Olivia Colman, David Tennant (Photo: Colin Hutton/BBC America)

The main appeal of Broadchurch is the chemistry between David Tennant’s D.I. Alec Hardy and Olivia Colman’s D.S. Ellie Miller. But even that considerable appeal took a hard hit in the series’ second season, which focused on the horribly drawn-out court case of Danny Latimer’s murderer, Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle), who had the cheek to plead “not guilty.” When Miller was found not guilty in the season finale, it raised questions about what the point of Broadchurch was in the first place. Season two’s other mystery also involved child murder, two this time, again with almost unbearably tragic consequences.

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But the third season appears to learn from the second’s mistakes, an occasion for celebration as Broadchurch rights a ship that was almost sunk. Hardy and Miller’s latest investigation deals with sexual assault—still a traumatic and devastating subject matter, to be sure, but at least there’s a survivor: Trish (Julie Hesmondhalgh), who’s in shock after being raped at a party by an unknown assailant. The first few episodes find Miller and Hardy doing their careful, deliberate, and compassionate detective work, trying to be mindful of Trish’s trauma as they attempt to find the monster who did this to her.

The new episodes recognize the show’s super-strength—Hardy and Miller—and focuses most of its energy on that. We still see the Latimers, who are in various stages of moving on with their lives: Danny’s mom Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and sister Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont) are pushing forward; Danny’s dad Mark (Andrew Buchan) not so much, as he is (understandably) consumed by the fact that Joe Miller is a free man. Other Broadchurchers have their issues: Reverend Paul (Arthur Darvill) faces a shrinking congregation; newspaper editor Maggie (Carolyn Pickles) fights corporate overlords who want to put pictures of kittens on the cover of the Broadchurch Echo. By now we know the people and their town so well that there’s a comforting familiarity in Broadchurch’s lovely establishing shots—even those associated with calamity. There’s the picturesque cliff where Danny’s body was found; it’s also where the Latimer and Miller families reunited with their kids.

Trish’s case opens the show to a new crop of Broadchurchers; it’s also an opportunity to explore the unfair objectification of women, in the town and beyond. Gratuitous pinups are shown in garages and home offices, porn is passed around on teenagers’ computers, infidelities abound, and even a workplace crush crosses the line into obsessive. Luckily, we still have Hardy as one of the few examples of respectful, if grumpy, gentlemen in town. “Y’know what I hate about this case, Miller?” he sneers in his thick-as-fog brogue after another discouraging interview with a suspect. “It makes me ashamed to be a man.” The theme to Broadchurch has always been how little we know the people around us; this season uses those secrets to tap into the darkest desires of the town’s men. Throughout the case, we see how defensively benign, “everybody has them” artifacts—the pinups, the porn, the bondage girlie mags—may contribute to a society in which women are less than safe.

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We also get to see Hardy with his daughter Daisy (Hannah Rae), the reason he got the surgery that saved his life, as the two try to carve out a new path for themselves in Broadchurch. He still hates the place, but now recognizes it as the only home he has. The unbreakable Ellie delights in the fact that her cranky boss is now a native, and every step they take that brings them closer together—a moment when he actually takes her advice, for example—brings her, and the audience, unmitigated glee.

These lighter moments leaven the various versions of misogynist monstrosity on display. Victims like Trish are afraid of being judged themselves for somehow inviting their assaults; while Miller and Hardy treat these women with the utmost respect, it’s clear that so many others don’t. The multitude of men and clues whirl up into a funnel cloud of Broadchurch speculation—just what the show excels at. Over the course of its three seasons, the series has been expert at drawing out a single case over eight episodes. But with this one, Broadchurch accomplishes the whodunit in a wholly engaging, yet socially aware manner, anchored by its devotion-inspiring leads. The saddest shot of the the entire series may be the final one, as we know that we’re saying goodbye to this seaside town forever—yet remain grateful that it’s going out on a such a high note.

Discussion posts by Gwen Ihnat will run weekly.

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