Broadchurch Series-Finale Recap: An Aberration

Photo: Colin Hutton/Kudos/Imaginary Friends/Sister Pictures/ITV


Episode 8 Season 3 Episode 8
Editor's Rating 2 stars

“He is not what men are,” Alec Hardy spits out after he and Ellie Miller finally catch their culprit. “He is an aberration.” “I hope so,” replies Miller, though in three seasons of Broadchurch, we’ve learned she knows better than that. This is what men are. This is what people are. Neither of them truly believes what they are saying, or seeing, by the end of this case. They just want it to be over.

We’ve come a long way since meeting Trish Winterman in the season premiere. At the time, I praised the episode for its careful restraint, and its surgical treatment of Trish and her attack. That’s been a saving grace of the show this season. Despite a couple of ill-advised story lines (including yet another “death of local journalism” C-plot that made it into my notes once in eight weeks), Hardy and Miller’s focus on not only bringing justice to Trish’s attacker, but doing right by her, has been wonderful.

Here, though, Trish’s story has all but wrapped up. The Broadchurch finale broadly deals in two sections: Hardy and Miller doing some good ol’ fashioned detective work, and the brutal flashbacks to what really happened at Axehampton. It’s a breathless sprint to the finish line that leaves nuance and sensitivity in the dust. For fans of the show’s procedural elements, this is a good ending, and as “satisfying” a culprit reveal as could be. Still, in its final bow, Broadchurch jettisoned a lot of what made it so special, and that can only be seen as a missed opportunity.

“So Jim Atwood, Clive Lucas, or Ed Burnett: Take your pick,” Hardy says as the final depositions get under way. We’re still in the dark over whose DNA has been found on the sock gag, remember. Anyway, Clive is brought in, our mysterious cab driver who I predicted would come into play in this final episode, and boy does he. Hardy and Miller are alerted early on to Lucas’s “trophy drawer,” in which he stores things from people who were careless enough to leave them in his cab. Just so happens Trish is one of those people. During his interview, while trying to throw Jim Atwood under the bus, he accidentally lets slip that his alibi was a fabrication. The guys on this show may be awful, but at least they’re helplessly stupid.

Ed Burnett is removed from the running pretty quickly, but not without revealing he heard the rape happen at Axehampton. Out of shame he never came forward. It’s another cowardly act by another cowardly man, but it’s hard to imagine this would have helped break the case in any meaningful manner, especially after Hardy and Miller get their hands on the CCTV footage of who stashed the twine at Burnett’s store: Shitty Twine Boy Leo Humphries! Oh, I just knew we’d have to deal with him tonight. Now that he’s a major player in the case, I’m unfortunately going to have to retire his dismissive nickname. We’ll miss you, Shitty Twine Boy Leo. Welcome to the fold, Outright Villain Leo Humphries.

And Leo is, in fact, our villain. Our aberration. More or less. Broadchurch likes to jump through hoops to make sure even the closest watchers are wrong-footed by the big reveal, and while Leo is by far the most unapologetically evil person Hardy and Miller have ever dealt with, there are still more wrinkles left to iron out. So, as doled out in flashbacks, here is what happened to Trish Winterman and why:

After being struck by his dad during a football match (we saw such an event in episode four), Michael Lucas becomes acquainted with Leo, who begins to mentor and, essentially, groom him. After getting him into porn — presumably the stuff we later saw Michael sharing with Tom Miller — Leo lets Michael “borrow” his girlfriend in order to lose his virginity. (“She does as she’s told,” Leo says.) The two then crash the Axehampton party. Leo attacks Trish, and encourages Michael to rape her while unconscious. Fleeing the scene, the boys run into Clive Lucas and force him to drive them home, essentially making him complicit in their crime. His obfuscations were his attempt to protect his rapist son.

It’s vile. When I called it a “satisfying” twist above, I only mean that in the most awful way. It’s a heartbreaking revelation and perhaps even more graphic than it should be. Broadchurch likes us to think about guilt, about justice, about morality, but the final stretch of this episode veers into nastiness. People are capable of small, violent, terrible things, and it doesn’t feel like there’s much justification to what’s shown here, outside of giving us an ending no one could have seen coming. Michael is also portrayed a little bit too much like a victim here for my liking, caught between authority figures spewing toxic masculinity. He was “forced” to rape Trish Winterman, Hardy says, but of course he wasn’t. Not really.

We’re then invited to compare notes. Yes, Leo did attack the other women, he gave Trish to Michael as some kind of twisted gift, and he is pathologically unfeeling in his justifications for rape. I wouldn’t go as far as to call this episode tasteless, but it invites a dark cloud of sensationalism over what has been a solid season of television.

And so, we finally have our perpetrators, but there’s very little fanfare or victory to be had here. Hardy gets props from his daughter, Paul gives a nice sermon, and Ian Winterman invites himself over to Trish and Leah’s for tea. The Latimers get some nice scenes, too, but it’s really little more than fan service. Beth and Mark have become different people since Danny died.

What, then, are the lessons we take from the finale we didn’t already take from the season’s other episodes? Or the two seasons before that, for that matter? That trauma changes you? That morality and justice are two completely separate ideas? We knew that already. In the end, Broadchurch season three largely functioned as a condemnation of modern masculinity. It was clumsy and maybe irresponsible, but it’s still a valid conversation to spark, even if the landing was botched. Once again, I cannot praise Julie Hesmondhalgh enough for her performance as Trish Winterman. It was a powerful, unapologetic, layered work. Trish was a victim, yes, but she owned every scene. She was given space to be angry, to be petty, even to be mean. I wish the bravery and nuance that Hesmondhalgh, her co-stars, and Chris Chibnall brought to those scenes were translated elsewhere.

We end where we ended four years ago; on a bench overlooking the beaches of Broadchurch, Hardy and Miller technically triumphant yet all but defeated. The interplay between the two was tragically absent in the back half of this season, but David Tennant and Olivia Colman deserve nothing but plaudits for their work throughout Broadchurch’s run, which helped elevate a mostly dumb British pulp drama into a thrilling, (mostly) fun watch. “I could do with a drink, do you want one? We’ve never been to the pub before,” Miller asks her partner. “No,” Hardy says. “See you tomorrow, Miller.” Off they go again.

Broadchurch Series-Finale Recap: An Aberration