Episode 6 of Broadchurch was where the show recovered its form with a bang. As the trial of Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle) progressed there was a return to what made the first series more than just another crime procedural – a focus on the effects that Danny Latimer’s murder was having on the people close to him. Events in the courtroom and the fall out from them led to remarkable performances, notably from Olivia Colman and Jodie Whittaker as two women trying to claw back some normality and dignity into their lives, Andrew Buchan as the grieving father who knows he has let his family down and, as brooding, drifting teenager Tom, Adam Wilson.
Since the arrest of Joe Miller shattered his family, Ellie (Olivia Colman) has been trying to pick up the pieces and build a new life for herself. However, recent episodes have indicated that she is not going to be beaten down by this. She doesn’t want some makeshift existence in a tiny bedsit, she wants her old life back in her old house with what remains of her family and she’s going to win back her respect. The turning point is learning that her son Tom (Adam Wilson) lied in court under oath for his undeserving father, it’s the catalyst that releases Ellie the Lioness. And she can certainly roar. She almost drags Tom home by the scruff of the neck, and it has to be said that following his nervous tearful appearance in the witness box, Tom actually looks relieved that one of his parents has at last taken control.
But where Ellie is regaining control, Beth (Jodie Whittaker) seems to be losing hers as more secrets are peeled away from her fragile marriage via an amazing and sensitive performance by Andrew Buchan as Mark. First she learns of Mark’s secret meetings with Tom. Then she learns that Mark saw his fling with Becca as the start of something more permanent and had Danny lived she would now be without a husband. She’s so low that the only source of comfort she has is the hated Ellie. But worse is to come when it emerges that the continuation of the trial hinges not on an error by Hardy or Ellie, but on the actions of the one person she thought that she could rely on to do the right thing by Danny. Mark’s visit to Joe in the cells could have jeopardised everything. For a while she is floored. Fortunately we see a return of the old Beth fire when she too explodes, ferociously laying down an ultimatum to Mark. But with the Latimer family stumbling from crisis to crisis might this now be the final hurdle that neither Beth nor Mark have the strength left to climb?
And what of the accused himself? Joe Miller is more or less cut adrift by Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) who refuses to provide any more spiritual support to a man who cannot take responsibility for his actions. Joe has also seen his own son risk himself by lying for him. He’s last seen brooding in his cell, maybe signalling a change of heart. But things could change again, all depending on what juicy bit of info devious junior barrister Abbie (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) managed to lift from Lucy's (Tanya Franks paperwork. Olly’s (Jonathan Bailey) latest conquest could backfire spectacularly – will he never learn to leave those London girls alone?
Meanwhile Hardy has his own trials to overcome as the date of his medical procedure rolls around, and David Tennant underplays the tortured detective’s anxieties perfectly as he slips away, unnoticed, for what he fears my be the end of him. Whether it’s the heightened sense of his own mortality or just the sentiment of revisiting his old stamping ground, Hardy is missing the comforts of family life and suggests another go of things with ex-wife Tess (Lucy Cohu). But it seems as if his plans might be nipped in the bud as he goes under anaesthetic and what must have seemed like the longest ad break ever was heralded in to the sound of a flatlining heart monitor. It’s a relief to see him straight back on sparring terms with Ellie – a reminder that while his heart might be fixed his personality certainly hasn’t been. That being said, it’s also good to see the human side of Hardy that his interactions with ex-wife Tess and daughter Daisy bring out. Although Hardy’s warmer side has been hinted at, we are at last seeing a man who is capable of sharing affection with other human beings, and joking and, God forbid, even smiling. It’s like seeing the final pieces dropping into place in the puzzle that is the man. But with Tess now tempted to get back on board with the Sandbrook investigation it remains to be seen how that will affect the dynamic of the Hardy-Ellie relationship which is central to the drama. With someone in between this could be somewhat diluted. Also, Sandbrook has now come to represent some form of redemption for both Hardy and Miller and there’s no sense with the viewer that any other character has earned a share of that.
As for Sandbrook, the focus is increasingly turning on the enigmatic Claire as the force behind what went on. In the course of the episode we see her exploding in impotent rage as Hardy essentially evicts her, turning to Lee for some more brutal sex and then going househunting with her estranged husband, viewing a property with another sporty trampolining pre-teen as a neighbour. No questions are answered, but more are posed. Did she and Lisa Newbery orchestrate some kind of campaign against Cate Gillespie? Why the gate in the fences between the houses? What was the ‘plan’ that she and Lee had formed and failed to stick to? And is Ellie in any danger now that she’s discovered the secret of Pippa’s pendant? Finally what is the nature of the relationship between Hardy and Claire? In a slip of the tongue she implied he was jealous of Lee. Is Hardy in deeper than Ellie is aware – and if so what are his real reasons for wanting to solve the case?
With two episodes left there’s a lot to be wrapped up in both cases. If the momentum of tonight’s episode continues, then Broadchurch is undoubtedly set to regain its crown as unmissable event television.