Broadchurch – Recap: Fifteen
Recap and review of Broadchurch – Season 1 Episode 5:
In any murder investigation, the press can sometimes be just as much of a villain as the perpetrator. Well, okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the fact remains that the media can occasionally become invasive to the point of harassment — and when that harassment results in the death of an otherwise innocent man, who is the real villain?
Broadchurch is often compelling because it depicts the full breadth of human complication: more often than not, the problems faced by these characters are problems of their own making, whether it’s Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan) getting outed for his affair with Becca Fisher (Simone McAullay), Jack Marshall (David Bradley) receiving an underage sex conviction in his past because he simply couldn’t wait one more month for his girlfriend/pupil to come of age, or whether it’s Karen (Vicky McClure) and Olly (Jonathan Bailey) having their story about Jack Marshall repurposed for attention-grabbing, mob-rousing ends. This latter development, in particular, shows the double-edged sword represented by the media. No matter how noble their intentions, Karen and Olly had to suspect, at some level, that their words could be twisted, given the very delicate nature of the story they were writing. But there’s a lack of foresight involved when ambitious journalists are chasing a potentially career-making story. And it’s this representation of the media, simultaneously well-meaning and careless, that colors tonight’s episode. Even in the best of times, the press can do considerable harm, because the press often elides what prevents tragedy from happening — context.
The town of Broadchurch misconstrued Jack Marshall’s underage sex conviction as evidence that he was into little boys. From there, the town was all-too-willing to jump to the conclusion that Jack must have murdered Danny Latimer. And even if he didn’t, well, he must be a bad guy if he wants to piddle little boys, right? Except, as usual, the mob mentality found a way to override the better judgment of otherwise reasonable people, leading to the public persecution of a man suffering from past traumas of his own. As we learn, Jack Marshall’s conviction wasn’t for sleeping with an underaged boy, but instead with an underaged girl, a former pupil of his who was 15 and 11 months at the time of their affair. Had he simply waited one more month before giving in to his passions, they would have been perfectly clear under the law. But this wasn’t the case. Jack was tried and convicted for sex with a minor, and spent a year in jail for his crime. However, upon his release, he married the girl and fathered a son by her, managing to build a happy life in the process. But tragedy would soon strike when an automobile accident killed Jack’s wife and young son, leaving him a sad, broken man. He didn’t move to Broadchurch so much as he escaped there, opting to start a new life away from the persecution and tragedy that plagued him in his former stomping grounds.
Of course, the press doesn’t really care about that. Karen tries to fight the good fight when she rails against her editor for punching up her story to make for a more salacious headline. But it’s a lost cause, and when the papers hit the stoop to Jack’s store, he sees the front page — a family portrait of Jack with his wife and young son, accompanying the headline “Child Bride of Broadchurch” — and decides this isn’t a world he wants to be a part of anymore. The police discover his body at the bottom of the cliff where Danny Latimer’s body was found, the old man having committed suicide rather than endure further emotional torture, about which the police will continue to do nothing. It’s the most poignant, moving episode since the pilot thanks to this central storyline, which also serves as a stern indictment of law enforcement practices, since Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie (Olivia Colman) don’t do a whole lot to stop this from happening, but mostly because there wasn’t a whole lot they could have done, given how the law protects the press.
The plight of Jack Marshall makes for a fitting parallel with Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont), the Latimers’ 15-year-old daughter who is in a law-breaking relationship with an older boy. Mark discovers the existence of this relationship, and is implicitly forced to confront the moral grey area presented by Jack’s situation. This, without even mentioning the fact that Mark first got together with Beth when she was fifteen, and has been with her for fifteen years (the number fifteen is a bit of a recurring symbol in this episode, representative of a sort of bridge between innocence and adulthood). It isn’t simply that these issues force the townspeople to turn the magnifying glass on each other, but that they also force citizens to look inward at their own prejudices. Mark is able to dissuade the crowd from practically lynching Jack on the spot in his name. He shows empathy with Jack and suggests that he leave Broadchurch for his own good, but it’s advice that comes too late to do any good. Jack has made up his mind, not unlike the townspeople, or the scandal-obsessed press that drives him to suicide.
