For its third and final season, Broadchurch, premiering Wednesday night on BBC America, finds a way to give its fans a lot of what they want while also compelling them to watch something they may not want to watch. What fans want, of course, is gobs and gobs of David Tennant and Olivia Colman, as cop partners Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller, and these final eight episodes offer viewers the two divergent detective inspectors in abundance. What fans may not want to watch — initially, at least — is the season’s central crime: the sexual assault of a woman and its awful aftermath.
Series creator and writer Chris Chibnall does nothing to soften the harrowing pain of the crime and the victim’s complex reaction to it. Trish (Julie Hesmondhalgh) is raped after a neighborhood party, and DIs Hardy and Miller are tasked with the investigation. As always, they roam across the small town of Broadchurch doing their usual conversational dances: Miller chides Hardy for being abrupt or rude; Hardy admonishes Miller for being too credulous. Hardy still needs a shave; Miller still needs to start eating better food than Scotch eggs.
Yes, you have to strain your credulity a bit to believe that so much crime can occur in so small a town, and that one case can afford to have two full-time detectives assigned to it. But given the richness of these lead characters, you cut the show a lot of slack. Both Tennant and Colman, who since the debut of Broadchurch in 2013 have gone on to do bigger things, nevertheless give these roles their all.
Much of the drama this season is provided by Trish, who is by turns both strong and vulnerable in the wake of being attacked. Hesmondhalgh is very good indeed, every second. (You may recognize her from Happy Valley, and if you don’t know what Happy Valley is, get thee to thy Netflix.) Chibnall has found an adroit way to bring back the previous season’s co-stars, Jodie Whittaker and Andy Buchan’s Beth and Mark Latimer, parents of murdered son Danny. Beth has a new job at a social services agency, assigned to help Trish in her recovery. Beth is, we’re not surprised to learn, very good at this work, which makes sense: She was always the stronger and more emotionally mature one in this married couple. Mark is still at loose ends over the death of Danny. Truth be told, I was tired of hearing about this case and thought the show was just plowing familiar territory, and if you feel the same way, I will say without giving anything away: Stick with it; the show pays off on the Beth and Mark relationship.
Broadchurch finishes out its run as a distinctive cross between two mystery genres — the hard-boiled-detective and the so-called British cozy. Its refusal to reduce any of the crimes it portrayed to standard TV gestures, as well as the vividness of its two lead characters, give it an afterlife: I’d guess that many people will watch the series over again, even knowing how it turns out, just to spend time in the bleak town of Broadchurch.
Broadchurch airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on BBC America.
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