village lynch mob confronts him, his apparent over-familiarity with his Sea Brigade boys developed after the death of his wife and children, as he sought affection elsewhere. This is challenging, it makes the audience think again about what who we think of as a paedophile and evil. I, personally, think Jack’s relationship with his student was totally immoral and illegal and he was justly punished for it, but then I’m a teacher myself. To me, however in love he and his pupil were, he had a professional duty he didn’t fulfil, and he gets no sympathy from me for not fulfilling it. But it’s meant to challenge that perspective – as grubby as Jack is to me, there’s a difference between him and a serial child abuser like, say, the villains of Hinterland or Line of Duty. And again, with Joe Miller; he had secretly befriended Danny having noticed how lonely he was, and it’s implied that part of Joe’s reason for killing him is panic at what will happen to him after Danny threatens to tell. None of this excuses Joe’s actions – we’re being asked to reconsider what we think of as evil, who we think of as a murderer.
Season 2, on the other hand, presents a simplistic, stereotyped view of the court system where defence lawyers are free to mislead the court and lie their guilty clients to freedom. I said the writing in this series never met a cliché it didn’t like, and this is probably the worst because the entire series is based around the obviously guilty person getting away with it. I really think Chibnall was trying to say that community justice can be used to right the wrongs of the court system and fix the injustices it creates, but community justice has so many potential flaws that it’s really not a debate anyone in the legal system has. It’s true that, in court, the truth can be subsumed by the games lawyers play, but that’s not because the truth doesn’t matter. It’s because, in court, what’s true is equated to what can be proven. None of Sharon’s claims about Joe, Hardy, and Ellie, can be proven (because there’s either no, or very little, actual evidence for them) and so they can’t be aired in court.
What this means is that, for all the fine acting, beautiful camera work, and the sharpness of the script, Season 2 is fatally hobbled from the start because the premise of its two main arcs is so flawed. Courts simply do not work like that. Hardy is a (much, much) better detective than that.
Had Hardy’s case collapsed because two key subordinates were distracted by their affair and didn’t do basic police work, all of lapses would have made sense to the audience, and it would elicit sympathy for Hardy – Sandbrook, the lowest point in his life, was caused by his blindness to his wife’s infidelity and unprofessionalism. Maybe he didn’t want to see it, maybe he couldn’t bring himself to believe it, either way, Sandbrook collapsed for a reason besides Hardy’s failure to do almost any basic detective work.
Broadchurch is based in the real world, and in the real world, Joe Miller is going to prison, do not pass go, do not pick up £200. He can’t be credibly acquitted, and Chibnall should never have tried to do so. What, in my view, he should have done, is accepted that Joe would be found guilty, and worked out how to put the Latimers through as much of a ringer as possible having done that. There were ways to do that. Honestly, by the end of episode 7, Joe’s conviction would have been far more surprising than his acquittal ever was.
As well-made, well-acted, and (script-wise) well-written as it was, Season 2 went off the tracks when its basic premises were decided on, and the more it doubled down on those premises, the worse it got.
Broadchurch was right back on form with Season 3. I remember discussing it with a friend when it restarted – she was so put off by Season 2, she didn’t want to give it another try, but I figured I’d watch episode 1 and see if it was any good. By the end of it I was texting her to say, ‘It’s good again! It’s really good again! You should watch it!’
She actually didn’t, but said she might when I told her I was writing this post (and won’t be disappointed if she does). Season 3 was Broadchurch back on form and a reminder that, for all the flak I gave him in this post so far, Chris Chibnall is actually one hell of a writer who knows how to write compelling, realistic drama with sympathetic characters that asks challenging questions. Doctor Who should be safe with him and Jodie Whittaker.
Ok, so, the interview scenes where Hardy suddenly starts saying, ‘This is item reference EM-43,’ got me laughing. Line of Duty much? But, you know what, it’s how the police actually do it. Not gonna hate on it, it’s a nice procedural addition.
If there was one quibble I had, it was with the ending. With the rapist arrested, Hardy (who’s back on form as a good detective) growls to Ellie that, ‘He’s an aberration.’ Only, he isn’t. Earlier that day, Hardy was driving his daughter to the train station to leave town. She’d gone to live with him, but been humiliated when explicit photos that she’d taken of herself for her boyfriend were shared around her school. As Hardy takes her to the station, he sees the boys responsible, stops the car, and in front of his daughter confronts them, denounces their behaviour and promises retribution if they ever humiliate his daughter again. So, the prevalence of aggressive male sexual behaviour in society is acknowledged, and then denied, by Hardy, in the space of about 30 minutes.
But it’s a minor quibble, because I think Chibnall is too clever a writer not to realise that this is what he’s done. I think what’s actually happening is that Hardy, a good, decent, and honourable man, is lying to himself – he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he himself may be the aberration, or least not in as big of a majority as he’d like to think; the decent bloke who treats women with respect. The whole series has been full of men who treat women like beanbags, so for Hardy to dismiss all that in a little moment at the end with Ellie seems a bit too incongruent. But, where Season 2 was not subtle, at all, Season 3 may have been a bit too subtle here. I think Ellie needs to point out that they’ve encountered a lot of men not a million miles away from the eventual rapist.
It’s a minor point. And, honestly, as much I try to headcanon Season 2 out of existence, I would recommend Seasons 1 and 3 of Broadchurch to anyone, because they’re bloody good. Just tell yourself that Joe bribed his jury and that’s why he’s out in Season 3. It’ll make it easier.
For my thoughts on other shows which made huge creative mistakes, check out https://attemptedmurder.uk/2020/06/03/theres-been-another-murder-how-itv-killed-off-the-uks-two-longest-running-crime-shows-by-making-the-exact-same-mistakes/ for my thoughts on the strange demise of both Taggart and The Bill, https://attemptedmurder.uk/2019/06/28/the-victim-jumping-the-shark-so-high-you-start-flying/ for what I made of 2019’s The Victim, and https://attemptedmurder.uk/2019/05/06/line-of-duty-first-thoughts-on-the-battle-of-hastings/ for my views on Line of Duty‘s fifth season. See, I don’t just pick on ITV!
On a related note, I even have a blog about another supposedly capable detective who was actually a complete idiot, only this time in movie form. See why I think the police should have solved Gone Girl really easily here: https://attemptedmurder.uk/2018/12/28/how-the-police-should-have-solved-gone-girl-really-easily/.
If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘Yeah, you talk a good game. But can you actually write?’ then please check out my short stories here: https://attemptedmurder.uk/shortstories/. Go on, see if I can actually write anything myself, instead of just criticise the noble efforts of others. Now come shameless plugs…
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