But the tragedy with Jack isn’t the only significant development this week. Beth (Jodie Whittaker), feeling as if she lacks agency in her own life, takes matters into her own hands and goes on a rampage, tearing Becca’s hotel bar apart and threatening her. Beth tells the adulteress that she won’t allow her to ruin fifteen years of love and family. It’s a wonderful scene that signifies the outpouring of Beth’s long-restrained anger and grief about the gradual implosion of her family. The cathartic outburst allows Beth to open herself to hearing Mark out. He calls for a truce between them, for at least one night. This results in a beautiful scene, in which the couple finally cleans out Danny’s room, combing through artifacts of their late son and reminiscing, happily and tearfully, about their boy. It’s one of those naturalistic scenes that illustrates the changeable nature of grief, the conflict between wanting to remember the happy times, but not wanting to do disservice to the deceased by not paying proper vigilance to their memory. Beth is very much defined by her grief, at least among the townspeople. But she’s more than Danny Latimer’s mother, even if his death isn’t something she’s ready to move past just yet.
But there are other points of concern this week, namely the latest developments in the investigation. It turns out that the boat found burning last week is a boat used by the community at large. However, the vessel itself belongs to Olly’s father — Ellie’s brother-in-law. Making things more complicated is Ellie’s shiftless sister, who claims to have information about something she witnessed on the night of Danny’s murder, but refuses to tell her until Ellie pays her. This is all bad enough, but Ellie’s own son has become the latest point of interest for Susan Wright (Pauline Quirke), who makes a point of inviting him over to her house any time he wants to walk her dog, an innocent enough offer, but delivered with all the creepiness of a murder suspect. Susan becomes even more of a suspicious character when Nigel (Joe Sims) arrives at her doorstep with a £500 bribe for her to leave town. Of course, £500 is the exact amount that was found taped under Danny’s bed. Coincidence? I suppose we’ll find out soon enough, but as it stands now, things aren’t looking good for Susan. The police determine that she is likely the source for four high-tar cigarette butts found on the beach where Danny’s body was discovered. Is she in the business of using her dog to lure young boys to their doom? Tom (Adam Wilson) could become a victim — assuming he isn’t a perpetrator. This week, we see that his paranoia is only getting worse, as he continually asks his dad, Joe (Matthew Gravelle), about what the police know about Danny’s murder. Of course, his edginess could easily be the result of having participated in the crime scene reenactment, as I can’t imagine that acting as an eerie mirror for your dead best friend could be good for one’s psychological well-being.
We also get some interesting character developments on the romantic front: on the one hand, Olly and Karen hookup, which leads to some humorous post-coital banter, in which Olly shows just how needy he is when it comes to reassurance; on the other hand, we see a spectacularly awkward scene in which Hardy tries to ask Becca out, but strikes out. I’m not sure either development is needed at this point, but it helps to flesh out the characters to a certain degree, especially Hardy, who is facing doubts from the community about his ability to close the case. Worse, these doubts are even coming from Ellie, who boldly asks about his ability to catch the killer after what happened in Sanbrooke. She asks him to elaborate on what happened, but he refuses to say anything more about the long-dead case beyond “A mistake was made.” As time continues to pass with no killer in custody, Broadchurch’s faith in the police will continue to erode, which can only mean greater peril for the physically-taxed Hardy, who seems intent on solving this case, or dying in the effort.
Broadchurch continues to be one of TV’s best, serving up an engrossing mystery wrapped in a deeply-involving character study. David Bradley delivers one of the best supporting performances this year despite a relative lack of screentime prior to the last two weeks. It speaks to the depth of talent, both onscreen and behind the camera, that these characters feel so fully realized and lived-in. With only three episodes left, the mystery is poised to begin wrapping up, and whether or not the answer is as satisfying as the preceding episodes, it’s extremely unlikely that Broadchurch will ultimately feel like wasted time.