Broadchurch begins this week with a few shots that could be straight out of a documentary about the plight of a quaint, centuries-old tea shop. Or a background for Windows Vista. It’s a common enough choice: Shows with ever-so-slightly novelty settings love to linger on their landscapes, so we get a lot of wheat fields and country roads. Still, given Broadchurch’s subject matter and intentions, it’s hard to see this as a respite more than a thinly veiled threat: Enjoy the peace and quiet while you can.
We start right where we left off in episode four, with the woman who’s come to tell Miller and Hardy she experienced a similar attack a couple of years ago. The details of Trish Winterman’s rape haven’t been released to the public, so the fact that this woman was tied up and gagged suggests that the two detectives are dealing with a repeat assaulter. A harrowing prospect.
“She didn’t report it, ’cause she thought she wouldn’t be treated with respect or dignity,” Hardy says when they’re alone later. There’s been a line similar to this in every episode so far. Most often, it’s delivered by Hardy, musing on the systematic unfairness of rape reports and their receptions. While it may be tempting to accuse Chibnall and Broadchurch of drawing too bold a line under themes sometimes, Hardy’s attitude being injected into the mainstream is still, tragically, subversive and vital.
With this new knowledge in hand, episode five delivers on story, but more important, it is the most sharply focused installment yet. It’s a careful study of consequences, whether small or life-shattering. Trish, herself the victim of a mindless act of horrific violence, was not suffering the consequences of anything during her attack. The investigation so far points to her rape being a random attack from someone who was going to hurt someone. Wrong place, wrong time.
However, Trish has to reckon with the consequences of something that exists entirely outside the lens of her assault. She slept with her friend’s husband and has to face the music, even though she’s irrevocably shattered and altered. Not that it changes much in the eyes of Cath. A betrayal is still a betrayal, and Sarah Parish plays Cath’s pain, confusion, and anger perfectly. From the darkly funny, almost shared joke between the two — “God, this is so Jim. You’re the one who gets raped, and you’re the one who has to tell me” — her hurt slowly evolves into a much crueler, yet insidiously understandable impulse to blame Trish, who, despite everything, was responsible for the choice she made that morning. But there’s no accounting for Cath’s venomous sign-off: “What I don’t understand,” she says, “Of all the women at that party … why would somebody rape you?” It’s a shocking blow that obliterates the moral and social labyrinth the conversation had previously constructed. It’s another attack. Season three is teaching us that pain just breeds more pain, however unfair that might be.
Jim is next on Cath’s warpath, though the betrayal of her doofus, ever-cheating husband seems to bring out a more withering, tired scolding than anything else. “You know what your weakness is, love?” she asks. “You’re stupid, but you think you’re smart. That’s a very dangerous place to live.” A veiled threat and all! I would be cheering for Cath if she hadn’t just bullied a rape survivor in the previous scene. These people sure are complicated, huh?
The episode’s other consequences are more far-reaching. Aaron Mayford, the intensely creepy local sex predator, has found himself with unfortunate ties to both Trish and the woman who came forward to Miller and Hardy at the end of episode four. He has a wife and kid at home and, by all accounts, just wants to live out a normal life, but that’s not the life you inherit when you’re on the “list.” As such, he’s pulled in for questioning. Jim Howick is once again at his mean, scenery-chewing best here. “Bit lazy, you know?” he says at the beginning of his deposition. “Woman gets raped; you pull in the local rapist.” His calm (and, let us not forget, his harassment of Harford in last week’s episode) makes him less a complicated figure and more just a slithering, awful dick, but one who I still believe is entirely unconnected with the two attacks. It would be too easy, and knowing Broadchurch, not nearly heartbreaking enough a reveal for the local community.
Lucky for Mayford, and unlucky for pretty much everyone else, a third attack comes to light. Beth, telling her supervisor about Trish’s ordeal, rings a bell about a very similar rape that took place while Mayford was in prison. The one detail that connects the attacks: They all happened in the summer. A tourist perhaps? A student? Someone who doesn’t like conducting their brutal assaults when it’s chilly out?
Shitty Net Boy Leo is also back in a big way. He and Jim Atwood are both my favorites (as odds-on suspects) and least favorites (as people behaving in the worst conceivable manner). Leo edges it this week, despite Jim’s violent threatening of Clive Lucas. Leo, it seems, has plenty of secrets: After unconvincingly confirming his alibi to Hardy and Miller (“I’m getting sick of people lying to us,” Hardy growls as they walk away from the questioning), Leo’s girlfriend calls him up and tells him he now owes her “three favors.” The other two for what, exactly? That the sock found on the Axehampton House premises at the end of the episode is the same as the ones Leo and his footie pals wear is damning, too, but this all feels like a brisk pileup of intrigue with three episodes yet to play out. I’m also not very worried about Ian Winterman breaking into Trish’s house while she sleeps. He’s an idiot, but I doubt he’s an evil one.
So, that’s it, right? All the pieces are in place for next week’s episode? Oh wait, not yet. The final character dealing with grave consequences is the returning Joe Miller! Mark Latimer has taken a road trip north to track him down and finally get justice for Danny. I don’t like where this story line is going, nor do I much care. Mark, Joe, and, regrettably Paul, have all been sidenotes this season. Although keeping Paul around in the margins has been good for linking up certain stories, the occasional forays back into Joe vs. Mark territory have crossed from tiresome into full-on ugly distractions. In a case like the one Miller and Hardy are dealing with, that’s saying something.