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In the words of Detective Hardy himself, bloody hell. I haven’t been this upset by a TV episode since the final episode of Gracepoint. Not guilty? Seriously?

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Now I understand why all of you who had already seen the entire season were so down on it. It’s a horrible plotting decision. Hardy was fueled by blowing the Sandbrook case to solve Broadchurch. Now the failure of the Broadchurch case enrages him enough to close the Sandbrook case. Hardy is the only one empowered by this turn of the events, as all of the actual Broadchurch residents are left devastated. I am at a loss to wonder what the show creators were thinking.

Let’s get Joe Miller out of the way: After a jury of “idiots” (thanks, Hardy) proclaims Joe innocent, the residents of Broadchurch plan their own revenge on Miller. Hate to armchair-quarterback, but in my dream world, here’s what could have happened: The residents all ganged up on Joe at the cottage, who freaked out and ran, tripped, and fell over the cliffs and broke his neck. Poetic justice = served.

But of course, no one asked me, so instead the Broadchurchers dole out the most severe punishment they can imagine: banishment from their beloved town. My two favorite parts of Joe’s takedown: Paul The Priest losing his collar and the two women being the ones who apply the verbal beatings. Jodie Whittaker, again, sells this dialogue as best she can, telling Joe his life is over, but you know what? It isn’t really. He’s even got a halfway house waiting for him in Sheffield, and that is just too much of a positive result for a man who’s done so much damage in my book. It made me feel unnerved, like there was something I’d forgotten to do—buy the milk or close the garage door—and then I’d remember: Joe Miller was found not guilty. I suppose it’s to the show’s credit that this verdict is so devastating, but it devastates nonetheless.

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Fortunately, the Sandbrook case gets wrapped up. But just as with last season, our excitement over seeing the culprit(s) caught is tempered by the fact that we have to actually witness children being murdered. The horrible fates of Lisa and Pippa are revealed, as is the depth of Claire’s horrific lack of character. I usually try to rewatch these episodes before posting, but I could not watch Pippa’s murder a second time, as she blindingly trusts Claire to her death.

Eve Myles deserves credit for gradually transforming over these eight episodes from victim to villain. Her baseless accusations against Hardy in the interrogation room were astounding, as she is psychotic enough to appear so sincere, Miller almost turned off the tape recorder. The staredown between Claire and Hardy is rather epic, with Claire’s insane fabrications and Hardy’s refusal to entertain them (“Sit down Miller!”).

As Claire says that she only came home to tell her husband she was pregnant, the key to the crime appears to be the closeness between the two families (symbolized by the open gate between their two houses). When Lisa told Claire that she hated Cate a while back, it apparently was because she was also jealous of Cate’s undetermined closeness with Lee. Lee, originally the guiltiest of our suspects, has been lying all along, just like Claire. (And you have to wonder what made him come back from France, where he was relatively safe: the pull of Claire?)

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So Sandbrook is solved, in a manner that no one, not even Hardy, could have predicted, with the guilt of Ricky Gillespie. He killed his niece, and paid the price with his daughter’s life. It’s a horrible story, and unlike in the Broadchurch case, there are no innocents to root for here (no Mark and Beth and Chloe, attempting to cling to life). Everyone involved is beyond guilty (the only one who’s not is sentenced to a walking-death, constantly drunk life) and the only ones left to feel sorry for are the two victims. Perhaps that’s what makes Hardy sob over the file folder, in a riveting scene by David Tennant.

In both the Sandbrook and Broadchurch cases, we’re not dealing with serial killers or chronically evil people (well, maybe Claire). We’re dealing with people who went down paths they shouldn’t have (Joe’s obsession with Danny, Lee’s flirtation with Lisa) and in momentary acts of rage (by Joe and Ricky), the innocents lost their lives. Claire is the only one who appears cold and calculating, because she has to “think of the future.” They all compound their crimes by covering them up, but before these incidents happened, anyone would have looked at them and thought that they were, primarily, decent people.

I first thought Ben’s line to Abby last week was a throwaway (awesome, but a throwaway nonetheless): “You’re a truly horrible person.” But maybe it says more about this series than we realize. Jocelyn and Sharon don’t even like each other, but respect each other enough to possibly work together. None of us are all good or bad but if we’re lucky, we will stay enough on the straight and narrow to avoid the horrible paths of Joe Miller or Ricky Gillespie. Mark was a father who hit his son and a husband who cheated on his wife. Now he’s trying to make amends and put his life back together, but at least he still has a life to go back to.

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Fortunately there are two people we never need to worry about from a moral standpoint: Hardy and Miller. To the end, their relationship remained this show’s main highlight, with the teamwork between the two enabling them to gratifyingly take down the Sandbrook killers. Got to love Ellie’s detective work with the lumber receipts, the wood on the floor, the cab company records. Also Hardy’s devotion to her when his ex Tess tries to offer him other police help: “No, no, need Miller!” Even Tess looked a bit put out, and rightly so, as she has been usurped as her ex-husband’s police partner.

But it’s Miller who points out to Hardy that although his body may be healthier, his worldview could still use some tweaking. He tells Lee that “You can’t trust anyone, not even the people we love. Ultimately, we’re all alone.” Lee’s toxic combination with Claire is the polar opposite of Hardy and Miller, as the two do nothing but destroy each other rather than support each other. Finally separated from Lee, Claire turns herself in, because for her it’s better to go down with him than to be without him.

For Hardy and Miller, in a world where they have almost no one else, they have each other. They have bickered and fought and become close in a more selfless way than most people ever are. In the end, there is no hug, only the most meaningful of handshakes. The relationship between the two has been the most delightful driving force of Broadchurch: (Remember this exchange from season one?: “Do you pray?” “I pray every day you’ll stop asking me questions.”) When they found out Joe was guilty, their relationship shifted, with the weakened Hardy having to step up for his partner. He’s remained the strong one all this season (though never more so in the past two episodes), encouraging Miller to use her rage and anger to help her in her police work. I may not have loved how this season ended up, but am grateful a season three is looming, if only for more Hardy and Miller.

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Sandbrook case: B+

Joe Miller trial: D