You can hate Joe Miller’s trial or be intrigued by it. You can think the Sandbrook case is a trail of red herrings or you can be anxious to find the killer. But you can not deny that this is one of the most beautiful episodes of television you’re going to see all year. Even if all the lines were all delivered in gibberish (from Giberia), this episode is a visual knockout. Not that Broadchurch isn’t always well-done, but this week it’s absolutely stunning.

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We have first-time Broadchurch director, Jonathan Teplitzky, Australian director behind such films I haven’t seen as The Railway Man, to thank. And thank him I do. Because it’s been a while since I’ve judged a TV episode merely as a thing of beauty.

But what makes this episode so astonishing is that all players rise up to meet these sky-high visual levels. Olivia Colman had me in tears right out of gate with her first meeting we’ve seen with Tom since the trial. She’s trying to be such a good mom, giving Tom the space he needs, while desperate to have him back. If he hadn’t hugged her, I was going to bolt through my computer screen and slap him upside the head.

Fortunately, Miller still has Hardy, and the next scene immediately gives us a soft-focus, through curtains, of the lost loveliness of the Miller house. His case is her new crusade, since her “life’s gone to shit,” and he clearly needs the help. I love how close the two are now, with long shots of them discussing the case walking on the beach, or “Uncle Alec” pushing Fred’s stroller. Compared to last season, Hardy has turned downright cuddly, checking in with Miller to see how she is and even trying for physical contact after she finds out that Tom will be testifying for his father. When she tells Claire, simply, that the two have no secrets, Claire smirks as if there’s something sexual going on between them, but as we saw last week, the ex-partners are even closer than that.

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It’s fortunate that they have each other to lean on, as the Sandbrook case appears to be shifting underneath their feet. Claire is turning out to be about the least reliable witness in the world, now on her third version of the night in question. Now that Cate Gillespie has also tossed her husband’s alibi, Ricky is suspect as well. The list of possible Sandbrook perpetrators grows by the day. This is where Teplitzky and cinematographer John Conroy so poignantly portray the murkiness of the whole situation, showing a sweet view of Pippa on the trampoline from the viewpoint of where her menacing next-door neighbor would be watching her. Or throwing Lee, Big Bad Wolf-like, right in the middle of Pippa and Lisa’s innocent game of hide and seek. For as long as I’ve been watching Broadchurch (13 episodes and counting), I believe the biggest gasp I’ve had yet was when Ricky Gillespie popped up in that dreamlike forest.

Back to the trial: At last Jocelyn shows off some of her purported rock-star moves by putting down Susan’s ridiculous testimony. Teplitzky plays this up with a horrific overlapping green-tinged flashback to Maggie and Susan as all the court players drift in and out of focus. He also highlights everyone’s prospective duality with a double mirror shot of the two barristers on a smoke break, or Nigel’s horizontal reflection before he testifies. Ellie and Susan’s confrontation with Lucy watching on the stairs and Mark, Beth, and Nigel glaring from overhead is a bit heavy-handed, but does underline just how much Ellie is still being judged on all sides.

The history between Knight and Bishop becomes further fleshed out, as Sharon can’t forgive Jocelyn for not taking her son’s case and Jocelyn, harshly, admits that she never liked Sharon much in the first place. Teplitzky’s previous mirror shot now has even more meaning, as the barristers appear to mimic each other, each hosting deep flaws and vulnerability.

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But here’s a case of style over substance: This whole subplot with Beth and the sex offenders. It’s a beyond-horrible idea to make her deal with these kinds of criminals in the middle of her son’s murderer’s trial, and I would be happy to toss this whole plotline right out of the episode. But Teplitzky offers such touching, sentimental shots of Beth: on the phone, as the focus shifts out to show Mark and baby Lizzie on the hill, or behind a rain-soaked window, as a soccer ball appears to symbolize Danny. Mark is so besotted with the baby he appears ready to move on, but Beth, as a mother, still is compelled to have some sort of allegiance to Danny.

So, as usual in Broadchurch, the episode offers drips and drabs and small steps forward. But there’s so much to drink in here, the plodding of the plot doesn’t even bother me. I’m happy just to see such glorious shots of Hardy against a sunrise, as he possibly enjoys nature’s beauty for one of his final times. Or the interplay of Hardy’s attack with his drowning flashback. Even the stark, horror-worthy shots at the animal crematorium where Lisa’s body was likely burned. The score steps up as well with melodious violins this time instead of just ominous thumping.

God, it’s just gorgeous. Watching this episode of Broadchurch was like seeing a painting come to life.

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Stray observations:

  • What’s with the crazy carnival behind Hardy’s house? Although it does offer more valuable visual atmosphere, as well as lines like, “Oohh, bumper cars, Har-dy!”
  • Is Becca the worst girlfriend in Broadchurch? Her priest boyfriend tells her how he’s just trying to do his job, which is to help people repent and forgive, and all she cares is that somehow he’s pulled her into it. Jeebus.
  • This week’s random speculation: I’m saying there’s something up Lisa’s “tricky relationship with her dad.”
  • I know that she’s still in her court clothes, but it’s such a relief to see Ellie back in detective mode.
  • “You’re out of teabags and milk, and I’ve used the last of the bread.”
  • I am unreasonably excited that Jonathan Teplitzky is directing the next episode as well.

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